Halloween is the time of year when horror movies are dusted off, rented from a video store, or placed in the queue for some late-night, pitch-dark viewing. But there are scary movies and then there are scary movies. Here are our top choices if you're looking for a true fright this season.
John Carpenter's remake of Howard Hawks' The Thing From Another World is beyond its 25th anniversary, but the story of a group of scientists in the Antarctic who come across a human-impersonating, alien shape-shifter still holds up. Kurt Russell leads the group, (don't worry, he's not a nerdy scientist but a badass helicopter pilot) while Wilford Brimley gives an almost movie-stealing performance that straddles the line between restrained and over-the-top. The creature effects made a huge impact at the time and are still enough to still frighten the kiddies today. But what makes The Thing truly scary is that the creature could be anyone, making the situation not only tense for the scientists, but the audience as well.
The horror anthology Trick 'r Treat isn't just four scary stories interwoven in one Halloween night in Ohio, it's about Halloween itself. Writer-director Michael Dougherty created Trick 'r Treat to work like any holiday movie that can be watched "one month out of the year," every year, and he succeeded. A celebration of the spooky holiday that includes zombies, serial killers, werewolves, and vampires, Trick 'r Treat is ruled by Sam. An impish trick-or-treater with a burlap sack over his pumpkin-shaped head, Sam makes sure that no one breaks the "rules of Halloween" else they suffer the consequences. Trick 'r Treat might be the least scary movie in this list, but it's certainly one of the most effective horror movies ever made, and should be watched annually by anyone with a slight interest in the dark and macabre.
Here's one for the ladies. Neil Marshall's claustrophobic tale about adventure-seeking women who encounter deadly creatures during a cave expedition does what any good horror movie does: Introduce some sympathetic characters and then drop them into a desperate situation. While vampires and werewolves can be destroyed by sunlight or silver bullets, what can destroy a cave creature? If anyone's figured it out, they never told these ladies.
It's hard to beat Wes Craven's original take on burned-up serial killer Freddy Krueger, who seeks revenge through dreams. Here we see Freddy's creepy roots ... before he was reduced to a joke-spewing, sideshow clown in sequels. Craven produced a frightening creature in Krueger: How can you kill something that lives in your dreams? And whenever Craven returns to the Nightmare franchise, as he did with Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and New Nightmare, he brings a more respectable storyline with him. Sadly, he was not always there to return, leaving others to dampen a series that began so strongly. Nightmare also is notable as Johnny Depp's first movie. He plays sensitive boyfriend Glen, who is killed in one of the more spectacular deaths ever committed to celluloid.
Yes, it's the sequel, but make no mistake — 28 Weeks Later is an excellent and frightening movie. The opening scene alone is one of the most pulse-pounding beginnings to a zombie movie in recent memory. Throw in a scene where people are trapped in a small room at the start of another outbreak, and a sequence where the kids have to make their way through a subway tunnel in complete darkness, and you have one of the scarier sequels ever made. It also doesn't hurt that 28 Weeks Later gets more personal than its predeccessor, focusing on a single family rather than a few random strangers who have managed to survive.
This isn't your typical scary movie with cats jumping out from dark spaces to jolt the audience. Instead, this Swedish vampire flick builds and heightens the tension that arrives when an outcast boy befriends a young vampire girl who just moved into his apartment building. While the boy is looking for friendship, the vampire's intentions are less clear. As her older caretaker fails to haul in fresh blood, she must seek out new victims.
Let the Right One In isn't a fast-paced slash-fest, instead it's a classic, unnerving vampire story. The movie is already being remade in the U.S. under the title Let Me In.