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Something to Scream About: The Top 25 Scary Movies to Watch All Year Long
Trick or treating doesn't necessarily happen once a year. Halloween can be celebrated to varying degrees throughout the year thanks to Hollywood through the release of the latest horror movie by-product. Usually, the film followed the latest horror movie trend which ranged from conventional slasher movie (Halloween, Black Christmas, etc.) to the supernatural (The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby and The Omen). A horror film can be made a classic based on the viewer watching it.
Unfortunately, not everyone can effectively watch their favorite horror movies on Halloween for various reasons including a hectic schedule or poor health. This year I experienced the latter of the two. I was so ill that Halloween that all the horror movie marathons on television whizzed by me in a medication induced haze. I couldn't even enjoy Halloween candy without looking green. My goal for this week was to catch on all the horror movies I missed watching.
Due to a ramped need to re-watch some scary movies, I compiled a list of all the horror movies that I enjoyed watching in the past. Some of the films weren't conventional horror films designed to scare the masses on Halloween but just as effective if not more so than others. There might be some glaring omissions that scary movie lovers will find puzzling for good reason. Not every horror movie "classic" was beloved by the masses, me in particular, due to plot disappointment and simply high expectations. That's why films like The Sixth Sense, The Others, and The Grudge were left off the list. I also left off Night of the Living Dead and John Carpenter's The Thing because I've not seen them yet. That's what Halloween was for. To catch up on the movies I've missed seeing in the past and be scared by them now.
Read through the list of 25 films, in no particular order, and see if your favorite film was included. Also decide if for yourselves to see what films were worth watching for the first or the twentieth time. Design your scary movie list to fit all films that gave you nightmares. In the meantime, enjoy your favorite scary movie in any sequence and be scared senseless.
Halloween (1978)- Michael Myers came home for Halloween and went on a killing spree. The classic story had long time institutionalized killer Michael Myers escape back to his dead family's house. Along the way he spied Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends. Michael killed her friends one by one in order to get to Laurie, his little sister. What he didn't expect for his persistent doctor, Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), to catch up to him. The most memorable image of the film was Michael's costume from his washed out William Shatner mask to the knife he carried. An unforgettable moment came towards the end of the film where the audience thought Michael was dead in the closet and he stood up ready to kill an unaware Laurie. You couldn't help but yell for her to either run or turn around. Luckily, she wised up pretty quickly or there wouldn't have been countless sequels.
Black Christmas (2006)- For some reason this film scared the living daylights out of me. I don't know why. It was another horror movie remake that attempted to capitalize on another movie going generation, but something worked with this film. The story was a Halloween copycat with a Michael Myers type of killer that came home to kill the inhabitants of his childhood home one by one, which was a sorority house. Unlike Halloween, Christmas made the killer's family even more dysfunctional than expected through abuse and incest. Disturbing. No one in the sorority house was safe from the killer, which made it worth watching despite being movie rehash.
Psycho (1960)- This Alfred Hitchcock classic was made infamous based on a single shower scene which discarded the conventional horror movie notion that the film's lead wasn't expendable. Thanks to that scene, Hitchcock sacrificed the film's star Janet Leigh within an hour of the film. Psycho introduced psychotic mama's boy Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) to the film villain lexicon that survived three unnecessary film sequels. Now that was a horror Hitchcock never anticipated.
Saw (2004)- Was Jigsaw as creepy as Chucky or Freddy Krueger? Well, to an extent yes he was. The Saw series excelled at making torture horror scary to watch where the Hostel films only caused queasiness. In terms of plot, it involved two men locked in a room with a dead body and no way out. Both men had to battle each other and a trap loving serial killer named Jigsaw. Did either man survive or did Jigsaw beat them? The first Saw excelled on the mystery of figuring out who Jigsaw was. Everyone was considered a suspect, even a cop played by Danny Glover. The standout scene in the film was when victim Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) had to saw off his own foot in order to escape. That scene was terrifying enough to make Hannibal Lecter's skin crawl.
Seven (1995)- The seven deadly sins, Brad Pitt and a severed head in a box. Three cinematic things that went together like a serial killer opera. Kevin Spacey as the psychotic mystery John Doe made the film complete. His eyes revealed nothing to explain why he killed all those people. Spacey seemed to enjoy traveling to a side darker than he went in The Usual Suspects, despite his limited screen time. Cops Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt were the consummate team of experience and youth as they searched for Doe. Seven's ultimate twist was the ending not being so neat and tidy like most thrillers. Once Doe was caught, the real surprise was the severed head grand finale and how far the cops would go. Rent the movie and find out to see if Doe's crime was successful or not.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)- This Wes Craven classic had a serial killer that stalked his victims in their sleep. Robert Englund as the razor sharp fingered Freddy Krueger and the badly disfigured face was a sight that terrified anyone who looked at him. Krueger was intended to be a silent serial killer that developed more of a flashy persona in later sequels. Unfortunately, the seven sequels marred the simplistic genius of the first film and made the franchise into another money making machine. The only sequel worth seeing was the third film. The rest should be ignored.
Dressed to Kill (1980)- Michael Caine in drag was definitely scary and expected. His psychiatrist character appeared to be Kill's backbone when he in fact wasn't. Director Brian DePalma fashioned this film to be an 80s Psycho complete an attractive blond that met a premature demise. Instead of Janet Leigh, it was now Angie Dickinson as a bored suburban housewife who died for her risky adventure outside of suburbia. Once Dickinson's character was sacrificed, the focus shifted to a hooker witness (Nancy Allen) and Dickinson's son as they searched for the killer. What they didn't expect was how to handle the killer once they came across that person. Luckily, this Psycho-esque film designed for the 80s was worth the effort after every viewing.
Wrong Turn (2003)- Would you travel down a desolate country road far away from civilization and safety? A foolish group of young people ended up doing so and were trapped by a family of inbreeding killers that took pleasure in killing people. Turn was a typical horror film that was made unique due to star Eliza Dushku's presence. She made her character more than a deer in the headlights horror heroine. Her character tried to fight for her life and ended up succeeding when most of her friends didn‘t.
The Hitcher (1986)- Two words: Rutger Hauer. It was Hauer's disturbing portrayal of psychotic enigma John Rider, a hitchhiker with a lust for murder and mayhem. Hauer's performance was so believable the audience saw why C. Thomas Howell was scared to death of Rider. No one would want to be in a car alone with him. The plot was a road game of cat and mouse between the two stars only ended with one of them dead. Would it be the scared kid, or the demented psycho? You decide.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)- Clarice Starling, Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill. Three characters that searched for either fame, victims or justice. The most memorable character was hands down Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of imprisoned serial cannibal Hannibal Lecter. It was so unforgettable he won an Oscar for it. Hopkins made Lecter terrifying just by sitting in a prison cell. His biggest scene was his escape from prison when surprised his guards and made mince meat out of them literally! The audience was able to see the true nature of Lecter's malice and scared to death of it.
The Shining (1980)- Here's Johnny! Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson helped to make this Stephen King classic a legendary film. Nicholson played a fledgling writer and family man descending into madness in a haunted hotel. The film's most shocking scene was when Shelley Duvall's Wendy realized the extent of her husband's madness and had to flee from him. The audience wanted Wendy to survive her twisted husband and cheered when she did.
Misery (1990)- Kathy Bates' Annie was the ultimate fan girl of a famous novelist. She loved his Misery books so much she had to be close to him no matter what. Unlike many horror movies, Bates' villainess was based more on reality than a supernatural killer. Misery was a Stephen King based thriller wrapped in a realistic possibility it could actually happen to you if you weren't too careful. This movie made audiences look over their shoulders for a possible Annie in their lives and shiver in terror.
Rosemary's Baby (1968)- An innocent woman used as a vessel to carry the devil's child. Mia Farrow's performance as the terrified Rosemary showcased her genuine fear of being manipulated for satanic purposes. Did Rosemary beat the devil or get beaten herself? You be the judge.
Scream (1996)- A horror movie parody just as scary as the real thing. This Wes Craven hit spawned two sequels and made the WB crowd stars in their own right. The original gave Drew Barrymore a Janet Leigh type role for her comeback and it worked. The shock of her demise set the tone for the rest of the film and let the audience know that everyone in the case was expendable. Scary indeed.
The Exorcist (1973)- The power of Christ compels you to watch this film. The possession of Linda Blair's teenager transformed her from a naively pretty teen to a hideous satanic beast. When a possessed Blair's head did a 360, the audience couldn't help but jump out of their collective skin.
The Omen (1976)- Ever since this film, the name Damien took a darker connotation of a young boy with a devil locked inside him. A mixture of innocent malice. Gregory Peck's aristocratic politician was forced to realized he was given the son of the devil. Peck genuinely conveyed his fear and anger over the situation. The clincher was Harvey Stephens' Damien at the end of the film. His eyes playfully mixed his youth and evil. This scene caused a shudder because of Satan's spawn growing up to cause mayhem. Yipes.
Jacob's Ladder (1990)- A Vietnam vet trapped between Heaven and Hell in his life. Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) doesn't know who to trust anymore and what was really true. The image of Elizabeth Pena shape shifting from a woman to a supernatural creature made the audience doubt their own sanity as well, in a good way of course.
Carrie (1976)- Sissy Spacek's tortured telekinetic Carrie was abused by everyone in her life until she decided to fight back in a prom bloodbath that no one would ever forget. The scene that made audiences jump was the end where Amy Irving's Sue Snell visited Carrie's grave and got more than she bargained for.
Jaws (1975)- We're gonna need a bigger boat in order to watch this thriller. Just the idea of a killer shark was scarier than the constant image of one in this Steven Spielberg thriller. The shark didn't reveal itself until the final end scene and didn't disappoint.
Dawn of the Dead (2004)- Why would the remake be considered better than the original? Simple. The remake had characters to root for. The audience wanted Sarah Polley's nurse to avoid being zombie food. She symbolized a strong vulnerability that the original lacked. George Romero's 1978 original was a classic based on atmospherics and awesome looking zombies. The cast of survivors had no clear standouts for the audience to fight for. The remake added that extra support to surpass the original.
Alien (1979)- Sigourney Weaver and an alien at war. Nothing scarier. Director Ripley Scott's Alien introduced Weaver and her Ripley character to the masses. When the alien popped out of John Hurt's stomach, it was an understandable reaction to want to jump out of your seat or get sick. Weaver's Ripley was a strong female lead that the audience supported to defeat the alien no matter what the cost.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)- One word: Leatherface. Think about the disturbing possibilities of a psycho with a chainsaw chasing you to your death. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Friday the 13th (1980)- Jason Voorhees evolved from a silent victim in life to a silent killer in death. The trick of this simple killer kills kids in a camp was that the real killer was Jason's mother and not Jason. He didn't even make a starring presence until the film's sequel.
The Birds (1963)- Hitchcock did it again with a series of demented birds ready to strike at will. The birds appeared to be innocent creatures until they decided to collectively attack a town of innocent people. The chaos of people as potential bird food was scary enough to not warrant a knife wielding serial killer in their place.
Halloween (2007)- Director Rob Zombie sure knew how to breathe new scares into a horror classic where the ending was known before the movie began. Zombie made infamous horror movie villain Michael Myers even more terrifying by giving the audience a glimpse into his childhood bloodlust. The Michael flashbacks carried this film in more than a reheated remake, but the draw was still the actual story of Michael stalking Laurie. A familial battle where only one of them survived.
Sadly, not every potential scary movie was designed to be a horror classic, or written as a scary movie in itself. Movies have been hindered by either bad casting, terrible script or a film lost in a sea of others. I decided to include four films that had moments of horror greatness that wasn't entirely continued throughout the film.
Memorable Movie Moments:
The Lost Boys (1987)- The film was a classic of everything 80s from the two Coreys to the mullet type hairstyles. Boys was not really a horror movie per say. It was a thriller that involved families and vampires. The pivotal scene was when the vampire boys revealed themselves as vampires on a group of partiers. The scene turned from marvelous fun to marvelous bloody chaos.
Hide and Seek (2005)- This Robert De Niro and Dakota Fanning movie venture was a rather predictable film from start to finish. A father and daughter suffering after the death of the mother. Both terrified of the mysterious "Charlie" and nowhere to run. Fanning's performance as De Niro's traumatized daughter was the film's only saving grace. Her dyed brown locks and sauce sized eyes resembled that of Shelley Duvall in The Shining. Every terrified reaction she had was apparent in her eyes, which made this film worth Seeking. Fanning's adult costars, especially De Niro, suffered due to the clichéd material. De Niro kept his perpetual look of confusion throughout the film, even after the big "twist" was revealed at the end.
Angel Heart (1987)- Heart was more of a gothic whodunit than a horror movie, but the film's rock ‘em sock ‘em ending scared whoever watched the film. The possibility of something so sinister creeped out even the strongest of heart. Mickey Rourke's grizzled PI navigated through shifty clients, Louisiana climate and his connection to his case. The third was the one thing he wasn't able to escape no matter how much he tried. Watch this film and prepare to be shocked by the unexpected ending.
The Ring (2002)- One simple sentence explained this moment. Evil spirit girl crawled through television and killed her prey. The rest of the movie was disappointing but that moment made everyone jump out of their seats in shock. Shame the sequel didn't continue the tradition.
Finally, celebrate Halloween as a more common celebration through enjoying your favorite scary movies. After all, a good scare is good for the soul even if it's Christmas time or Spring Break. Run to your local Blockbuster and prepare to be scared.