Who doesn’t love a good scare? Especially from the comfort of your own couch.With the recent onslaught of slash n’ dash horror movies being churned out—I mean, how many Saws is a normal human being expected to sit through?—I recommend you look to the past for some good old fashioned frights. Granted, this might mean digging out your VCR and wading through the racks at Capitol Video, but if you want a proper spook this Halloween, treat yourself to some of the scariest moments, monsters, and madmen that these classics have to offer.
By Jordan Canning.
13. There’s nothing like a good psychopath to remind us all how nuts we can be. And who better to set the bar than the poster boy for crazy, the Psycho that all psychos look up to—Norman Bates. Hitchcock made over 90 cuts (no pun intended) while editing the famed shower sequence. With the help of that brilliant piercing score, he created one of the most shocking murder scenes of the time. Even today, it still gives me chills.
12. For a lesser known but equally evil murdering mysanthrope, check out The Night of the Hunter. Robert Mitchum plays Harry Powell, a fanatical preacher who marries and murders a widow, then relentlessly hunts her two children across Virginia to get at their dead father’s fortune. An often imitated film noir, it’s the origin of the iconic LOVE / HATE tattooed knuckles and is a favorite of the Coen brothers, who have referenced it in more than one of their films. In The Man Who Wasn’t There, for example, the shot of Jon Polito dead in a car underwater is a direct homage to this film.
11. In The Bad Seed (1956) Rhoda Penmark is a rosey-cheeked, blonde pigtailed ten year-old who, unbeknownst to everyone around her, is actually a cold hearted killer. After a string of “accidents” that place Rhoda at their centre, her mother begins to suspect that her darling daughter might be dabbling in murder. No doubt one of the original inspirations for the recent movie trend of creepy, evil children, Rhoda reminds us not to underestimate kids just because they’re kids… ‘cause they might just kill you.
10. While The Ring hasn’t been around long enough to be considered a classic, I can’t help but remember screaming out loud in the theatre (no joke) when I first caught sight of that girl’s mutilated, screaming face in the closet. The sequel may have pushed it a little, namely by giving us enough time to actually consider the ridiculous logic of a videotape that kills people. But, the original—well, the original English remake of the Japanes original—was some scary shit.
9. Called “The Citizen Kane of Horror Movies”, The Wicker Man (1973) is a bizarre mix of horror, drama, comedy and musical. Set on a secluded sub-tropic island off the coast of Scotland, it’s the story of a young Christian policeman sent to the island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. He soon discovers that the town is actually a strange pagan cult, given to unbridled sexuality and possible human sacrifice, and that the simple townsfolk are more cunning (and dangerous) than they appear. Watch for the random naked dance scene in the second act—creepy and sexy!
8. Recently added to the ranks of the Criterion Collection, Man Bites Dog is a trailblazer in the fictionalized documentary genre. In this disturbingly graphic black comedy, a film crew follows around a serial killer like he’s Jessica Simpson. As they get increasingly tangled up in his violent lifestyle, it becomes harder and harder to survive each day of the shoot. Though it isn’t a true horror, the charismatic, psychotic anti-hero – and his apathetic approach to murder – left me sleeping with the lights on.
7. While listing off ideas for this article, a friend snidely asked “Is The Shining really a horror movie?”. To which I replied: scary dead twins, decaying old woman in a bathtub, elevator full of blood. A benchmark in creepiness from storytelling masters Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick, if you haven’t seen this film in a while, now’s your chance to refresh your memory. So take a break and rent it, cause you know what they say about all work and no play…
6. It seems as though horror movies have more sequels and remakes than any other genre. Sometimes they drag on and on (Halloween X, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the Umpteenth), and others make the mistake of trying to follow up a film that should have remained a singular piece of work. Stick to the originals with The Blair Witch Project, The Omen, 28 Days Later, Black Christmas and The Exorcist. Sometimes they just did it right the first time.
5. For a potent psychological chill, try Jacob’s Ladder. Tim Robbins plays a traumatized Vietnam war vet who begins to suffer disturbing hallucinations as he and other members of his former unit are pursued by unknown killers. Credited as being one of the inspirations for the Silent Hill franchise, the nightmarish images and special effects in this film were impressively ahead of their time and will still unnerve you almost 20 years after the fact.
4. I cannot possibly call this list complete without mentioning Rosemary’s Baby. Go rent it. Now.
3. And I also cannot forget the non-human frighteners that go bump in the night. Alien, The Thing, The Birds, The Fly, the alcohol-induced pink elephant hallucinations in Dumbo…
2. When the writers of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) came up with the name Leatherface, I hope they patted themselves on the back. He—and his insane cannibalistic family, of course—are way up there on my list of most frightening characters of all time. Though there have been many imitations, the original TCM is without rival. Incredibly shot and directed, the sheer blunt terror of this film will scare the wits out of you over and over again.
1. Personally, I will always have a special terrified place in my heart for Carrie. On my 12th birthday, my parents thought it would be fun to show the film to me and a dozen or so girlfriends as a bedtime movie. What were they thinking? Even my dad bolted out of his seat when that hand burst up from the grave. To this day, I still bump into girls from that sleepover who tell me I scarred them for life. Thanks mom.