Halloween is coming up, and in honor of the spookiest (and my favorite) holiday, I have assembled a list of my favorite horror movies of all time. Though most (beyond the first) are in no particular order, each makes the list either for its world-building, its atmosphere, its character-development, or just downright scare factor. You’ll definitely want to check these out if you haven’t seen them!
Undoubtedly my favorite horror film, Ginger Snaps tells the story of two disenfranchised teenagers whom, at a young age, vowed to end their lives at sixteen. Their fascination with death leads them to pull a prank on one of the popular girls by faking her dog’s death. In light of the recent pet slayings by an unknown creature, it seems like the perfect way to get revenge. But when Ginger is attacked by the monster – and when she begins to change – the girls will realize coming-of-age is the least of their worries.
A deadly disease threatens to decimate New York’s population of children in the second installment of the Mimic series. Biologist and school teacher Susan Tyler has been working toward a cure. But when a mutated variant of an experimental cockroach escapes into her school, Susan must do everything in her power to not only save herself, but a student in her care.
Anyone who’s ever felt different will identify with this film by Lucky McKee. In May, we follow a young girl who – alienated from her mother – grows up without proper social skills. A chance encounter with a young man that appears to express interest in her ultimately leads to a downward spiral in this psychological thriller.
Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan guides us along a terrifying psychological journey for perfection. As she vies for the lead role in an upcoming production of Swan Lake, Nina struggles to maintain her sanity in the shadow of not only her overbearing mother and critical director, but also what may be the vengeful spirit of the play.
The conclusion to Romero’s world-famous Dead trilogy shows us a glimpse of what humanity may look like when pushed to its breaking point. Secured in an underground bunker with members of the military, a group of scientists struggle to develop a cure not only in the midst of the end-of-the-world, but also the presence of a madman. Day of the Dead is my favorite zombie film of all time, and boasts one of the most gruesome zombie scenes in cinema history.
This 2004 remake shows us Zack Snyder’s interpretation of George Romero’s classic. In Dawn of the Dead, we follow a nurse named Anna starting at Day 0 of the apocalypse – from the death of her husband, to her flight through a collapsing city, to her alliance with an assembly of everyday people as they take shelter within a mall. This vision is not Romero’s classic. These zombies run, and they are scary as hell.
The creator of The Exorcist brings us a horrifying vision of insanity in Bug. Helmed by Ashley Judd, the film follows a woman who lives in terror of her abusive ex-husband returning after a long stint in jail. A party meant to distract her from the troubles of life leads her to meet a man whose story of government experimentation – and the bugs that they’ve implanted in him – draws her into the road of madness. The question becomes too hard to discern. Are these bugs real? Or is this man simply crazy? And if he’s not crazy, is she?
One of the few movies I’ve screamed through in the theater, Sinister details the story of a true crime writer whose obsession with documenting ‘the next big cold case’ leads him into a foray with the supernatural. After finding a series of tapes that details graphic murders, he thinks he’s simply happened upon a serial killer and his next bestseller. But when the truth comes to light, it may already be too late for him and his family.
When it comes to ghost/demon/haunting movies, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is, hands down, my favorite. Told from a dual perspective, the film—inspired by horrifying true-life events—follows a young woman whose mortal body is possessed by a demonic creature. The fact that it is presented as both a character piece and as a speculative cold-case makes it extremely different from other haunting movies. Also—the the actress playing Emily refused to allow special effects to inhibit her performance. What does that mean? You’ll have to watch for yourself.
This cult classic is (in my opinion) one of the best, most terrifying found-footage films ever. Not only does it bring us back to the roots of the genre by creating tension and suspense over the course of the entire movie, its rich lore, use of lighting, and unnerving film style makes you feel like you’re actually there. While it does show its age (especially compared to other found footage films,) its sense of dread always keeps me on the edge of my seat, and searching for something new each time I watch it.