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Image: Scene from "Poltergeist"
MGM
They're heeeeere. From the creepy staticky TV to the corpses in the pool, "Poltergeist" was full of scary moments.
TODAY staff
updated 10/28/2011 1:15:52 PM ET 2011-10-28T17:15:52

In time for Halloween, our staff reminisces about some of the movies that truly scared us. You'll notice a trend: Many of these films were ones we stumbled upon in our probably-way-too-young-to-see-this-film youth, and the scariest scenes and characters stuck to our psyches ever since, like a Jolly Rancher on a molar.

Weekend TODAY anchors share scariest movies

You can join the discussion. Tell us which movie scared you the most, either using the comments feature at the end of this story, or on Facebook.

'Poltergeist'
What’s scary about “Poltergeist”? How about every single thing?! Especially for a little girl who was maybe only 8 years old the first time she saw it. (Dad was watching it on VHS and I joined him.) Certain scenes about the not-so-friendly ghosts wreaking havoc on a family have stuck with me through the years: the giant, gooey demon head coming through the doorway (or was it the ceiling?), the giant toy clown, the dead bodies in the pool. Over the years, I’ve managed to exorcise most of the scary images from my head, but from time to time, that aforementioned humongous ghost noggin rears its ugly face in my dreams, and I wake up soaked in sweat. After all these years, you’d think I could rewatch the film in its entirety and giggle at the effects, but no. I still can’t watch it without getting freaked out.    —Anna Chan

'Alien'
“In space no one can hear you scream," is the tagline of 1979's "Alien." Well, you know what? On Earth they can hear you scream like mad. Especially when you’re 10 years old, as I was the first time I saw this film in a theater. (Good move, mom!) Despite the trauma of seeing a space-horror flick at such a young age, “Alien” has stuck with me as one of my favorite films of all time. There’s nothing more realistic to me than the prospect of things going horribly wrong way, way out in deep space. Everything about this film is executed perfectly to maximize the fear factor: confined spaces, darkness, intense score and a monster of unmatched creepiness. My chest aches when I think of this film’s most memorable scene. So until time and travel can prove otherwise, I’ll go on believing that space is the scariest place for a horror film to be set. And “Alien” is unmatched in the 32 years since its release. —Kurt Schlosser

Story: What's the scariest movie of all time?

'Paranormal Activity'
I don't get the people who dismiss "Paranormal Activity" as not being scary. Sure, I've been terrified by "The Shining" and "The Exorcist" and "Halloween." But "Paranormal" was so scary for me because it was so realistic. I personally am not living in a haunted hotel, am not possessed by the devil (that I know of), and am not being stalked by a creepy masked killer. But in "Paranormal," things start slowly and close to home. Of course I've glanced at a closet door and idly wondered how it happened to be open, or heard a sound in the night and let my imagination run wild. That's how things get going in "Paranormal," and the film builds its suspense so successfully that soon I'm dreading every scene where we once again see Katie and Micah's bedroom through the eye of their nighttime camera. This movie had me carefully shutting all closet doors when I got home, and may have also robbed me from a few hours of sleep as I sat up staring at shadows.    —Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

Story: 'Paranormal Activity 3' is pretty scary

'The Blair Witch Project'
Laugh if you will, but I ended up with nightmares from this thin little horror of a picture. Yes, millions saw it on DVD and can't figure out what's so scary, but seeing it in a dark arthouse with the subway rumbling beneath, I was taken in. The shaky camera, the out-of-focus shots, the unanswered questions just heightened my anxiety: What the heck was that thing in the handkerchief? What was making all of those noises? I couldn't sleep that night, thinking of the non-ending, of Michael standing in the corner, of Heather's horror of finding him there and just what that meant for all of them. I've never watched it again.     —Randee Dawn

Slideshow: 10 horror-movie icons (on this page)

'The Tingler'
I saw this movie when I was an impressionable youth, and it has stuck with me ever since. The premise is that inside each one of us is a symbiotic creature, living along our spine, a "tingler." The tingler lives off our fear, and as we experience it, the creature grows inside of us, if it gets too big, it will kill you. The only way to keep it in check it is to scream your head off when frightened (fun for kids, not so much for those around us). Vincent Price stars as the creepy main character, and while it may be considered camp now, this is the first movie that really scared the "tingler" out of me.    —David Gostisha

Story: 'Twilight' and other embarrassing movies we love

What's the scariest movie you saw as a kid? How about scariest movie you ever saw? Tell us on Facebook.

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Photos: 10 horror-movie icons

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  1. Braaaaains!

    George A. Romero resurrected the zombie character with 1968's "Night of the Living Dead" and kept them alive for numerous sequels, including the film seen here, 2004's "Dawn of the Dead." Nicknamed "Grandfather of the Zombie," Romero created or popularized many of the characteristics moviegoers regularly associate with the undead, including brain-eating, shambling walks, and deteriorating flesh. The zombie in front seems to only be zombified to his navel. Whoops.

    Trivia: Blood in the original "Night of the Living Dead" was Bosco chocolate syrup. (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Don't mess with 'Texas'

    Human skin-mask wearing Leatherface of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is the boss of a cannibal family in Tobe Hooper's 1974 film. His chainsaw would later be picked up as the weapon of choice in numerous slasher flicks to come.

    Trivia: Leatherface was partially based on real Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein, who also wore the skin of his victims. (New Line Cinema) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. We're gonna need a bigger boat

    Steven Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster film, "Jaws," scared many Americans out of ocean waters for quite some time. It sparked the trend of releasing big-budget blockbusters during the summer season, and "The Omen" and "Star Wars" both followed suit.

    Trivia: The mechanical shark was named Bruce, supposedly after Spielberg's lawyer. (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Trick or treat

    In 1978's "Halloween," Michael Myers murdered his sister and was committed to an insane asylum. Years later, a now-grown Michael broke out and started a new killing spree, and launched a new genre of slasher film.

    Trivia: Michael's mask is the face of William Shatner, as the costume department found a Captain Kirk mask, decided it had the blank look they wanted, and painted it white. (Dimension Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Ch-ch-ch ...

    Jason Voorhees and his famed hockey mask played off the success of "Halloween" to help start the slasher genre with 1980's "Friday the 13th." In the first film, Jason was the young son of the camp cook, and when counselors let him drown because they're having sex, his mother takes revenge. Sequel after sequel follows, and Jason, who was not supposed to be the series' main villain, gained weird supernatural and mystical powers to become the unstoppable killing machine of the movies.

    Trivia: The character was originally called "Josh," but writer Victor Miller thought that name sounded too nice. (New Line Cinema) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. One, two, Freddy's coming for you

    Freddy Krueger of 1984's "Nightmare on Elm Street" and its many sequels, was a child murderer who was burned alive by angry parents. He now haunts teenagers in their dreams.

    Trivia: Creator Wes Craven reportedly was inspired to create Freddy's famed bladed glove in part by watching his cat scratch his furniture. (New Line Cinema) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Needles and pins

    Creepy Pinhead was introduced in 1987's "Hellraiser." He's a Cenobite, an extradimensional being created by author Clive Barker.

    Trivia: "Pinhead" wasn't really his name, it was just how he was described -- the other Cenobites have various other piercings and markings, not pins. (Dimension Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. My name's Chucky, wanna play?

    No doubt, some dolls are creepy. But the creepiest of all is Chucky, shown here in 2004's "Seed of Chucky." In the original film, released in 1988, a murderer dies in a toy store and sends his evil soul into the nearest doll.

    Trivia: Chucky's full name, Charles Lee Ray, comes from murderers Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald, and James Earl Ray. (Rogue Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. I ain't got time to bleed

    An elite army team on a mission in Central America stumbles across the "Predator," an alien who lives in the jungles and skins humans. The film spawned two sequels plus two crossovers with the equally popular "Alien" franchise.

    Trivia: Two future governors, California's Arnold Schwarzenegger and Minnesota's Jesse Ventura, starred in the 1987 original film. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. See 'Saw'?

    The creepy Jigsaw Killer was introduced in 2004's "Saw," in which he kidnaps people and forces them to perform cruel tests to try and save their own lives. (Usually, they don't survive.) The "Saw" franchise took off, and now a new movie comes out right around Halloween every year.

    Trivia: In the first film, all the victims who die are men -- unusual in horror flicks. (Lionsgate) Back to slideshow navigation
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