GUEST POST: The Top Five(ish) Horror Movies that Actually Scared Me by SARAH LANGAN


Sarah Langan (

Titan Books (


As a horror movie lover, I’ve developed fear calluses. This probably started back during the summer before fifth grade, when I rented Dawn of the Dead from the local Long Island video store, Video Quest, where the owner was always giving me the stink eye because he felt people my age should be watching Muppets Take Manhattan. I was watching Dawn of the Dead one afternoon, terrified, when my dad came in and joined me. My dad’s an orthopedic surgeon. It’s a messy, bloody job: giving people new joints, fusing their spines, replacing entire bones in their hips. You’ve got to be strong, and you can’t be squeamish. So, my dad started laughing at Dawn of the Dead. He was like: Zombies! That’s so funny! People don’t bleed like that! Joints don’t pull away like that! The movie got to the part where the biker dude gets his blood pressure measured and the zombies come eat everything but his arm, and my dad was in hysterics. So, I started laughing, too. The below movies are scary, but not because they’re gross. They’re just good scares.

  • The Ring—The premise is that, if you watch this viral film, then you’ll die in seven days. There’s no escaping it. What’s awful about it is its inevitability. You can’t escape it. Just like death. Even my dad jumped at the end of this one!
  • Hereditary – This movie’s so unique. As a viewer, I had no idea where it was going. But I could see the tragedy inside it, which was the notion that the wounds in one generation carry through to the next. In that context, it’s like we’re possessed by our own ancestors, acting in ways over which we have no control. It’s also got a fantastically comedic final song, Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” 
  • Paranormal Activity – I watched this while very pregnant with my first child. I was feeling raw, and scared about what would happen next and whether I was prepared. In the movie, a couple unleash a peculiarly malicious form of haunting, which they record. They work against each other, and birth something horrible. I couldn’t sleep the whole night after watching this. 
  • The Conjuring – This one follows-up on the conceit that Paranormal Activity posits: there are things worse than ghosts, that were never human. They want us, too. Only, they’re stronger, and they have no reason, only malice. It’s fun, and weird, and I closed my eyes a few times.
  • Eraserhead – leave it to David Lynch to make a film about parenthood, that’s so scary that everybody who sees it, even the ones trying to conceive, probably decide they’ll wait at least another month. It’s about a deformed baby that won’t stop crying, and its got dream logic, invoking dream terror, where we feel we’ve done something very horrible that can’t be taken back. The movie is like living inside a nightmare.
  • Under The Shadow – An educated, liberal woman is trapped in Iran with her daughter during the revolution, and a black malice is threatening to devour them. We watch as their world gets smaller and smaller. The outside has turned against them, only they haven’t realized it yet. They still think that if they’re in the right, than the cultural monster will be fair.
  • The Exorcist – I was raised Catholic, and read the book and saw the movie very young, when my nuns still told me that I could be possessed at any time, and the perversity of Satan was that he chose the good and the bad alike. For this reason, I looked under my bed for Captain Howdy for years. Culturally, it taps into the idea that the youth have gone wild. They’re corrupt and can’t be controlled. Back when I was a kid, what scared me about this movie was the notion that I might lose control of myself. I might become someone else and hurt the people I love in outrageous ways.

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