57 Horror Movies to Watch if You’re in the Mood for Nightmares

·20 min read
Photo credit: A24
Photo credit: A24


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Hands up if you're in the mood to be scared absolutely senseless, and you've already watched the best scary movies coming out this year?? Good for you! As a person who both loves horror and ALSO needs to be in the perfect mood to watch, I'm right there with ya. Sometimes I just wanna turn off the lights with a blanket and my S.O. for some snuggling/screaming—from the old classics that have the most ridiculous special effects (think corn syrup for blood) to the latest, most realistic, most mind-f*cky films of all time. Well, great news, because we have lots of both on this list to get you started—or get caught up if you didn't watch 'em the first time. I can vouch that These! Films! Deliver! on their premises to give a shot of adrenaline straight to your veins.

Pop on one of these 57 truly terrifying movies when you're in the mood, but def leave a light on. Or three. And quick note: for the purposes of this article, a "horror" movie is anything that makes you feel, well, horrified. Like, Jaws is on this list—despite not *technically* being a horror movie, I defy you to find a scarier film from when you were 10. There's not too much gore, which is a whole horror sub-genre, but we've isolated the films that are gory while also delivering a killer story (pun intended). And there are some thrillers in here that deliver on such scary concepts that you will 100 percent lie awake thinking about them tonight. Happy watching!!

Fresh

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Fair warning: Do not go into this movie with a full stomach. Without giving too much away, a woman who's fed up with the dating scene meets and falls for a strange guy (which, I get, because he's played by Sebastian Stan). Then, it turns out he has...interesting...tastes...and she's an important part of it (pulls out a barf bag).

Audition

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There aren't a ton of body horror films on this list (I'm ~squeamish~), but if you're gonna go big, go with the classic Japanese horror film. It's as much a satire of rom-coms—instead, it's the guy who should be worried about the mysterious girl he's dating—as it is a blood-chilling gorefest. The last 10 minutes...get out your barf bag again. Quentin Tarantino loves this film, and if you watch it, you'll see exactly why.

The Invitation

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This is about a trippy, not-quite-right dinner party (the characters regularly make excuses for the weirdness they're experiencing because, L.A. is just weird, k?) that culminates in twist(s) you won't see coming. This film's known for that last shot, but don't spoil it for yourself. Just watch.

X

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A "p*rn horror film" is one of those—wow, I'm surprised they didn't make one of these before, and also what a cool idea—kind of films. It's a riff on '70s grindhouse movies, with a group of actors and producers headed to an old farmhouse to make an ~adult movie~. Too bad the owners of said farmhouse are creepy and quite murdery.

The Invisible Man

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If you never saw this when it originally came out, but you'd like to not sleep for a week, go watch RTFN. This could have just been another monster movie, but Saw creator Leigh Whannell turns the classic story into a modern horror of domestic abuse and gaslighting—how do you fight your ex if he's figured out a way to be invisible?

Open Water

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TBH, I don't care who you are, if you can swim, or how you feel about sharks, Open Water, about a couple who goes on a group diving trip and are then accidentally left behind and stranded in the middle of the damn ocean is objectively terrifying.

The Strangers

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If you're sick of feeling things like "well-rested" and "safe in your own home," then The Strangers is the nightmare candy you've been craving. The 2008 home invasion movie focuses on a couple who are stalked, terrorized, and tortured by a group of three masked strangers for literally no reason. That's the scariest part. There's no "oh, that's why this is happening to them" moment. They're targeted randomly and doggedly.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

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Yes, this is the Freddy Krueger movie. Yeah, the crater-faced bad guy with the knife fingers. The original 1984 movie might seem hokey in some ways today, but the basic concept—that you're vulnerable when you sleep because Freddy can murder you in your actual dreams and kill you IRL—is the kind of thing that will literally keep you up at night.

The Birds

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Scare master Alfred Hitchcock proved that the mundane can be terrifying in this 1963 horror movie about a town that suddenly finds itself under attack by birds—just normal birds that decide to go on a homicidal rampage/make it impossible to ever look at a line of birds sitting on a telephone wire the same again.

Scream

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Scream has plenty of funny, meta moments about the tropes of teen horror movies, but it also has plenty of moments that prove it's a masterclass in the genre.

Saw

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This 2004 movie, in which a sadistic mastermind known as Jigsaw forces his victims to solve painful puzzles to survive the "game" he's playing with them, reinvigorated the genre, launched a franchise, and influenced a decade's worth of horror movies (spoiler alert: it did those things while also being really, genuinely scary and not quite as gory as the others).

The Thing

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You probably weren't planning a trip to Antarctica anyway, but if you were thinking about it, The Thing will change your mind. The 1982 John Carpenter classic is about a murderous, well, thing, that takes the shape of its victims, making it impossible to trust anyone (or, yeah, anything).

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

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I mean, I don't even know what to tell you. This Guillermo del Toro-produced movie features a deranged pitchfork-wielding scarecrow named Harold, a zombie obsessed with finding his missing big toe (um, what) and a girl whose spider bite explodes to release hundreds of spider babies. Thanks, I hate it!

Ma

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Hi, here's a casual movie about a woman who terrorizes teenagers in her basement for you to add to your miles-long list of Reasons to Never Enter a Basement Under Any Circumstances.

It Chapter Two

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Great news for everyone who is uncomfortably attracted to Pennywise the Clown—he's back! It Chapter Two isn't quite as good as its predecessor but rest assured: it'll still mess up at least two of your sleep cycles, so give a warm welcome back to your dark circles.

Annihilation

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I don't know what I expected when I saw this movie in theaters, but it wasn't hiding under my jacket clutching my friend's arm for dear life. No spoilers, but (loosely!) Annihilation is about a biologist who searches for her missing husband inside a toxic mutant-filled bubble. It's absolutely wild, not to mention deeply disturbing and surprisingly kinda beautiful?

Psycho

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Just a casual Alfred Hitchcock movie about a murderous dude who's living with the corpse of his dead mother and running a hotel, totally normal stuff, nothing to see here! (Also, spoiler alert, but also, you probably knew all that and should still go watch.)

Pan's Labyrinth

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This entrancingly creepy fantasy movie follows 11-year-old Ofelia's descent into Pan's Labyrinth, a mythical world full of *checks notes* monsters who eat children. Bye bye.

Midsommar

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Welp, thanks to this movie, no one will ever want to take part in a midsummer ritual. Ever. Midsommar follows Dani, who goes on a trip with her uncaring boyfriend, Christian, and his Swedish friend Pelle for his family’s (super-fun!) drug-induced midsummer celebration. The movie’s aesthetically-shot gore and claustrophobic feel are truly terrifying.

Hounds of Love

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If you’re a fan of My Favorite Murder, then you already know that Karen and Georgia were both majorly disturbed by this Australian movie based on a true story (strike one) about a serial-killing couple (strike two) that abducts an innocent teen (strike three). It’s somehow even worse than it sounds?

The Others

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If you have not yet seen The Others, I am so jealous of your entire life and soul. The plot twist in this one is SO good. Nicole Kidman plays the mother of two children who are allergic to sunlight. They live in a big ol’ creepy mansion with a bunch of ghosts. I won’t spoil too much because, like I said, the plot twist will get you.

In the Tall Grass

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Netflix’s take on Stephen King’s novella, In the Tall Grass has already earned its spot as one of the spookiest movies of all time. You will be uncomfortable for the entire hour and 40 minutes of this film.


Sinister

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A true-crime novelist is suffering from writer’s block, so he moves into the house of a family that was murdered. Which...wow, what could go wrong! While in the house, he discovers a bunch of spooky home movies that prove he’s in a much creepier situation than he initially thought.

Suspiria

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Amazon remade the classic 1977 horror film Suspiria and somehow made it even scarier? It’s kind of impossible to describe this intense movie about a witchy dance academy, but if you decide to watch it and then wanna talk about it, we're available immediately.

Insidious

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The worst thing about Insidious is that it’s the one movie about a haunted house where the family is actually like, “You know what? We should just move.” But instead of being rewarded with a new calm, suburban lifestyle, they discover that the house wasn’t the problem. It’s actually their son.

Hereditary

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Hereditary is the rare horror film that keeps you guessing—or more accurately, keeps you screaming “WTF?!”—throughout the entire thing. Filmmaker Ari Aster’s directorial debut blends real-life horrors with the genre’s stalest motifs into something truly original.

The Exorcist

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This 1973 classic tells the story of a 12-year-old girl named Regan MacNeil who gets possessed by the devil after using an Ouija board to communicate with her imaginary friend Captain Howdy. Sure! Aside from being terrifying because it’s a movie about a possessed preteen who pukes green slime and pees on floors, The Exorcist gets extra scare points for being inspired by the true story of Roland Doe, a young boy in Maryland who underwent an exorcism in 1949.

The VVitch

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The story revolves around a Puritan family that moves to a remote part of the woods, which we all know is never a good idea. As the atmosphere builds and the family starts to fall apart (read: accuse each other of being witches), a patient viewer will be swept away into one of the most satisfying endings ever. It’s so bleak that it received an endorsement from the actual Satanic Temple, that’s all I’m saying.

The Babadook

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Have you noticed how children are kinda automatically scary, no matter what they’re doing or saying? Like, they could just look over at you and whisper, “I wish I had some pizza,” and you’d be like, “AAAH! STOP!” The Babadook, which relies heavily on the “kids are creepy” feeling, centers on a recently widowed mother of a 6-year-old son who—after reading a pop-up book about a top-hat-wearing ghoul named Mister Babadook—spends the rest of the movie screaming bloody murder.

Paranormal Activity

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Every moment of Paranormal Activity plays upon the viewer’s ultimate fears: (1) people staring at you while you sleep, (2) the person you’re romantically tied to being secretly evil, and (3) actual ghosts in your actual house. Filmed in such a way as to make it seem like a real home movie, Paranormal Activity is expertly paced and leaves you dreading the nighttime scenes—for obvious reasons.

The Visit

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People tried to say this wasn’t scary both before and after it came out because it’s only rated PG-13. Those people are delusional. Regardless of the film’s rating, The Visit depicts one of the grossest, scariest takes on “creepy grandparents” to spring forth from a writer’s twisted mind. Naturally, said writer is M. Night Shyamalan.

The Ring

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Some people prefer the original Japanese version of this film to the 2002 remake, so if you have time, watch both. If you don’t, start here. Either way, anyone who’s seen Samara (doing that incredibly scary thing, IYKYK) knows that the visuals in this tale of a cursed videotape are haunting beyond belief.

It Follows

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The primary bummer about It Follows is that the main events are set off by a young woman having sex—but the female lead is strong enough that the movie gets a pass for an otherwise non-feminist “girls having sex leads to evil” plot. There are a lot of legitimate scares in It Follows that catch you by surprise but are still very subtle, which makes the film refreshing, fun, and horrifying...all at the same time.

28 Days Later

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Zombie movies have pretty much been the same since Night of the Living Dead came out in 1968: slow-moving zombies, arms outstretched, making “urrrgh, arrrgh” noises while they lumber toward you. 28 Days Later comes at the genre in a new way by making the zombies fast and using an atmospheric soundtrack to really drive home the overall feeling of unease.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

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Inspired by the horrific true story of Ed Gein, a Wisconsin serial killer who murdered people and made furniture and clothing out of their flesh, this is one of the creepiest classics there is. Even if you’ve already seen The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 25 times, it’s worth watching at least once a year because it never gets old. And even though Leatherface hacks up teenagers with a chainsaw and wears a mask made out of skin, you can’t help kind of rooting for him. We’ve all had bad days!

The Shining

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Jack Nicholson’s face is made of nightmares. Like, you know those rides they have at amusement parks where animatronic people come to life as you pass by and say something weird to you? Those things are him. The good news? Jack’s performance in Stanley Kubrick’s reimagining of the classic Stephen King novel is so beyond memorable that it’s definitely iconic.

Hellraiser

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A favorite of goths due to its heavy reliance on evil, pain, gallows humor, and metal body adornments, this movie is most certainly a night ruiner. The plot focuses on a character named Pinhead, who got his name because…of the pins stuck in his face and head. Make sense?

Halloween

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Director and composer John Carpenter’s use of sound and tension plus scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis’s outstanding performance makes Halloween a no-brainer for this list—even as you come to the hopeless realization that yes, she’s going to go investigate what that noise is, and yes, she’s going to fall while running, and yes, Michael Myers is gonna pop out with his creepy mask-face when you least expect it.

The Silence of the Lambs

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One of the most WTF movies ever made, this truly blew minds when it came out in 1991 (and won five Oscars). The combination of Anthony Hopkins as the seductively grotesque Hannibal Lecter, Jodie Foster as the take-nary-a-sh*t Clarice Starling, and some lotion in a basket makes this a highly enjoyable roller coaster of freak-outs.

Black Swan

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This is another one of those movies that people insist on saying isn’t scary but is, in actuality, one of the most terrifying films ever. It’s got a creepy, overbearing mom, finger skin that peels off, and Natalie Portman literally losing her mind in the best possible way. In other words, it’s got it all!

The Blair Witch Project

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Released in 1999, this movie was one of the first to use the now-common technique of framing a scripted film as found footage. [Editor’s note: When I saw this movie in seventh grade, I was so convinced it was a documentary that I had nightmares for...a year.] A group of friends take off into the woods to document the myth of a witch who kills people, and sh*t devolves from there.

Candyman

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Okay, all I remember about this one is that I’m pretty sure someone gets hacked up in a porta potty. Which is horrifying in more ways than one! Produced by Clive Barker, Candyman tackles the fears of a graduate student writing a paper on urban legends, which, naturally, leads him down a path of pure terror and blood. BTW, this classic got a 2021 makeover—it's good! But watch the classic first.

Rosemary’s Baby

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The beauty of this classic is in what it doesn’t show. Mia Farrow stars as an almost comically neurotic expectant mother who, unbeknownst to her, shares a NYC apartment building with satanists. From the beginning until the moment the credits roll, you’re pulled along a dark thread in anticipation of seeing one thing, which is the one thing—sorry, mild spoiler—the movie never shows you. Also, the movie ending is depressing AF, so fair warning right now.

Jaws

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Up until this point, this list has stuck pretty close to the tropes of creepy ghosts and scary murderers, but if you’re trying to give yourself a proper horror-movie education (that’s why you’re here, right?), then you need to see Jaws. Even though almost no one dies from shark attacks, so it's not a real threat, the construction and pacing of this blockbuster is (chefs kiss).

Carrie

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Yet another classic based on a Stephen King novel, this one tells the story of Carrie White, a small-town girl cooped up in a house with her religious nut of a mother. As the anxieties of high school life build, Carrie comes to find that she has, uh, special powers. I mean, who hasn’t fantasized about telekinetically throwing things at people who made fun of your period stains in high school?

Let the Right One In

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Sometimes when you’re young, the desperate need for a best friend outweighs the fact that the friend in question is actually a vampire who keeps themselves alive (and immortal) by killing people and drinking their blood. Good friends are hard to come by, so I’d personally take a loyal vampire over a fair-weather human any day.

Se7en

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Very little can be said about this without giving away one of the best movie endings ever, but suffice it to say that Brad Pitt stars as a homicide detective investigating a serial killer who models each murder after one of the seven deadly sins. To say any more would be to let the head out of the box, if you will.

Get Out

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Jordan Peele’s wildly successful directorial debut isn’t so much scary as it is highly unsettling, disturbing, and steeped in some horrifying truths about racism in America. The movie follows an interracial couple, Chris and Rose, on a trip to her parents’ house. It quickly becomes clear to Chris that something is off about the family and their friends. What he doesn’t know yet is that his allies are not who they seem, and sh*t is about to get way weirder.

Pet Sematary

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Based on the eponymous novel by Stephen King, this movie offers a buffet of nightmares. There’s the friendly ghost Victor Pascow; a back-from-the-dead, scalpel-wielding toddler; and a back-from-the-dead, mutilated wife. Note to self: If you live near a graveyard that allows you to bring back the dead, just…don’t do it.

Hush

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This Netflix Original had the potential to be bad—it’s about a deaf woman who lives alone in the woods and has to defend herself from a murderous home invader—but it's actually incredibly well done. Fast-paced and surprising, it never patronizes its protagonist. Also, it’s genuinely scary.

A Quiet Place

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Who knew shushing could be so terrifying? A Quiet Place—starring IRL couple John Krasinski and Emily Blunt—introduces audiences to a post-apocalyptic world where the only means of survival is being really, really quiet—and if that doesn’t stress you out enough, there’s a crying baby involved.

Don’t Look Now

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Kay, so this movie has the longest and most ’70s un-simulated sex scene you’ve ever seen, and that’s not even the scariest part. Don’t Look Now—starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie—is about a couple in Venice that’s haunted/stalked by a tiny child demon in a raincoat, and honestly, both the pubic-hair situation and the sheer horror of the plot will shake you.

It

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It fully ruined everyone’s childhoods by introducing the world to Pennywise, a deranged clown who eats children faster than I eat pizza Bagel Bites. The original is solid, but if you’re in the mood to scream hysterically, the reboot starring Bill Skarsgård is what you need in life. That said, I think we can all agree that the scariest part about watching It is realizing you have a crush on Bill and spending the next few days worrying you’re attracted to clowns. Anyone?

The Conjuring

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The best/worst part about The Conjuring? How much of it is true ("true"). Set in 1971, this movie introduces us to the Perrons, a large family that moves into a creepy Rhode Island farmhouse and gets all kinds of haunted. Real-life supernatural investigators (and controversial figures IRL) Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) roll in to get rid of the demonic presence lurking in the house, and it’s all extremely nope-nope-nope from there.

Fear Street

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You should be set for a while with this since there are *three* movies in this series. That's right, a lil film trilogy to binge till you're too afraid to go to sleep. Based on the best-selling horror books from R.L. Stine, the movies follow a group of teens who battle an evil force that's been wreaking absolute havoc on their town Shadyside for literal centuries. Expect murders, and other terrifying and haunting events all happening throughout time periods.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To

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In efforts to care for their ill brother Thomas (Owen Campbell), two siblings Dwight (Patrick Fugit) and Jessie (Ingrid Sophie Schram) go to extreme lengths—like, you know, capturing and killing people for their blood—to keep their loved one alive. It’s a vampire movie like you’ve never seen before, truly.

The Boy Behind the Door

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Two young boys are kidnapped, but after one escapes, he chooses to go back to rescue his bestie from an axe-toting killer. Lonnie Chavis, aka "Young Randall" from This Is Us, stars in the horror film that ensures you will never sleep ever, ever again.

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