Scared yet? You should be! It’s almost Halloween, which means you should be psyching yourself up for your Halloween horror movie marathon. But which movies to watch? Rather than trying to come up with a fun list on your own, only to settle for the same shit you watch every year, why not let us decide for you? We’ve got a special list for you of all the scary movies we’re in the mood for right now. Not what we watched last year. Not what we’re gonna watch next year. Sounds good? You sure? Alright then.
And don’t worry, we’ll keep it concise. 6 movies only. Nobody’s got time for a horror movie every day. People have stuff to do.
What can be said about Halloween that hasn’t already been said? It pioneered the modern slasher genre, and today still stands tall as a titan of that genre. It gave us not only the idea of the “final girl,” but one of the best executions of that idea by Jamie Lee Curtis. She plays Laurie Strode, an average babysitter forced to contend with the ultimate evil when Michael Myers comes to town. And oh boy, does he come to town. The world’s greatest argument for abstinence-only education, Myers stalks and brutally kills Laurie’s sex-having friends before turning his sights back to her. If he wasn’t film’s scariest monolith just by virtue of existing (which he might be), he certainly takes the title once director John Carpenter is finished complementing his warpath with one of horror’s all-time great and creepy scores and a deluge of lingering shots. When Michael hides in a closet, waiting to get stabby, we don’t just see him right as he jumps out. We see his solid-white face appear in the darkness, and we see him hold back, contemplating whatever it is the ultimate evil contemplates before launching an attack. When Michael impales a teenager into a wall, we see him stand there and take in his latest kill for an uncomfortable amount of time. These extended looks somehow make him all the more real without making him the least bit human, and his image, his idea, stays with you long after the film is over because of it. 37 years later, that image still hasn’t faded.
Horror might not be the first thing to come to mind when picking the genre of Alien. It’s centered around spaceships, distress signals, and, well, aliens; it’s obviously a sci-fi movie. And that’s all true, but thinking like that misses the forest for the trees. Sci-fi is the setting, but horror is the point. The crew of the Nostromo is picked off one by one after accidentally bringing a wretched hell beast aboard their commercial towing ship. Alien is essentially a slasher movie, except there’s no slashing to speak of. Instead, there’s bursting; there’s dissolving; there’s burning. The isolation of space is compounded by the isolation of the ship itself. The halls are wet, dimly, flickeringly lit, and occasionally full of steam, and there’s a lot of them. There’s everywhere to go but nowhere to hide. The crew can’t even know what to keep an eye out for to try to survive for a few extra minutes, since the alien grows and evolves every time they see it. It hides in the dark corridors, and it constantly has new ways to kill. Fear of the unknown is a common theme in space, but rarely in such an immediate way.
Wes Craven’s modern classic. Scream arrived in theaters at a time when horror was no longer a relevant genre. Gone were the days of the 70s shock-horror and the 80s slasher craze. And along came Scream, a not only relevant but game changing film that redefined 90s horror and set the tone for the next generation of horror films. Led by a capable young cast and featuring a supremely clever script by Kevin Williamson, the film followed a group of young teens being hunted by a killer. The catch being, they know how horror films work. Not only does it contain Jamie Kennedy’s legendary rant about how to survive a horror movie (while watching Halloween, which coincidentally is also on this list), but it takes the satire further by providing twists and turn that slap the face of traditional horror. Drew Barrymore’s opening scene still provides freight (and the fact that she was billed on the poster is hysterical and a tactic sorely missed in modern cinema) and try as Scary Movie might the Ghostface Killer mask is still creepy. Scream works so well because it’s a satirical horror film that takes its horror seriously. We wanted to include a Wes Craven film to honor the master of our nightmares (believe us, Nightmare on Elm Street and The Last House on the Left were our next choices) and we choose a film that showed us how to laugh at them while being terrified of them. Rest in peace, Wes. With Scream and the filmography you’ve given us, we sure won’t.
One of the absolute funniest films of all time, Shaun of the Dead is not only parody at its best, it’s also simply brilliant filmmaking. Tightly edited, supremely shot, and fucking hysterical, Shaun of the Dead shrewdly uses the tropes of generations of zombie films (notably, duh, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead series) to settle familiar viewers in before ripping the rug out from under them. The film tells the simple of story of a man with a lot on his plate (annoyed girlfriend, annoying mom, dead-end career) who wakes up to also have to fend off zombies. Countless quotable lines, the fantastically astute use of small details/characters being used over and over, manic humor, spot on music, terrific performances, a nuanced beating heart even when surrounded by those wanting to eat it, and aided by the best tagline of the 21th century (“A romantic comedy. With zombies.”) Shaun of the Dead stumbles and moans on by, and you’re happy to stumble and moan right along with it.
Steve Martin once described his comedy style as jokes without punchlines. He gives you the setup, doesn’t resolve it, and moves on to the next bit before you really know what happened, the theory being that the unresolved comedic tension will build up to the point that it has to come out naturally, whether you want it to or not. With The House of the Devil, director Ti West proves that theory doesn’t just apply to comedy. Like all good horror movies, Devil has a pretty straightforward premise: a young girl (of course) takes a mysterious babysitting job at an old house in the middle of nowhere (of course) that sounds too good to be true (it is). The film is full of all the ticks and tropes one would expect from an alone-in-the-creepy-house movie – the heroine loves to take long walks down dark, silent hallways, for instance – but none of them pay off like you’d expect. An extended shot of the window never reveals the killer lurking in the shadows; it’s just a shot of the window. About a half-hour of the total lack of catharsis is enough to make you feel perpetual physical discomfort, desperate for something, anything, to jump out and yell, “Boo!” A more cerebral, visceral horror experience is difficult to come by.
Blending straight-horror with family comedy, You’re Next is probably the most surprising film experience on this list. Taking place mainly over one terrible night, the film is about a family enjoying a reunion dinner of sorts when men in animal masks begin attacking the house and killing them. The film is bloody and very scary for sure, but what makes You’re Next stand out over films with similar loglines, aside from Sharni Vinson’s fantastic lead performance, is its pitch black wit. Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett (whose follow-up, The Guest, is also great) carefully blend family and relationship squabbles into a horrific situation. The film is so sly about its comedy aspects that a scene can go from horror to comedy so slowly that it almost forces you to laugh in hopes that said situation is being played as a joke. It’s absolutely biting filmmaking and helps create one of the most fun and funny true horror films to come out this century.