10 Essential Horror/Thriller Films for Halloween

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If there is one genre of classic film that I am seriously deprived of, it would have to be horror films. Admittedly, I am not the biggest horror buff and the amount of horror movies that I have in my intellectual library is limited. However, there are some movies that I consider essentials whenever Halloween rolls around. Some may be better categorized as “thrillers” than Horror films, but nevertheless these movies get my adrenaline going and provide a great Halloween thrill.

The Wicker Man (1973)

Directed By: Robin Hardy

I just recently saw this cult classic for the first time and it is truly will mess with your mind. It can almost be categorized as a horror/musical as trippy song and dance numbers are mixed in with the narrative full of symbolism and religious criticism. Christopher Lee’s excellent and eerie performance as Lord Summerisle is a tentpole of the movie that is sprinkled with curious exhibitions including a nude solo by Britt Ekland, an elementary classroom discussion about genitalia, and the tense and terrifying finale.

The Haunting (1963)

Directed By: Robert Wise

Robert Wise’s frequently imitated journey to Hill House is one of the best examples of the less is more attitude to horror. Nothing is as terrifying as what the human imagination can conjure and Wise targets the American psychology to create something that is really terrifying. Some of the scariest moments I have ever seen on film are in this movie including the horrifying “hand-holding” scene. I don’t recommend seeing this movie alone. Especially if you live by yourself in a large mansion.

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28 Days Later (2002)

Directed By: Danny Boyle

I haven’t seen enough zombie movies to have a valid opinion about them, but of the ones I’ve seen I like 28 Days Later the best (even though it’s not technically a “zombie” movie). It’s one of those rare experiences where a movie gets better with each successive viewing. I still consider this film to be Danny Boyle’s best as he expertly creates a level of suspense that would no doubt be prevalent in the case of a pandemic. He manages to call into question some serious moral issues while at the same time making something that is definitely scary.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Directed By: Robert Wiene

I never knew that a silent film could succeed in being so terrifying until I saw this German Expressionist masterpiece. The eerie tale of a murderous somnambulist was one of the first movies to have a major twist. The most terrifying aspects of this film, however, is the highly stylized mise-en-scene and cinematography. The movie feels incredibly claustrophobic as the Expressionist set pieces point inwards and feel like they are collapsing in upon the audience. After seeing this movie it took me a few minutes to gather my bearings and register what I had just experienced. That is definitely a sign of a great horror film.

Paranormal Activity (2009)

Directed By: Oren Peli

I realize that is usually unfair to categorize a film as “classic” only weeks after its theatrical release. However, I can’t remember a time when a horror movie has gotten my blood pumping and adrenaline rushing as much as this movie did. Regardless of how many flaws a narrative has, any movie that leaves you wide awake, twitching at every sound (like this movie did to me) is a great horror film.

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Poltergeist (1982)

Directed By: Tobe Hooper

This is one of those classic horror films that had me so scared that I forgot how funny the whole thing is. Steven Spielberg’s thriller may be the reason that I am permanently afraid of toy clowns. It features one of the most memorable horror movie performances of all time from Zelda Rubinstein as the miniature, squeaky voiced psychic who attempts to save the family from the forces within their house. This film is in the process of being remade and I hope the new filmmakers take care to maintain the perfectly timed humor of the film.

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Directed By: Mel Brooks

Okay, so this may not be the film that “gets your blood pumping” like others on the list, but it is nevertheless an excellent Halloween film. Almost as essential as horror movies to the upcoming holiday are horror spoofs, and this twist on the classic Mary Shelley tale by Mel Brooks is one of the best. Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle perfectly complement each other to create an excellent comic duo. Who doesn’t think of this movie every time they hear the song “Puttin’ on the Ritz”?

Funny Games (1997)

Directed By: Michael Haneke

In a sense this is both a horror movie and an anti-horror movie. It portrays wealthy, eloquent young men who brutalize an innocent family for no reason other than enjoyment. Haneke demonizes the young men so that when one of them is harmed, the audience feels a great sense of pleasure. He then allows his characters to break the fourth wall and force the audience to realize that they just applauded violence. It’s a cruelly psychological film and just like the two boys do to the family, Haneke also plays “funny games” on the audience.

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The Shining (1980)

Directed By: Stanley Kubrick

This isn’t my favorite Kubrick film, and it isn’t his scariest, however it is the film in his canon that is apropos for All Hallow’s Eve. Jack Nicholson’s performance in this film ranks among that great actor’s best work as he masters the mentally deteriorating central character. It also features some of the often imitated classic horror scenes including the chase through the hedge maze, the twin little girls with a cold, Kubrick stare, and the invisible friend that becomes an essential character.

The Birds (1963)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

You can’t have a Halloween movie list without including the master of suspense. I opted for The Birds on this list rather than Psycho, because I feel the latter is over-popularized and the former is just as noble an effort. It’s particularly impressive that Hitchcock managed to take a species as innocent seeming as birds and turn them into a terror. One of the greatest scenes is when the crows gradually begin to gather on the playground outside of an elementary school while the children within sing a repetitive song. To this day whenever I see a large mass of birds, I get a little hesitant.

Those are my favorites. What are you watching this Halloween?

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  • Kara

    I’d like to add to the list:
    Les Diaboliques (1955), directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. (Actually, Alfred Hitchcock was largely inspired by Clouzot.)
    This film takes place in a schoolhouse, where the schoolmaster treats his wife and his mistress both very cruelly. The wife and mistress team up to kill him, but his body disappears and starts haunting them.

  • Brandon Cooley

    The Exorcist is my favorite horror film.

  • Vince

    psycho

  • DAVID

    for shudder psychological creepiness – DONT LOOK NOW and the not the Nicole Kidman movie but the movie from the 70’s THE OTHER with Uta Hagen and a set of twists that will knock your socks off…

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