Posted on September 20, 2018
I’m in a horror mood lately, probably because of Castle Rock, so I’m going to make a list of my favorite horror movies ranked by how scary they were to me at the time I saw them (in the theater where possible).
- Dracula (the original, seen on TV as a child)
- The Omen
- The Shining
- The Haunting (1963)
- It Follows
- Let The Right One In & Let Me In
- The Ring
- The Grudge
- The Exorcist
- The Thing
- The Descent
- Dawn of the Dead (2004)
- The Fly (1986)
- Shaun of the Dead
- House on Haunted Hill (remake)
- IT (2017)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
- 10 Cloverfield Lane
- Cabin in the Woods
- The Birds (9yo, special Halloween screening)
- Peeping Tom (on video but alone in the dark)
- Night of the Living Dead
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
- Psycho (8yo, special Halloween screening)
- Get Out
- American Werewolf in London
Notes about these choices follow after the jump.
I could do a post on each one of these, but I really need some time for myself, so just a few notes.
I don’t like torture, so movies like Hostel are right out.
I didn’t include any horror comedies unless they were also scary.
Aliens is not a horror movie, it’s an adventure film. Alien is a horror movie. (My previous post is about how to tell the difference. Check it out.)
I probably suffered some permanent psychological damage from the screening of The Birds because some older boys threw pigeons into the theater at a climactic moment.
Also probably got some PTSD from Psycho because what the hell kind of 8yo goes to see Psycho?
I saw Night of the Living Dead in a drive-in not knowing the owner had paid some people to dress up like zombies and wander around banging on car windows. I still hold that my 2002 heart attack was a delayed response to the shock from that night.
I was so scared of the POSTER for The Thing that I went to two other movies first. I would go up to the box office, lose my nerve, and buy a ticket for whatever was showing next. When I finally saw it, I had nightmares for weeks. It was excellent. The best thing John Carpenter ever did, Halloween included.
I was on a date seeing the worst movie ever made (yes, including Manos and Space Mutiny), a Woody Allen film called Interiors. It was just dreadful, but what made it worse was that Halloween was showing in the next theater and I could hear people screaming in there. So I asked my date if we could leave Interiors, get tickets, and see the next showing of whatever was playing next door. I ended up seeing Interiors through to the bitter end and never going out with her again (It’s hard to tell if you’re right for each other, but sometimes it’s easy to tell you’re not right for each other). When I finally did get to see Halloween the next weekend, it changed my frikken life.
I didn’t see the Exorcist until just a few years ago. I was too young when it came out and when it came around again in 1976, I went with a bunch of my buddies from the track team. You know how sometimes people who are nervous start talking to the screen? Yeah, so my buddies were being a little bit loud with the “Uh uh, you aren’t going up in that attic!” stuff and we got kicked out. By the police. I finally rented it on Netflix but the effect just isn’t the same after so much water under the bridge.
I don’t write a lot of horror (though I’d like to) so it wasn’t until I saw It Follows that I realized the defining characteristic of a horror story is that order is not restored in the end. Technically, this makes the remake of House on Haunted Hill an adventure movie because someone survives, but I would argue that the fact that they didn’t defeat the house and whatever was in it leaves chaos in tact.
I thought The Fly was a good movie while I was watching it (even as people were fleeing the theater in disgust) but later, once I got home, it began to really bother me and I got physically ill. A truly wonderful film, though not my favorite of the Cronenberg milieu. That would have to be Shivers, or as I knew it They Came From Within, a superior title if you ask me. It’s not on the list because, while it was my favorite of his, I felt more existential dread than horror while watching it.
During the 70s, good horror was hard to come by. So many shirttail independent filmmakers were turning to horror for its low budget (and low quality) requirement that studios couldn’t compete. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, like The Omen, was one of those rare, high quality and truly scary films to come out of the studios back then.
The thing about The Grudge is just watching SMG be ground down to a nub by the constant, insidious presence of the ghost. It’s traumatizing.
The Haunting is the most terrifying yet bloodless film on the list. I saw it at a campus movie night my freshman year of school. The Student Union Theater had an excellent sound system and when the booming started and the big door started bowing in like the house was breathing, I l literally froze stock still like a scared raccoon.
Nightmare on Elm Street isn’t on this list because I saw it at home on video and didn’t think it was scary. Nonsensical, yes. But then I’ve never been a Wes Craven fan.
And finally, IT (2017) may be the only good and true movie version of a Stephen King novel. The Shining is awesome, but it has little to do with the book. There’s a post on here somewhere in which I talk about how Kubrick did what was necessary to capture the spirit of the book and the feel of reading the book, but had to toss out the book in the process.
Let’s hope this list continues to grow.