As Halloween is upon us (happily) both horror film buffs and movie fans alike may enjoy the cinematic treat of having their pants scared off. I still remember the first film that ever scared me in a movie theatre; I literally peeked through my nine-year-old fingers when the chained-up, hidden evil brother in the attic was finally revealed in 1968’s “The Shuttered Room” (which I saw in 1970). I’ve loved horror films ever since. Although the film seems tame to me today, there will always be a part of me that fears the unknown something down the hall, the corner of the basement where the light does not go, and the closed room from which odd or unusual sounds escape.
Here is a list of ‘unlucky thirteen’ films that fit the bill. All are remarkable achievements in filmmaking with those delicious sensations of dread, disturbing sensations, surprise and which have, as their most common denominator, the ability to grip you and only let you breathe when their directors felt like it.
I list them alphabetically because I refuse to rank one over the other. I just enjoy them for what they are and every Halloween I watch at least two of them. Enjoy!
All the Girls Love Mandy Lane (2006) – sadly unknown and seldom-seen classic from recent years. Never got the attention it deserved.
The Blair Witch Project (1999) – verité style at its best. One of the best premises of any spook flick in a long time.
The Exorcist (1973) – an undoubted classic of its genre, but also one of the best films of any kind ever made, due to its every aspect being virtually flawless.
Ginger Snaps (2000) – Splendid, fresh, imaginative and what may be the best Canadian horror film ever made.
Halloween (1978) – John Carpenter got it perfect on this film. The monster that can’t be stopped and keeps coming may be the most terrifying thing we can imagine.
Jaws (1975) – Probably not a film most people think of when it comes to horror, but any film that can keep people who saw it off the beaches for ages afterward is a great film. This very first “blockbuster” validated horror as a mainstream genre, and every horror director from Eli Roth on back owes Mr Spielberg a tip of their bloody caps.
Nosferatu (1922) – Before I fell in love with the Universal Monsters classics, I saw this silent wonder, and it’s as scary today as it was nearly one hundred years ago.
Psycho (1960) – Hitchock. Norman Bates. Mrs Bates. ‘Nuff said. Suspense and fear done to perfection.
The Ring (2002) – One of the best ghost stories ever told.
Scream (1996) – Modern classic of the genre from Wes Craven. Watchable numerous times with identical results. That’s the effect of a great director.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – Only horror film to win the mainstream awards due to how well it was made.
The Sixth Sense (1999) – A film that explores our fear of death itself. Like ‘Silence of the Lambs’ it’s claustrophobic, honest and its reality is our own reality. If anything, such films seem too close to home.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – This was the first and most perfect example of the modern horror film. Unsettling, intimate and unforgettable.