Halloween is truly a holiday of epicurean delights. I mean, what other day in a year is exclusively reserved for gorging yourself on Fun Size Butterfingers, launching pumpkins at your neighbor’s shed, dressing in a ball gown and partying like you don’t have to work in the morning (thank God this year’s is on a Saturday)?
Yet, there’s one crucial, oft-forgotten element to this decadent day of debauchery that is integral to stirring up an eerie ambience: The Horror Film. These little cinematic candy apples are the perfect accompaniment to your hard cider and a chilly, October night wouldn’t be the same without old dark houses, masked prowlers and charming vampires.
With that said it’s time to dim the lights, pop the popcorn and snuggle up to that special someone, ‘cause here are the ten best horror films of all time.
10. Black Christmas (1974)
Birthing the slasher genre, bringing a macabre touch to the holidays and making telecommunication forever unnerving, Black Christmas carried the torch that would be passed on to Halloween, Friday the 13th and an endless number of films that range from sincere homage to direct knock-off.
Plagued by prank phone calls and worried about a missing housemate (she’s not as missing as they think), three sorority sisters seek the police chief’s guidance, but have no idea that the caller in question may be waiting for them in their own attic.
Featuring an unbelievable cast (including a hilarious performance by a drunken Margot Kidder), great set design and excellent camera work, BC is top-notch filmmaking on every level with originality and charisma to spare. Yet, none of its aesthetic qualities can match the goose bumps you’ll have while hearing the deranged phone calls from our nursery rhyme-obsessed slasher. As he wails like a crying baby and oinks like a pig, you’ll lose a week of sleep, check the attic every 20 minutes and tear your landline from the wall.
9. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
If you’ve ever been creeped out by your nosy next-door neighbor (or just plumb afraid of old people), Rosemary’s Baby is the fright flick for you.
After moving into the Bamford, a Manhattan apartment complex chock-full of eccentrics and busybodies, Rosemary Woodhouse begins to fear that her neighbors are overly involved in the trappings of her pregnancy. She’s also quite disturbed by a late-night fever dream involving a tryst with a horned man-beast in front of a throng of cloaked Satanists.
Needless to say, this nerve-shattering moment will send even the most hardened gorehound to bed with an industrial-size nightlight and pair of nunchucks strapped to their chest.
NOTE: Do not watch this with anyone who is currently expecting. Seriously… unless you want to turn Halloween into the night where your pregnant sister Becky stabbed you in the arm with a carving knife.
8. The Exorcist (1973)
Much debated and often unfairly maligned, this iconic demonic possession flick is the gold standard when it comes to evil children, foul-mouthed demons and creepy subliminal messages.
When the 12-year old daughter of an internationally renowned actress begins to speak in Latin, spew bright green vomit and make unsavory remarks to her mother, legendary exorcist, Father Merrin is brought in to battle the unholy one toe-to-toe.
Watching this with a first-timer is a moment you can’t put a price on, especially after you see their jaw drop during one of the many show-stoppingly disturbing moments this Oscar-nominee has to offer.
7. Repulsion (1965)
Our second film on the list directed by Roman Polanski, Repulsion is also the grimmest, depicting the psychological breakdown of a shy cosmetologist who is so afraid of interacting with young men that she imagines them sneaking into her bedroom at night and reaching for her through her apartment walls.
Albeit that this is not a film that most would consider fun fare, it is a uniquely cerebral take on the genre and would be great for the art schooler or cineaste seeking a refined pleasure on All Hallows’ Eve.
6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of those movies that forces you to look at everything differently. Never again will you eat barbecued beef, pick up a hitchhiker, go on a roadtrip, visit the American South, accept help from a kindly elderly gentleman… The rest of your life will be one of horrified mistrust and paranoia after seeing this all-too-real modern cannibal epic.
Yet, you won’t be able to turn away and I recommend clutching a pillow for safety during the loud and maniacal final 30 minutes.
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Currently next on tap for the remake treatment, this first Elm Street affair is by the far the best of the series and predates any of Freddy Krueger’s unamusing stabs at stand-up comedy.
Focusing on the attractive and witty Nancy Thompson, Nightmare does two things extremely well. It manages to be a realistic portrayal of life for the American teen and a surrealistic vision of night terrors, especially those brought on by a nocturnal stalker as perverse and inhuman as only Freddy can be.
This is also a great one to watch with a group, especially if you’re a Johnny Depp fanatic and pine for him every night by your life-size Pirates of the Caribbean standup.
4. Carrie (1976)
Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, Carrie is the ultimate revenge epic for anyone who got pushed around in high school.
Raised in a strict Christian household and never allowed to wear lipstick or speak to boys, Carrie White was a social misfit who drew out the wrath of the popular chick clique after suffering an unfortunate mishap in the gym locker room.
When these mean girls try to humiliate her again (in a truly sad sequence at the Senior Prom), Carrie retorts by using her telekinetic powers (a gift she has previously hidden) and laying wake to everything in her path.
Although my description made this film sound way too self-serious and absurd, there is actually a lot of fun to be had. John Travolta’s performance as the beer-swilling, idiotic boyfriend of Carrie’s nemesis will be so much like the guy you hated in high school that you won’t help but laugh at how amazing the performance is.
3. Halloween (1978)
You know the theme music, the masked man, and the premise. Now it’s time to rewatch the original and rid your mind of the appalling gaffe that was Rob Zombie’stake on the Halloween series.
Focusing on naïve babysitter Laurie Strode (in a genre-defining performance by Jamie Lee Curtis), Halloween crafted the template for slasher cinema, masterfully utilizing scare tactics and camera angles that would become passé and worn-out within a few years of its release.
Yet, Halloween has always maintained an ability to shock and petrify that none of its successors could manage to muster and it is a testament to its genius that the final moments of Jamie Lee vs. Michael Myers are still so frightening in their simplicity.
2. Night of the Living Dead (1968) / Dawn of the Dead (1978)
When an undiagnosed epidemic causes Earth’s dead to rise from their graves, a pack of temperamental humans barricade themselves in a Western Pennsylvania farmhouse and struggle to figure a way out of this mess. And with this modesty-budgeted tale began the zombie hysteria that has swept the world over the past 40 years.
Its sequel would show a world in ruin and focus on four opportunists who decide to squat in an abandoned mall and wait out the zombie epidemic. Unfortunately, the world won’t wait and when the living dead decide to get some shopping done, the previously contented party must arm themselves and defend their claim.
Although two entirely different films, George A. Romero’s earliest undead efforts perfectly encapsulate the subgenre, foretelling the future of horror cinema and American pop culture. It is also interesting to see how Romero shifted tone between the two features, going for a stark and disturbing tale of horror in the original and an epic, satirical frenzy in the follow-up.
1. Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock’s shocking and inventive black-and-white thriller is my list’s reigning champion and the prototype for all fright flicks that would follow.
When mild-mannered secretary Marion Crane steals $40 grand from her hick boss and hightails it to Arizona to marry her alimony-ridden boyfriend, she makes a quick pit stop at a small, secluded motel for a good night’s sleep. Little does she know that her overnight visit and brief discussion with proprietor Norman Bates would indefinitely change the course of the rest of her life.
Speaking of life changing, this film is mandatory viewing for all movie buffs and novices alike and I sincerely plead with those who’ve seen it to not ruin any of its delightfully twisted plot points for first-time viewers.
So, if you are untainted by Wikipedia synopses and loud-mouthed friends, the thrills and chills of this immortal spook show will make for one ghoulishly fun Halloween.
Tune in next Tuesday for an alternate take on the greatest horror movies all time from another member of the eCollegeFinder staff!