Best horror movies, scary movies, slasher movie, Friday the 13th, The Shining, Freddy Krueger, Voorhees

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As we were putting our lists of best and worst sequels together, the names of several awful horror movie sequels were bandied about ("Friday the 13th: Jason Goes to Manhattan," "It Lives Again," "I Still Know What You Did Two Summers Ago"). That got us to thinking: what are the truly worthy horror movies? So we put our heads together – and in the process nearly bashed each other's heads in – and assembled what might be the most atypical list of horror movies you'll find. Remember, it doesn't have to include bogeymen in October to scare the living daylights out of you.

The movie that no one ever uses
as a degree of separation from
Kevin Bacon.

Friday the 13th
(Paramount, 1980)

Want to see Kevin Bacon die a painful, bloody death? Who doesn't, right? Well here's your chance. As one of the pioneering slasher films, not to mention the series that gave children everywhere a crippling fear of hockey goalies, the original "Friday the 13th" delivers enough senseless, over-the-top violence to satiate just about any bloodthirsty horror fan. In fact, the gore was so excessive that the movie was initially slapped with an X rating. There's a decapitation, a hatchet between the eyes, a pair of slit throats and, for a post-coital Kevin Bacon, an arrow through the throat, all courtesy of a knife-wielding lunatic named Pamela Voorhees, who terrorizes sex-crazed counselors at Camp Crystal Lake 20 years after her son Jason drowned while attending the camp. Capitalizing on the success enjoyed by the independently released "Halloween" two years earlier and the talents of special effects wiz Tom Savini (see "Dawn of the Dead," below), "Friday the 13th" killed at the box office and spawned 10 sequels, not to mention countless blood-and-guts knockoffs. Jason, meanwhile, has become the face of the horror genre. For proof, check out how many hockey masks are in Wal-Mart's Halloween aisle. –Jamey Codding

Where zombies overtake the mall.
Or as we like to call it, a day at the
mall.

Dawn of the Dead
(Universal, 1978/2004)

The pieces de resistance of the zombie genre, both "Dawn of the Dead" films can be considered the best of the best, but director George A. Romero's original version takes the cake. In the second installment of his ongoing "Dead" series, Romero focuses on a handful of survivors hiding out at the local shopping mall as the zombie epidemic takes the country by storm. The special FX are vastly improved over the original "Night of the Living Dead," thanks mostly to Tom Savini and his amazing team at KNB, but the makeup still looks amateurish in comparison to the 2004 update. The other big change in the remake (which can be argued for or against) is a faster, and dare we say meaner, zombie that results in bigger and much more elaborate action sequences. Despite which version you prefer, though, zombies have never been scarier, nor have inspired more imitators, video games, or comic books in our generation. –Jason Zingale

High school is indeed hell.

Carrie
(United Artists/MGM, 1976)

One of a small handful of films adapted from a Stephen King story that doesn't suck, "Carrie" will make you think twice before you tease a classmate. In 1976, back when Brian De Palma was still making good movies, he directed this film about Carrie White, a shy girl with telekinetic abilities that gets pushed over the edge (waaaay over the edge) by some prick classmates. Before the final act, when Carrie, played by Sissy Spacek, gets a bucket of pig's blood dumped on her at the school prom and goes apeshit, De Palma gradually sets up an increasing amount of foreboding tension – each scene adding to the viewer's uneasiness. We see hints of Carrie's power, as they are manifested in broken objects. And adding to the creepy vibe is Carrie's mother, played by Piper Laurie, a religious nutcase who sadistically punishes her daughter for little more than wanting to be like other girls her age. You get locked in a closet with a bleeding Christ figure and it kind of messes with you, I guess, because Carrie eventually snaps, unleashing her powers and taking out her tormentors with ruthless efficiency. In the end, though, the scariest part about "Carrie" isn't the blood or killing; it's the movie's unflinching depiction of the cruelty of Carrie's peers, and thus the darker side of human nature. –Andy Kurtz

"Help! My idiot friend threw the
map away!"

The Blair Witch Project
(Lions Gate, 1999)

I went into this movie knowing nothing about it other than what a friend told me – "it's really fucking good!" – so I actually spent the first half trying to figure out if this was real footage of an expedition that got lost in the Maryland woods. Once that dipshit Michael admitted to throwing away the map (no one could be that stupid), I was sure this was a work of fiction and I decided to let myself enjoy the ride. Though there were reports of audiences laughing at other viewings, I was able to enjoy the movie the way it was meant to be seen (sans barf bag, of course). Who would have thought that something so basic and low tech could be so freaky? I was on the edge of my seat as the trio heard noises in the woods, discovered pagan symbols hanging from the trees and had their tent attacked by something unknown and unseen. And I nearly soiled myself as Heather desperately searched the abandoned house for her friend only to find him – err, I don't want to ruin it for those that still haven't seen it. Suffice it to say, aside from "El Mariachi" and "Clerks," I'm not sure anyone has done so much with so little, so hats off to Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez and the rest of the cast and crew. –John Paulsen

Just don't ask him about that
"Breakfast Club" pose they did in
the '80s. He gets testy.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
(Vortex, 1974)

In 1974 the world was introduced to Leatherface, the sledgehammer-, butcher knife-, and of course, chainsaw-wielding killer in Tobe Hooper's bloody classic "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." This movie is scary just because of how demented it is. A group of teenagers on their way to visit their grandfather's grave get a little sidetracked...err…uh…eaten by inbred cannibals, after picking up a hitchhiker along the side of the road. One by one they're picked off as we are introduced to increasingly disturbing characters that kill in even more disturbing ways. Part of the reason this movie works is because of the realism of the effects. I mean, if Leatherface actually bashed that guy's skull in with a sledgehammer, I bet it'd look a lot like that. Filmmakers eventually went on to make a couple moronic sequels that starred (no joke) Dennis Hopper and Viggo Mortensen, but the remake of the original in 2003 wasn't the worst movie in the world. Director Marcus Nispel gave the film a stylistic flair and star Jessica Biel turned in a surprisingly strong performance. Purists and hardcore fans of the original would no doubt scoff, but to anyone else, it's worth seeing. And if you crave more, a prequel detailing the origin of Leatherface and his family is currently in production. –AK

"Come on, honey, he'll be a great
adoptee. His father was deeply
religious, and his mother was a,
um, jackal."

The Omen
(20th Century Fox, 1976/2006)

Read our review of the 2006 remake
We'd love to know just how far Damien dropped on the list of baby names between 1975 and 1976. Indeed, it was probably years before it even cracked the top 100 after "The Omen" debuted. When a diplomat (Gregory Peck) discovers that his wife (Lee Remick) has delivered a stillborn baby, he substitutes it with the baby of a mother who died during childbirth (there's your first clue, right there). That little baby would become a sweet little Antichrist named Damien (Harvey Stephens), who goes through the first movie unaware that he's at all responsible for the chaos that surrounds him. (The chilling shot of his first nanny hanging herself from the roof at his birthday party is unforgettable.) Director Richard Donner (yep, the "Superman"/"Lethal Weapon" guy) dispatches the innocents swiftly and Medievally; after the hanging, there's a priest who takes a spear in the heart, and one of the most famous decapitation scenes in movie history. In retrospect, this may be the godfather of every slasher film that followed, thus setting the no-two-deaths-will-be-identical rule in stone. It is also the only horror movie with an Oscar-winning score. –David Medsker

Try telling this poor girl that "Jaws" isn't a
great horror movie.

Jaws
(Universal, 1975)

Read the review
Some people say "Jaws" isn't horror. All I know is, 30 years later, you still can't get me to go into the ocean any deeper than up to my ankles. When he directed "Jaws," Spielberg was still a novice, really – the only theatrical release he'd helmed was "The Sugarland Express" – but he knew some tricks of the trade. After building the tension with several false starts, that Hitchcockian pullback shot on the beach when Chief Brody (played to paranoiac perfection by Roy Scheider) realizes that he really is witnessing a shark attack is as chilling as any moment in film history. Then there's the scene with the two amateur shark hunters out on the dock, with one guy desperately scrambling out of the water as he's pursued by...uh, a piece of the dock? Yep. In truth, the Great White (friends call him Bruce) is seen only sparingly, partially because the mechanical shark never quite worked like it was supposed to. Mostly, though, it's because Spielberg knew that, as long as there's a payoff once in a while, horror comes far more from how your mind fills in the blanks than from what you actually see. As long as there are copies of "Jaws" floating around, it will never, ever be safe to get back in the water. –Will Harris

What's really scary is that sweater.

A Nightmare on Elm Street
(New Line, 1984)

Perhaps the most imaginative horror film in the history of the genre, director Wes Craven's "A Nightmare on Elm Street" achieved a major milestone by single handedly bringing New Line Cinema into the forefront of the movie industry. It also introduced one of the creepiest horror villains in Freddy Krueger, a child-molesting burn victim who's decided to exact his revenge on the children of those who murdered him. Why he's killing innocent teenagers instead of the assholes who sentenced him to death is unbeknownst to me, but it's probably part of some loophole in the horror movie rulebook that states that teenagers must be used as the cattle. Robert Englund is pitch-perfect as the sarcastic dream demon, but we really don't see much from his stand-up comedian side until later in the series. Johnny Depp also co-stars in his first film role ever, but sadly, is eaten by a crazy bed straight out of "Pee Wee's Playhouse." –JZ

We've been kicking clowns in the
shins ever since.

Poltergeist
(MGM, 1982)

"Poltergeist" begins not with a bang, but rather with "The Star Spangled Banner," setting the stage for a film that hits Americans right where they live: in their middle-class houses, in front of the TV. "Poltergeist," directed by Tobe Hooper – who appears elsewhere in our list, courtesy of a certain chainsaw massacre – is a good, old-fashioned ghost story, along the lines of "The Uninvited" and "The Haunting," except with special effects which were, at the time the film was made, state of the art...but, then, would you expect any less from a film produced by Steven Spielberg? The image of little Carol Anne (played by the late Heather O'Rourke) sitting in front of a television, laying hands on the set, is how most people remember the film...well, that coupled with her immortal one-liner: "They're here!" But there's stuff in this movie that, if you watch it when you're a kid, can royally screw you up for life, particularly in the way it utilizes closets, thunderstorms and tree branches brushing against bedroom windows to get major scares. (Don't even get me started on that damned evil clown doll.) One wonders how many people went straight from the theater to their city planning office, just to be 100% certain that their house wasn't built on a graveyard. –WH

Yes, kids, that's a Captain Kirk
mask he's wearing. Now you know
why Michael Meyers is so scary.

Halloween
(Compass International, 1978)

So maybe Jerry Goldsmith's score to "The Omen" took home the Oscar, but John Carpenter's spine tingling, "Tubular Bells"-style score to "Halloween" is just a notch beneath a certain Bernard Herrmann score as one of horror's all-time greatest and most recognizable themes. What's fascinating about "Halloween" is that even the daylight seems dark, thus setting the tone for the movie early and never letting up. Many of the rules that Jamie Kennedy jokes about in "Scream" came to being here – both Annie (Nancy Loomis, oxford and undies) and Lynda (P.J. Soles, "totally" topless, also in "Carrie") are sexually active and ultimately die, and Lynda's boyfriend Bob may be the first on record to say "I'll be right back" and not make it back – but there are also some classic hair raising quick-take shots of Michael Meyers across a street, in the backyard, and especially the one of him rising in the background after Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis, in her feature film debut) thinks she's killed him once and for all. The fear it invokes isn't paralyzing, but good luck getting the pins and needles out of the tips of your toes while you're watching. –DM

That's one little girl down a well
nobody's in a hurry to rescue.

The Ring
(DreamWorks, 2002)

Take a hot chick – in this case, the delectable Naomi Watts – and put her on the trail of a videotape that somehow kills anyone who watches it, and what do you get? One freaky movie, that's what. Based on the Japanese thriller "Ringu," "The Ring" is a slowly building scarefest with a ticking clock that produces an uncomfortable tightness in your chest. Filmed just after she starred in "Mulholland Dr.," this was Watts' first leading role in a mainstream picture, and she doesn't disappoint as the film's protagonist. Maybe the best part of the movie is that, for most of it, it's unclear exactly whom or what she's up against. All she knows is that she has to solve the mystery within a week or she's toast. There are several aspects of "The Ring" that differ from "Ringu," the biggest being the size of the role of the leading man. In "Ringu," he's there at the end, doing most of the heavy lifting, but in "The Ring," Watts is there alone, making the film all the more terrifying. –JP

"You're killing me in the first
scene? You'll be hearing from my
agent, you hack!"

Pyscho
(Universal, 1960)

Hands down one of Hitchcock's best films ever made, "Psycho" marked a new era of the horror film by resorting to pure suspense as its key scare tactic, and all for the low, low price of $800,000 – pennies compared to Hitchcock's usual spending budget. Bernard Herrmann's musical score is the gravy on top of an already compelling thriller, but it's Anthony Perkins' creepy performance as Norman Bates that drives the movie to greatness. That, and the now infamous shower scene where Janet Leigh gets offed by a knife-wielding transvestite. Seriously. We bet you've never thought about it that way. The killing of the film's most famous actor in the opening minutes set the bar for horror films to follow, with Wes Craven reintroducing the shifty tactic nearly 50 years later in his execution of Drew Barrymore in "Scream" (1996). Fans of Vince Vaughn will be eager to check out his reworking of the Norman Bates character in the 1998 Gus Van Sant version, but the scene-for-scene rip-off just doesn't cut it. –JZ

Now that's the picture of a guy
completely out of his freakin' mind.

The Shining
(Warner Bros., 1980)

It would be interesting, I suspect, to survey hotels around the world and find out how many people take a pass when they're offered Room 237. Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's novel really, really pissed King off, and 17 years later, he was still sufficiently in the heat of anger to make a TV miniseries of the book in its entirety. It probably made King feel better, but Steven Weber sure as hell didn't make anyone forget Jack Nicholson's performance here as Jack Torrance, the husband and father who, while serving as winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, slowly but surely goes completely out of his freakin' mind, man. (Over the top? Hell, you can't even see the top from where Nicholson's performance goes.) Until Sam Raimi raised enough money to make "The Evil Dead," this was the definitive Steadicam flick, with Kubrick racing down the halls of the Overlook and through the hedge maze, providing a full-on assault of the senses. The creepiness of the two Grady girls will make even the most red-blooded American male rethink the idea of going anywhere near a set of twins. Oh, and speaking of blood, when those elevator doors open and the waves of the red stuff come pouring out, it's a sight that you'll revisit in your nightmares for years. Redrum, indeed. –WH

Foolproof way to live through a
horror movie: do what the cat
does. They're nothing if not self-
preservationists.

Alien
(Paramount, 1980)

In space, no one can hear you scream. So goes the tagline for this timeless classic that still looks better than half the so-called horror films making it into theaters today. Of course, when you watch this film, you won't be in space so don't get too close to someone's ear when you inevitably shriek like a little girl watching H.R. Giger's monstrous Oscar-winning creature tearing the occupants of the Nostromo limb from limb. This Ridley Scott-directed masterpiece of horror and suspense is as scary as it gets. Imagine you have some little fucker attach itself to your face and when it finally falls off and dies, your relief turns into unimaginable agony hours later when another little fucker bursts out of your chest…while you're still alive. That's just a bad day. All the more terrifying is the space setting of the film. Scott masterfully exploits our natural anxieties about isolation and desolation to create a genuinely horrifying experience. And not quite as scary, but worth mentioning, "Alien" is also our introduction to the character Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver. Ripley is one of the first true film heroines, and one with a brain at that. Although her character isn't fully developed until subsequent films in the series, you want her to survive and beat the alien, a far cry from the cookie-cutter fodder one normally can't wait to see dead in this genre. –AK

Wait, what exactly is she doing with that
crucifix?

The Exorcist
(Warner Bros., 1973)

People fainted in the theaters. Others vomited. In one unconfirmed case, a woman had a miscarriage, just from watching a movie. Movies about serial killers and zombies are one thing, but "The Exorcist" taps into something else, that basic, primal fear of the devil. Granted, William Peter Blatty's novel was more about faith than the possession itself, but it made for the perfect source material to produce a truly terrifying movie about a little girl named Regan (Linda Blair) who unknowingly dabbles with the forces of evil and pays for it dearly. The movie isn't cheap, but it is pretty low tech; most of the action takes place in Regan's room, and aside from a few moving pieces of furniture and a tube in Blair's mouth that shoots pea soup, the movie is all makeup and mood lighting. But that lighting in that room produced some of the most unforgettable images in movie history. The silhouette shot of Regan reaching up to the sky, with the demon visible behind her; Regan slowly floating to the ceiling in Christ pose; the words "Help me" written in welts on Regan's stomach; and perhaps most chillingly, the part where the demon tortures Father Karras (Jason Miller) by looking and speaking like his dead mother. And we haven't even mentioned the deeply disturbing crucifix scene. "The Exorcist" is scary in the right way: it doesn't jump out and surprise you, but sneaks into your subconscious and springs into your thoughts whenever you're alone, or in the dark. Sleep tight. –DM


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Shaun of the Dead (2004)
After a vicious debate amongst the Bullz-Eye writing staff forced "Shaun of the Dead" out of the #10 spot, we found it suitable to at least give a shout out to the film for those of us who not only believe it's a horror movie, but one of the best in the genre. British humor has never been so deft than it is in this comedic homage to director George A. Romero's zombie trilogy. Old record collections are used as ammo. A dart to the head results in a bloody good time. And Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" serves as the background music for the climactic battle with the undead. Let us not forget about the small jokes embedded within the script that make the experience that much richer. Shaun's boss is named Ash (don't ask if you're not already laughing) and Ed turns the most famous line out of "Night of the Living Dead" in to "Barbara, we're coming for you!" And lest you should be bitten by one of these zombies, running it under a cold tap isn't going to do the trick. –JZ

Hellraiser (1987)
Leave it to gorehound Clive Barker to plumb the depths of hell and ponder what kinds of torturous fates await the damned. There's a guy who opens a door to hell while exploring pleasures of the flesh. There is a race of demons called Cenobites, led by a beast with hundreds of nails pounded into his head and face (Pinhead, played by Doug Bradley). You have people torn apart from all angles by fish hooks on chains. Yikes. The movie's original title of "Sadomasochists from Beyond the Grave" is more fitting than they knew. Spawning seven (!) sequels, "Hellraiser" proved to be quite influential, though the movies it spawned ("Warlock") were mostly straight-to-video fodder. Still, Pinhead remains one of the most recognizable faces of horror today. –DM

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