List of the Top 100 Chicago Critics’ Scariest Films

Scariest movies Jurassic Park Jeff GoldblumScariest movies of all time: Chicago Film Critics Association Top 100 horror films (photo: Jeff Goldblum in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jurassic Park’)

I tend to ignore top 100 film lists because they are usually compiled by people who know little about movies beyond Hollywood stuff made in the last 15 or 20 years. But the list of "100 scariest movies of all time" compiled by the members of the Chicago Film Critics Association does include several oldies and even, gasp, a handful of non-American horror films (Dario Argento’s Suspiria, Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu).

Since I’m a total wimp when it comes to scary movies, I found it curious that several titles found on the Chicago Film Critics’ list left me utterly unimpressed — e.g., Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Rob Reiner’s Misery, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. On the other hand, a number of movies — whether good, bad, or so-so — that gave me nightmares for days — e.g., Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone / El espinazo del diablo, John Carpenter’s The Fog, David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon, Michael Mann’s The Keep – are nowhere to be found on the list.

Also, I couldn’t locate any Lon Chaney movies or any of the neo-horror Japanese films that have found a large audience worldwide. Either I missed them, or perhaps Lon Chaney and Japanese horror films aren’t available in Chicago. (The Chicago Film Critics do, however, list James Whale’s campy The Bride of Frankenstein. But then again, Elsa Lanchester’s wig was frightening.)

The Chicago Film Critics’ Top 100 scariest movies

1. Psycho (1960) Alfred Hitchcock

2. The Exorcist (1973) William Friedkin

3. Halloween (1978) John Carpenter

4. Alien (1979) Ridley Scott

5. Night of the Living Dead (1968) George A. Romero

6. Jaws (1975) Steven Spielberg

7. The Shining (1980) Stanley Kubrick

8. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) Tobe Hooper

9. Dawn of the Dead (1978) George A. Romero

10. Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Roman Polanski

11. The Silence of the Lambs

12. The Blair Witch Project

13. Nosferatu / Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)

14. Frankenstein (1931)

15. A Nightmare on Elm Street

16. Carrie (1976)

17. The Thing (1982)

18. The Bride of Frankenstein

19. The Haunting (1963)

20. Poltergeist

21. Suspiria

22. Wait Until Dark

23. The Birds

24. Don’t Look Now

25. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn

26. The Innocents

27. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

28. Freaks

29. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

30. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)

31. The Omen (1976)

32. The Fly (1986)

33. Seven

34. The Re-Animator

35. The Sixth Sense

36. The Ring (2002)

37. The Evil Dead

38. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

39. The Hitcher

40. Near Dark

41. Dracula (1931)

42. Vampyr (1932)

43. Onibaba

44. Scream

45. Aliens

46. Creature from the Black Lagoon

47. Session 9

48. Nosferatu the Vampyre / Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)

49. Black Christmas

50. When a Stranger Calls

51. Repulsion

52. Misery

53. Horror of Dracula

54. The Others

55. Jurassic Park

56. The Seventh Victim

57. Peeping Tom

58. 28 Days Later

59. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

60. The Hidden

61. May

62. Shaun of the Dead

63. The Last House on the Left (1972)

64. 10 Rillington Place

65. Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom

66. Cat People (1942)

67. Frailty

68. The Howling

69. Trilogy of Terror

70. Blue Velvet

71. I Walked with a Zombie

72. Bram Stoker’s Dracula

73. Martin

74. Deliverance

75. Carnival of Souls

76. The Vanishing / Spoorlos (1988)

77. Masque of the Red Death

78. The Night of the Hunter

79. Salem’s Lot

80. Fright Night

81. Black Sunday (1960)

82. Scream 2

83. Dressed to Kill

84. The Stepfather

85. Friday the 13th (1980)

86. The Exorcism of Emily Rose

87. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

88. The Brood

89. Dead Alive

90. Open Water

91. The Mummy (1932)

92. Requiem for a Dream

93. Signs

94. The Wolf Man

95. Phantasm

96. The Night Stalker

97. The Brides of Dracula

98. M (1930)

99. God Told Me To

100. Eyes Without a Face / Les Yeux sans visage

Jeff Goldblum Jurassic Park photo: Universal Pictures.

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37 Comments to Chicago Critics’ Scariest Films

  1. hergenbeck

    Contrarily to some comments, I agree to putting Psycho on N° one - it still works, even on adults. But I do miss Eraserhead: After seeing a trailer when I was 20, I waited ten years to collect the courage to see it - and I did well do do so. For me, it’s still the most unquieting, disturbing and scary movie ever.

  2. patrick

    the first like 15 aren’t the least bit scary

  3. Stanley B

    I can see this being a (painfully cliche) top 100 horror films list, but saying it’s a list of the “scariest films” with so many horror-comedies and borderline thrillers is insane. Evil Dead 2? Fright Night? Deliverance? Even Jaws, though scary, is not consistent enough in maintaining a horrific tone to deserve a spot in the top 10 of such a list.

  4. Neo

    Jurrasic Park? Seriously?

    The only thing scary about that film was the gradual decline in the quality of John Williams’ film music…

  5. MoreLike

    Neither Psycho or The Exorcist are even remotely scary. The Shinning has by far the creepiest atmosphere out of any movie. It should be number uno with ease.

  6. Gee Lampa

    The very fact that Shyamalan’s abysmal “Signs” made the cut, and Fulci’s “Gates Of Hell”or “Zombi”; “The Brood” or “The Sentinel” didn’t…. Well, all credibility goes right in the poop saloon, as far as I’m concerned.

  7. Jerry

    I’d drop “Repulsion” and “The Shining,” both of which I found slow and overrated, and add the 1950s British movie “Night of the Demon” (aka “Curse of the Demon”) and the 1943 Danish movie “Day of Wrath.”

    “Psycho” works best in a crowded theater. I saw a revival in a San Francisco theater and it worked beautifully.

  8. Marlon

    How on earth did ‘Dawn of the Dead’ make the top 10? It was so boring I actually got a headache waiting for something interesting to happen.

  9. David

    Also Where is Pet Sematery,Amityville Horror and IT

  10. David

    where is candyman and hellraiser?

  11. LALA

    Remember guys, it’s a list of the scariest films, not the best horrors. That being said, PSYCHO CAN’T BE NUMBER ONE! Have you seen it? I’m sure it was scary for that era, but I watched it a few months ago and the only part that scared me was the end. The shower scene was excellent, but not at all horrific. My top 3 would be: Exorcist (though it was quite slow), Halloween and The Ring. I really haven’t seen a ton, just about 20 of these, but I haven’t seen any extremely scary films. I thought the Invasion was quite scary, but just some parts. The Silence of the Lambs was as scary as Harry Potter, not even! It was a fantastic film but doesn’t deserve to be in the top 15. One or two scenes were frightening in Alien, and Halloween was very good. It was quite freaky, but I left watching the Exorcist completely freaked out. One film which I found very scary when I was maybe 10 years old was the Forgotten. It wasn’t really a horror, but if they made it a spookier theme, it would have been so. I haven’t seen it since then so I can’t say whether it still frightens me.

  12. Hahah LMAO, Shaun Of the Dead! C’mon! xDD

  13. Eressëa

    Are you Kidding? Shaun of the Dead on this list?

  14. James Kelly

    Painfully retarded. It seems like they just threw in a load of old horrors even though they are not scary at all by todays staderds. I agree, Psycho was pretty scary at times but definately didn’t deserve to be #1.

  15. Hailey Williamson

    This list is a serious joke. Shaun Of The Dead, really. Great movie, but it’s a comedy. I don’t see any horror to it, that would qualify it as a scary movie. Some of these just don’t make sense. Like Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Great movie and book, but nothing scary to it.

  16. Summer

    This list greatly amuses me. Evil Dead 2 at #25 and Evil Dead at #37, for instance. I have always considered the Bruce Campbell movies highly entertaining in the comedic sense rather than anything even closely resembling horror. The montage of several other movies that I would consider to be comedic is astounding, but perhaps none so much (in my opinion) as seeing Shaun of the Dead at #62, three ABOVE Salo. Salo is by far one of the most horrific movies I’ve ever seen.

  17. Mr. Soares (if you’re still reading comments 4 years after this article was published), if you haven’t seen several of the films in the top 10, why are you even commenting on the list? Also, simply saying you were “utterly unimpressed” by Psycho is like dismissing Shakespeare as a hack or the Beatles as overrated. You may have your reasons, but without explanation it casts serious doubt on your judgment. As for the people who bitch about lists, you need to relax. They’re just for fun, don’t take life so seriously. Having said that, where the hell is Alice, Sweet Alice?!

  18. Klyde P.

    This list reminds me of those Rolling Stone top albums of all time, etc. lists. They have mentioned some great classics that were groundbreaking for their time and some (Psycho, the Innocents) still manage to be pretty frightening. But c’mon there is no way to accurately pit films like The Bride of Frankenstein against The Ring. This is a great way of giving all the great horror movies their due credit (obviously we’re missing a few- The Grudge, Jacob’s Ladder, Dementia 13, The Haunting (1962 version is actually *very* creepy)), and is a useful way to find new movies, but it is impossible to expect people to agree on what is scary, and pretty hard to be tasteful and accurate.

  19. Aaron Oswald

    yeah, it’s almost criminal that jacob’s ladder and the changeling weren’t on this list.. i would have also added polanski’s “the tenant”, and flaws aside, the recent french film “inside” as well, but that’s just personal opinion. overall a good list.. i was especially happy they included let’s scare jessica to death and god told me to- those are often overlooked, and great horror films

  20. David

    It might be best to view lists like these as something other than a rating system. Instead, look upon them as a means of finding new movies to enjoy. Though I own a copy of many of the films on this list, there were also several that I had never heard of.

    Right now I am downloading Wait Until Dark, and I may check out 10 Rillington Place also.

    I agree with a lot of your comments too. Some titles clearly do not belong (Shaun of the Dead), some should be rated more highly (Session 9), and some just deserve inclusion (Jacob’s Ladder).

    Furthermore, remember that critics’ lists are collaborative as well as representative, so there is pressure to give equal respect to titles of different eras. How else could the original Nosferatu be rated higher than Cronenberg’s The Fly?

    All in all, I think this list is pretty decent. It definitely beats that list they play on TV every Halloween! Who were the posers who came up with that?

  21. Anis

    Gotta say man, this is pretty inaccurate. I mean Shaun of the dead is one of the funniest films I have ever seen. I have seen youtube videos that have much more a scare to offer. Exorcism of Emily Rose, 86?! Honestly makes you wonder who the hell these film critics are.
    This list needs proper rethinking.

  22. Joe

    Best Horror Movies = Early 70s to Mid-80s

    How comes the Grudge isn’t there, and I even hate modern day slashers and CGIs, but that was a stylish Japanese chilling horror film? Oh yeah let me guess, Triology Of Terror with its 7 inch tall Voodoo doll and Open water(a rip off jaws) is scarier, hehehe. Creature From The Black Lagoon was excellent for its time, but thanks alot Chicago times for putting a 50s Sci-fi on your top 100 Horror movies, hehehe.

  23. Joe

    Finally I’m glad to be able to respond to the Chicago times critic list, let me just say that some of the usual mainstream crap shouldn’t be there. I said this many times on many websites. Jaws isn’t horror, it’s a boring animal/adventure movie and it’s rated PG, not R. Alien is number 4 and it’s by default a Sci-fi, and I didn’t like it at all, Jurrassic Park is also an animal/adventure. Silence Of The Lambs is crime/thriller, but just curious, they put The Howling and The Wolfman, what about An American Werewolf In London? That one had a sick transformation, what about the underrated The Changeling with George C.Scott? In The Mouth Of Madness, The Mothman Prophcyies? Oh yeah, why put those when you can just put the same crap, jaws, alien and Silence Of The Lambs. Let me know how you feel and tell Roger Ebert to stick it. Stick to your lighthearted comedy Chicago times.

  24. Moe Sweet

    “When a stranger calls (50)” is placed above “Salo (58)”? You gotta be kidding.

    And where are “Saw” and “Hostel”?

  25. Okami

    So “Jurassic Park” is scarier then “Salo”? Sounds reasonable. Big saurians are way more horrible then fascists who force you to eat shit and afterwards torture you to death in front of your friends. Of course the Gillman from the Black Lagoon beats them both.

  26. Beb Harvey

    “Play Misty for Me” scared me more than any other movie I’ve seen. Nothing spectacular, just quiet, building tension in a California town. I think it may have been the first contemporary movie Clint Eastwood did; it certainly was the first one in which he was stalked.

  27. Andre


    Lists as a “means of measuring film history” are indeed useless (just take a look at the AFI lists), but I bet that Sight & Sound will come up with another such list in 2012.

    As I said in my previous post, those lists are good selling tools. That’s why publications create them — including the Alternative Film Guide. (I do, however, explain that my lists — and my reviews — are, like everybody else’s, highly subjective and definitely NOT written in stone.)

    Now, I do enjoy reading lists — depending on who is doing them, of course. I look at those lists not to discover the Greatest Movies of All Time, but to find out what particular individuals or group(s) of individuals find special.

  28. Andre

    And before I forget…

    I’ve never seen a good print of “The Old Dark House.” What’s available on video or on cable is a high-contrasty print.

    Those guys should make the restored LoC version available on DVD.

    And no, I don’t recall sensing a gay subtext between Karloff and the Old Dark wacko. I gotta watch that movie again…

  29. Andre

    I haven’t seen several of the films in their top-ten list. But I’d say that the less popular a film is — even though we’re talking about film critics who should know their classics — the less likely it’ll be for that film to make it to any top-100 list — let alone a top-ten list.

    Unfortunately, a list filled with relatively obscure titles (i.e., anything made outside of Hollywood, released before 1985, and that hasn’t become a major “classic” of some kind) will not get the sort of media attention accorded to lists consisting of more popular fare.

    And, needless to say, such lists are almost invariably self-promotional tools.

  30. Diabolique is far scarier than Rosemary’s Baby, or 4 or 5 of the otther Top 10.

  31. James

    I think most lists are pretty silly these days. I just don’t understand the concept of actually sitting down and coming up with 10, 50, or even 100 items on a “Best Of” or “Greatest of All Time” list. I never get the need people have to place things in such dogmatic hierarchial contexts. How do you prove “better”? How do you prove “bad” or “good”? You can’t, simply because film appreciation is such an incredibly subjective thing. One person’s “junk” is a meaningful journey for someone else. We might have our personal opinions as to what we like or don’t like, but that hardly etches it in stone. Ask 100 people what the “10 Greatest Romantic Films” are, and guarenteed you’ll get different responses depending upon the person and they’re experiences in life. In a more casual setting, lists can be fun among friends to seeing what other people enjoy. But as a means of measuring film history, they’re pretty useless.

  32. James

    **** Warning: Spoilers Below*******

    Yes, “The Old Dark House” is terrific. People attending Cinesation kept repeating Thesiger’s line “Have a potato” for the rest of the weekend. There’s a really interesting relationship between Karloff’s character as the mute manservant and the insane brother Saul which the family has kept hidden in the attic. When Saul is killed in the end, Karloff is seen very tenderly holding Saul as he’s dying and Karloff is clearly very bereaved by his death. It had a certain gay subtext for me. If I remember correctly, I think Karloff was particularly watchful over Saul, and was the one who was mainly in charge of his care. You get a sense that perhaps there was a deep love and intimacy that existed between the two men. Again, just my personal take on that.

    I don’t know that I was necessarily “frightend” watching “The Old Dark House” but it has a very palpable and stirring atmosphere due largely to the superlative cinematography of Arthur Edeson and the perverse performances from several of the actors. The print shown at Cinesation was taken from a stunning 35mm LOC print. The film was as clear and smooth as glass on the big screen and breathtaking to behold.

  33. Daniel Camargo

    Yeah, those top 10, 50, 100 whatever lists are pretty dumb all right. I agree that Chicago’s was not so bad at all. In this matter of stupid lists, no one can beat AFI.

  34. Andre

    It’s funny you mention “The Old Dark House.” Some of it is hysterically funny — and intentionally so.

    But then the film takes a turn toward the macabre, and it had me on the edge of my seat until the (lighter) finale. There are precious few horror movies from the 1930s that actually put the fear of godawfulness in me — but “The Old Dark House” is one of them.

    So, perhaps we should call it a Horredy?

    Curiously, “The Old Dark House” is nowhere to be found in the Chicago critics’ top 94 (!) list of scariest movies.

    Maybe it’s one of the missing last six titles…

  35. James

    Well, there are definitely comedic touches. Una O’ Connor was a big hit with the audience as well as Ernest Thesiger’s highly flamboyant performance as Dr. Frankenstein’s comrade in his experiments (Thesiger was also a big hit earlier that day with his performance in Whale’s “The Old Dark House”)But, while I don’t consider the film a “horror” film in the traditional sense, I also wouldn’t classify it as a comedy. So, I think that’s why you’re description of it puzzled me. Again, merely a personal thing though.

  36. Andre


    I gotta admit that I saw “Bride of Frankenstein” many years ago. I remember finding some of it humorous. I definitely remember that it wasn’t at all a “scary movie.”

    I do have the DVD here. I need to check it out again. (I can’t think of any big-screen showings of “Bride” in the Los Angeles area in the near future.)

  37. James

    “Bride Of Frankenstein” a comedy? Hmm, I don’t get that one. Although it certainly does have elements of comedy in it. I just saw this film on the big screen at Cinesation( And had seen it before on the lovely DVD release). It’s actually quite a touching film because it speaks to elements of lonliness, societal ostracism, and to the desire for all living beings to be loved and accepted. Take the “horror” element out of the film and it’s a fascinating look at man’s inhumanity to one another, and their inability to see past external superficialities. My mother mentioned being very moved after watching it.

    Of course that’s just my personal take. I haven’t really read a great deal about James Whale(Haven’t gotten around to the biography yet), but I find that aspect of the film quite interesting considering Whale was a gay director.

    So no, I can’t say I find “Bride Of Frankenstein” a “horror” film per se. But something much more significant. I’m a big Karloff fan, and despite the fact that his face is obscured by the heavy makeup, it’s one of his finest performances. Coupled with James Whale’s excellent direction and his moody, surreal cinematic touch, seeing it on the big screen was an entirely different and emotional experience.

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