In recognition of Halloween, I thought I'd throw my two cents in for some of the best horror movies of all time. Before piping in on what films aren't on this list, I'll mention up front that I've never been an avid horror movie fan. That's not to say I haven't seen my fair share over the years. I'm just far from what you could call an afficionado. For example, I'm still yet to see John Carpenter's original "Halloween," which from what I've heard, is one that would surely be on the following list.
Some of these movies may venture between horror/thriller/sci-fi, but are generally what I would classify as horror movies. With that out of the way, here are some of my picks for best horror movies (scares are optional, but preferred).
In alphabetical order ...
"Alien" (1979) - Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto.
It's a rather simple premise for a movie and one that's been done many times before. A killer is on the loose, picking off victims one by one, as they're trapped in a single location with no way to call for help. But this one involves an alien creature on board a spaceship, with the characters (and subsequently, the audience) having no real idea of what they're dealing with. Stylishly directed by Scott, with a solid ensemble cast on board, the film takes its time racheting up the suspense to great effect. The scene with John Hurt at the dinner table remains one of the most memorable moments in horror movie history.
"Aliens" (1986) - Directed by James Cameron. Starring Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn and Bill Paxton.
The follow-up to "Alien" is the rare example of a sequel being superior to the original, with a fearless performance from Weaver as Ripley, the lone survivor from the first film. She returns to the alien planet with a group of Marines to try and eradicate the vile species. Naturally, things don't go as planned, with Cameron turning the sequel into one of the most action-packed horror movies ever. It's an intense movie that can make you physically exhausted simply by just watching it.
"Dawn of the Dead" (1978) - Directed by George A. Romero. Starring David Emge, Ken Foree, Gaylen Ross.
Despite an effective remake of it in 2004, this is still the superior version of a small group of survivors taking refuge in a shopping mall, as the living dead walk the earth. While the cast is hardly notable, the real stars are the zombies, brought to life, if you will, by Romero and make-up artist Tom Savini. Played for both scares and laughs, these zombies are nothing if not persistent. Some of the violence seems a bit tame compared to what movies are allowed to get away with now, but the film still packs a solid satirical punch.
"The Exorcist" (1973) - Directed by William Friedken. Starring Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Linda Blair and Max Von Sydow.
Based on the book by William Peter Blatty, this movie still has the ability to shock more than 30 years later. The demon possession of young Regan (Blair) and subsequent attempts to rid her of the evil spirit have been copied and spoofed to death, with none coming close to the creepy impact of this film.
"The Fly" (1986) - Directed by David Cronenberg. Starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz.
A remake of the 1950's film starring Vincent Price, Cronenberg amps up the violence and gross out factor, but also invests more emotion into the story, thanks to good performances from Goldblum and Davis. Establishing a blossoming love story between the two (who were in love for real during filming) only intensifies the tragic string of events to follow. Won the Academy Award for best makeup.
"Misery"(1990) - Directed by Rob Reiner. Starring James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth.
As far as big screen adaptations of Stephen King novels go, this one ranks right up with "Stand By Me" as easily the best of the bunch. Kathy Bates' Oscar-winning performance as the deranged "fan" of romance author Paul Sheldon (Caan) drives this movie to another level. The scene with the block of wood and sledgehammer will still make most people cringe today – even if they haven't seen the movie for years.
"Poltergeist" (1982) - Directed by Tobe Hooper. Starring Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke.
Proof that you can make a truly scary PG movie (although I'm not sure it would still be able to garner that rating today), the story of the Freeling family and their experiences with the supernatural delivers thrills and chills in pretty equal measure. While the role of director Hooper's role in the making of the movie has been disputed over the years, there's no denying a familiar style and influence on the picture from co-writer and co-producer Steven Spielberg.
"Psycho" (1960) - Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Martin Balsam.
Basically, every aspect of this movie works together to deliver some genuine scares for the uninitiated. For those who have seen it, the movie still delivers the goods, even though you know what's coming. That's thanks in large part to the flawless direction from Hitchcock, a memorably creepy performance from Perkins and a fantastic music score from Bernard Herrmann. This one's generally credited with creating the horror movie genre.
"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974) - Directed by Tobe Hooper. Starring Marilyn Burns, Allen Danzinger, Paul A. Partain.
Filmed by a then-unknown Hooper with a cast of no-name actors, this low-budget movie is based on actual events. Because no one is recognizable in the film and it makes next to no use of music, there's a feeling that you're watching a documentary more than a movie. This works to its advantage, as Hooper doesn't really tip his hand on what will happen next, leaving you with a strong sense of unease. This film spawned several sequels of lesser regard (including one with Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey!) as well as an unnecessary 2003 remake.