Horror movies have been an integral part of American pop culture ever since Lon Chaney thrilled 1920s audiences with iconic roles in classics such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, and the long-lost London After Midnight. On the other side of the Atlantic, Germany was cranking out its own horrifying product, both on- and offscreen. F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu and Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are early examples of atmospheric chills designed to invoke fear in audiences.
Nearly a hundred years later, we welcome the notion of being scared out of our wits, with situations of terror and the supernatural projected at arm’s length. Of course, for fans of horror, there’s no better time of the year than Halloween, a celebration of all things scary, wicked, and macabre. Here are some of the Where Y’at staff’s favorite frightening films to watch at this amusingly unique time of year.
This is my favorite of the classic Universal monster movies, based solely on Bela Lugosi’s performance as Count Dracula. While most of the other Universal monsters are more rounded because they can be both threatening and sympathetic, Dracula is completely without compassion or remorse. He is purely evil, and Lugosi portrays all of that menace with perfect nuance. Whenever popular culture makes mention of Dracula, it’s usually based on Lugosi’s version of the character. Dracula is a true classic of horror, helmed by a truly great actor who should have been more appreciated when he was alive. –Burke Bischoff
Decades before George R. R. Martin decapitated Ned Stark in Game of Thrones, Alfred Hitchcock taught audiences that no character was safe in his films with the shocking mid-film plot twist in 1960’s masterpiece Psycho. The basic story concerns a woman (Janet Leigh) on the run who takes shelter at the Bates Motel, run by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a pushover dealing with a domineering yet unseen mother. Hitchcock’s masterful use of montage and framing to create suspense has never been better, and Perkins gives a career-defining performance as the unsettling yet strangely sympathetic Norman. –Fritz Esker
The Haunting (1963)
A far cry from modern horror films, The Haunting is refreshingly lacking in gore, but it certainly doesn't make it any less frightening. I adore the character Eleanor Lance who is eager to escape the psychological manipulations of her invalid mother to aid Dr. Markway in his paranormal research at Hill House. To this day, even with its essentially non-existent special effects and overly dramatic acting, The Haunting is (in my opinion) one of the most frightening horror films in existence and easily one of the best haunted house-type horror films I've ever seen. –Kim Ranjbar
The Exorcist (1973)
This sensational film ushered in a supernatural element previously unseen by audiences worldwide: demonic possession. Young Regan (Linda Blair) is overtaken by the evil Pazuzu, a.k.a. Captain Howdy, a.k.a. the Devil! It co-stars Ellen Burstyn as Regan’s mother, and the title refers to the Christ-compelling priests who confront the demon: Fathers Merrin (Max Von Sydow) and Karras (Jason Miller). It was the highest-grossing film of 1973 and the first-ever horror film to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture, its content causing panic and even heart attacks in theaters across the nation. Now that’s what I call a horror movie! –Jeff Boudreaux
Audrey Rose (1977)
Young Ivy Templeton is the reincarnated spirit of Audrey Rose, who died in a fiery car crash. When Ivy begins to constantly relive the moment of her former self’s death—waking up screaming as if still trapped in that smoldering car—Audrey Rose’s father (played by a young Anthony Hopkins) suddenly appears and attempts to calm the girl’s tortured soul.
This movie always scared the crap out of me, but I don’t know which was the most frightening: the whole flaming car crash/burned alive scenario, Audrey Rose’s creepy bug-eyes, or Hopkins chanting, “Audrey, Audrey ROSE!” in his freakish Silence of the Lambs voice. –Kathy Bradshaw
This may seem like an obvious choice, but John Carpenter's Halloween is a masterpiece of horror and suspense. Unfortunately, years of bad sequels, bad rip-offs, and even bad remakes have a tendency to soil the memory of the original, so give Carpenter's film a watch. Halloween is not just a slasher film. It's about fate, and Michael Myers—the escaped lunatic returning to his hometown to kill again—is the embodiment of the unstoppable Boogeyman. This is the first film I saw where the killer just wouldn't stay dead, and that was freaky. –David Vicari
Hocus Pocus (1993)
Hear me out. Yes, it’s Disney. But as a kid, I found it terrifying. This movie is about the Sanderson sisters, three witches who escape from hell on Halloween to suck the life out of children (literally). They don’t make kids’ movies like this anymore: horror, comedy, and, arguably, a musical all in one. Bette Midler chews scenery as a gleefully evil antagonist, and Sarah Jessica Parker’s siren song is haunting. Watch it with your kids if you’ve never seen it before and enjoy the nostalgia if you have. Spoiler alert: Kill count is low, but Kathy Najimy rides a vacuum cleaner into the third act. –Andrew Marin
High Tension (2003)
“Splatter" was horror cinema’s gore-du-jour in the early aughts, with franchise pioneers Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005) banking buckets of blood money at the box office. French import High Tension, however, is the sub-genre’s least appetizing main course. The film opens to a trucker pleasuring himself with a severed head before tossing it out the driver-side window—enough said. However, the most unsettling scene comes when the killer breaks one of American horror’s biggest taboos by executing a toddler. Sure, the twist ending is overdone, but High Tension will haunt you long after the credits roll. –Greg Roques
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
Released only a few years ago, this is easily one of the most original ideas to enter the world of horror in recent memory. Equal parts comedy, horror, and science fiction, director Drew Goddard's film works so well because it uses lessons of the past in making a film that transcends easy taglines. Five unsuspecting college students go away for a weekend, and that’s where you become unable to guess what’s coming next. It’s well worth your time if you want to laugh intermittently while being scared sh**less. –Landon Murray