This weekend I think I’ll hunker down in my newly rearranged apartment with some autumnal treats and my favorite creepster films. I would consider myself somewhat of a scary-movie connoisseur, and this time of year is perfect for scratching my constant horror itch.
I’ve chosen ten films that I feel to be uniquely frightening. Absent from the list are movies with an excess of gore (by today’s standards, at least). I prefer my scares subtle, and I appreciate when filmmakers take the time to carefully craft tension. They span decades and horror sub-genres, but all of the following films are scary enough to make me sleep with the lights on.
10. La habitación del niño (The Baby’s Room), 2006.
Such a fun surprise! I wasn’t expecting much from this Spanish-language selection from the Films to Keep You Awake film series. Ghost stories are not typically my favorite, but this one managed to capture my attention and even scare me enough that I watched much of with my hands secured in front of my face. The family on which the story centers is charming and I was really rooting for them, which speaks to Álex de la Iglesia’s purposeful character development. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of watching this one at home alone while Josh was working an overnight shift and barely slept a wink that night!
9. Scream, 1996.
My brother and I lost hours of sleep over this movie when we were kids. The subsequent sequels may have been lousy, but Scream is modern slasher perfection. The clothing, vernacular, and pop culture references featured date the film as solidly 1990s, and all of the supposedly high school-aged characters are played by actors in their late twenties and early thirties. Still, Scream stands alone in that it is one of the few decent horror movies of the 1990s and what I consider the only decent slasher movie of that decade.
8. Ils (Them), 2006.
Perhaps this type of isolation horror scares me because I dream of country living. Them was precursory to The Strangers, and both films are similar in that they follow couples in country homes as they are attacked by strangers in the night. Writers/Directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud gave me the mounting tension I was hoping to uncover in this movie and I’m so happy I stumbled upon it one afternoon.
7. The Descent, 2005.
It’s hard to talk about The Descent. This movie scared the bejesus out of me. I don’t think I’ve ever shut off a movie early due to fright, but I nearly couldn’t finish this one. Like The Baby’s Room, The Descent is outside my typical tastes in horror – but not because it’s a ghost story. Oh no. The Descent is the karmic result of my laughing about the concept of C.H.U.D.s for so long. What are these creatures of which I speak? They’re Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. A series of movies was made about them in the 80s with hilarious results. 1980s C.H.U.D.s: silly and not at all scary. The Descent C.H.U.D.s: Mind-blowingly scary. The movie starts with a group of thrill-seeking women preparing for a cave diving trip. Poor planning and hubris combine to turn the trip dangerous, leaving the women trapped in a cave system with no known escape. Add hungry C.H.U.Ds and watch as the women are hunted and consumed. And it all takes place in the dark. I hear the sequel is just as terrifying, but I haven’t mustered the courage to watch it just yet.
6. Rosemary’s Baby, 1968.
This one makes it on my list primarily for its overall eerie tone. From the start things are uneasy and almost awkwardly played out. The events unfold in such a way that one can never be entirely sure of what’s happening or who is to blame. I am obviously in love with Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes as the simultaneously adorable and calamitous couple. Modern films have attempted to capture similar Cassandra-complex female leads and failed, but Farrow played the archetype expertly. Lastly, I must join the legions of movie fans who rave about the film’s final scene – it’s quite unsettling and perversely satisfying.
5. Night of the Living Dead, 1968.
The first time I saw NOTLD I was nestled on a couch with friends in the middle of a thunderstorm. We had been playing basketball at a playground and been caught in a downpour. The group dashed to a nearby friend’s house where we attempted to dry ourselves and decided to wait out the weather with a movie. The storm killed the power at some point and we sat, sticky with sweat in our damp clothes, eating grilled cheese sandwiches by the light of black and white zombie mayhem. It may have been my best horror film viewing ever.
4. The Shining, 1980.
Creepy kids, man. The Shining has some of the most frightening children in it. If the maladjusted, tow-headed psychic boy wasn’t enough, Kubrick had to throw a disturbing set of ghostly twins into the film. The Shining made me thoroughly uneasy my first few viewings (what is that bear/dog creature all about!?), and I still get goosebumps when I watch it alone.
3. The Thing, 1982.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a list of best scary movies that didn’t include The Thing. Firstly, Kurt Russell is at his best in full-bearded, Antarctic glory. Also, my favorite di-a-be-tes spokesman, Mr. Wilford Brimley, costars in this isolationist sci-fi thriller. I am a devout Kurt Russell fanatic and love him in anything, but he’s much less tongue-in-cheek in this film than in most of his others. Tension builds between characters and there are implied questions about human nature, survival, etc. There’s a much-discussed remake in theaters right now that my brother and I have plans to view as soon as we can.
2. House of the Devil, 2009.
I can’t rave enough about this movie. Firsly, Ti West is a directorial genius for being able to so perfectly recreate an early 80s-era horror film. The cast is ideal – Tom Noonan, you creepy bastard! – and the plot simple. It’s stylistically perfect. I can’t find any flaws in House of the Devil – it’s terrifically creepy and gave me everything I ever wanted in a scary movie. I am wholeheartedly in love with the main character in this movie – check out this video of the adorable dancing she does in the movie!
1. Halloween 1978.
My one true film love, Halloween. It will always be first on my list of favorite films, scary or otherwise. Modern horror is based on the success of Halloween. For thirty-plus years, filmmakers have been attempting to capture the same frights that John Carpenter was able to in this movie. It never ceases to frighten me, but what I appreciate even more about Halloween is its strong basis in urban legend. Hunted babysitters are standard horror fodder these days, but weren’t always. I’m thoroughly intrigued by what a society’s folklore says about its communal values and Halloween is such a flawless example of folklore in film. (I would love to write a paper about it!) Additionally, Donald Pleasence is the best as the cautionary Dr. Loomis. Halloween is just great.
Alright, alright, nerd fest over. Soon I will be posting pictures of our apartment because we just rearranged the entire thing – our thrift room is now our music room, our old music room our bedroom, and the thrift room has been moved into our former bedroom. When I say “thrift room” I am referring to the space Josh and I have dedicated to the goods we will be posting soon in our new Etsy shop! We’ve curated a fun collection of oddities from around southern Maine and are in the process of carefully cleaning and photographing them for the shop. There’ll be lots to post about very soon!