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A Review of the Top 5 Scariest Horror Movies, According to Science

It’s that time of the year. The one time of the year where it’s acceptable to binge-watch as many horror movies as humanly possible within a four-week span. “Spooky season” has finally arrived, and with it, an endless list of possible entertainment options for the horror-loving entertainment aficionados. But if you’re like me and never know what to watch, or determine what’s actually good and what will actually scare you, well, look no further. 

Thanks to ScreenRant, a list has been compiled of the top 10 scariest horror movies (according to science). Scientific studies subjected audiences to a variety of horror flicks and measured their heart rates to determine which movies almost gave the subjects heart attacks. If you ask me, one of the biggest fans of the horror genre, that sounds like a pretty good time. Since I wasn’t in the study, I found it only natural to see if their findings were accurate. But as a seasoned horror movie connoisseur, I couldn’t just watch all 10 films. I had to watch the five scariest ones to see if the study’s scariest, most heart-racing movies were really that scary. And naturally, I rated them on a scale: one being so-not-scary, to five being an absolute nightmare of a scare. Here’s what I found:

5. Insidious (4/5)

Let me start by saying I was initially extremely surprised that this movie was at number five on the list out of the top five. If you’ve already seen Insidious, then perhaps you already know how truly bone-chilling this movie is. But if you have not subjected yourself to the terror that embodies the film, well, here is my account of how scary it really is. 

First, a little back story: two parents move into a seemingly old house that soon turns into a hellish (literally) nightmare when their son, Dalton, falls into a mysterious coma… which is actually the possession of a demon. The family turns their attention to a ghost-busting team and psychic medium to attempt to bring Dalton back. The only problem is, they may bring back spooky things with him.

The movie starts out on a positively scary note of terror with the creepy opening credits and dark-casted shots of the setting. The rest of the movie is kept eerily gray and gives off “Coraline”-esque vibes inside Renai (Rose Byrne) and Josh’s (Patrick Wilson) house. Combine that with the two fabulous actors who play the parents and a realistic, red-faced ghoul of some sort, and you have the basis for a pretty good horror movie. Without revealing too much, I will say that the rest of the movie is pretty easy to follow with a solid plotline that goes down smoothly. But in all honesty, the soundtrack (scored by Joseph Bishara) makes the movie as scary as it is. Without it, I don’t believe Insidious would be that scary; it would probably just be funny. There are many twists and turns, loud noises and suspenseful stretches of silence before an inevitable jump scare, and the use of the song “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” is downright skin-crawling. If you’ve never heard that song, go listen for yourself. And of course, the movie ends on a cliffhanger which sets up the rest of the series. Honestly, Insidious is one of my favorites. If you happen to like the first, I highly recommend watching the others that follow. Two thumbs up. 

4. The Descent (4/5)

Not going to lie, the name The Descent sounds extremely ominous but doesn’t draw you in as other horror titles might. With that being said, I had no idea what to expect with this movie, which I had never seen before. But let me tell you, I’m glad I watched it. 

First, a little back story: After going through some extremely rough trauma, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) embarks on an adventure through North Carolina’s cave systems with her friends. However, they soon find that the cave they’re exploring has been explored before and that they’re not the only ones down there. Yikes. 

Since I was able to go into watching this movie completely unbiased, I was truly interested in unraveling all the little messages and piecing the movie together. This meant that I had to stay off my phone and actually pay attention, which is hard to do when you have the attention span of a squirrel. But this movie was able to capture my attention and hold it, which is an impressive feat. However, I will caution those who have a fear of small spaces or claustrophobia to not watch this movie. Also, don’t watch this movie if you have a fear of blood because there’s a lot of that in this movie. A lot. But other than that, go right ahead! 

This movie packs in so many heart attack-worthy scenes, and descends (LOL) into madness pretty quickly. The plot is original which makes it that much better and the insane amount of nail-biting scenes really gives it an edge. And the villain of this movie (or should I say villains,) resembles the very famous character, Gollum, from The Lord of the Rings, except it’s Gollum times 100. There are about 100 Gollum-looking creatures in that cave. Enough said. But overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this movie. I’ll probably watch it again and force others to watch it with me. Two thumbs up. 

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street (3/5)

Ah yes, a classic finally makes its way onto the list. I have only ever heard my parents not shut up about classic ’80s horror movies, and this movie is one of them. So my expectations for it were pretty high. I mean, if it was number three on the list, it must be pretty good, right? Right? Well…

First, a little backstory, of course: Multiple teenagers become victims of dream-traveling serial slasher, Freddy Kreuger (Freddy Englund). With his long metal talon-like nails, he haunts teenagers in their dreams which results in their real deaths. Together, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and Glen (Johnny Depp) must put an end to Freddy’s reign of terror before he can claim the lives of more kids.

I’m going to be honest, I did not like this movie. To start, the beginning is confusing and is a bit hard to follow. I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but I gathered that we can see the origins of Freddy’s prolific weapon of choice: his fingers. But after that, it kind of loses me. I did, in fact, find myself scrolling through TikTok multiple times during the movie to aid my boredom. But I do give the film snaps for its basic storyline. I can see why it was considered one of the most terrifying movies for its time, (1984) and the acting falls in line with that as well. It’s neither good nor bad. As for the special effects, including the makeup and Freddy’s transformation abilities, they’re good for their time. It’s also not super gory, even though it’s technically considered a slasher film.

I would assume almost everyone has heard the name “Freddy Kreuger” at least once. And if you haven’t, you’ve maybe seen his iconic mask hanging in pop-up Halloween stores across the United States. His legend will always stick around because of his incredibly gruesome abilities and the haunting echo that he left in kids’ dreams for years after the movie was released. One thumb up.

2. Hereditary (5/5)

This is a ranking that makes sense. If you know Ari Aster, who directed the mind-boggling Swedish nightmare Midsommer, you already know his stylistic, psychological approach to horror movies. And in my opinion, he does a good job. But the thing is, Ari Aster’s type of movies are not for everyone. Almost every person I know that has watched (or at least tried to watch) Midsommer has come back saying, “What the hell was that?”, which seems to be a common theme when it comes to Aster’s movies. But I think that’s why I love Midsommer and Hereditary so much.

Naturally, a little backstory: Annie (Toni Collette) and her family are left grieving by the passing of Annie’s mother, who we learn was a very secretive person surrounded by strange friends. But as time after her death progresses, strange things begin to happen, completely unraveling the family and the truth behind what Annie’s mother was involved in.

I think Hereditary takes the top spot for being one of the scariest movies I’ve ever witnessed. To start, Toni Collete’s performance was absolutely astounding. Oscar-worthy, if you ask me. To think that she’s actually not like her character in real life is hard to imagine, and that’s how good her performance was in Hereditary. It seriously has some of the best acting I’ve ever seen. Furthermore, this movie really is an emotional roller coaster for both the characters and the audience, and that makes it pretty frightening.

Because it’s an Ari Aster film, there are naturally Easter eggs, hidden meanings and symbols galore. If you’re like me, an analytical freak who can’t sit still until I connect all the dots, I suggest that you watch this movie more than once, because that’s what it takes to figure out all of the hidden messages. However, if you’re not like me at all, that’s okay! The brilliant thing about Hereditary is that it’s just plain scary, even if you don’t want to pick through all the messages. I mean, seriously. This movie is an absolute freak show, especially for first-time viewers.

Stuff really gets wild even just 25 minutes in! And don’t even get me started about how bizarre the ending is; I’ll leave it up to you to find out. All in all this movie had me scared out of my shorts, shaking in my boots and every other cliché you can think of. If I could give it ten thumbs up, I would.

1. Sinister (3.5-4/5)

Here it is! The number one scariest movie, according to science. And as you can tell by the score I gave it, I couldn’t really decide if I felt that to be true. Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe you haven’t, but Sinister has been around for a while. And I think that for those who are just beginning to dip their toe into the pool of horror movies, Sinister being the scariest movie according to science is probably accurate.

Can’t forget, a little backstory: Ellison (Ethan Hawke) and his family move into a new house so that Ellison can conduct research for his upcoming true-crime novel about murders in the area. Little do his wife and children know, they moved into the house where the murders actually happened. Husband of the year, am I right? Anyways, he soon comes across an old box of Super 8 reel tapes with seemingly normal names, such as “Barbecue” and “Pool Party,” and decides to watch them, only to find out that they’re homemade snuff films. Soon enough, Ellison and his family begin to experience creepy chaos in their home at the hands of a demon that pops up in the films.

So, let’s unpack this. I really couldn’t decide if this movie was scary, or just okay. But to give it the benefit of the doubt, it’s easy to follow and there are so many classic jump scares. They’re the kind of jump scares where you can see them coming, but you still jump out of your skin when they happen. The plot and idea of the movie are also a classic haunting trope where a family falls prey to a demonic figure, and yes, there is a plot twist (but don’t you dare think I’m going to spoil that).

The opening of the movie sets the tone for the rest of it, and the dialogue helps set the purpose of why the family is there, and what Ellison is up to. All of the shot sequences are dark and spooky-looking, and it almost makes you wonder if the house has a single lightbulb in it.

Even though a classic haunting trope is used in this movie, it’s one of those movies where you’re sitting there trying to figure out how the film got there, and who the heck filmed it. And as you try to figure it out, it progressively gets scarier. And of course, like most horror movie clichés, there is a plot twist that the characters walk right into, and by the end of the film, it’s all made clear what was happening. It is precisely for these reasons that I can’t decide if I like it or not. But for now, I’d say it’s one of those horror movies you can put on, get freaked out and then laugh about it later. One and a half thumbs up.

With Halloween rapidly approaching, it only makes sense to start bogging yourself down with cinematically produced fear from demons and ghouls and idiotic character actions that only perpetuate their horrific situations further. After reviewing the top five scariest movies, I can say that the variety of scares is up for grabs to anyone who wants them. In my opinion, I would recommend that you stick to a few classic plot lines and maybe throw in one complex psychological horror flick to broaden your spooky horizons for the season.

Sydney Scalia is a junior at the University of Missouri studying Journalism with a minor in Italian. She specializes in writing pieces about fashion and style, fitness, lifestyle, and culture such as travel, entertainment, and social media.
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