Megan McDonald, web editor
Two-sentence ghost stories. See how long you can read these without shivering and closing your browser window.
Hannah Wallace, associate editor
The Descent hits all the requisite scary-movie notes: claustrophobia, psychological fear, out-of-nowhere startle-scares, monsters, and even existential dread, plus it’s back-loaded with plenty of gore. It follows a group of experienced outdoorswomen into the depths of an Appalachian cave, where they contend with tight squeezes, deep pits, darkness and…other things. It’s a fairly simple premise, but with enough good character exposition to make it more than just a superficial scare-fest. The filmmakers also went out of their way to justify all their light sources underground, resulting in some cool, shadowy mood lighting, scary confusion in the darkness and terrifying spotlight reveals.
On top of that, all of these female characters are believably badass weekend warriors: The first scene has them navigating whitewater rapids, and then they’re shown skillfully rappelling, spelunking, rock climbing and more—not to any overly dramatic ends, either; it’s just how they spend their vacation. The point is that they get themselves into this horror through well-earned hubris rather than naivete, and then they hold their own in the fight. At least, for as long as they can… (Frustratingly, the film’s U.S. cut ends prematurely; look for the U.K. version to get the real ending.)
Ilene Denton, senior editor
The Shining by Stephen King. That book so unnerved me that I hid it under the bed every night after finishing a chapter or two.
Cooper Levey-Baker, associate editor
I like to think I have a pretty high tolerance for extreme art, but then along come films like Audition. When my wife and I watched the 1999 Japanese horror film some years ago, I could barely get through it. I squirmed on the couch, covered my eyes and felt a rush of release when it finally concluded. The film's big trick comes halfway through, when its tone flips in one shot from disquiet to dread, and from there on out, it's an endurance test, with some of the most detailed depictions of human pain captured on film. The film is terrifying for the way it reminds viewers that as tough as they are, human bodies are also fragile, suffering things. It's a great movie, but not one I'll ever watch again.
Kay Kipling, executive editor
People may not think of Silence of the Lambs as a horror film, but to me it remains a movie that makes me shudder, even after seeing it several times. It’s not just the creepiness of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, it’s the suspense and chills director Jonathan Demme and star Jodie Foster pull off in the climactic scene where she’s in serial killer Buffalo Bill’s lair, and he’s stalking her wearing night-vision goggles. You just want to scream at her, “Get out of there!”