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.
Also not a stranger to remakes, [Rec] is a Spanish zombie movie that was remade into the less effective Quarantine. What makes [Rec] unique among zombie movies is that it shows a viral outbreak at its introduction, right from victim one. Most zombie movies start after at least a few zombies, or "infected," are already causing havoc.
[Rec] opens with a reporter following firemen on a routine call that becomes anything but when they discover some tenants infected with a curious virus. Once "quarantined" inside the building, [Rec] becomes a frantic race for survival that doesn't let up until the movie hammers its way to an end.
What [Rec] does right (that Quarantine doesn't) is choosing not to waste time trying to figure out the viral problem. In fact, it doesn't give the building inhabitants much time to do anything but run.
The Exorcist will likely make any horror movie list ... and for good reason. This story of a little girl (Linda Blair) possessed by a demon is still an effectively scary movie, creating the template for countless future horror movies based on possessions.
For those who've already watched William Friedkin's 1973 masterpiece, and even for those who haven't, we recommend trying the 2000 Director's Cut or "Version You've Never Seen." It adds additional footage, including the infamous spider-walk sequence.
Whatever version you watch, it's Blair's convincing portrayal of the possessed Regan that get under your skin — and puts you off eating split pea soup ever again.
Who says a scary movie can't also be fun? Here, Sam Raimi returns to the horror genre that started his career. Drag Me To Hell follows Alison Lohman, a loan officer cursed by an elderly gypsy. Raimi can't help but deliver some hilarious moments along with some genuine scares, particularly from the scene-stealing gypsy (Lorna Raver), who inexplicably is more frightening than a demon. Raimi continues to raise the bar, consistently finding new ways to scare, while Lohman and her boyfriend (Justin Long) try to find a way out of the curse.
The only frustrating part of Drag Me to Hell is knowing that it took Raimi so long to return to the genre he handles so well.
This 1977 movie about a dance school with a dark secret found Dario Argento at the height of his prowess. Not a thriller like his previous efforts, such as 1975's Deep Red, Suspiria is Argento's step towards pure horror, which he continued working in throughout the '80s with cult classics like Inferno and Creepers.
Using a Technicolor film stock typically reserved for animated movies, Argento steeped his gruesome death scenes in vivid primary colors, adding to the surrealism of his masterpiece.
Suspiria is also getting the remake treatment, with David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) at the helm.
Any scary movie list wouldn't be complete without Stanley Kubrik's The Shining. From its first mention of "redrum," there's something terrifying about The Shining. With bloody hallways, telepathy, creepy twins, and Jack Nicholson's pitch-perfect descent into madness, The Shining is a frightening reminder of what can happen when someone works without ever getting a break.
Brad Anderson has made movies in a range of genres (Next Stop Wonderland, Happy Accidents, Transsiberian), but Session 9 is his twist on a ghost story. The plot revolves around an asbestos clean-up crew working in an abandoned mental hopital.
Anderson uses minimal gore and effects, and yet creates an atmosphere of danger while grounding the movie in a believable reality. Instead of pouring on the fake blood, Anderson focuses on character and atmosphere, even letting David Caruso shine. With a building tension that slowly affects the characters and some of the creepiest voice acting ever recorded, Session 9 is a psychological horror movie in the purest sense.
We end the list with the latest scare. Oren Peli's first movie combines the horror elements of The Exorcist with the found-footage aspect of The Blair Witch Project to create a truly scary experience.
What Peli does so well is heighten the tension. The more time Micah and Katie spend trying to uncover what's haunting their home, the worse their nightly visits get. The found-footage aspect is used to masterful effect, with many audience members believing the footage was real. Peli also grounded the movie in a reality that, like Session 9, uses the imagination of the audience rather than big-budget effects to produce legitimate scares. Good luck having a decent night's sleep after watching Paranormal Activity.