This Halloween season, a study called The Science Of Scare was conducted to settle the score on ‘the scariest films’ of all time. While the study’s verdict was mostly based on Hollywood films—the Japanese classic The Ring being an exception—the extensive research still broadly determines which mainstream horror film has the most scares.
The team limited their scope to 50 of the best horror films ever made, according to critics’ lists and Reddit recommendations. Subjects of the test were subjected to over 120 hours of these films with 5.1 Surround Sound. A heart rate monitor consistently measured their heartbeats per minute to arrive at the final results, which are as follows.
10 The Visit (2015)
M. Night Shyamalan’s found-footage horror covers a disturbing visit of two children to their grandparents’ house, whom they meet for the first time. Of their own fruition, the siblings unearth discovering secrets that reveal the background of their hosts. The movie doesn’t rely much on jump scares but has enough creepiness to alarm viewers, ranging from characters suddenly looking at the camera to old people suddenly defecating in their diapers.
While The Visit might be Shyamalan’s most conventional horror, it does have a few bits of deadpan humor to balance out the scares.
9 The Descent (2006)
A group of friends is exploring a cave system only to get trapped later. Chaos ensues when they realize the caves also house a group of humanoid creatures the protagonists refer to as “crawlers.” The Descent received rave reviews at the time of its release and was heavily regarded as the scariest film of 2006. Even though the film wasn’t shot in an actual cave, its visuals offered enough claustrophobia to viewers, fueling their adrenaline.
The Descent is now seen as a film of cult status. It even spawned a sequel that, unfortunately, couldn’t live up to the original’s legacy.
8 The Babadook (2014)
The Babadook was a sleeper hit by first-time Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent. The horror drama is based around two staples of the horror genre: coping with grief and a mysterious artifact. The former involves the trauma a widowed mother faces while handling the behavioral issues of her young boy. The artifact in this case is a children’s book that turns into a Pandora’s box of paranormal entities if read aloud.
The low-budget production succeeds at subverting these tropes and creating a well-written family story. The scares are plenty with many blink-and-miss-it moments and screeching, blood-curdling sound design.
7 The Conjuring 2 (2016)
The sequel to James Wan’s blockbuster, The Conjuring 2 might not have been as original as its predecessor, but it still manages to deliver on a variety of scares. Several jump scares and supernatural scenes offer a fresh spin to iconic exorcism sequences and haunted house elements. There are enough inverted crosses and paintings that come alive to keep the audiences biting their nails.
Much like the previous film, The Conjuring 2 stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorrain Warren. The paranormal investigators come out of self-imposed retirement to encounter a demonic force possessing a mother in North London and her four children.
6 It Follows (2015)
It Follows is a blend of mystery and horror. Even though horror is filled with several films on teenage characters, It Follows is a wildly original take with its terrifying narrative. Maika Monroe plays Jay, a teenager who gets possessed by a fatal course that spreads through sexual intercourse.
It makes smart use of its atmosphere and builds up to scary finales with its eerily-genuine acting and musical score. A possibility of an unknown force stalking the main characters looms large, raising the tension.
5 Paranormal Activity (2009)
While one can ignore the countless sequels in the franchise, the original Paranormal Activity was quite a visionary film in its own right. At the center of its story is a couple whose life seems to be interrupted by the titular hauntings, as found in a series of surveillance cameras throughout the film.
It’s probably Paranormal Activity, along with 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, that added a whole new dimension to found-footage filmmaking as an effective subgenre of horror.
4 Hereditary (2018)
Ari Astner’s breakout debut Hereditary can scare one with its grisly and graphic visuals. If that doesn’t test the audience’s fears, hyperactive performances by cast-members like Toni Collette and Alex Wolff would surely raise the overall tension.
Like typical horrors, the atmosphere in Hereditary sets in with the personal loss of a family. The after-effects of this tragedy deeply affect the family’s members as dark secrets start unraveling slowly. Rather than supernatural creatures, Hereditary adds a demonic element to its human characters.
3 The Conjuring (2013)
James Wan made waves in the world of commercial horror, laying the foundation of the Saw franchise. After a few setbacks, Wan bounced back with The Conjuring. Inspired by the real-life experiences of two so-called “ghost hunters,” The Conjuring is universally regarded as one of the scariest films of all time.
Like the other films of the franchise which it spawned, The Conjuring solely focuses on a haunted house. The various contraptions in the house make for frightening jump scares. Hence, this modern horror classic wouldn’t be recommended for sensitive individuals.
2 Insidious (2011)
Insidious is the third film directed by horror maestro James Wan to be featured in this list. What’s amusing is that Insidious is rated PG-13, but the rating can be justified thanks to the film’s lack of violence or gore. That shouldn’t fool cinephiles into thinking that the film lacks scares, though.
The suddenness of each jump scare can be extremely unexpected, adding to the thrills. It stars Wan’s frequent collaborator Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne as a couple who move into a new house. As expected, the house seems to have paranormal properties as their son strangely falls into a coma.
1 Sinister (2012)
Sinister takes the top spot on the list, with a variety of spine-chilling elements. The plot starts off with Ethan Hawke playing a true-crime writer who chances upon a box of 8mm snuff films, containing videos of planned deaths of certain families. As he digs deep, he comes to terms with a pagan deity. The sense of danger increases as the author investigates more and more.
Hawke’s convincing performance as Ellison Oswald brings out a genuine fear as Sinister gears for a hair-raising final sequence. Gyroscope, a loud, fast-paced composition by Boards of Canada, also adds to the chills as it plays in some crucial scenes of the film.
NEXT: 5 Reasons Sinister Takes From The Ring (& 5 Ways They’re Different)
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