Do you want to see something really scary?

That night I moved from the upstairs bedroom to the one beside mom and dad.  I had nightmares until I was in bootcamp.

So if you wanted to find out what the scariest movies were, how would you proceed?  Unless you’re a diehard horror movie fan, you can’t really come close to seeing them all.  And how do you get past general movie reviews to the actual movie watchers?  Isn’t that the best place to get to the truth?  Would you just come out and tell someone what really scares you?

About a month ago a question was posed to a group of general interest fanboys and fangirls on the Internet:  What movie traumatized you as a kid?  More than 12,500 people responded.  So what scares did they get while they were kids that stayed with them to this day?  The answers provided a great list of movie recommendations for Halloween, including more than 50 identified below with some of the responders’ reactions.  The results were cross-generational, with comments from people who were kids in the 1950s through well into the 1990s.  Some are movies watched in the theater, some at drive-ins, others from the living room on late night TV.  Sprinkled into the responses are movies that probably would scare only kids (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Alice in Wonderland) but most responses were films Rated R or otherwise targeted at adults.  You’d think the list would include nearly everything we listed on this month’s schedule of movies appearing on TV (here at  That wasn’t always the case.  And many might make you think nobody has ever paid attention to that Rated R advisory and that many parents took kids to movies way before they should have.  The actor who tops the list?  The versatile Bette Davis, who appeared in numerous horror films and two at the top of this list (I watched my best friend in junior high hide behind his hands watching the film The Watcher in the Woods starring Davis, so consider that one of my recommendations).  It should be no surprise many of the scares come from stories written by Stephen King.

So… to quote Dan Aykroyd talking to Albert Brooks at the beginning of the movie The Twilight Zone:

Do you want to see something really scary?

So what movies topped the list–the films that created actually nightmares for so many?  Several hundred people identified these three as the most traumatizing:  What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (“scared the shit out of me and we had to go home”), The Exorcist (“I don’t think my sister or I slept for a month”), and The Wizard of Oz (“the witch and the flying monkeys!”).  The next tier went to some movies you may not even remember or would think of:  The Hand (“I still don’t let my arm dangle or leg the edge of the bed at night”), The Day After (“to this day the visuals haunt me”), and Rosemary’s Baby (“my mother’s worst parenting decision was allowing me to watch it”).  Close behind were Trilogy of Terror (“that doll bothered me for years”), Arachnophobia (“I hate spiders as much as clowns”), Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (“Mom told me not to look when Charlotte chops a guy’s head off with a hatchet, but it was too late”), and Child’s Play (lots of instances of older kids traumatizing their younger siblings after watching).

Dozens were frightened by Ridley Scott’s original Alien, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (“I turn away when I know the dead guy scene is coming”), the original The Thing and John Carpenter’s The Thing (but no mention of the latest remake), Stephen King’s original It with Tim Curry (“I will never understand why my parents allowed me to watch that”), and a Universal monster classic: The Creature from the Black Lagoon.  Who knew this would make the list: Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (“Christopher Lloyd… Scariest children’s movie villain ever”), and many more mentions included A Nightmare on Elm Street (“Thinking someone could kill me in my dreams and never physically be there ruined my ability to sleep soundly”), Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal (“Skeksis are creepy to this day”) and Labyrinth (“when the fireys sing their song and do their dance for Sarah”), Stephen King’s The Shining (“I am sure my scream carried for miles,” “stood out in the lobby most of the movie”) and Pet Sematary (“still can’t watch it”), Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (“couldn’t take a shower without locking the bathroom door for years”), Sleeping Beauty (“my parents had to take me out of Sleeping Beauty I was so scared”), A Clockwork Orange (“will always haunt me”), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (“I’m still not ok with it… I won’t watch it”), The Amityville Horror (“at least a month before I’d sleep without lights on”), Jaws (“I still won’t go in the water”), and Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (“had to get behind the couch,” “could never have gaps in curtains or blinds for the next 20 years”).

Other multiple mentions went to Poltergeist (“the tree busting through the window and grabbing people”), Phantasm, The Poseidon Adventure, The Omen (“I had the shakes, sweats and was so scared”), House on Haunted Hill (“watched it again this summer and it STILL creeped me out!!), Mommy Dearest, Cat’s Eye (“little gremlin came out of your walls and stole your breath while asleep”), Something Wicked This Way Comes (“just because it says ‘Disney’ doesn’t mean you should ever, ever, ever let your 8 year old watch it”), Silence of the Lambs (“I still can’t watch that movie”), Sybil, CarrieAlice in Wonderland (“worst nightmares ever with the queen and the cat”), Creepshow 2 (“a blob in the lake that ate the teens on the floating deck”), Invaders from Mars, An American Werewolf in London (“when the guy’s face changed Dad and I got up, turned off the TV, and went to bed”), The Night of the Hunter, The Tingler (“when the dead woman with the sheet over her sat up”), Critters, Scream, and a batch of the originals of the following films that were later remade: Friday the 13th (“I freaked out and tossed my bucket of popcorn up”), The Blob (“no monster in any movie scared me like this one”), The Fly (“to this day I get freaked out when a fly lands on me”), Willard (“couldn’t be around dark windows for a long time”), Halloween (“Michael Myers mask and the flickering Jack o’ Lantern scarred me for life”), The House of Wax, The Haunting, and The Incredible Shrinking Man, plus Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (“that child catcher freaked me out”), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (“I wish I had never watched it”), Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The War of the Worlds (“hated our street lights thereafter”), Night of the Living Dead (“I had nightmares up until my 40s”), When a Stranger Calls (“I did a lot of babysitting and that one freaked me out”), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (“can’t handle having my ears touched to this day”), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (“the Oompa Loompas”), Beneath the Planet of the Apes (“when the people all pulled their faces off really messed me up”), Motel Hell, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Burnt Offerings (“Karen Black and Bette Davis”), and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Some of these are on television this month with many available on Netflix and other streaming services.  Many also made the writer’s list of Halloween movie recommendations here.  If you’re looking for something really scary, and whether you’re young or old, you might want to check out a few of these movies this month–if you dare!

C.J. Bunce

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