I like a good scary movie all year long, but never more than leading up to October 31st. Here are a few of my favorites I'd recommend if you want a good scare:
Scariest movie: The Shining
Here's the thing about scary movies and horror films: their diminishing return is extreme. That is, once you've seen it, you already know when the boogie man jumps out of the closet, the beast drops from a tree, or the eyeball rises to the surface of a bowl of soup. The surprise is gone and any subsequent viewings will not have the effect of the first. But with "The Shining" from Stanly Kubrick, (adapted from a Stephen King novel), the creep factor never really ceases for me. I've seen this movie probably a half dozen times and it's ALWAYS unsettling. Blue Ribbon to The Shining. Consistently the scariest movie ever made.
My favorite scary movie: The Thing ('82 version)
To me, this movie has it all: monsters, aliens, suspense, an original plot, good effects (for an '80s movie). "The Thing" actually makes my list of all-time favorite movies, not just scary movies, because of its multiple genre appeal: horror, action, sci-fi, suspense. It's dang near the perfect movie, honestly. (I liked the '11 version, too).
Best Halloween vibe: Sleepy Hollow
Tim Burton is sort of a polarizing figure--people either love his movies or hate them. I'm a fan. I realize few of his movies are "greats" but I love his aesthetic. Sleepy Hollow just IS Halloween: the bleak autumn setting, the dry corn stalks, pumpkins, ghosts, foggy nights and hazy days, just enough blood splatter to feel like a creep fest, and of course a headless horseman.
Honorable mention: "Halloween," duh.
Best classic scary movie: Psycho
By classic, I'm just going with something that was around before I was born. By today's standards, Psycho is tame, which is also what makes it brilliant and oddly scarier on subsequent viewings.
Honorable mention: "Carnival of Souls" ('62).
Favorite Universal Studio monster movie: Phantom of the Opera
It's hard to pick against Dracula, Frankenstein, or the Wolfman, but I loved this version of Phantom. Of all of the adaptations out there, this one most closely mirrors Laroux's book, which I loved.
The movie that scared me most as a kid: Poltergeist.
I think I was nearly a teenager before I could actually watch this movie all the way through. Of all of the images or scenes that haunted my childhood imagination, the "tree scene" from Poltergeist tops the list (yes, even more than the clown or the guy picking his face off in the bathroom).
Honorable mentions: "The Changeling," and "Watcher in the Woods."
Best "found footage" scary movie: Quarantine
Found footage movies are based on the plot device that "something happened, and the only record we have of it is this video/tape/recording that that was left behind," and the movie rolls out from that point. There are plenty of these from the "Blair Witch Project" to "Cloverfield." Quarantine is actually a direct remake of the Spanish version called "[REC]." They're virtually identical. If you're a purist, see [REC]. If you don't want to bother with subtitles see Quarantine.
Best sci-fi horror: Alien
It's tempting to put "The Thing" here, but I think "Alien" has earned this spot. So scary, so full of suspense, and I still love its original tagline: "In space no one can hear you scream." Brilliant.
Honorable mention: "Apollo 18."
Best zombie movie: Night of the living Dead
There are a ton of zombie movies, but not a lot of good ones, unfortunately. But to me, the best one still takes us back to the original "modern" zombie movie.
Honorable mention: "World War Z."
Best Dracula movie: Bram Stoker's Dracula
Stoker's novel is one of my favorite books, and Coppola's take on it is one of the more faithful adaptations. On top of that, Oldman's take on the Count is easily the creepiest.
Honorable mention: Universal's "Dracula."
Best vampire movie: Let the Right One In
There are so many vampire movies, and most are awful -- just plain awful. This is not one. It's one of the more original vampire movies out there that doesn't, ahem...suck.
Honorable mention: "Nosferatu."
Scariest movie I couldn't finish: The House of the Devil
Any sort of occult movies mess with my head. They straddle this line of both supernatural and real for me which can really freak me out.
Honorable mention: "Paranormal Activity" (I started watching this one and turned it off at one point. I eventually picked it back up and finished it months later.)
Best Halloween movie for Kids: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Tim Burton taps right into the vein of the Halloween beast here. While I gave the best Halloween vibe movie to Burton's "Sleepy Hollow," I could just as easily used this.
Honorable mentions: "Monster House," "Frankenweenie," "Coraline," "The Corpse Bride."
Scariest non-rated-R movie: The Woman in Black ('12)
This could be a post all on it's own. Like I said above, ask me tomorrow or ask me in five minutes and I might give another answer. Instead I'll have a handful of honorable mentions: "The Ring," "The Sixth Sense," "The Others," "The Innocents," "The Exorcism of Emily Rose."
Best Asian horror: A Tale of Two Sisters
Asia sends a lot of seriously freaky stuff our way. I'm really torn between "Sisters" and "The Host," but I'd call "Sisters" a more traditional horror film with "Host" being monster/action blend.
Best foreign, non-Asian horror: The Orphanage
I'm at the point where I think anything Guillermo Del Toro touches is gold. Now, if he'll just get around to making "At the Mountains of Madness," all will be well.
Scariest art-house film: The Hour of the Wolf
A surreal, moody piece from Ingmar Bergman -- in other words, typical Ingmar Bergman.
Honorable mention: "Eraserhead."
Best worst horror movie: Troll 2
It's so bad it's good. If you want a good laugh, you have to check this one out. It's even better to watch with friends.
A bit gory, but still liked it: Evil Dead I & II
Neither of these were really my cup of tea, but I just have two words to say: Bruce Campbell.
Honorable mentions: "Army of Darkness," "The Horde," and "Dead Alive"
More suggestions by sub-genre...
- Salem's Lot
- 30 Days of Night
- Dracula (Universal)
- Fearless Vampire Killers
- The Lost Boys
- The Wolfman (2010)
- The Howling
- The Silver Bullet
- The Dreams in the Witch House
- The Blair Witch Project
- The Thing (1982)
- Apollo 18
- War of the Worlds (2005)
- District 9
- The Woman in Black (2012)
- The Sixth Sense
- The Others
- The Exorcist
- The Exorcism of Emily Rose
- Evil Dead I and II
- The House of the Devil
- Rosemary's Baby
- The Resurrected
- Night of the Living Dead (Original)
- Shaun of the Dead
- World War Z
- The Walking Dead TV series
- Silence of the Lambs
- The Shining
- Amityville Horror
- The Conjuring
- A Tale of Two Sisters
- Silent Hill
- The Serpent and the Rainbow
- The Host
- The Descent
- The Mummy (Hammer, 1959)
- The Mummy (1999)
- The Mummy Returns
- The Legend of Sleepty Hollow
- Drag Me to Hell
- The Ring