No two humans shrink from exactly the same things. For instance, people with ranidaphobia might tremble at the 1972 Frogs, in which giant amphibians terrorize people on the island estate of a millionaire polluter. The rest of us would guffaw. (Its tag line: Today the pond, tomorrow the world!)
The genre of screen horror goes back to silent days, when vampires and zombies walked a black-and-white Earth. But those movies (Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) no longer inspire shudders in 21st-century movie fans. I suspect thats also true of the great first-generation horror movies of the talking-picture era: Freaks, Dracula, Frankenstein.
So if were asking readers to vote on their scariest movie ever, the choices should come from the last 50 years or so, when the demons emerge in worlds recognizably like our own. Contemplate this chronological list and tell us what disturbs you most:
Psycho (1960) The Bates Motel proves an inhospitable stop for travelers who upset desk clerk Norman and/or his seldom-seen mother.
The Exorcist (1973) A girl possessed by Satan in a ritzy Georgetown neighborhood turns into a murderer, until priests intervene.
Halloween (1978) A psychotic boy institutionalized since childhood breaks out of his restraints and stalks teenagers in his home town.
Friday the 13th (1980) When a summer camp reopens after a child drowns, an unknown assailant begins to slay the counselors.
Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) A murdered sexual predator terrorizes the children of his assailants by coming to life during their dreams.
Scream (1996) A killer wearing a ghostly mask starts knocking off teenagers according to the rules established by horror movies of the 70s and 80s.
The Blair Witch Project (1999) The first big found footage horror film, about videographers who go into the woods in search of a legendary sorceress.
What Lies Beneath (2000) A research scientists neglected wife believes her Vermont home is haunted by ghosts. Or is she going insane?
The Ring (2002) A journalist investigates a videotape that kills anyone who watches it in this remake of a Japanese film (the 1998 Ringu).
Paranormal Activity (2007) A couple, believing a new home has been infested by malevolent forces, sets up a camera to see what happens as they sleep.
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