(I was going to post this as a comment on Cubby's excellent 'Patently Queer' blog as an entry under his 'Hallowe'en Meme', but I found it kept growing and would have overshadowed his own original blog - so here it is separately, re-worded, with acknowledgement to Larry/Cubby for providing the idea.)
In chronological order of film release (all seen for the first time by me in a cinema, of course) :-
Even I was too young to see 'Psycho' on its first time round, but it was re-released in 1966 (in a double-bill with the 1953 'War of the Worlds'). To date I have still never seen a film which elicited so many screams from an audience. The film may appear to be old-hat now, having been dissected and analysed over and over again, and when we watch it again (it really does stand up to repeated viewing with Tony Perkins' performance surely being his best ever) it's more admiration for Hitchcock's artifice rather than for the original raw emotions, which can never be re-captured. If I watch it now, it's in an forensic way, observing how and why it was so brilliantly effective.
Seeing 'The Exorcist' in 1973 for the first time caused me more ensuing sleepless nights than any other film. It still holds up, nearly 40 years later - though it's a shame that the head-swivelling scene looks so artificial in those pre-CGI days. But that's only a few seconds out of a very disturbing and, yes, a good and extremely powerful film.
'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' (original version, 1974 ) - banned from showing anywhere in Oxford (where I was living at the time) and also in many other areas of the U.K.. - and when I eventually did see it I could see why! Nightmare stuff!
John Carpenter's 1982 'The Thing' - the blood-test scene above all. Even though I know which scientist is the replicant it's still as chilling as hell!
Btw I could never understand why the same director's 'Halloween' (1978) is so highly regarded. One of the leading British film critics has called it 'the greatest horror film ever'! I agree that it's certainly a good film but I doubt if it would find a place in my 'Best 500 Films of All Time'.
I'm with Larry in nominating 'Paranormal Activities' as probably the scariest film of recent years. I'm going next week to see the sequel, but it's received poor reviews here, largely because the 'shocks' delivered are due more to sudden loud bangs on the soundtrack rather than skilful film-making. That's not clever, it's just lazy and it's cheating!
'Alien' - shame that after John Hurt's spectacular stomach-bursting scene, all the subsequent killings seem to be anti-climaxes.
'Poltergeist' - would have been more effective if curtailed before the final half-hour which culminates in the overblown cemetery upheaval and graves- and coffins-opening scene.
'The Amityville Horror' (1978 original) - despite less than enthusiastic reviews I thought it was probably the best among the glut of 'haunting' films made over the following decade. (My main concern was hoping that the family dog would escape unharmed.)
Looking forward to other suggestions by anyone who reads my blog. (Thanks again, Larry)
59 minutes ago