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These are the 20 scariest horror movies of all time, according to our film critic

Heeere's Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining."

Heeere's Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining." Credit: Warner Bros/Everett Collection

Everyone likes a scary movie on Halloween, right? But what about this year? After all, who needs horror when 2020 is lurking outside your door?

Actually, horror movies have remained popular throughout the pandemic. "Antebellum," starring Janelle Monae as a woman forced into slavery, has been a favorite on VOD for the past several weeks even in the face of overwhelmingly negative reviews. Amazon Prime Video released an anthology of four feature-length horror films under the banner "Welcome to the Blumhouse." And one of the only new releases to play at reopened theaters this month was the techno-ghost story "Come Play."

Clearly, there's still an appetite for fright. If you're looking to exorcise some demons this Halloween, here's our list of the 20 scariest movies ever made.

20. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2009) This no-budget indie about a possessed McMansion helped kick off the current horror craze. Slamming doors and flickering lights — and not much else — make this a yelp-out-loud treat.

19. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) The movie that gave us the blade-fingered Freddy Krueger (and the film debut of Johnny Depp) looks a little dated now, but director Wes Craven's blend of dreams and reality still has the power to unsettle.

18. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) The zombie genre starts with George Romero's ghoulish, gory classic. AMC's "The Walking Dead" may have more splatter, but this one stares into the existential abyss.

17. ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) Roman Polanski's film about a pregnant woman (Mia Farrow) who gets snookered into Satanism is a slow-building chiller, but the climactic payoff is one of the best you'll ever see.

16. GET OUT (2017) Jordan Peele's story of a young Black man (Daniel Kaluuya) meeting his white girlfriend's parents is essentially a race-based version of "The Stepford Wives." It works best as satirical commentary but has enough wig-out moments to earn a place on this list.

15. THE EVIL DEAD (1981) Five college kids find an audiotape that releases demons in this sophomore feature from Sam Raimi. It's freaky fun thanks to clever camerawork, a sly sense of humor and a star turn from Bruce Campbell.

14. PSYCHO (1960) Alfred Hitchcock's most famous film may not jolt audiences the way it once did. But it's still a terrific shocker, from Anthony Perkins' performance as the ultimate mama's boy to the lightbulb-swinging climax.

13. THE OMEN (1976) This knockoff of "The Exorcist" met with mixed reviews but is now considered a modern horror classic. Harvey Stephens is unforgettable as Damien, a literal demon child, while several top-shelf actors (Gregory Peck, Lee Remick) play the unfortunate adults around him.

12. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) Three filmmakers enter a Maryland forest to investigate a local myth. Assembled from their "found" footage, "The Blair Witch Project" uses virtually nothing but weird noises and shaky camerawork — by the actors themselves — to create an atmosphere of deep-reaching terror.

11. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) Tobe Hooper's low-budget shocker about cannibals who prey on hippies was the perfect mid-'70s horror film, a grisly stew of Manson mythology and redneckphobia. Not for the faint of heart.

10. POLTERGEIST (1982) This other Hooper title has been almost as widely imitated as "Psycho" or "Halloween." (There's some controversy about whether producer Steven Spielberg "really" directed it.) This is the movie that made an entire generation afraid to watch television.

9. JAWS (1975) Spielberg's masterpiece about an outsize shark may not pack the scares per minute of other films on this list. It's part horror movie, part adventure epic. But for white-knuckle suspense — plus several nasty surprises — "Jaws" is tough to beat.

8. THE THING (1982) John Carpenter's film about an Antarctic crew that discovers a creature frozen in ice was a critical flop upon release. It's now considered a screamingly great horror flick, full of gore, goo and flamethrowers. The ace cast includes Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley and Keith David.

7. AUDITION (1999) This cinematic sneak attack begins straightforwardly enough, with a Japanese widower looking for a younger lover. The film's second half is — well, you'll have to see it to believe it. Directed by Takashi Miike.

6. HEREDITARY (2018) Ari Aster's story of an artist (Toni Collette) ensnared by a cult may be too intense for some. Critics raved but audiences balked and gave it a rare D+ CinemaScore. You've been warned.

5. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) Jonathan Demme's tale of an FBI agent (Jodie Foster) on a grisly mission is still the only horror film to win the Oscar for best picture. Anthony Hopkins turned Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter into the cinematic serial killer by which all others are judged.

4. HALLOWEEN (1978) John Carpenter terrorized middle America with this simple but effective tale about a serial killer stalking suburban teenagers. Even today, "Halloween" feels like your worst nightmare: a home invasion perpetrated by a semi-supernatural murderer. Jamie Lee Curtis makes her big-screen debut as terrorized babysitter Laurie Strode.

3. ALIEN (1979) Director Ridley Scott admitted that "Alien" was basically " 'Jaws' in space." Nevertheless, thanks to a groundbreakingly hideous space creature (designed by illustrator H.R. Geiger) and a tough-as-nails Sigourney Weaver as a desperate astronaut, Scott's movie remains the high point of sci-fi horror.

2. THE EXORCIST (1973) Audiences reportedly fainted and vomited during William Friedkin's film about a little girl (an Oscar-nominated Linda Blair) possessed by a demon. Hype aside, the movie is an absolute hair-raiser, especially the later editions that restored the eye-popping "spider-walk" scene.

1. THE SHINING (1980) When it comes to imitators, Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," based on Stephen King's 1977 novel, stands alone. Nobody has ever recreated a hotel quite like the Overlook, nor has anyone equaled Jack Nicholson's unhinged performance as a father gone mad. It's a monolith of terror, undiminished even after 40 years.

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