Halloween is coming, and the dead shall rise from their graves. At least on a TV screen near you. We are awash in lists of the greatest horror movies ever made, and everybody’s trying to come up with a twist of their own. Well, I decided to just list my 12 favorites, a bunch of movies that are scary but also all-around superior entertainment.
1980-U.S. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd.
What I wrote: “Ten years ago, a friend of mine and I had a nerdy contest where we decided to crown the greatest horror movie ever made. After plenty of heartbreaking comparisons and heated discussions, we agreed on one candidate that we both could accept as the scariest film ever made.”
1979-Britain-U.S. Directed by Ridley Scott. Cast: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt.
What I wrote: “What should we primarily remember from this film? Perhaps just the intense feeling of terror. There’s a monster that we don’t quite know how to explain, there’s a lot of running away from it in dark corridors. Nightmares are fascinating and Alien is just as absurd, scary and repetitious as anything invented by a sleeping mind.”
1973-U.S. Directed by William Friedkin. Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair.
What I wrote: “It was so convincing to many in the audience that even the famous evangelist Billy Graham believed that Satan was responsible for its success. William Friedkin’s work remains potent, not least because of the raw, cold atmosphere that cinematographer Owen Roizman has created.”
4 The Omen
1976-U.S. Directed by Richard Donner. Cast: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Harvey Stephens.
What I wrote: “The Omen does owe a lot to its famous predecessor, but thanks to the talent involved it manages to stand on its own and has in turn spawned many other more or less worthless imitations. There’s a lot to be said for a film so perversely clever it makes its audience root for a father who tries to kill his son.”
1978-U.S. Directed by John Carpenter. Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis.
What I wrote: “Simple – but never cheap. When the filmmakers found a Star Trek mask of Captain Kirk in a store, they realized that all they had to do to make it horrifying was change its hair, eyes and spray-paint the face white. Ingenious. It’s the small things that count.”
1999-U.S. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Cast: Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Haley Joel Osment.
What I wrote: “The film begins with a woman fetching a bottle of wine from a dark cellar and suddenly shuddering as if a cold wind hits her. We have all experienced it, as well as the sense of fear that accompanies it. With this film, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan shows us that there is every reason to be afraid in those moments.”
1982-U.S. Directed by Tobe Hooper. Cast: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Beatrice Straight.
What I wrote: “This movie frightened me as a kid. Its effect may have diminished over the years, due among other things to aging special effects, but it was a pretty spectacular thrill-ride in its day. Most previous ghost movies had been more discreet in their use of effects, but this one went all in with help from Hollywood’s very best, including the masterful Richard Edlund.”
1960-U.S. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles.
What I wrote: “The shower sequence is one of the most famous scenes in cinema history; meticulously designed, shot and edited, it features a quick series of cuts, nudity, brute force, the horrifying illusion of someone being attacked with a knife, and Bernard Herrmann’s ingenious, screeching score accompanying it.”
1986-U.S. Directed by James Cameron. Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn.
What I wrote: “When I first heard about this film, I was 11 or 12 years old and pretty much a novice when it came to movies. Judging from what some of my classmates were talking about, I understood that Aliens was a dark, scary and very exciting film, a special experience indeed. When I finally got to see it a few years later, it blew my mind.”
1975-U.S. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss.
What I wrote: “It takes time before the monster appears, a technique that was to be employed in many other films. It is easy to fear something we can only imagine (and we’re good at conjuring up gruesome images in our heads).”
2018-U.S. Directed by Ari Aster. Cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff.
What I wrote: “Isn’t it wonderful to see a director make his first feature film and just hit the ball out of the park? In Ari Aster’s case, he had several shorts behind him when he got the opportunity to make this film, the greatest horror movie we’ve seen in many years.”
2013-U.S. Directed by James Wan. Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor.
What I wrote: “James Wan is so good at building tension and delivers shocks in such a skillful way that it’s hard to resist.”