7:06 AM PDT 10/31/2013 by Todd McCarthy, David Rooney, Stephen Dalton, Leslie Felperin
From "Psycho" to "Ringu," Todd McCarthy, David Rooney, Leslie Felperin and Stephen Dalton reveal their selections for the films that offer the most frights.'Frankenstein' (1931)
What would the world of fright, monsters and horror have been without Frankenstein? The massively popular 1931 Universal film is scarcely scary today, but it remains stylish and insinuating and is one of the essential Hollywood films of any kind because of the seeds it planted that have bloomed, multiplied and thrived ever since: The idea of man through science creating a new, and warped, form of life; the virtually indestructible monster, the vulnerability of children to horrible evil and the sensitivity, heart and appeal that even grotesque monsters can possess beneath the gruesome surface. -- TM'Psycho' (1960)
The violations of cinematic propriety committed by Psycho -- the abrupt and violent murders, the killing of the star halfway through, the near-nudity, the upfront sexual matinee, the underlying despair and lack of reassurance -- are hardly shocking today. But the mere title of ALFRED HITCHCOCK's most famous film stands as the signpost for all that would come after: the preoccupation with the deranged, the misfits, the loners, the mass murderers and the loonies who would henceforth rule the horror genre. To be sure, the film still plays well today thanks to its stripped-down obsessiveness, BERNARD HERRMANN's indispensable score, the actors and the insidious mystery at its center. -- TM'Night of the Living Dead' (1968)
GEORGE A. ROMERO needs no paternity test to lay claim to being the father of all zombies the world has seen since 1968. One of the seminal films of all time, for its trail-blazing creative approach to horror as well as for its resourcefulness as an out-of-nowhere independent film, Night of the Living Dead remains scary as hell 45 years later and, along with Romero's first sequel, Dawn of the Dead, stands as one of the few films of its type that can make serious claims to genuine artistic accomplishment. The combination of the lyrical and the implacable matter-of-factness of the zombie onslaught is chilling, making for a sense of realism that the genre has often ignored to its peril. -- TM'Rosemary's Baby' (1968)
When MIA FARROW and JOHN CASSAVETES take an apartment in New York's creepy if swanky Dakota building, the neighbors seem so nice and friendly -- that is, until they turn out to be Satanists. They proceed to drug Farrow's titular character and get her knocked up by Lucifer himself in a hallucinatory scene that still chills, despite the now dated looking 1960s effects and camerawork. Farrow knocks it out of the park with her panicked performance, making for a terrific parable about female anxieties around motherhood and one of ROMAN POLANKSI's best works. -- LF'The Exorcist' (1973)
Catholicism and horror have often gone hand in hand, but rarely so effectively as in WILLIAM FRIEDKIN's Georgetown Gothic based on WILLIAM PETER BLATTY's best-seller. The lines around the block at movie theaters were unprecedented for a supernatural shocker at the time, and the movie's iconic status has endured for four decades. ELLEN BURSTYN plays the actress mother of LINDA BLAIR's possessed tween Regan, who spews out demon dialogue (and pea soup) in the sinister growl of MERCEDES MCCAMBRIDGE. Even without the infamous spider-walk scene that was reintegrated into the 1998 25th anniversary reissue, this is bone-chilling stuff.
-- DR'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' (1974)
A gang of stranded teenagers become prey to a family of backwoods maniacs in TOBE HOOPER's grimy landmark in low-budget grunge-horror, which arguably invented the sadistic "torture porn" genre. A redneck bloodbath that gave shock-rock cinema one of its most memorable bad-ass icons, the masked killer Leatherface, the movie provoked theater bans and media controversy, but is now widely regarded as a classic and part of the permanent collection at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Leatherface was loosely based on serial killer ED GEIN, whose grisly exploits also inspired Psycho. -- SD'Carrie' (1976)
It didn't take the cool reception to KIMBERLY PEIRCE's recent remake to confirm the elevated position held by BRIAN DE PALMA's film of the STEPHEN KING novel about a bloody prank that unleashes hell on prom night. As the ostracized telekinetic teen and her religious crackpot mother, SISSY SPACEK and PIPER LAURIE both scored deserved Oscar nominations, at that time still relatively uncommon for actors in an unapologetically exploitative genre movie. Its deft combination of high school cruelty, sly humor and lushly lyrical violence is perfection. "They're all gonna laugh at you!" They'll scream too. -- DR'The Omen' (1976)
Another demon-child saga to make parents squirm, RICHARD DONNER's feature is a less lurid but no less alarming foray into Exorcist territory. GREGORY PECK is the U.S. ambassador to Britain married to LEE REMICK. After an ill-advised switch in a Roman hospital, they find themselves raising the antichrist. Oops. The kid with the 666 birthmark is watched over by a nanny - played by the supremely icy BILLIE WHITELAW as Satan's ambassador to Earth - and her snarling Rottweiler. Neither the sequels nor the remake come close, though I do have a soft spot for LEE GRANT going up in flames in Damien: Omen II. -- DR'Suspiria' (1977)
A visually ravishing exercise in gothic Eurotrash excess, the Italian horror maestro DARIO ARGENTO's most celebrated nerve-shredder marries the pagan darkness of ancient fairy tales with the Technicolor delirium of golden-age Hollywood. JESSICA HARPER plays a young American scholarship student who uncovers witchcraft, torture and murder at her prestigious German dance school. Blazing with vivid primary colors and an unsettling score by progressive rockers Goblin, Suspiria is an immersive journey into a nocturnal occult realm whose sumptuous beauty helps excuse its deranged plot and badly dubbed dialogue. -- SD'Halloween' (1978)
Shot for just $300,000, director JOHN CARPENTER's low-budget slasher classic rewrote the horror rulebook with its roving Steadicam shots, archetype-defining Final Girl heroine and disturbingly familiar setting in contemporary Middle American suburbia. In an inspired homage to Hitchcock's Psycho, Carpenter cast JANET LEIGH's daughter JAMIE LEE CURTIS in her scream-queen debut as a teenage babysitter stalked by a psychotic family annihilator who escapes to kill again after 16 years behind bars. Despite its slender budget and minimal special effects, this mini-masterpiece of suspense became a hugely profitable hit and spawned a long-running franchise. -- SD'Alien' (1979)
Much imitated, never equaled, RIDLEY SCOTT's classic is a textbook example of how brooding atmosphere, sustained dread, masterful design, sharp character development and withheld exposure to the encroaching monster(s) can shape a movie that delivers emotional involvement on a par with its visceral terror. SIGOURNEY WEAVER's Ripley is a frontier fighter for the ages, a character that remained compelling through three variable sequels, the best of them being JAMES CAMERON's kickass Aliens. And "In space no one can hear you scream" is one of the all-time great taglines.
-- DR'The Brood' (1979)
Co-starring OLIVER REED and SAMANTHA EGGAR, this slow-burn exercise in cerebral body horror helped shift Canadian auteur DAVID CRONENBERG from marginal cult director to left-field household name. Reed plays the creepy maverick doctor who runs a radical therapy scheme, and Eggar the psychologically scarred mother to a freakish litter of killer children. A queasy satire on psychotherapy and family values, Cronenberg calls The Brood his most autobiographical film, as he was locked in a bitter custody battle with his first wife at the time.
-- SD'The Shining' (1980)
STANLEY KUBRICK made his last authentic masterpiece with this hallucinatory trip into the Twilight Zone, freely adapted from the STEPHEN KING novel. JACK NICHOLSON gives a combustible performance as a mentally fragile writer slowly losing his mind in a remote, empty, haunted hotel over the snowbound winter season. Co-starring SHELLEY DUVALL and DANNY LLOYD, The Shining actually makes little narrative sense, but its strikingly surreal nightmare visuals are brilliantly orchestrated by Kubrick, who was partly inspired by DAVID LYNCH's Eraserhead. King disowned the movie, directing his own inferior TV remake in 1997. -- SD'A Nightmare on Elm Street' (1984)
More witty and subversive than the long-running slasher franchise it launched, WES CRAVEN's postmodern reboot of the pulp horror genre made a cult antihero out of its child-killing villain Freddy Krueger, a knife-fingered monster from the darkest depths of collective folk myth. The suburban high school victims in this darkly funny fairy tale are unable to sleep, because Freddy haunts their dreams. HEATHER LANGENKAMP stars, while a young JOHNNY DEPP meets his maker in memorably gory fashion. In an elegant example of revenge being served cold, Craven named Krueger after a sadistic bully from his school days.
-- SD'The Vanishing' (aka 'Spoorloos,' 1988)
Like Haneke with Funny Games, Dutch director GEORGE SLUIZER made this story twice (the remake came out in 1993), but the original 1988 version cannot be beat. Playing off the universal fear of losing a loved one suddenly when they slip out of sight for a moment, the story tracks a man over several years searching for his girlfriend who vanished at a gas station. Not advisable viewing for claustrophobics, the last reel offers a shocking but entirely satisfying sense of closure (forgive the pun) with a supernatural tinge. -- LF'Funny Games' (1997)
In many ways, this sly, horrifically disturbing subversion of the besieged-family subgenre is the film that properly launched MICHAEL HANEKE as an international auteur. A bourgeois Austrian family let two strangers in the door who turn out to be psychotic killers. What really makes the film outstandingly unusual is the way the killers break the fourth wall, turning to the camera to address the audience, making us feel complicit in the violence. Bonus points for Lothar's screaming, arguably one of the most chilling effects in film history. Haneke himself directed a much less interesting remake set in the U.S. starring NAOMI WATTS in 2007. -- LF'Ringu' (1998)
Although Japan has a long and illustrious history of ghost stories and films, HIDEO NAKATA's creeptastic tale is the one that really put J-horror on the international map. The gimmick here is a videotape (remember them) that, once watched summons an aggrieved, now iconic ghost with bedraggled long hair and a zombie shuffle who, at one utterly terrifying and impressively rendered point, emerges out of a TV set itself to scare a victim to death. The film was respectably remade in English by GORE VERBINSKI in 2002 with NAOMI WATTS, queen of remakes, in the starring role.
-- LF'28 Days Later' (2002)
Would The Walking Dead ever have happened without the eclectic DANNY BOYLE's pivotal moment in the contemporary reinvention of the zombie flick? Hard to say, but the AMC hit surely owes as much to this influential feature as it does to the genre classics of GEORGE A. ROMERO and his imitators. A survival tale set in a postapocalyptic London, it placed CILLIAN MURPHY in the path of undead biters that were fast on their feet (no more somnambulant shuffling, thank you) and riddled with a virus that made them mad as hell. Throw in an allegory about humankind's savage nature in a depersonalized world and you have a low-budget chiller that's smart, scary and suspenseful. -- DR'Wolf Creek' (2005)
GREG MCLEAN's low-budget Australian slasher movies pushes the film-of-two-halves formula to the limit, which the first part seemingly all about footloose backpackers bumming around the outback who suddenly, in the second half, come to a serious cropper at the hands of the seemingly affable bloke who gave them a lift. In retrospect, this was on the cresting wave of torture porn pics like Saw and Hostel that came out around the same time, but with less misanthropic nastiness at its heart and a grittier sense of realism, befitting the "based on a true story" hype.-- LF'Let the Right One In' (2008)
Swedish director TOMAS ALFREDSON's 2008 love story between a bullied 12-year-old boy and his mysterious new female neighbor, who confesses, "I have been this age for a very long time," distanced itself with restraint and intelligence from the murky thicket of swooning teen vampires then crowding the multiplex. The sad '80s knitwear and institutional housing give this the austere atmosphere of a KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI movie, and the expert balance of tenderness and creepiness, enhanced by exquisite use of music, makes it linger long in the mind. The 2010 U.S. remake, Let Me In, with CHLOE MORETZ, is solid, but the original is the keeper. -- DRSource: