There are only 3 areas in which I confidently call myself an expert:
b) bad choices (sigh)
c) horror films.
I was raised on horror films and have been watching them since I was, oh, about three years old. Few things do I enjoy more than curling up on the couch ready to watch a new one or revisit a classic from my (way too extensive) collection. In actuality, I have probably watched about 99.5 percent of all horror films ever made, including the ‘straight to DVD’ ones.
Before we get started, a few caveats regarding my ratings system:
a) The Birds and Jaws are not horror films — they are suspense films.
b) As for the was-once-growing-in-popularity-but-now-flattened-out “gore” genre (e.g., Saw, Hostel), eh — those are a cheap, exploitative version of horror and not true to the genre.
c) You’ll notice there is no Nightmare On Elm Street on the list — my apologies to those feigning offense right now, but I find the entire series is wildly overrated (and Freddy to be more obnoxious than frightening — how can one be afraid of him when he’s always yappin’?).
d) No zombie films. a) I’m zombied-out and b) never found them scary to begin with. Not sure why but it may have something to do with the fact that zombies aren’t wearing a mask (no mystery!) and are slow so they’re easy to outrun. How is this a menace unless you’re stuck in a large group of ’em? If I had to choose one, though, to recommend? 28 Days Later
e) One final note: you’ll notice no The Omen or Exorcist listings — things that could actually be true just take horror into an “I really don’t want to watch this” level of discomfort that simply isn’t fun. So none of those here…
OK, with that said, curl up on the couch with some popcorn, turn down the lights, check the sofa behind you (make sure there’s no one there!!! ;)), and enjoy some amazing horror flicks.
(list is no particular order though, for the record, Halloween is #1, hands down)
Halloween. The MacDaddy of them all. Bow to perfection kids, bow to perfection.
“What was that?” … “I think that was the Boogeyman.” Afterwards, discuss who’s scarier: Michael Myers or Jason Voorhies! I’m going with Myers because we’ve never really known what drives the character’s rage and ‘not knowing’ means ‘I’m scared out of my mind.’
Wrong Turn. This gem is often overlooked in horror-film lists but it’s surprisingly well executed. Think Deliverance meets slasher flick. See also, The Hills Have Eyes
The Others. If creepy, atmospheric, foggy settings — or ghost stories — are your thing, look no further!
One Dark Night. A group of high school girls force a nice girl to spend the night in a mausoleum, in order to pledge their sorority. Except a man with telekinetic powers… well, you’ll see the rest. A true, hard-to-find gem!
The Ring. You’ll jump out of your seat multiple times. Also, the kid in it will freak you out, all by his lonesome. Oh, and the Japanese original? Sorry, film snobs but this American remake was far superior.
Halloween 2. Picking up ‘in real time’ where Halloween leaves off. The setting? A hospital.
Friday the 13th. Of course but which one??? Basically, all of them through Part 6. One is as good as the next (if I had to choose? Parts 2 and 3.)
The Blair Witch Project. Before there was Paranormal Activity (and the million other ‘documentary’ style, or the ‘hey, these dead people left their video footage behind’), there was the Blair Witch Project. Having recently re-watched it, it’s lost some of its luster — but first-timers should enjoy it.
Jeepers Creepers. This is one of those that is just as fun and spooky as the first time (and I’ve seen it about 50 times). Brother and sister driving home from university encounter, well, a very unnatural monster. Even Jeepers Creepers 2 was fantastic (rumor has it there is a Part 3 coming soon.)
The Hitcher. Just amazing. Sadly, hitchhikers must hate this film because anyone who’s seen it has vowed to never pick up one of those potentially-killing loons.
I saw Rutger Hauer at La Guardia Airport once. He came up to me with a smile while I was in line and asked: “Is this the flight to Chicago?” I just mumbled that it wasn’t — inside, I was thinking: “It’s freakin’ Rutger Hauer! Say how much you enjoyed The Hitcher! Or Ladyhawke! Say something!” Of course, I didn’t. So he just smiled and said thanks. I’m ‘too cool’ and thus a total dork who missed the opportunity to compliment a great thespian.
Witchboard. Everyone forgets this film, maybe even when it came out, but it’s tops in my book. Ouija board wreaks havoc!
Prom Night. This is another one from the Jamie Lee Curtis/Halloween era. The introductory scene has haunted me ever since I first saw it! (Be careful to get the original and not the recent remake.)
The Shining. Who doesn’t know it? Always worth another viewing. I’m in the minority, though, that always feels uncomfortable listing The Shining as a horror film — I classify it more in the ‘suspense’ camp but, eh. Throw it in…
Carrie. There have been several remakes and adaptations — none even comes close to the original.
The Amityville Horror. The grandfather of the ‘evil house’ genre. Part 3 is also quite good.
The Mist. I hesitate to call The Mist a ‘horror film’ (btw: like The Shining, it, too, is Stephen King) but I included it in here because it’s just that good! If I had to place it into a genre, it might be more “sci-fi/suspense”, along the liens of The Birds. If you’re looking for something jolting and spooky but not a straight up ‘slasher’ film, this is the one to choose.
Black Cadillac. A fun, completely ‘flew under the radar’ film about 3 guys driving on a snowy road and being followed. Ending gets a little campy but still great.
Cold Prey. Group of Norwegian snowboarders (so yes, deal with the English subtitles, people!) stranded in an abandoned hotel… with a killer on the loose. If you like snowy films, as I do (clearly, another great one is Frozen (what to do if you’re the last person on the skilift for the night, and the attendant leaves without you, stranding you in the air? uh-oh!)
Orphan. Kind of like The Omen in the creepy, evil child realm — without all the ‘dark’ stuff. Amazing twist at the end, too.
Fright Night. In recent years, vampire films have delved into either the melodramatic (Gary Oldman in Dracula? Ugh, stop chewing every scene), the tween-romantic (Twilight), or, mostly, the action genre (Blade). What the heck happened to scary vampire films? Well, look no further than Fright Night — a classic that is not only scary but fun.
Honorable mentions: Psycho (blasphemy not to list it on the actual list, I know), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) (the remake with Jessica Biel was almost as good as the original, btw), Urban Legends, Hatchet, ATM, and Vacancy
UPDATE: How could I forget to include The Lost Boys?! That’s what I get for writing a list off the top of my head. As a little kid, I was in love with every single one of the bad-boy group. Sure, I’ll join you guys!
Also, let”s include the Frankenstein remake (Kenneth Branaugh) on the list, too, and The Fog (the 2005 remake is better than the original).
And, Children of the Corn!!!! The name Malachi will forever cause me to shudder!
Two really random insertions: Abandonment (if only for that awesomely creepy antique hotel featured halfway through — and also starring “Vikings”‘s Lagertha) and Nailbiter (‘nails’ the atmospheric ‘Kansas-style’ creepiness). Also, Ogre (2008) is a surprisingly effective one, admittedly with a Sci-Fi/made-for-TV monster, providing that creepy pre-20th century atmosphere, which is always a plus for me.