Halloween is right around the corner, and in between stocking up on candy and feeling sorry for diabetics, it’s the duty of any dedicated film fan to prepare a classic horror movie marathon for the month of October. This year, we’re going to help you by selecting ten of the best scary movies ever made, each one representing a different subgenre of horror.
10. Night of the Living Dead (Subgenre: Zombies)
Even in the post-28 Days Later world, no one does zombies like George Romero. Although many fans will insist that Dawn of the Dead is his masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead is far more appropriate for the Halloween season. This movie, about a group of strangers caught in an old house besieged by the living dead, was made for next to nothing, and it’s all the more effective for that reason. The black and white photography and intimate setting crawl under your skin and stay there long after the credits have rolled.
9. Let the Right One In (Subgenre: Vampires)
While the American remake from director Matt Reeves is winning the acclaim of critics and fans, this Swedish film is a modern classic that is definitely worth visiting. In an age where vampires have become sex symbols for hormonal teenage girls, Let the Right One In reminds viewers that there is a lot more to be scared of than attracted to in these beings. A villain that can kill you is scary. A villain that can turn you into a killer is even scarier.
8. The Fly (Subgenre: Science Gone Wrong)
David Cronenberg’s B-movie update is shocking not only for its unrivalled make-up effects, but also for its sensitivity. Most directors would be content to scare audiences with the physical transformation that Jeff Goldblum makes, but Cronenberg truly disturbs us by exploring the way the person underneath it all is changed. The monologue on “insect politics” is heartbreaking, as we see that a monster has replaced the soul of this kind and innocent man.
7. The Thing (Subgenre: Aliens)
Sure, Alien may be the definitive picture in this subgenre, but John Carpenter’s The Thing is still a brilliant and innovative film in its own right. With a prequel on the way, it’s probably time to give this one another look. Rob Bottin’s effects may be somewhat dated, but they still make for a scarier creature than any we’ve seen in recent years.
6. Jacob’s Ladder (Subgenre: Psychological Horror)
Some may object to this film being placed under “psychological horror,” but that’s merely a testament to how undeniably original it is. Few films are truly unclassifiable, but this one is an exception. On paper, it isn’t the most unique story in the world: traumatized veteran is plagued by horrifying visions (and anyone who is familiar with the twist knows that it’s been done many times before and since). However, it’s the nature of those horrifying visions, courtesy of director Adrian Lyne, that make this film so deeply unsettling.
5. The Host (Subgenre: Monster Movie)
This South Korean film proves that there’s still room for a good old fashioned monster movie in modern cinema. Cloverfield was certainly entertaining, but The Host is superior because, like so many great horror films, it is allegorical, commenting on environmental concerns and the influence of the United States overseas.
4. The Vanishing (Subgenre: Suspense Thriller)
Stay away from the dreadful American remake; this French-Dutch film provides low-key scares without the easy Hollywood resolution. It’s simple enough: a couple goes on holiday, the girl goes missing, and the guy spends the next few years desperately hoping to discover what became of her. The twist is that we meet the villain fairly early in the film. The question here is not “who committed the crime?” It’s “what exactly was the crime?” The answer is satisfyingly chilling.
3. The Exorcist (Subgenre: The Devil)
This classic may have lost some of its punch for modern audiences, but the effects still hold up almost as well as the performances and direction. Too often, horror films are made on the cheap with less-than-talented directors and a cast of attractive but unconvincing young performers. The Exorcist is proof that, when taken as seriously as an Oscar-bait drama, a horror film can escape the boundaries of its genre and be acclaimed as one of the greatest films of all time.
2. The Shining (Subgenre: Ghosts)
Sure, this film is more about the mental breakdown of Jack Nicholson’s character and the horror of being a victim to a member of your own family, but there’s no denying that the ghosts occupying the Overlook Hotel (or the minds of its caretakers) play an important role in this film. Whereas most movies that actually show the ghosts end up disappointing us, Kubrick is able to populate his setting with some very creepy spirits that never fail to terrify. Don’t pretend that you weren’t crapping your pants when that woman in the bathroom turned into a decaying old hag.
1. Halloween (Subgenre: Slasher)
We’re damn lucky that the movie named after the scariest holiday of the year (next to Valentine’s Day) also happens to be one of the scariest movies of all time. It may not have invented the slasher movie—that honor belongs to the original Black Christmas—but it certainly perfected it. Attractive young women? Check. Killer in a scary mask? Check. Creepy musical score? Check.
Who knew that’s all it would take to make a definitive horror film?
Do you agree with this list? Did we leave out your favorite horror movie? Tell us about it in the comments.