1. The Exorcist (1973)
With all the other heavy hitters on this list can there be any doubt that The Exorcist takes the top slot? Voted the scariest movie of all time by Entertainment Weekly, AMC and Time Out.com among others, The Exorcist delivers more goosebumps, shortened breaths, and nightmares than any other film ever made.
After playing with a Ouija board young Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) comes down with a severe case of demonic possession. A sudden outbreak of bad language, creepy sounds and increased strength lead her mother to believe there is more going on with her daughter than just the beginnings of puberty, especially after she kills a friend of hers. As the detectives and doctors investigate Regan’s case they eventually call on the help of of Catholic priests, Father Karras (Jason Miller) and Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) for help. What follows is an unforgettable battle between the forces of heaven and hell fin the bedroom of one little girl for the sake of her innocent soul. A battle that still terrifies audiences decades later.
A faithful adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name, which in turn was based on the real life 1949 exorcism of Roland Doe, The Exorcist was a troubled production from the start. Passed up by directors like Stanley Kubrick, the film eventually fell to William Friedkin. Filming in 130 degree temperatures in Iraq for the archaeological dig scenes brought severe illness to many on the crew combined with a failed coup while in country and run ins with an actual tribe of devil worshipers brought many to believe the production was cursed. More than a 1,000 girls were auditioned for the role of Regan before 12 year old Linda Blair was found who had the acting chops and was mature enough to handle the intense subject matter presented in the film. In a final bit of irony, Max von Sydow was an atheist and had trouble on set playing a holy man of God.
What makes The Exorcist so scary? Where do we start? Seeing a young girl float above her bed, spin her head around 360, projectile vomit, growl, bitch slap, face hump, spider walk, and crucifix dildo herself bloody, what else is left?
The deep religious themes give a hefty gravity to the situation and keep the stakes raised throughout. It’s not just Regan’s soul that is being saved through the Exorcism, but Father Karras’s faith as well as it hangs by a thread while dealing with the death of his mother.
The music, while not my favorite is still scary, memorable, and adds to the chilling vibe of the overall movie.
Lots of the films on this list as we’ve seen subscribe to the theory that what scares you the most is what you can’t see. The Exorcist goes in the completely opposite direction and hits you over the head with shock after explicit shock. The fact that everything centers around a young teenage girl takes the shock value to the extreme. Linda Blair and the special effects combine to do an incredible job of conveying what a piece of hell must look like.
Cold. Dark. Treacherous. Frightening. Disturbing. And here among us.
FUN FACT: Warner Bros paid for bodyguards to protect Linda Blair from death threats for 6 months after the film’s release as religious zealots thought the film glorified Satan a little too much.
Was your favorite scary movie missed? Do you disagree at all? Can you make a passionate plea to convince me that Paranormal Activity belongs here? Then leave a message in comments below. Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing if you enjoyed the article.