First it was a low budget Roger Corman movie, then it was a stage musical, and then it was a big budget Frank Oz movie. The story of a shy florist who has to feed his beloved pants blood gets pretty violent, but the enormously happy, catchy songs prevent Little Shop of Horrors from ever being truly scary.
TERROR RATING: 10%
Originally dismissed as a Goonies knockoff with Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, The Mummy and Creature from the Black Lagoon as the bad guys, Fred Dekker's The Monster Squad went on to become a cult classic. Creepy monster effects, genuine danger for the pre-pubescent heroes and Dracula with dynamite make The Monster Squad fun, but probably only scary to smaller kids.
TERROR RATING: 15%
Joe Dante's follow-up to the 1984 Christmas horror-comedy classic Gremlins (which was rated PG, if you'll recall) played up the jokes and played down the scares. But there are moments of genuine monstrousness, particularly when the Spider Gremlin rears its ugly head.
TERROR RATING: 20%
Ron Underwood's cult classic monster movie Tremors featured a novel concept - giant killer worms that burrow under the ground and "see" via vibrations - and a cast of lovable characters played by Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Michael Gross and Reba McEntire. Which just makes it all the more suspenseful when their lives are threatened. The tone is light, but the danger is very, very real in Tremors.
TERROR RATING: 25%
So get this: trolls are real, and they're being kept a secret by the Norwegian government. That's where a young film crew comes in and starts documenting the life of a professional troll hunter working for the government. Andre Overdal's Trollhunter is a total blast, but usually feels more like an ambitious fantasy adventure than a straight-up horror movie. Except when the crew is trapped in a cave with man-eating monsters, or trying to escape a troll the size of a skyscraper.
TERROR RATING: 30%
Marc Forster's big budget zombie epic World War Z gets an "A" for effort: it expands the scope of the zombie apocalypse to a globetrotting action saga with one original set piece after the next. The tone is a little too "Hollywood" to truly terrify, but it takes the material seriously, highlights like the torturous climactic stealth scene and the initial, chaotic outbreak make it plenty suspenseful.
TERROR RATING: 35%
They're killer clowns. They're from outer space. It should be pretty stupid, and it totally is, but the amazing practical effects by the Chiodo Brothers and the twisted, black humor of Killer Klowns from Outer Space make it a nightmare for anyone already suffering from coulrophobia. Everyone else will just laugh. It mostly averages out.
TERROR RATING: 40%
Arachnophobia is more common than the fear of clowns, so this remarkably well written horror comedy from director Frank Marshall has a much better chance of freaking you out. A strain of extremely poisonous spiders is unleashed in small town America and begin biting their way through a cast of memorable characters, culminating in a duel with an arachnophobe played by Jeff Daniels, and a cocky exterminator played by John Goodman.
TERROR RATING: 45%
Joe Dante returned to PG-13 horror in 2009 with this little-seen, but very well-made teen horror film about kids who find a bottomless pit in the basement of their house. When their worst fears crawl out, they have to face frightening - and surprisingly mature - aspects of their subconscious. The Hole fits very neatly in the middle spectrum of PG-13 horror; it's freaky but also entirely meant to be enjoyed by children, so it never goes full nightmare.
TERROR RATING: 50%
Kate Hudson stars in this atmospheric Southern Gothic potboiler about a young nurse caught up in an ages-old mystery at a spooky-wooky plantation. Iain Softley directs The Skeleton Key with shadows and foreshadowing, providing a nice sense of dread to another otherwise pulpy supernatural whodunnit.
TERROR RATING: 55%
It's popular to hate on M. Night Shyamalan nowadays, but back in 1999 he crafted one of the best supernatural thrillers ever made. The Sixth Sense stars Haley Joel Osment as a little boy who can see ghosts, and lives in constant terror. Bruce Willis plays the psychologist trying to save his sanity. Shyamalan plays The Sixth Sense mostly as a straight drama, but he knows how to scare you, and Osment's perpetually nervous performance can still get under your skin.
TERROR RATING: 60%
In the historic Dolphin Hotel, nobody stays in room 1408, because it's haunted as hell. Travel writer John Cusack takes that as a challenge, and spends one night in the scariest room in the world. 1408, based on a short story by Stephen King, is mostly a cinematic experiment: how scary can a guy stuck in one room really be? The answer is pretty darn scary, but the gimmick does wear a little thin eventually.
TERROR RATING: 65%
James Wan's supernatural thriller Insidious is scary. You can tell because the movie yells it at you. The loudest sting music you've ever heard punctuates this eerily shot story about a family fighting off demons who want to possess their comatose son. It's genuinely creepy, but the overwhelming sense that it's trying too hard takes the edge off of a lot of the scares.
TERROR RATING: 70%
The follow-up to Insidious was actually an improvement, telling a more relatable story - about a father possessed by a demon, ready to kill his family at any moment - with more skill and imagination. The stakes are higher and Wan's craft as a filmmaker exploded between films. It's still a little blunt, but it strikes hard nevertheless.
TERROR RATING: 75%
Sam Raimi's first film after completing his Spider-Man trilogy was a throwback to the horror genre that made him famous in the first place. And even though it's PG-13, his whirling dervish camera work and playful sadism towards his characters make it really, really scary. Drag Me To Hell stars Alison Lohman as a young woman cursed to get, well, dragged into Hell, and as the tension mounts, she decides she'll do anything - ANYTHING - to save her soul.
TERROR RATING: 80%
Alejandro Amenabar's classy old school haunted house flick stars Nicole Kidman as the mother of two children who are allergic to sunlight. So the shadows practically drip off the screen in The Others, and a pervasive melancholy gives even the quietest moments a real chill. There's something genuinely scary going on in this house, and wait till you find out what it is...
TERROR RATING: 85%
Robert Lieberman's Fire in the Sky came out at exactly the right time, when paranoia over alien abductions was just hitting the urban legend zeitgeist. The story of a man abducted by aliens, and the friends left behind who are accused of murdering him, plays like a straight drama, and for a while that's what makes it scary. This is how the world would treat you if all the stories about aliens were true. But then they finally cut to what happened to that friend aboard the spaceship, and it is shocking, terrifying, grotesque and unforgettable.
TERROR RATING: 90%
One of the (few) great found footage shockers, The Last Exorcism tells the story of a fraudulent priest on a mission to disprove his faith on camera. Sure enough, it turns out that this one demonic possession might be real. Daniel Stamm's movie plays its cards at just the right time, building uncomfortable momentum until the young star Ashley Bell begins contorting the hell out of herself in ways that'd give anyone the heebie jeebies. It's one of the better modern horror movies.
TERROR RATING: 90%
Unlike The Monster Squad, this 1980s horror movie for pre-teens is absolutely freakish. A young Stephen Dorff finds a gateway to Hell in his backyard, unleashing monsters, deformations and horrifying sights that, really, should have earned The Gate an R-rating for sheer scariness alone. The Gate is not a reassuring movie for kids. It's designed to traumatize them. And it does its job.
TERROR RATING: 90%
Based on the (arguably even better) Japanese supernatural thriller Ringu, Gore Verbinski's The Ring is one of the most creepily shot movies around, lending its bizarre concept serious weight. Bodies start turning up, and the only tie between them is that they all watched the same spooky video. Naomi Watts plays an intrepid reporter who watches it too, and then has to solve an old murder mystery while her reality crumbles around her, and death begins to call. The Ring is one of the great horror remakes, restaging a very Japanese story in an American setting very successfully, and capturing some of the scariest scenes in recent memory in the process. And it did it all with a PG-13 rating. Good show.
TERROR RATING: 95%