The long dark nights of fall, the rustle of leaves against the house, the impending cold: it all helps bring about that perfect time of year to sit down and watch some horror movies. The horror genre is pretty eclectic, often blending well with other genres, although, the genre also certainly has a share of cheesy, overly violent, or just plain silly movies. This list focuses on more serious movies that aren’t just about the fright, but the development of a story and characters. These movies on here are all pretty mainstream, but they should be essentials for any fan of the genre. I try to keep the synopses as spoiler free as possible while still hopefully piquing interest.
13.) The Thing
Whereas The Thing From Another World is a great 1950s-style monster movie, John Carpenter’s remake also has enough originality to top its predecessor. The exotic setting of Antarctica makes this horror flick easy to get lost within. Special effects in the movie are terrific, and that with no CGI needed. The story could be simplified to a monster roaming among a crew of workers. I don’t want to say much more as the film has many surprises and plot twists. It can get a little gory at times, but most the gore seems merited for this one.
12.) What lies Beneath
This movie has some great acting. Harrison Ford plays a suspicious husband and Michelle Pfeiffer plays an emotionally trampled wife who needs to get proactive in order to answer some questions that arise as she copes with previous traumas. There are some slight supernatural elements that are presented in a way which makes them seem eerily believable. This is a movie with top-notch production, and it’s pretty easy to get people who are afraid of the horror-genre to watch.
11.) Friday the 13th
Before it became a franchise film with an iconic villain, the first Friday the 13th was a completely different style of slasher film. At least, the villain is fairly unexpected, and expertly performed. It’s about a camp; it’s isolated in the woods; it has elements of carefree youth like good old fashioned drug-use and sex. By today’s standards, the first film might seem fairly cliché, but many great clichés were born because of the original.
To truly appreciate Blair Witch, one must try to go back to the time frame of 1999. The internet was still a fairly new thing to most people. We didn’t have instant access to factual answers. In fact, if someone wanted to post fake stories on the internet and make them look legit, they could. That’s exactly what the marketing team did for Blair Witch. Many people argued about whether the film was fiction or real documentary footage. Even without the hype, the story of three kids ventureing out into a deep and isolated woods can get pretty eerie, and the found-footage effects gives it an authentic feel.
9.) The Ring
The Ring holds suspense for the majority of the film as the protagonist seeks a cure to a digital curse of sorts. The story is taken from a Japanese film, Ringu. I like seeing horror-lore from a different culture. Naomi Watts plays a single-mom who is easy to cheer for. There are some tense moments, and the film has a story that is fairly unique compared to most other American horror stories.
8.) Paranormal Activity
Made on a low-budget with a home-camera, this movie originally gained fame in film-festivals. It’s a creepy story of about an entity in a couple’s new house. The movie forces the viewer to allow their imagination to run wild. Also, for anyone who’s ever personally encountered anything strange in a house, this movie will probably be even more frightening. The movie does have one major flaw. When Paramount Pictures bought the rights and released it in theaters, they changed the ending to something more typical, and quite frankly, stupid. If you can find the movie with the original ending, watch that version.
How could any list of horror movies not mention zombies? Watching George Romero’s first survival-horror zombie film is still great, many years later. It’s filmed in black and white in a rural setting. Even this “first” zombie film isn’t just about zombies, it’s about dealing with other survivors out there as well. Though it is not technically the first zombie movie ever (White Zombie came out in 1932), it is the movie that mainstream modern zombie stories tend to take the lead from.
6.) The Exorcist
I’ve only seen this movie once, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t want to see it again. I found it disturbing. I guess it just seemed too real. It’s not so much frightening to where I felt I was in danger after, but it’s terrifying when thinking of a loved one being possessed by a devilish force. The grainy texture of the picture and strange music helps to make this movie stand out as an obvious 1970s setting. This a good thing, as I think the setting can appeal to new audiences by adding a sense of the exotic for viewers not born before the seventies. See The Exorcist if you dare.
5.) Dracula (1931)
At some point in the past few decades, vampires became sexy. Bram Stroker’s original novel cast the vampire as an obscure creature that lurked in the shadows and lived on the outskirts of civilization. Dracula killed children, wives, husbands, parents. If you want to see a vampire movie before the genre seemed hokey, and cliché, then see Bela Lugosi as Dracula. He has a great voice for the part. He can also look so eerie when he just stands and stares at his prey. Not as action-packed as newer vampire films, but the tone of this film is perfect for watching late at night around Halloween.
4.) It Follows
This movie has a truly unique concept, especially for a very modern horror movie. I refuse to say what the concept is because I think this movie is best enjoyed without knowing anything about the plot. The movie focuses on a crowd of young adults. It is set in the suburbs of Detroit. The story’s town is quiet and creepy. There isn’t a huge need for gore or cheap scares in It Follows. The movie instead allows the viewer to imagine much of what will hopefully frighten them long after the movie stops. Just imagine if the “It” of this move was something real.
The music is perfect, as is the mood and the setting for this slasher. Jamie Lee-Curtis is a great heroine, and the tangibility of this story makes it even more frightening. Before Michael Myers seemed like a supernatural man who survived burning and falling from buildings, he seemed like a simple escaped psychopath on a kill-spree, bent especially on getting to Laurie Strode. Yes, maybe it’s a little cliché to see Halloween on a list of the best horror movies, but there is a reason everyone should someday see this movie.
2.) The Conjuring
Based on true journal entries by a couple that investigated and studied hauntings, possessions, witchcraft, etc. The Conjuring is so well-written that it might just pass for true. The movie does involve a haunted house, which yes, has been seen many times in horror-flicks. The presentation of frightening scenes is really well-done though. The story has a great pace. This is one of those movies that will have you turning the lights on in your house afterward. If you want a great fright, and a great story, then don’t miss this movie.
1.) The Sixth Sense
The Sixth Sense has an amazing story and the film helped launch M. Night Shyamalan’s career. Characters in the movie are pretty unforgettable. As for the level of terror in this movie, maybe it’s not a shake in skivvies kind of film, but thoughts of the movie might creep into your head the next time you’re alone in a building, or awake at night–as your neck prickles and you feel the chills, that’s when this story becomes most frightening. New things can be noticed on multiple views, so it’s certainly worth seeing more than once. There are many reasons this movie was so talked about when it came out in 1999, and there are reasons many other movies of the time tried to copy it and it’s ending. See the Sixth Sense if you haven’t. It’s simply extraordinary.