I’ve always been interested in horror movies - good ones are able to send a chill down your spine, making you feel uneasy about the world around you. Or, alternatively, they can be a delightfully fun time, using over-the-top situations and special effects to tell a story in an immensely enjoyable way. Furthermore, some horror movies are great because they tell an interesting, not necessarily scary compelling story in a way that makes it unsettling and creepy. Regardless, there are plenty of great horror flicks out there, and what better time to watch one than Halloween? Here are some of my favorite horror movies I’ve ever seen.
The Thing (1982)
directed by John Carpenter, starring Kurt Russell
What do you do when you’re stuck in an isolated wasteland with no one around you to trust? That’s what John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic The Thing explores. The Thing, an adaptation of John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There?, takes place in an Antarctic research outpost, starring 12 researchers who accidentally let a shapeshifting alien infiltrate their ranks. Paranoia overtakes the entire outpost as they desperately try to find out who they can trust, and who is a mere replica of their former self - an empty, goopy, murderous alien. The special effects are top notch for their time, the alien being portrayed through truly disgusting, slimy practical effects. The Thing is not just my favorite horror movie, but one of my favorite movies ever made, period. It’s a masterpiece of building tension, and once it gets going it’s hard to not be on the edge of your seat. However, at the time of its release, it was a huge failure, both commercially and critically. Critics described it in terms such as “instant junk” and “a wretched excess”, and the movie bombed at the box office. It was only after its release on home video that it came to be viewed as a cult classic of the horror genre, and eventually, one of the best movies of all time.
The Evil Dead (1981)
directed by Sam Raimi, starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker, and Theresa Tilly
If you’re looking for something more campy and fun, a violent bloodbath, or both, another one of my favorite horror movies is The Evil Dead. The premise of the movie is one you may have heard before: a few friends spend the night in an isolated cabin, soon finding themselves surrounded by a supernatural force of evil. But don’t be fooled - The Evil Dead shows itself to be something more than a boring, clichéd slasher. The movie is made with a low budget but plenty of love for the horror genre, in all its gory glory. Prepare to be equally amused and scared - while the movie is undeniably very over the top, I find it to be legitimately terrifying at times. If you liked the first one, then it’s worth checking out the sequels as well. While many horror movies are given unfortunate, cash-grab sequels that ruin everything that made the original good, many would argue that the sequels are even better than the iconic first movie. The Evil Dead II is similar to the first, but takes a decidedly more comedic tone, with delightfully entertaining gags and an absurd story in contrast to the campy but mostly non-comedic first movie. The third and final movie of the trilogy, Army of Darkness goes even further, almost entirely ditching the horror genre for a fantastical, Monty Python-esque adventure in medieval times. Interestingly, the director of this movie, Sam Raimi, went on to direct the Spider-Man trilogy with Tobey Maguire in the 2000s - and after watching the entire series, you can see why. The classic horror series has a surprising amount in common with the goofy, fun style of the massively successful superhero trilogy.
directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, and Janet Leigh
Though it was released almost 60 years ago, Psycho still holds up as a gripping, intriguing thriller. Although it’s maybe not as shocking as we’re used to from horror movies today, and the blood and gore is certainly not on the level of the other movies on this list, it continues to be a landmark in the history of horror - not to mention, still a fairly effective horror movie. Psycho notably has a very interesting structure; without spoiling too much (although, to be fair, many of the important plot points of the movie are well known nowadays, even among those who haven’t seen it), it essentially starts out as a drama about a woman who steals money from her boss and goes on the run, before rapidly shifting to a horror/thriller about a murder mystery. This sort of narrative twist was practically unheard of in blockbusters of the 1960s, and even now it manages to surprise you. But the best part of the movie is Anthony Perkins’s fantastic performance as Norman Bates, the creepy owner of the motel where much of the film’s events take place. Despite initially receiving mixed reviews, Psycho is now considered by many critics to be Alfred Hitchcock’s best work, as well as one of the greatest movies of all time. It completely changed the game for the movie industry of the 60s - watching Psycho, it’s easy to think it can feel too predictable, but if anything, that’s only because every horror movie since then has wanted to be this movie. And there's a good reason for its influence on so many aspiring filmmakers - even today, it holds up amazingly as a thrilling horror movie.
The Exorcist (1973)
directed by William Friedkin, starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller, Lee J. Cobb, and Jack MacGowran
A national sensation at the time of its release, The Exorcist, based on William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel of the same name, earns its title as one of the most iconic horror movies of the 1970s. The story about a young girl possessed by a demon is chilling, and the climactic final act is one of my favorite endings to a horror movie ever. However, when I first watched this movie, I was surprised to find how little of it was actually, well, about the exorcism. The majority of the movie is a slow burn, as the possessed girl's mother becomes more and more desperate, trying to find out what is wrong with her daughter Regan. After her condition deteriorates and she acts increasingly bizarre, she becomes convinced that she must receive some kind of help beyond doctors and psychologists, and the most famous portion of the movie begins - the last 20 minutes, in which two priests administer a traditional Catholic exorcism to the girl, reciting Biblical verse (most famously, “The power of Christ compels you!”) and commanding the demon to leave her body. Even beyond the actual exorcism scene, however, the entire movie is well worth your time. The special effects used to portray Regan’s possession are truly disgusting (in a good way), and her mother’s tragic arc makes the story all the more bleak and hopeless.