March 29, 2023

Skinamarink is something slightly different though. Made by Canadian filmmaker Kyle Edward Ball at a cost of just $15,000, it tells the story of two young children who wake up in the middle of the night to find their dad has left the house. A slow-burning surrealist nightmare, Skinamarink may not be to everyone’s tastes but it’s already been branded “the scariest film of all time.” But while the tag was once handed out sporadically to horror movies that broke the mold, for the last 15 years or so, it seems like the emergence of exciting and increasingly creative filmmakers has meant there’s been a contender for “scariest film ever” every year. While some may be worthier of the tag than others, they are all worth revisiting and rewatching.

2007: Paranormal Activity

Made for a paltry $15,000 by computer software programmer turned DIY filmmaker Oren Peli, Paranormal Activity was first screened at 2007’s Screamfest, where the found footage horror about a suburban couple terrorized by a demonic presence got a huge response and helped Peli gain representation from Creative Artists Agency. Eager to land a distribution deal, CAA began sending out DVDs of the movie to people in the industry. One of those ended up being Jason Blum, who worked with Peli to recut the film and sign a distribution release with Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks.

Originally the plan had been to remake the movie on a bigger budget, but Peli pushed for his version to be shown to test screen audiences. When people began walking out of the screening because they were so scared, executives realized they had a hit on their hands and word soon spread. Six sequels and counting later, the original remains a brilliantly unnerving lo-fi watch.

So is it still scary? It’s a little rough around the edges but Paranormal Activity still packs a punch and remains a high point of the found footage subgenre.

Martyrs 2008

2008: Martyrs

Part of the “New French Extremity” of wince-inducing Gallic horror films from the start of the 21st century, Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs remains among the most extreme and divisive horror movies ever made. Blending existentialism with extreme body horror and scenes of unflinching torture, Martyrs made waves from the moment it was screened at Cannes in 2008, sparking walkouts from disgusted audience members. 

Centered around a young woman’s violent rampage against the people she believes kidnapped her as a child, Laugier claims one man collapsed when the movie was screened at the Sitges Film Festival while another woman allegedly vomited during its premiere screening at Toronto. Originally purchased by the Weinstein Company, Bob Weinstein was so sickened by it that he opted against releasing it. It still found an audience though, coming at a time when movies like Hostel were pushing gore to new extremes, Martyrs was hailed as a movie that elevated an otherwise much-maligned subgenre of horror with The Telegraph dubbing it “the greatest horror movie of the 21st century.” 

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