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The Scariest Horror Films to Ever Hit the Sundance Film Festival

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A still from director Alexandre Aja’s chilling, thrilling Sundance Film Festival Midnight pick ‘Haute Tension.’

Nate von Zumwalt

’Tis the season for ghouls and goblins, witches and wizards, clowns and cadavers, and, of course, a Sundance Institute–approved horror flick. The Sundance Film Festival’s Midnight category (formerly known as Park City at Midnight) has been home to some of the most iconic, disturbing, and downright sinister horror films of the past few decades. Here’s the ultimate list of the scariest films to ever screen in Park City at the Sundance Film Festival. Happy Halloween!


The Blair Witch Project: “Arguably the most seminal horror film to descend upon daring Festivalgoers, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s genre-spanning psychological horror left some audiences traumatized and others simply nauseated when it played Park City in 1999.” —Nate von Zumwalt

Dead/Alive: “Well before his Lord of the Ring endeavors, Peter Jackson developed a quirky knack for splatter comedy films (see Bad Taste). His 1993 Park City at Midnight selection Dead/Alive is, put simply, a fantastic display of flying limbs and severed heads, seasoned with a touch of wit. Keep it classy this Halloween.”
—NVZ

28 Days Later: “Danny Boyle’s (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) 2002 thriller tracks the ramifications stemming from a radical group of animal-rights activists who break into a primate research lab to free caged chimps. What ensues is a terrifying post-apocalyptic world infested with crazed, genetically mutated humans—aka zombies.”
—NVZ

Haute Tension: “Nothing escalates the tension in a horror film like subtitles. So unless you’re French, you’re in luck. Alexandre Aja’s 2003 Midnight selection Haute Tension is a refreshing take on the classic suspense horror, chronicling two college girls’ vacation gone awry at a relative’s country home. If a film laden with gore could ever be deemed beautiful, Haute Tension would certainly qualify.” —NVZ

Open Water: “Straying from the traditional horror themes frequenting this list, Chris Kentis’s 2003 project Open Water explores an innovative and unconventional format brewed on a tight budget. A couple on a scuba diving trip are inexplicably abandoned by their dive boat and left to fend for themselves in uncharted waters. Most frightening of all, the plot closely mimics a couple’s real life experience.” —NVZ

Saw: “James Wan’s chilling torture flick from the 2004 Festival undeniably tops this list in terms of commercial success. Two men attempt to navigate their way out of a sadistic killer’s series of traps and spare their lives in this intelligently crafted thriller.” —NVZ

Honorable mentions: Splice, Wolf Creek, Red State


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