Halloween movie marathons roll around every October, we have to wonder: When did gratuitous gore become the norm for scary movies? How did carnage get conflated with creepy? And what exactly is it about blood and guts that's supposed to be so terrifying, anyway? We decided to dig up the most frightening gore-free films we could find. And you know what we discovered? When you strip away shock-value violence from the genre, an impressive trove of genuinely well-made fright-fests remain. These scary movies range from seminal classics like to more modern fare like Rosemary's Baby Paranormal Activity. (That's right, folks, there's more to modern horror than Saw!) Packed with psychological thrills and masterful suspense sequences, these films are bloodcurdling, not blood-filled. (We can’t promise they won’t make you queasy, though. A truly terrifying film will do that to you, anyway.) The Ring (2002) Sure, The Ring is inarguably one of the scariest movies of all time — but it's miraculously not gory. Instead, the fear is derived from the music, jump scares, and of course the terrifying premise: Anyone who watches a cursed VHS tape is doomed to die. Moviestore Collection/REX/Shutterstock More The Orphanage (2007) The Orphanage is thrilling entry into the horror genre which will appeal to all movie buffs — not just horr fanatics. At the start of the movie, Laura (Belén Rueda), her husband (Fernando Cayo), and adoptive son (Roger Princep) return to the orphanage where she was raised. She hopes to convert the orphanage into a home for disabled children. Instead, she stumbles upon the orphanage's dark history, which manifests in apparitions. More Psycho (1960) Psycho might be the scariest movie ever, and there's not an ounce of blood. After stealing money from her employer, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) runs away. But stealing isn't the decision that derails her life. It's her far more innocuous choice to stop at the Bates Motel, where Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is waiting. More The Others (2001) This Spanish-American horror movie set in a mansion on the coast of post-WWII England stars Nicole Kidman as a strict, religious mom. Her two kids' extreme light-sensitivity confines them to the indoors while she waits for their father to return from battle. The movie is a master lesson in the art of making viewers sweat bullets with anxiety, using tension and spooky atmospherics instead of graphic gore and murderous maniacs. Photo: Courtesy of Cruise/Wagner Productions. More Rear Window (1954) Shot from the perspective of the Greenwich Village apartment where an injured photographer (James Stewart) is holed up during a terrible summer heat wave, this Hitchcock classic is the forerunner of creepy-neighbor flicks like 2007’s Disturbia. The photog passes the time by watching his neighbors through his courtyard-facing rear window — until one evening, he witnesses what he believes to be a brutal murder. Grace Kelly co-stars as the skeptical girlfriend. Photo: Courtesy of Paramount. More Blair Witch Project (1999) The Blair Witch phenomenon kicked off a decade and a half long trend in found-footage horror flicks. Three film school students investigate a local legend in the forest country of Maryland — the movie, pulsing with sickening dread, is what’s left behind after they vanish themselves. Though the no-longer-novel concept isn’t as convincing or confounding as it was back in 1999, it still rings real enough to put you off camping for a good few months. ARtisan More Rosemary's Baby (1968) Even if you can't look past Roman Polanski's conviction for statutory rape, this iconic classic of the psychological horror genre is worth watching. However, like sushi and water-skiing, this gothic fright-fest is highly inadvisable for moms-to-be. Photo: Courtesy of Paramount. More Funny Games (2007)
Michael Haneke remade his own 1997 Austrian film — about a family terrorized by a seemingly polite couple of young men — shot for shot with a new cast, including a superb Naomi Watts. Even though nearly all the torture happens off-camera, this one is hard to watch. How do you know you've made a truly disturbing movie? When one of your actors won’t even watch it: Star Tim Roth, who plays the husband, found the whole filming experience so distressing that
to ever watch the finished product.
Photo: Courtesy of Halcyon Pictures. More Insidious (2010) Writer-director duo James Wan and Leigh Whannell typically land themselves on lists of the most gory films of all time. The team behind the original Saw stunned critics and moviegoers alike, though, with their gloriously guts-free, low-budget Insidious. It's like a haunted-house movie — except in this one, it’s the child’s unconscious that’s haunted. With its unique story, well-imagined demons, and a good stock of jump-out-of-your-seat scares, this one is a modern horror classic. Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Films. More The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
The people of Point Pleasant, WV, have been reporting sightings of the demonic "Mothman" for decades — the Science Channel even filed it under
"unexplained" in a TV doc
. That local lore inspired this creep-fest starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney, who ask if the creature is legend, delusion, or something truly sinister. Unsettling throughout, with several pulse-pounding points of tension.
Photo: Courtesy of Lakeshore Ent. More The Nameless (1999) Okay, fair warning here: A waterlogged (but blood-free) corpse appears in the first five minutes of this Spanish horror movie, originally titled Los Sin Nombre. Several years after her daughter’s body is found, a woman gets a mysterious phone call that spurs her to reopen the case. This super-slow-burner marries supernatural horror with classic psychological thriller anxiety, shrouding you in a foreboding sense of dread for nearly two hours — but the payoff is well, well worth it. Photo: Courtesy of Miramax. More Dark Water (2002) Skip the lackluster 2005 Jennifer Connelly remake — the original is everything great about Japanese horror: artful restraint, perfectly manipulated suspense, an uncanny sense of doom, and, of course, demonic poltergeists in the form of young children. Not recommended for renters with a habitually leaky ceiling. Photo: Courtesy of Kadokawa Shoten. More Les Diaboliques (1955) Another one butchered in a starry remake (in 1996 with Sharon Stone), this may be the best Hitchcockian horror film that Hitchcock didn’t actually make. A superfan of the film, Hitchcock professed to borrowing heavily from Henri-Georges Clouzot’s French masterpiece — set in a boarding school run by a ruthless headmaster — to make Psycho, which this rivals in suspense (and likelihood to make you scared of bathrooms). Photo: Courtesy of Criterion Collection. More The Changeling (1980)
A classical music composer (George C. Scott) moves to an old mansion outside Seattle after losing his family in a car crash. And it doesn't take long for shit to get weird. The haunted house with a history may be a cliché by now, but this early gem still outdoes the best of them 35 years later: The IFC suggests it may be the
scariest movie of all time
. What's for sure, though, is that you'll never look at an empty wheelchair the same way again.
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