I saw my first horror movie at Tom and Chris Beimer’s house across the street when I was probably 9 or so. Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I was, unsurprisingly, totally scarred. I had memories for a long time of a nightmare where a corpse was trying to bash a woman’s head in while she was pinioned over a cooking pot, and it wasn’t until much later that I realized it was a scene from that movie.
You’d think, after such an experience, that I’d be traumatized and have zero interest in horror movies. Surprisingly, it’s the exact opposite! I’ve always had a serious obsession with them (the Beimer boys and I used to play Freddy Kreuger in the back yard) and combed through our local video rental store’s scary section movie by movie.
I’ve been a fan for decades, and now I’m here to share with you some of my favorites. If you’re dying (he he he) for some inspiration as to what to watch this Halloween season, here is my mega-list.
Note: I do NOT like horror movies that depict a significant amount of sexual assault or extreme violence against women, or scenes of explicit torture. I like a well-crafted horror movie that doesn’t rely on these tropes for scares. So, if that’s your taste, then this list is ESPECIALLY for you (no Human Centipede style shit here).
The Exorcist (1973) — In this possession story classic, an actress’s daughter is possessed by a demon, and two priests join together to battle for her soul. I remember my mom telling me the basic plot of this movie and getting really scared just hearing about it! I found the book somewhere and read that, too. Pretty shocking considering I was thirteen at the time. Great characters, and fantastic music!
The Omen/The Omen II (1976) — A wealthy man realizes that his son was switched at birth for the Antichrist, and everything and everyone who opposes Damien shall fall. This was another movie that I somehow got the novel version of before seeing it. I’m thinking garage sale. There was a photo gallery in the middle with stills from the movie that scared the pants off of me. I just love me a good demon/possession/exorcist/antichrist movie. #MrsBaylock #yaaaasssqueen
Burnt Offerings (1976) — A family moves into a mysterious house that feeds off of the energy of the occupants. The cast is phenomenal. Karen Black, Bette Davis, and the illustrious Burgess Meredith!
Freaks (1932) — Hans, a little person and leader of a circus’s freak show, inherits some money. A beautiful but gold-digging trapeze artist marries him for his money. When she breaks his heart and shows her true colors, the rest of the freaks make her one of them. So, before CGI, if you wanted to make a movie about individuals with certain physical traits, you had to hire actual “freaks” — as American Horror Story: Freakshow recently did with some of its actors from Season 4.
The Ring (2002) — A reporter investigating a young woman’s death discovers her to be in possession of a cursed videotape containing a vengeful ghost that kills you seven days after viewing the film. This was my first experience with Asian horror themes, even though obviously this was the Americanized version. Creepy, creepy-ass visuals and some really vivid and interesting ideas. I saw the original, too, and enjoyed it, though I liked the larger/more significant role of the female character in the American version better. I saw this movie at Coral Ridge Mall with Geoff George my freshman year of college. That night, I covered up my dorm room’s TV with a towel. Y’know, so Samara would have something to dry off with.
Interview with the Vampire (1994) — In 1791, a Louisiana plantation owner mourning the death of his wife crosses paths with the Vampire Lestat, and becomes a night-stalking, whiny yet sexy immortal. All time favorite movie, not just horror movie! The best, best thing Tom Cruise ever did. In 2003, I owned three DVDs, and this was one of them. This film ignited and fueled my super serious Brad Pitt obsession that ran from like 1997-2004.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) — A young lawyer travels to Transylvania and inadvertently helps the ancient vampire Count Dracula come to England and attempt to spread his evil all over Europe. Keanu Reeves really tries to ruin this movie, but I absolutely love it. Winona Rider, Gary Oldman, Cary Elwes, and Anthony Hopkins are all phenomenal. A phantasmagoric, lush retelling and the closest adaptation to the original novel.
Silence of the Lambs (1991) — Rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling teams up with cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter to discover the identity of another serial murderer known as Buffalo Bill. If you haven’t seen this movie and consider yourself a horror fan, just go ahead and punch yourself in the nuts/boob. This is the only “horror” film to ever win Best Picture at the Oscars. WATCH IT, if only to understand the cultural allusions to it that pop up in all other forms of media.
The Craft (1996) — A new girl transfers to a private Catholic high school, only to befriend three witches and join their coven. Dissension and girl drama pit witch against witch. A high school classic of my youth. I almost wanted to be forced to wear a school uniform so I could find ways to dress it up and push the boundaries. Starring the magnificent Fairuza Balk. Pure 90s gold with a great soundtrack.
Dead Snow 1 and 2 (2009) — A posse of hikers accidentally awaken a horde of Nazi zombies slumbering beneath the snow. Bloody good fun. The sequel features Martin Starr, and a plan to awaken Soviet zombies to fight the Nazis. A hilarious, delightfully gory romp that is as ridiculous and compelling as it sounds. You’ll laugh, wince, and squeal. Stream it on Netflix!
Trollhunter (2010) — A group of unlucky filmmakers discover that giant trolls roam the Norwegian wilderness, and get wrapped up with an expert trollhunter on his journey to keep the world safe. Knowing nothing about Norwegian troll lore, I still found this unique found-footage piece entertaining as hell. Trust me, you’ve never seen anything like it. Stream it on Netflix!
Cloverfield (2008) — A group of friends and their video camera try to survive a monster-plagued NYC. Another found-footage gem that puts a fresh coat of paint on a Godzilla-style monster attack on New York City. When my friends Patrick, Lee, and I went to see it, a blizzard started while we were in the theater. I was driving a rental car because my Malibu was in the shop due to a snow-related accident a few days earlier. The drive home was equally scary…
The Birds (1963) — A woman follows a man she’s interested in to his hometown of Bodega Bay, where birds start attacking people in droves for reasons science can’t understand. Hitchcock may have tortured Tippi Hedren for this movie, but the man gets results. Another Video Village rental from like 8th grade. The scene with the guy missing his eyes haunts me to this day.
The Shining (1980) — A struggling writer and his family move into a secluded hotel to take care of it for the winter, but the place is wicked haunted. Of course, not a faithful adaptation to a book that I really liked, but I see them as two different texts. Kubrick weirdness at its finest, and again, see it if only for its vast cultural references. My favorite part is how they decorated Dick Halloran’s house. Once, my husband Lee and I were staying in the small guesthouse of a BnB in a tiny town in Florida. We rented this movie and scared the crap out of ourselves because the guest house had all these twisty turns and corners and Overlook-style decor!
Scream (and the sequels) (1996) — A teen and her friends are terrorized by a knife-wielding mask-wearing psycho killer. This was a pivotal movie for ’90s kids, and for the slasher movie as a genre. I get serious nostalgia watching it and will forever mourn the death of Tatum #RIPTatum! Stream Scream 2 on Netflix!
The Babadook (2014) — A single mother struggles to care for her son after her husband dies. Things get complicated when a mysterious book and a boogeyman begin to plague her family. I saw this when I was pregnant, and honestly, the scariest part was envisioning being a single mom with a behaviorally-challenged kid. But seriously, this is a tight, dramatic little horror movie you should definitely catch on Netflix. Stream it on Netflix!
The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014) — A documentary crew thinks they’re filming a woman’s descent into dementia, but her symptoms are starting to look a lot more like demonic possession. Great scares. I love possession movies and found footage, and this film really brought something fresh to the table.
Mama (2013) — A man’s nieces go missing, only to be discovered years later after somehow surviving in the woods. A protective spirit with a malevolent side has been parenting them, and she follows them home when the girls move in with their aunt and uncle. I don’t understand why this movie doesn’t have better reviews. It’s frickin’ scary! I thought it was a great premise and something I’d never seen before (and I’ve seen a lot of ghost movies!).
The Blair Witch Project (1999) — The film that popularized found footage horror tells the story of three researchers making a documentary about the legendary Blair Witch. This incredible film was shot in just eight days, and was largely improv acting. The actors were camping in the woods as their characters, and the filmmakers actually came around at night to freak them out. If you’ve ever been camping, this movie will make you pee yourself. Case in point: my dad and his friend Ed watched this in a hotel when they were on a trip. Both are experienced outdoorsmen/mushroom hunters, and they both were up the whole night being freaked out! Yup, two grown-ass men up all night because of a horror movie 🙂 You know it’s gotta be pretty scary!
28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later (2002) — A man wakes up from a coma to find the UK in ruins after a plague of “rage virus” breaks out, turning humans into savage undead killers. This was a great update on the zombie genre, with a multi-racial cast and a strong female lead. The pull-no-punches filmmaking and the fantastic Cillian Murphy make this a bloody good must-watch.
Zombeavers (2014) — Your typical group of soon-to-be-dead teenagers head to a remote cabin to party, only to find out that zombified, bloodthirsty beavers have infested the area and they’re hungry for flesh. The description alone should make you want to watch this. A ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek camp-fest mess of a movie you need to go watch RIGHT NOW. Stream it on Netflix!
There are so many more, but my fingers are about to fall off. Enjoy your horror movie marathon, and feel free to share this post with others who are looking for a great list of scary films to explore!
Honorable Mentions: Rosemary’s Baby, Candyman, Evil Dead, Carnival of Souls, Paranormal Activity, The Orphanage, Jaws, Let the Right One In, Night of the Living Dead