Halloween = Horror movies abound. We break down ten films that made us worry, either as kids or adults, about things that go bump in the night.
I was never one for scary movies growing up. I just didn’t see how they were fun or enjoyable, all that jumping and shrieking at something you knew wasn’t real, yet had the power to creep into your dreams at night. I also don’t like too much blood and gore, although I did manage to sit through a majority of the SAW films. I preferred my Halloween movies to be more along the lines of Hocus Pocus or that Christina Ricci Casper nonsense. They don’t bother me as much anymore, mainly because I don’t believe in ghosts or demons. The movies that scare me have to have some roots in the realm of possibility. And they can be fun every once in a while, as long as I have some alcohol in my system, a pillow to hug, and a big group of girlfriends to scream with. That being said, I haven’t seen a whole lot, therefore my list of “favorites” wasn’t too hard to come up with. Check ‘em out.
5. Poltergeist (1982)
The only real classic on my list. I saw snippets of the end of Poltergeist once when I was little and flipping channels at my grandparents’ house. I later saw it in full when my father, using his excellent parenting judgement, popped it in one night. I was 12. My sister, only six, enjoyed it almost more than I did. While the whole face-peeling scene was a little squeamish, the Steven Spielberg-written ghost story has remained a favorite to this day. It’s a bit ridiculous at times between the killer clown doll and the tree that eats kids, but I love Craig T. Nelson and I can’t help but think of the corresponding Family Guy episode (“Petergeist”) when I watch it these days. Stewie busting out into Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” cracks me up every time. Plus, there’s that whole creepy “curse” coincidence of the deaths tied to the film.—DT
4. Cabin Fever (2002)
Oh, this movie. I think the only reason I like it so much is because my sister and I had a blast tearing it apart while we watched it. (There are some movies we watch simply for the sheer pleasure of mocking them half to death.) We really only watched Cabin Fever because our buddy Shawn Hunter was in it, and we had such a good time laughing at the absurdity that all the blood and gore (like, ugh, that leg-shaving nightmare) barely even bothered us. To this day, we can’t eat pancakes without one of us whispering the word in the same tone as this crazed child; I mean, he’s a pretty skilled little ninja Barbie. The movie’s concept as a whole (a group of college grads go for a little cabin trip and contract a flesh-eating disease) is disgusting … but it’s still strangely fun to watch.—DT
3. The Descent (2005)
I watched The Descent in college with four or five girlfriends and a whole lotta liquor; we received a noise complaint from all the screaming. Most of us were members of our university’s Outing Club and I myself had already gone on a trip that involved rappelling into a small hole in the ground and crawling around in mud for a while. A friend warned me when I borrowed it that I’d never go caving again and he was right. This B-horror flick finds a band of thrill-seeking Brits trapped underground with a bunch of hungry humanoids they dub “crawlers.” They’re basically a terrifying cross between LOTR’s Gollum and the orcs. It’s a dark and dank bloodbath, but because you’re not really connected to any of the characters, it’s almost fun to watch them get picked off one by one.—DT
2. The Ring (2002)
My high school best friend forced me to watch this with her during one of our Friday night sleepovers. Thankfully we spent the night in the same bed because otherwise I would’ve spent the next ten hours flinching at every creak and staring at the blank television like I knew it would pop to life at any moment. As it is, I probably got less sleep than she did, but at least I felt somewhat secure sandwiched between her and the wall. Looking back on it now, it’s not the scariest movie out there, but The Ring is still one of the creepiest things I’ve ever watched. Knowing that Samara was played by the voice of Lilo doesn’t help erase the vision of that evil little girl CRAWLING OUT THE DAMN TV. *shudder* —DT
1. The Strangers (2008)
My college roommates and I used to host an annual scare competition in our apartment. For the month of October, we’d keep a tally of who got spooked the most. It got to the point where we’d each take roll call when we got home from class, we were so paranoid. The “winner” (or loser, technically) had to provide the booze for our scary movie night. Our junior year, we watched The Strangers. And it was such a bad experience for all of us … we triple-checked the deadbolt on our door a thousand times and my best friend Zach took a tennis racket with him to the kitchen for a glass of water. Just crazy. This movie scared the hell out of me, because it goes back to what I said in my intro—it could be real. The tagline is terrifying. “Because you were home.” Excuse me while I’m never home again.
I remember being fascinated by (and afraid of) the VHS artwork in the horror section of our neighborhood video rental place when I was a kid. Luckily, the proprietor of said video store had no qualms about renting R-rated movies with titles like “Invasion of the Blood Farmers” to grade school kids, so my friends and I watched every horror title we could get our hands on. I still like campy horror even years later, much to my wife’s chagrin. Here are some of my favorites.
5. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Joss Whedon subverted pretty much every horror convention in his 2012 movie The Cabin in the Woods. Saying too much about the plot would completely spoil the movie for anyone who plans on seeing it. I’ll just say that it’s a fun movie to watch with a group of other like-minded horror fans because it has callbacks to tons of classic horror. Even if you aren’t a fan, The Cabin in the Woods is smart enough to entertain without recognizing all of the homages to the greats.—JK
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
After making some exploitative grindhouse movies in the '70s, Wes Craven finally came into his own with 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. The first movie in this long-running franchise doesn’t feature the wise-cracking Freddy Krueger that became part of the cultural zeitgeist in the '80s, but rather a menacing child murderer played by horror icon Robert Englund. So many of the horror tropes from the time period involved only being in danger if you were camping in the woods and engaged in the surely horrible and immoral acts of underage drinking or premarital sex. A Nightmare on Elm Street posits that a monster is coming to get you in your dreams and there is no escape. That’s a pretty damn scary premise.—JK
3. They Live (1988)
John Carpenter is one of my favorite genre directors and although They Live may be one of his stranger movies, it’s also one of the most entertaining to watch. Carpenter is responsible for some of the most terrifying horror movies ever put on film, like the fantastic The Thing remake from 1982, but They Live is more social commentary than bone-chilling terror. A construction worker finds glasses that allow him to see the yuppies in 1980s Los Angeles as the murderous aliens they really are. These beasts control society with subliminal messaging in advertising to “consume” and “obey.” Most of the movie is watching professional wrestler-turned-actor Roddy Piper quip his way through kicking lots of alien ass. It also has an epic six-minute fight scene. What’s not to like?—JK
2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Zombies are huge right now, thanks to the television juggernaut that is AMC's The Walking Dead and a slew of movies featuring the undead during the past decade or so. This movie started it all. There were zombie movies prior to Night of the Living Dead, but the zombies tended to be creations of voodoo magic, rather than the shambling corpses we know and love today. It’s pretty incredible that a young director, George Romero, whose previous work was basically limited to shorts on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, made such an impact on the genre, and culture, with a little low-budget movie shot in a Pittsburgh suburb. Beyond being influential, Night of the Living Dead is genuinely scary.—JK
1. The Shining (1980)
Films based on Stephen King horror novels have never worked as well as they should have. His drama work has fared much better—Stand By Me, The Green Mile, and The Shawshank Redemption were all critical and commercial successes. The Shining, a Stanley Kubrick film from 1980, is easily the best genre film based on King’s stories. It’s atmospheric, terrifying, and features great performances all around. And King famously loathes it. While The Shining may be more the work of an auteur loosely inspired by a novel rather than a straight adaptation, there is no denying the sheer visceral terror of watching Jack Nicholson as alcoholic writer Jack Torrance stalk his family through the halls of the haunted Overlook Hotel with a fire axe. And just when you thought Scatman Crothers was going to show up and save the day ...—JK