I’ve mentioned before that I like gory TV shows and all-things-zombie. And, naturally, I have an affinity for all manner of creatures and monsters. I also don’t mind being scared, especially if I can be scared in my own home, and especially if it’s October, which Sam and I always officially designate as a month of horror films. So in the spirit of the season, here are some of my favorite horror films:
1. Insidious, 2010.
I love haunted house stories, and I’ve watched this one with more, not less, horror each time I’ve seen it. The film maintains an excellent balance of newer film techniques with tried-and-true horror film staples. Plus, this creature that a friend and I isolated in the trailer still freaks me out, almost 7 years later.
2. 28 Days Later, 2002.
Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic world of contagion is fantastic. It does what the best horror movies do in that it provides us with a scapegoat to be afraid of (the virus, and those fast zombies) and then reminds us that what we should really be afraid of is humanity.
3. The Exorcist, 1973.
I was in college when I watched this for the first time, and I was absolutely frightened by it. The feeling lingered for a while, a few hours after the film was over. The re-watches don’t scare me as much, but it’s still a chilling film—superbly scripted and acted, with that spider-walk on the stairs still being one of the creepiest things I’ve seen on film.
4. Let the Right One In, 2008.
I’ve seen both this original, Swedish version and the American remake, Let Me In. And it was honestly a little difficult to decide which version to choose for the list. Each version is an adaptation of a vampire novel, and each has its own merits. The Swedish version ultimately topped out for me because of its careful timing and fantastic use of long, slow shorts and sparse dialogue to create tension.
5. The Cabin in the Woods, 2012.
This film surprised me, it really did. But then again, with Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard at its helm and Kristen Connolly as its heroine, I suppose it shouldn’t have been surprised at the heady mix of cheekiness and gore. Not content just to subvert our expectations of the genre—it twists and rearranges them.
6. The Shining, 1980.
Jack Torrence is one of the scariest characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch on-screen, but at least 7/10’s of that is due to the performances put in by Jack Nicholson and Shelley Long. I’ve been watching this film since I was probably-too-young-to-watch-it, and I’m pretty sure that those twins in the hallway are the origin of my fear of kids-in-horror-movies.
7. Zombieland, 2009.
A zombie film with Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, and Jesse Eisenberg? And they run into Bill Murray, you say? Sign me up. The film manages to be, at its heart, a zombie film, and while the characters are fun in a way that they rarely are during the zombie apocalypse, there are moments of tension, fear, and pop culture critique.
8. The Conjuring, 2013.
Another fairly recent film, The Conjuring tells the story of the Warrens, American paranormal investigators, as they conduct an investigation and exorcism at the Perron family home. Using old-school scare tactics and striking cinematography, the new film manages a refreshing, cerebral take on the horror tropes of the investigator and the haunted house.
9. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, 1962.
Fantastically creepy, the aging sisters of Baby Jane are a stark reminder of the jealousy and animosity that can sit beside us, of the things we hide from ourselves and those closest to us. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are fantastic mirrors for one another.
10. Halloween, 1978.
Difficult to make a horror film list, especially in October, without mentioning this one. Mike Meyers has haunted our dreams for 36 years now, and he shows no signs of stopping. From the moment he stabs his sister to the film’s final act, Meyers is terrifying and mesmerizing.
11. Frailty, 2001.
Matthew McConaughey walks into a police station and claims to know who the God’s Hand Killer is, a terrifying serial killer who is revealed, through flashbacks, to be McConaughey’s father (Bill Paxton, in his directorial debut), an ultra-religious man who wakes up his two sons one night to instruct them on how to dispatch demons. The film is twisty-turny, and it’s a woefully underrated piece of suspense horror.
12. Psycho, 1960.
The king of horror films, Psycho still manages to be scary, over 50 years after its release. Norman Bates is a character of horrifying beauty.
13. Alyce Kills, 2011.
Alyce Kills has a bit of a sagging middle, but the opening act and the final act are fantastic. It’s plenty gory, though most of the gore is contained in the last 20 minutes of the film, and it’s also darkly funny and painful to watch Alyce, whose friends have missed all signs that she’s a budding psychopath, come completely unglued because of her guilt over a friend’s probably-mostly-accidental death.