by Jake Hughes
The witching hour is nigh, the black clouds are rolling in, and black cats and sexy witch costumes are everywhere, which can only mean one thing: Halloween is upon us! ON this most spookiest of spook nights, the little ones enjoy the one night when it is acceptable to take candy from strangers, unless they’re in a van… or a clown costume. Clowns are just creepy.
But for me, my best memories of Halloween weren’t about the candy or costumes, but the movies! Huddling up on the couch wrapped up in a blanket with my brother, candy and popcorn at the ready, and watching whatever scary stories Hollywood had for us. And even when I was an adult and deployed to Iraq, I always made time on Halloween night to watch at least one horror movie, as a way of reminding me what counts.
Way back on Friday the 13th, I gave you a list of the best campy horror flicks. This time, however, I’m going for scares. The movies on this list will keep you up all night, I promise.
Now before we begin, let me calm the coming cries of the horror buffs by saying that there are some classic movies that will not be on this list, such as Friday the 13th. This is not because these movies are bad, but merely that they haven’t aged as well, and would fail to scare the modern movie goer. So, here we go!
As I said, some movies from the 70’s and 80’s have not aged well, but some are able to maintain that creepy vibe. Master of Horror John Carpenter deftly weaves a very simple story: a babysitter is stalked by a masked killer. This may sound cliche, but that’s only because this movie started the cliche. The hollow eyes of Michael Meyer’s mask, Jaime Lee Curtis’ impressive screams, and that unforgettable soundtrack of four chords on a piano will still make you check the windows at night.
9. The Fly
In addition to being one of the extremely rare remakes that is better than the original, This movie best showcases a type of horror you don’t normally see: body horror. That idea of something beneath the skin, worms crawling around you, horrible mutations. Nowhere is it exemplified better than in David Cronenberg’s sad and horrific tale of an eager young scientist who experiments on himself and turns into a mutant human/fly hybrid. It might not make you check under your bed, but I guarantee it will make you squirm and shiver. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
8. Paranormal Activity
Found footage and shaky-cam movies tend to irk me, but this one pulls it off with such panache that I have to give it respect. A tale of a young couple being tormented by a demon, it is told entirely by handheld camera and security footage. With no music to build suspense, it lets the silence build it, with shivers coming even in scenes where nothing happens. This one will definitely make you look twice at your significant other.
Another classic that stands the test of time. This movie does something truly unique: it combines several different kinds of horror genre. Body horror, psychological, and pure supernatural horror all come together in the tale of the Cenobites and the depraved man who escaped them. Angels to some, demons to others, this film may not tear your soul apart, but it will keep you away from puzzle boxes.
I can hear you now: “But Jake, Isn’t that a sci-fi movie?” Go watch the scene with Tom Skerrit in the air vents and tell me it’s not horror. A classic tale of a spaceship crew being picked off one by one, the feeling of isolation from being so far from home, the helplessness of the situation. The movie that launched Sigourney Weaver’s career went by the famous tag line, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Watch this one in the dark, and I promise you will hear yourself scream.
5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Another classic, this movie made on a shoestring budget has much less gore than you remember, and yet the brutal and gritty direction of the film will still make you jump. The film pulls no punches, and yet shows just enough to make you cringe. The Saw is Family.
4. The Silence of the Lambs
Again, you may cry that it’s not a horror movie. But this experiment in psychological horror was one of only 4 horror movies to be nominated for Best Picture for a reason. The horror here, aside from Anthony Hopkins’ placidly terrifying performance of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, comes from the fact that there are no supernatural beings at work here. No spells, no curses, no demons. The events of this movie were performed by a normal human being, and could actually happen in real life. In my humble opinion, that is truly horrifying.
If you’ve never heard of Takashi Miike, you’re missing out. Probably the most well known Japanese horror director, he is know for pulling no punches, not taking the camera away from the gruesome acts, and in general putting out high quality films. This tale of a jilted lover has one of the most brutal torture scenes in cinema history. Forget Saw and Hostel, this movie right here will have you curled in a ball.
2. The Hills Have Eyes
With this one, you really have to be able to put yourself in the character’s place. Imagine being stranded out in the desert, no cell phones, no rescue imminent, and being stalked by a family of crazed cannibals. Imagine seeing your family members picked off one by one. Imagine it’s you or maybe your daughter who is subjected to such horrific things. If you can truly place yourself inside a movie, this one will keep you awake for a few nights.
1. The Exorcist
This should surprise exactly no one. When it debuted in the 70’s, people were vomiting in the isles and running out of the theater. This movie pulls zero punches with its tale of a young girl possessed by a demon. Truly gruesome, horrifying acts done to the poor girl by said demon got this movie banned in the UK for over a decade. The entire movie is a gamut of physiological reactions, but there’s one scene that still creeps me out no matter how many times I see it: they examine the girl’s stomach, and see scars raise up from the body that spell out, “Help me.” A classic for a reason. Don’t watch alone.