If you’re too old to go trick or treating and don’t feel like battling your way through an overpopulated Halloween party or event, you can still have a great time celebrating Oct. 31 with a horror movie marathon.
We’ve put together a list of some of the all-time great horror movies by category, whether you’re in the mood for a silent fright fest or an evening spent with the undead, vampires, animals gone wild, serial killers or other ghastly companions.
Take a look at our list of some of the best horror movies to watch this Halloween and let us know in the comment section if there are any you think we should have included.
Obviously, you can’t go wrong with Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960), the groundbreaking thriller that inspired decades of slasher films (see below) to come. For those more interested in creepy visuals than shrieking sounds, the best silent horror classics include F.W. Murnau’s spooky “Nosferatu” (1922), Lon Chaney’s iconic portrayal of “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925) or Carl Theodor Dreyer’s surreal “Vampyr” (1932). Film buffs will also want to look into the oeuvres of James Whale, who is responsible for both “Frankenstein” (1931) and “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935), and Tod Browning, who directed “Dracula” (1931) with Bela Lugosi and the controversial “Freaks” (1932).
Charles Laughton’s extremely eerie “The Night of the Hunter” (1955) features Robert Mitchum as one of the all-time scariest screen villains, while Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom” (1960) is a stylish British thriller. The compilation film “Dead of Night” (1945) includes several scary stories, while Georges Franju’s dreamy and nightmarish “Eyes Without a Face” (1960) casts an entrancing spell. And the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) is an unsettling, paranoid thriller about an alien invasion.
Sink Your Teeth Into These
Although Murnau’s original classic and the 1930s Lugosi portrayal are the most famous films about the count, Werner Herzog’s “Nosferatu” (1979) is, arguably, the most visually gorgeous version of Bram Stoker’s novel. Another art house favorite is the recent “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” (2014), which has been aptly described as an “Iranian vampire western,” while Claire Denis’s “Trouble Every Day” (2002) is a stylish modern take on vampirism.
George Romero may be known for his zombie films, but his “Martin” (1977) is a sleeper about a young man who is convinced he is a vampire. Although “The Lost Boys” (1987) is likely the most popular 1980s tale of bloodsuckers, Kathryn Bigelow’s “Near Dark” (1987) is even better.
The Swedish film “Let the Right One In” (2008) was not only scary, but also critically acclaimed, landing on a number of year-end top 10 lists. And for something completely off-the-wall, there’s always Bill Gunn’s “Ganja and Hess” (1973), a moody blaxploitation film that mixes vampires with a love story and political context.
The Walking Dead
Yes, you could spend your evening watching a marathon of AMC’s blockbuster show (unseen by me). But if you want to see where “The Walking Dead” found its inspiration, look no further than Romero’s acclaimed “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) and “Dawn of the Dead” (1978), both of which told gruesome stories of the undead feasting on humans, but also included social commentary on the decades in which they were produced. For a lesser known film attempting similar results, try the Vietnam War-themed “Deathdream” (1974).
Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” (2003) is the best 21st century movie about zombies, while Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” (2007) is a throwback to 1970s grindhouse fare. Other highlights in the subgenre include the grim and humorous “Re-animator” (1985) and Lucio Fulci’s gory “Zombie” (1979), which features an unforgettable sequence with insane stunt work during which a zombie battles a shark.
John Carpenter’s landmark “Halloween” (1978) is still easily the best slasher film and remains, in my opinion, one of the scariest movies ever made, although Bob Clark’s holiday themed horror movie “Black Christmas” (1974) is the film that is typically cited as launching the subgenre.
Among the many films to follow in Carpenter’s footsteps are “Friday the 13th” (1980), which introduced the world to the un-killable Jason Vorhees, as well as “When a Stranger Calls” (1979), which features one of the freakiest opening sequences in horror movie history, and “Scream” (1996), Wes Craven’s ode to slasher films that helped reboot the genre. Another fun movie that provides its thrills with a wink is Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof,” which features Kurt Russell as a serial killer in a muscle car.
But long before “Scream,” Craven created the notorious “Last House on the Left” (1972), the savage “The Hills Have Eyes” (1977) and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984), which debuted the wisecracking Freddy Krueger, who also appeared in the best slasher sequel to date, “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” (1994).
And while it’s arguably unclassifiable, Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974) likely falls into the slasher film category. Reviews of the film were mixed upon the time of its release, but it has since been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation and is often cited as one of the best horror movies ever made.
Possessions, Haunted Houses and Satanic Stories
Two of the most highly acclaimed horror movies fall into this category: Roman Polanski’s classic “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) and William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist,” which is one of the only films of its type to receive a Best Picture nomination.
But you also shouldn’t miss Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” (1976), which is based on Stephen King’s debut novel and nabbed Sissy Spacek a Best Actress nomination, and “Poltergeist” (1982), which had Tobe Hooper in the director’s chair and Steven Spielberg on-board as a producer.
Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” (1981) and “Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn” (1987) are two of the top cult movies of all time due to their outlandish humor and dizzying camera work, while Italian director Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” (1977) is often regarded as one of the most stylish and terrifying films of the 1970s.
Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” (1963) is considered one of the all-time best haunted house movies, while “Phantasm” (1979) has retained its staying power due to its inclusion of the Tall Man, one of horror filmdom’s most sinister figures. And we’d be remiss to leave out “The Omen” (1976), a blockbuster thriller about a young boy believed to be Satan’s son.
But there are also several independent films about possessions of various sorts that have drawn critical acclaim, such as “The Blair Witch Project” (1999), which launched the found footage genre, and “Possession” (1981), for which Isabelle Adjani won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival. The virtually unheard-of “Dust Devil” (1992) is a South African gem about a woman who comes across a mysterious hitch hiker with dark powers, while the recent “It Follows” (2015) is one of the best horror movies of the 21st century.
Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Shining” (1980) was overlooked at the time of its release, but has since gone on to become so legendary that a documentary – “Room 237” (2012) – explored its various themes and the strange theories revolving around it.
The 1970s had more than its share of great, unsettling films about the psychological landscape, including Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” (1973), an artfully made film based on a Daphne Du Maurier story that features one of the most frightening climaxes in history, and “The Wicker Man” (1973), an Irish thriller that also has a shocking denouement. But there’s also the unusual Los Angeles-set “Blue Sunshine” (1978) and the luridly titled “Who Can Kill a Child?” (1976), which finds a young couple stranded on an island filled with evil youngsters.
And you won’t want to miss Polanski’s “Repulsion” (1965), which features one of the great early performances by Catherine Deneuve, as well as the 1980s shocker “Angel Heart” (1987), which stars Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro, and “Jacob’s Ladder” (1990), which includes some of the most nightmarish imagery you’ll ever see on celluloid. And, last but not least, seek out “Cure” (1997), an almost unbearably creepy Japanese film about a detective investigating a series of murders committed by people who have no memory of what they’ve done.
In the world of horror movies, evil forces can come by sea – such as in Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” (1975), which is often cited as the first blockbuster – or air, via Alfred Hitchcock’s unnerving “The Birds” (1963). But you’re also not safe in space – as Ridley Scott’s classic “Alien” (1979) reminded us – or in the Arctic – per John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), should you choose to travel there.
But the master of icky movies about inhuman forces is David Cronenberg, who is not only responsible for the excellent remake of “The Fly” (1986), which won an Oscar for its gooey special effects, but also the demented “The Brood” (1979), in which a series of mutant children run rampant.
The Evil That Men Do
For those more interested in man-made horrors, your obvious top choice should be Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), which is based on Thomas Harris’s novel and swept the Academy Awards before inspiring several sequels and a TV show. For a lesser known – but extremely disturbing – serial killer drama, watch “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” (1986), which chronicles the true story of Henry Lee Lucas and was noted for its chilling tone.
And, finally, a great underrated serial killer thriller is Bill Paxton’s “Frailty” (2002), which stars Matthew McConaughey and Paxton in a thriller 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.
Note: A majority of these films are not appropriate for children or the faint of heart.