Some of the scariest horror movies of the past decade (like Insidious, Paranormal Activity, The Ring, and Signs) had the class to stun and haunt you but not make you throw up your mochi crunch. Lately, horror films have been overdosing on remakes, sequels and torture movies that emphasize brutality, gore and human suffering but aren’t at all scary or any good.
There are classic titles to watch annually around this time of year (Halloween, Night of the Living Dead, etc) but here are 10 you may not have seen or haven’t watched in years. Instead of leaving you gagging and disgusted, these films do exactly what a good horror movie should do: use skill and story to scare you silly.
Darby O’ Gill and the Little People (1959, Not Rated)
An old man crosses a leprechaun one too many times… Here’s one to watch with your kids, except it could scare the blarney out of them. Look for Sean Connery in his film debut… singing!
The Birds (1963, Not Rated)
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is my favorite movie and a perfect title for this list, but The Birds is scarier and even more shocking. A love story about a single blonde (Tippi Hendren) making a visit to Bodega Bay turns into a bizarre, unsettling, bite-your-nails-down-to-the-nubs suspense machine.
Wait Until Dark (1967, Not Rated)
A blind woman (Audrey Hepburn) is terrorized by a trio of criminals who talk their way into her apartment in search of a mysterious doll. This is Hepburn’s best performance, Alan Arkin is terrific as the flashy lead villain and the finale is guaranteed to leave you shaking.
Black Christmas (1975, R)
Christmas Eve at a quiet sorority is fun until a series of scary phone calls literally kills the merriment. Forget the terrible 2006 remake. The original classic is more subtle but far more terrifying and clearly influenced John Carpenter’s Halloween. Amazingly, this intense shocker is from the director of A Christmas Story!
Race With the Devil (1975, PG)
Peter Fonda and Warren Oates are camping buddies who stumble upon a bunch of devil worshippers and are chased for the rest of the movie. A perfect drive-in action/horror hybrid, with great chase scenes and a memorable finish, it delivers genuine grindhouse movie thrills and some freak-out moments.
An American Werewolf in London (1981, R)
An American back packing through Europe is attacked by a giant wolf and starts craving meat, sleepwalking naked, etc. The king of horror/ comedies, this is a violent, seriously scary werewolf movie with a wonderful sense of humor. The first film to win the Best Make-Up Oscar, it stands the test of time.
Arachnophobia (1990, PG-13)
It’s over 20 years old, was a family-friendly summer movie and stars Jeff Daniels and John Goodman…and it’s still the definitive creepy crawly spider flick. No creature feature with a six-legged monster has ever topped it and you might be surprised to find it’s scarier than you remember.
Raising Cain (1992, R)
John Lithgow stars and is phenomenal in multiple roles as a demented doctor with a disturbing secret. A number of moments will make you jump out of your seat. Brian De Palma’s Carrie is a popular choice but this underrated, sexy and jolting ode to Psycho is even more fun.
Session 9 (2001, R)
A group of workers assigned to renovate an abandoned insane asylum discover that something has been left behind. Brad Anderson’s thriller sneaks up on you, is awash in nightmarish atmosphere and has a third act revelation that you won’t see coming that will haunt you for days.
The Others (2001, PG-13)
This classy, old fashioned haunted house thriller weaves a frightening and surprisingly moving tale. Nicole Kidman’s best performance, a shocker of an ending and some really, really scary sequences make this a must, even if you’ve already seen it (multiple viewings only make the story richer). And remember…“this house is our house.”