(1979) Directed by Don Coscarelli
The production values are about as elaborate as a skit on Sesame Street, and the Partridge-esque haircuts are so ridiculous they're actually distracting. But two ingredients of this mortuary thriller the strangely presidential crypt keeper called the Tall Man, and a flying metal sphere that doubles as a blood-spurting brain drill are still shiver inducing 20 years later, despite the low tech. ''We tried a bunch of really elaborate rigs with piano wire and fishing line to get that sphere to fly,'' says Coscarelli. ''None of it worked at all. So we got a junior college baseball pitcher at Cal State Northridge to throw the thing from behind the camera.''
(1977) Directed by Dario Argento
Survive the first 10 minutes and you're home free. The opening act of Italian horror maestro Argento's ultra-stylized screamer about a ballet student (Pennies From Heaven's Jessica Harper) who suspects that her dance academy is actually a witches' coven contains what gets our vote for the most vicious murder scene ever filmed, complete with a close-up of the knife puncturing the victim's beating heart. Fortunately, Harper fared considerably better. ''When those maggots were crawling around in my hair, they were actually grains of rice,'' she recalls. ''They were the stunt doubles for the maggots.''
19. The Hitcher
(1986) Directed by Robert Harmon
''My mother told me never to do this,'' says the young driver (C. Thomas Howell), stopping to pick up a handsome hitchhiker (Rutger Hauer). Once again, Mother knows best: Hauer's seductive psychopath spends the next 90 minutes terrorizing the boy and his sidekick, played by the deliciously blond Jennifer Jason Leigh. ''People [say] it's a violent movie, but I don't know what they mean,'' says Hauer, apparently forgetting his finely delivered line ''Wanna know what happens to an eyeball when it gets punctured?'' The Hitcher will make you rethink those vacation plans to travel across country.
20. Dead Ringers
(1988) Directed by David Cronenberg
Some people find The Exorcist more traumatizing for little Regan's battery of invasive hospital procedures than anything else. If that's you, consider this study of malpracticing twin gynecologists loosely inspired by a real-life pair of physicians the ultimate medical mettle tester. Cronenberg had been turned down by 30 or so actors before Brit Jeremy Irons signed on to play both the introverted Beverly Mantle, who's creepily enamored of wombs, and his womanizing big brother Elliot. Their journey to heavily self-medicated self-destruction after Bev falls in love with a barren film star (Genevieve Bujold) is enough to make you swear off anything stronger than aspirin.
21. Near Dark
(1987) Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
It's hard to find a vampire movie that's scary rather than silly (note the absence of the name Dracula from this list), but the solo debut of Bigelow (Strange Days) fills the bill it features Bill Paxton as a badass vampire, roaming America's heartland with a crew of bloodthirsty, carnage-creating friends who aren't at their best come sunrise. The point of the film, cowritten by Bigelow and Hitcher scribe Eric Red, is summed up when Paxton says to a new recruit (Adrian Pasdar), ''It's comin' off. Your face. Clean off.'' These are not your father's bloodsuckers or Anne Rice's.