Halloween is just around the corner and it’s time for everybody to get their heebie-jeebies on. Horror movies have been a staple of the film industry for decades, and every October, the mood strikes to watch your favorites over again. But in a full-to-bursting genre, how does one pick their popcorn-spilling scary film? Here to help is a list of the top five horror movies to get you in the mood for spooky season.
5) “Halloween” (1978) dir. John Carpenter
Any horror movie list would be truly incomplete without “Halloween.” A classic by any definition, it redefined the slasher sub-genre of horror, influencing the movies that came after it for decades.
It’s well worth your time purely for the theme song that instantly activates a fight-or-flight response, which Carpenter composed himself. This movie is all about the suspense—no speaking character gets killed until just before the one-hour mark, but the audience sees Michael Myers (or “the shape”) stalking Laurie from the start. That kind of waiting game has the flip side of being a bit boring if you know the story, so “Halloween” doesn’t have a lot of rewatch value—but it does have multiple sequels, each more awful than the last. If you stick with this one (and maybe the retconning sequel that came out last year starring 59-year-old Curtis), you won’t be disappointed. Get ready to have the creepy theme music get stuck in your head in the middle of the night.
4) “The Conjuring” (2013) dir. James Wan
Objectively the scariest film on this list in terms of outright spook-factor, “The Conjuring” is the movie that launched a franchise about paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren and their quest to rid the world of demons. Based on a true story, this film follows the story of the Perron family as they become increasingly aware that their new house is haunted and seek out the Warren’s help in fixing the problem. Full of jump-scares and spirits and creepy objects moving on their own, “The Conjuring” is a bit of a slog simply for the fact that it tries to follow a lot of characters and get the audience to empathize with all of them. Despite that, it’s well-worth a watch simply for the hair-raising fact that the Warren’s are based on a real-life couple who claimed to have fought real demons. The museum that’s featured in the movie, containing the Warren’s collection of haunted items from their various cases, is also real; it’s located in Amesbury, Massachusetts.
3) “Alien” (1979) dir. Ridley Scott
While this movie doesn’t quite fit into the Halloween vibe, it’s too good to leave out. “Alien” falls into the sci-fi sub-genre, but it’s a true horror film. It follows the crew of the spaceship Nostromo when they are awoken halfway through their deep-space journey home and told to check out an alien distress signal. When their ship then gets infiltrated by a murderous alien intruder, it becomes a fight for survival. Starring Sigourney Weaver in the iconic role of Ripley, “Alien” changed not only the genre of sci-fi horror, but pop culture in general. It’s an incredibly suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat movie, to the point of being a little stressful to watch. And with special effects that still hold up, it’s a visually powerful film as well. There’s a cat, lots of blood and a truly disturbing-looking alien that Ripley must outwit if she wants to make it home alive. What more could you want?
2) “It” (2017) dir. Andrés Muschietti
The master of horror, Stephen King, deserves to have a film on this list. Many would argue for one of the classics, like “Misery” or “The Shining,” but “It” was such an instant success that it would be a shame not to include it. With an incredibly talented cast of child actors and the delightfully horrifying Bill Skarsgård as the demonic clown, this film is both scary and emotionally gripping. “It” follows seven kids in a small Maine town, the Losers Club, who are being terrorized by a shapeshifting and fear-eating monster. The movie balances jump-scares and humor in a way that keeps viewers engaged, but also a little bit terrified. Part two hit theaters in September, so now is a better time than ever to get into the spooky world of “It.” The Losers Club will make you miss being a kid, but not if it means having to fight an otherworldly killer clown. This movie will also make you irrationally wary of sewer grates, because that’s where Pennywise lives—don’t worry, that’s normal.
1) “Scream” (1996) dir. Wes Craven
“What’s your favorite scary movie?” the killer asks in the opening scene of this film. A slasher that both built upon the tropes of its predecessors and subverted those same tropes, “Scream” is a must-watch for the Halloween season. While not very scary, the movie is suspenseful and darkly comedic, and has a delightfully twisty plot. Following a violent and disorganized murderer in a robe and ghost-like mask, “Scream” comes at the slasher genre from the angle of having its characters know the rules of horror movies and actively satirize those clichés. The film’s heroine, Sidney Prescott, is plucky and courageous and pokes fun at the foolish choices that horror movie protagonists often make. “Scream” is credited with revitalizing the horror genre, which had begun to decline in the 1990s—its pop culture impact cannot be understated. If you’re looking for a horror movie in which characters are self-aware enough to at least try to make smart choices in the face of danger, “Scream” is the one for you.
Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive, and there are many other good horror movies out there. Many would argue that some of them are better than the ones listed here. But these influential films are a great place to start, and hopefully this list will provide a jumping-off point for you to find more horror flicks to love. For now, enjoy these and have fun watching all of your scary movies this fall.