13 Days of Halloween: The scariest movie

Movie theaters tend to be our culture’s equivalent to the campfires, the places where we gather and attempt to frighten each other. Of all the film genres, the horror movie offers the most likely return on investment, so cinema offers more than a century’s worth of spooky material, from Universal Studio’s black-and-white classics like Bride of Frankenstein of the 1930s to recent high-tech ghost stories like Japan's Ringu. Of course, the vast majority of horror flicks only inspire laughter or disgust, but the jagged diamonds in the rough can be exhilaratingly frightful, like John Carpenter’s Halloween which created the template for the slasher film in 1978.

After most movie “boo!” moments, the fear subsides once you see the stage blood or realize that only a cat was making the unnerving noise. A few, however, create horrors that follow you home, none more so than The Exorcist, William Friedkin’s notorious depiction of demonic possession. Linda Blair’s Regan transforms from a cute, normal little girl to a misshapen, all-knowing, possibly homicidal ghoul. The Exorcist's nightmarish sound design alone can fray a viewer's nerves, but the film violates the rule that what you don’t see is scarier than what you do, offering a glimpse of unimaginable, inexplicable evil and hostility made flesh. The Exorcist combination of stark fear and abhorrence proves so potent, even remembering it can scare you. The pea soup is the least of it.

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