New Study Picks Scariest Horror Films Ever by Tracking Audience Heart Rate

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New Study Picks Scariest Horror Films Ever by Tracking Audience Heart Rate

We’re always down for another assessment of the scariest films of all time … even if the results don’t make a whole lot of sense, if you ask us. The idea of actually tracking audience heart rates, though, is a particularly novel one—and a pretty valid way to measure “fright” with hard data.

That’s what the website BroadbandChoices did for its Science of Scare project, putting together a panel of more than 50 horror film viewers and then subjecting them to dozens of films over many sessions. Specifically, the panel was shown 35 different films, and their relative jumps in heart rate throughout the horror films was measured.

The winner? That would be 2012’s Ethan Hawke-starring Sinister, which recorded the largest average rise in heart rate, from 65 beats per minute (bmp) to 86 bpm. Right behind it were several modern James Wan classics, Insidious (85 bpm) and The Conjuring (84 bpm), as well as Ari Aster’s Hereditary (83 bpm) and the original Paranormal Activity (82 bpm).

Most of those films actually make sense to us—the James Wan efforts are classic popcorn horror entertainment, Aster’s film is deeply unnerving, and Paranormal Activity sent audiences running from the aisles when first released. Sinister, though? That’s rather more expected, but the data can’t be ignored. Sinister also scored the second highest peak heart rate of the group at 131 bpm. The #1 there for a sudden surge in heart rate was Sinister—we’re willing to bet it was the red-faced demon jump scare at the top of this very article.

Classic horror films, meanwhile, notably didn’t fare as well—the likes of The Exorcist, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre all ended up in the teens in terms of the ranking, although they still beat out films such as The Blair Witch Project and Friday the 13th. Two selections that are particularly hard to accept? Alien at #24 out of 35, and The Shining of all things at #33, practically at the bottom.

“With more people than ever facing a Halloween at home, our Science of Scare study was designed to help people find the most scientifically scary films ever made, to save them the time of searching through thousands of titles across streaming services like Amazon, Netflix and Shudder,” said Daniel Clifford, the study’s creator. “Our list found that modern horror movies sent heart pounding faster than classics, with movies like Sinister, Insidious and The Conjuring series scoring particularly high on the list. While horror fanatics might be surprised to see some iconic movies such as Halloween chart comparatively low, it’s worth bearing in mind that while incredible films, they may not have the same instant impact years later.”

Clifford, sadly, is likely right—the results of the study hint at an audience that likely possesses a shorter attention span and more of an expectation that horror films will be delivering a constant barrage of jump scares, rather than slower and more atmospheric build-ups. How else do you explain the likes of Alien falling so low on the list? It would have been interesting if one could compare the results to the test audience’s ranking of the same films, just to see if the “scariest” in terms of heart rate were also chosen as the “best.”

Regardless, here’s the full list of films that were viewed, and their ranking.

1. Sinister
2. Insidious
3. The Conjuring
4. Hereditary
5. Paranormal Activity
6. It Follows
7. The Conjuring 2
8. The Babadook
9. The Descent
10. The Visit
11. The Ring
12. A Quiet Place
13. A Nightmare on Elm Street
14. Halloween
15. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
16. 28 Days Later
17. The Exorcist
18. Hush
19. It
20. Scream
21. The Grudge
22. The Witch
23. The Blair Witch Project
24. Alien
25. The Thing
26. Poltergeist
27. Annabelle
28. Friday the 13th
29. The Orphanage
30. Dark Skies
31. Wolf Creek
32. The Omen
33. The Shining
34. Get Out
35. Audition

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