With Halloween on the horizon, it’s time to start planning your marathon of old scary movies to get you in the seasonal spirit.
From classic thrillers to creature features, tales of possession and slasher movies, there are a number of great films that would make obvious picks for an evening of horror movie binge watching. But there are also some underrated and lesser known gems that also deserve a mention.
So, take a look at our list of some of the best old scary movies to watch this Halloween!
If creepy black and white films make your skin crawl, then some obvious early silent horror movies you should add to your list include F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” (1922), Lon Chaney’s famed portrayal of “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925) and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s surreal and unsettling “Vampyr” (1932).
Among the most iconic classic horror movies is Alfred Hitchcock’s landmark “Psycho” (1960), which inspired several generations of thrillers and slasher movies. Two other directors to seek out include James Whale, who is responsible for both “Frankenstein” (1931) and “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935), and Tod Browning, who directed “Dracula” (1931) and the controversial “Freaks” (1932).
Robert Mitchum provides one of the scariest screen villains of all time in Charles Laughton’s tense “The Night of the Hunter” (1955), while the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) combines sci-fi with horror for a disturbing paranoid thriller about an alien invasion. And for some classic horror masterpieces from across the pond, you won’t want to miss the British compilation film “Dead of Night” (1945), which features several scary stories, and French director Georges Franju’s dreamy and nightmarish “Eyes Without a Face” (1960).
Horror Movies With Bite
Although Murnau’s original classic and the 1930s Lugosi film laid the groundwork for films about the famous count, Werner Herzog’s “Nosferatu: Der Vampyre” (1979) is a visually gorgeous interpretation of Bram Stoker’s novel. George Romero may be best known for his zombie films (more on that later), but his “Martin” (1977) is a sleeper about a young man who is convinced that he is a vampire.
The 1970s and 1980s were rife with bloodsucking tales, such as Bill Gunn’s “Ganja and Hess” (1973), a moody Blaxploitation film that combines vampires, a love story and political context, and the dreamy “Daughters of Darkness” (1971). While vampire tale “The Lost Boys” (1987) was a smash hit, Kathryn Bigelow’s “Near Dark” (1987) was grittier and, arguably, better.
Since the turn of the century, filmmakers from around the world have contributed unique perspectives on vampire tales, such as “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” (2014), which has been evocatively described as an “Iranian vampire western,” as well as Claire Denis’s stylish “Trouble Every Day” (2002) and Sweden’s “Let the Right One In” (2008), which landed on a number of top 10 lists in the year it was released.
Fear The Walking Dead
While fans of AMC’s blockbuster show (unseen by me) could host a marathon on Halloween watching their favorite episodes, some great films that display where the program found its inspiration are George Romero’s critically acclaimed “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) and “Dawn of the Dead” (1978), both of which told gruesome stories of the undead, but also include potent social commentary. For a lesser known film with sociopolitical concepts, check out the Vietnam War-themed “Deathdream” (1974).
Some other highlights in the genre include the grim and humorous “Re-animator” (1985), Robert Rodriguez’s 1970s throwback “Planet Terror” (2007) and Lucio Fulci’s extremely gory “Zombie” (1979), which is, to my knowledge, the only film to feature a fight between a zombie and a shark. For my money, the best 21st century zombie movie is Danny Boyle’s haunting “28 Days Later” (2003).
Although the slasher film was likely inspired by “Psycho,” John Carpenter’s iconic “Halloween” (1978) was the film most entries to the genre mimicked. However, Bob Clark’s spooky “Black Christmas” (1974) is the film that is often cited as having launched the subgenre.
Some of these film’s top imitators include “When a Stranger Calls” (1979), which features a heart stopping opening scene, as well as “Friday the 13th” (1980), which introduced the world to the seemingly un-killable Jason Vorhees, and “Scream” (1996), Wes Craven’s comedic ode to slasher movies that helped to reboot the genre. Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof” (2007), which features Kurt Russell as a muscle car driving serial killer, is also a must-see for the genre.
Craven was one of the genre’s most prolific contributors. His earlier work included the notorious “Last House on the Left” (1972), the savage “The Hills Have Eyes” (1977) and “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” which debuted the wisecracking Freddy Krueger, who later returned for numerous sequels, most notably the meta “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” (1994).
And while it doesn’t quite fit into the slasher film category, Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” debuted to mixed reviews, but has since been ranked as one of the greatest horror movies ever made and selected by the Library of Congress for preservation.
Two classics you should certainly have in your possession (see what I did there?) are Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) and William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” (1973), which is one of the few examples of the genre to have garnered a Best Picture nomination.
Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” (1976), which nabbed a Best Actress nomination for Sissy Spacek and just celebrated its 40th anniversary, is a terrifying adaptation of Stephen King’s first novel, while “Poltergeist” (1982) combined the talents of Tobe Hooper (director) and Steven Spielberg (producer).
Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” (1981) and “Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn” (1987) are beloved cult movies that combine elements of horror and comedy and are complemented by dizzying camera work. Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” (1977) is a stylish and bloody movie about witchcraft that is frequently ranked among the genre’s best offerings from the 1970s.
Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” (1963) is often cited as one of the best haunted house movies, while “Phantasm” (1979) has become a cult classic due to its sinister villain, the Tall Man, and “The Omen” (1976), a blockbuster thriller about a young boy believed to be the antichrist, has shown staying power.
Some of the best independent films about possessions of various sorts include “The Blair Witch Project” (1999), which launched the found footage genre, as well as “Possession” (1981), for which Isabelle Adjani won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, and the virtually unknown “Dust Devil” (1992), a South African film about a woman who comes across a shape-shifting hitchhiker. “Messiah of Evil” (1973) is a moody California-set thriller about a cult, while David Robert Mitchell’s spooky and thematically rich “It Follows” (2015) is one of the 21st century’s best offerings.
Overlooked at the time of its release, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Shining” (1980) – which is, appropriately enough, set at the fictional Overlook Hotel – has become so legendary that a documentary – “Room 237” (2012) – was made to explore the film’s various themes and strange theories revolving around it.
The 1970s provided a veritable feast of great psychological thrillers, including Nicolas Roeg’s haunting “Don’t Look Now” (1973), an artfully made spine chiller based on a Daphne Du Maurier story that features one of the most frightening climaxes in history, as well as the shocking Irish thriller “The Wicker Man” (1973), the bizarre, Los Angeles-set “Blue Sunshine” (1978) and the luridly titled “Who Can Kill a Child?” (1976), which finds a couple stranded on an island filled with wicked youths.
You’ll certainly not want to miss Catherine Deneuve’s spellbinding performance in Polanski’s “Repulsion” (1965) or the atmospheric horror of the New Orleans-set “Angel Heart” (1987), which stars Robert De Niro and Mickey Rourke. But there’s also the trippy, nightmarish “Jacob’s Ladder” (1990) and the unbearably creepy “Cure” (1997), a Japanese film about a detective investigating a series of murders committed by people who have no memory of their actions.
According to horror movies, you’re not safe in the water – such as in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster smash “Jaws” (1975) – or air, via Alfred Hitchcock’s unnerving “The Birds” (1963). And you’re certainly not any safer in space – as Ridley Scott reminded us with his breakthrough film, “Alien” (1979) – or even in places as far-flung as the Arctic as John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982) attests.
However, David Cronenberg reigns as the master of icky movies involving grotesque creatures. He is not only responsible for “The Fly” (1986) remake, which is renowned for its special effects, but also “The Brood” (1979), a demented movie in which a group of mutant children run rampant.
Heart of Darkness
But, of course, none of the aforementioned beasts are as evil as mankind. Some of the screen’s most heinous killers include Anthony Hopkins’ iconic portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), which swept the top four Academy Awards categories as well as inspired several sequels and a TV show, and real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas in the disturbing and icy cold “Henry” Portrait of a Serial Killer” (1986), which was extremely controversial at the time of its release.
A vastly underrated serial killer thriller is Bill Paxton’s “Frailty” (2002), which stars Matthew McConaughey and Paxton in a story about a man recalling to a sheriff a story involving his father, who was convinced that God commanded him to murder demons who were disguised as people.
Which old scary movie will you be watching this Halloween season? Tell us in the comments.