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15 Scariest and Most Important Horror Movies of All Time

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If one is going for scares, the horror genre is arguably the hardest to get right. Even tougher than attempting to garner laughs in comedy films, horror filmmakers not only have to perfect the art of pacing and building tension, but they often need to locate something which sets them apart. This could be a variety of things — knowing their audience in relation to the myriad sub-genres within horror and really specializing in one; reflecting the neuroses and fears at the heart of the human subject through allegory; or, perhaps most crucially, having their finger on the pulse of contemporary sociopolitical issues, whether timeless or topical. This latter classification is often what makes scary movies truly important.

Whether they’re seeing slasher, supernatural, psychological, or body horror films, horror audiences are extremely well-informed and often overly critical of genre clichés. Alongside this, culture, morality politics, and special effects technology are all changing constantly. As such, horror continuously has to reinvent itself, both for its audience and to keep up with the times. Some films have navigated this constant fluctuation extremely well, and have become not just scary but utterly important in the process. Whether for their allegorical message and theories, or for their cultural impact, these are some of not just the scariest horror films ever made, but the most important, too.

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Updated July 2022: If you love horror movies, you’ll be pleased to know we’ve updated this article with additional content and entries.

Scream brought the meta subgenre of cinema to the forefront near the turn of the century (and millennium). Of course, the original film in a franchise is often the best one, especially in this case. Nevertheless, the franchise prevailed, with the fifth and latest installment so successful that Scream 6 is in the works. Wes Craven’s first film, meanwhile, is rightfully considered a classic that set the stage for meta-commentary films.

Centered on the fictional town of Woodsboro, the story follows a high school becoming increasingly tormented by a mysterious Ghostface killer quietly making his own movie with each slaying. As the OG film’s tagline goes, “Someone has taken their love of scary movies one step too far!” It set the stage for a pair of successful sequels, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the next.

This instant classic follows six friends who reunite after a recent tragedy involving the protagonist’s family. As she is still healing and full of grief, the group of young women decide to take a trip to the remote Western Appalachians and go cave-diving. The gang has intentions of a fun bonding trip, but their descent into the murky depths of the earth takes a claustrophobic and terrifying turn when confronted with bloodthirsty creatures.

Related: Here’s What Makes The Descent an Empowering Horror Movie For Women

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