30 Days of Night (2007)
Based on the comic series by Steve Niles, this is no the vampire lore that classic horror fans are used to. When I was a kid, I would always want to be a vampire for Halloween because I thought there was nothing creepier than a monster who looked like a person and could suck out your blood until you died. Unfortunately, with the introduction of Anne Rice's famous Vampire Chronicles, Hollywood -- and most writers -- have de-fanged a once-great monster. While it's true that Bram Stoker's original creation, Dracula, was a sexual, Romantic-era creation, he still had roots of fearful horror (see the 1922 classic German film Nosferatu). But since Rice's writings, vampires have become a bunch of sparkling, attractive, whiny wusses geared more toward drama and romance rather than sheer terror and blood! Fortunately, Nile's 30 Days of Night marked the gore and horror of the true vampire. The vampires in here look evil -- from their black eyes to their shark-like teeth. The thought of one of these things biting you doesn't give you the romantic fuzzies like some young adult novel. Thanks to this comic book and film, the vampire is slowly making a comeback as a horror icon.
When this film came out on video and I viewed it for the first time, I was about 12 and it scared the crap out of me! By today's standards, some might not think it scary enough. But if you -- like me -- watched it not knowing what it was about, you'd be just as scared. I also have to add that this is one of the few films where its sequel was just as good. There are plenty of jump-worthy scenes in this film! In the cold, vast solitude of space, there's nowhere to go when the $*@% hits the fan. Full of horrible ways to die, the scariness grips you and doesn't let go until the very end.
Evil Dead (2013)
When I heard about this remake coming out, I was skeptical more than overjoyed. To me, horror films are already a difficult film to make really well ... let alone a remake of a horror film. But this remake of the 1981 Sam Raimi film does not disappoint. The original was considered a bit of a joke, however, it was also a trailblazer in that two stereotypes of the horror genre were dashed: first, it is not the female virgin who survives the evil; and, second, the group of teens do not stupidly awaken the evil by reading from a book (unfortunately, like in this version) -- they play a recording in which a doctor reads the text (veeerrry clever, Mr. Raimi). Unfortunately, this remake does not carry on those traditions. But the film does not suffer for it either. When I saw the trailer for this film, it was one of the most disturbing I'd seen in I-don't-know-how-long. So I had to check it out. And I'm happy I did. It's got all the gore, blood and violence that should be in a horror film -- but it also has a story. Unlike the original (in which the five friends are merely going to the cabin for a getaway), this one has the friends assembling for good reason: Mia (Jane Levy) is attempting to quit heroin cold turkey. I'm not sure I like how the writers remade the ending, but I can see why they did it ... when in relation to the "addiction" side plotline.
Director William Friedkin took a scary novel -- William Peter Blatty's 1971 masterpiece -- and turned it into a disturbingly horrifying film. Based on an actual 1949 exorcism of Ronald Hunkeler, a young boy from Cottage City, Maryland (although he uses pseudonyms Robbie Mannheim and Roland Doe), as performed by Father Walter Halloran, the film has a little girl (Linda Blair) possessed by Old Scratch himself. And it takes two priests to expel the demons. This film had religious people going nuts as it's heavy religious tones and blasphemies are heavy throughout. A great scary film that will have you watching with the lights on!
Forget the remake! While Rob Zombie's 2007 Halloween was nicely done, it still was not as visceral nor as scary as John Carpenter's original. One of the main problems with Zombie's was that it explored Michael Myers' backstory and how he came to be the way he was. That aspect takes away the fright. In the original, there is no explanation for Myers' thirst for killing. He's simply an unstoppable machine who keeps coming back until you're dead. Unrelenting and scary -- just like the infamous theme, also penned by Carpenter. This film also paved the way for Jamie Lee Curtis to take her place in the halls of scream queen fame.
The Monster Squad (1987)
Yes, not exactly scary ... for adults. But for kids, it's a blast! Imagine if The Goonies had met the classic Universal movie monsters (Dracula, Wolfman, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy, and Frankenstein), and you get The Monster Squad! Plus, with Shane Black (writer of Lethal Weapon) writing, you've got cool dialogue that makes even adults having a good time when viewing. This does have a slight bit of foul language, but any kid from junior high on up will love it! When adults fail to see the pattern of Dracula ruling the world, a rag-tag group of kids band together and take on all of the aforementioned monsters. A classic good time!
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Wes Craven's masterpiece introduced the world to a truly homicidal maniac who pulled off horrendous acts -- he molested, mutilated and killed little children. Fred Krueger is found out by the outraged parents of the neighborhood of Elm Street, and is trapped in a warehouse where he is set on fire and burns to death. His restless, vengeful spirit comes back as the boogeyman who haunts the dreams of the children -- now in their teens -- of the parents who killed him. Only this time, if he kills them in their dreams, they die in real life. Before Freddy became a caricature of himself (see Nightmare parts 2-6 and the vs. Jason film), this film did everything right, shading Freddy's visage, making him more mysterious, and focusing more on the victims rather than Freddy himself.
Horror movies had reached a dismal, cliche rut by the late 1980s/early 1990s. Then came Kevin Williamson (yes, the man who created Dawson's Creek), who teamed up with Wes Craven, and they released this breath of fresh air! Thanks to this film, the horror genre was reinvented and rejuvenated! All of its sequels stunk but this first venture into the contemporary slasher flick still scares today.
The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick's movie version of the classic Stephen King novel threw lead actor Jack Nicholson into the megastar he is now. This mindf#@* of a movie scared the bejezzus out of me just as much as the book did. This film proves that sometimes it's the threats of the ones closest to us that can truly scare the hell out of you. From "REDRUM" to the spooky little girl twins, there's some crazy stuff going on here.
Silent Hill (2006)
I don't know if I was scared so much as I was freaked out by this film. It's a mental mindf@*# of a movie! Based on Konami's 1999 video game, and directed by Roger Avary (The Rules of Attraction; Killing Zoe; co-writer of Pulp Fiction), Silent Hill is one seriously messed-up place. For those who don't know the story, it begins well enough: a nice couple, Rose and Christopher (Radha Mitchell and Sean Bean) and their innocent daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) have their nice lives interrupted by Sharon's extreme sleepwalking and shouting out of the town Silent Hill. To try and cure the girl (and satiate their curiosity), Rose and Sharon set out for Silent Hill. Once arriving in town, creepiness ensues before all hell breaks loose. One of the best -- and creepiest -- parts of the film is when the haunting fire siren sounds and Rose (as well as the audience) know that she is in trouble. Tortured souls, immolation, sheer terror -- it's all in here!
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
I know, I know! I'm gonna get crucified for saying this, but here it goes: the 2003 remake is far scarier than the original 1974 Tobe Hooper version, and I liked the 2003 version A LOT better! The original was visionary but -- simply put -- it wasn't scary to me. This one, however, directed by Marcus Nispel, has scarier tones, better cinematography, better acting and better dialogue. Based on the murders committed by Ed Gein (who also inspired the Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho), the Hewitt family makes you want to not take any shortcuts when driving through a desolate town. While I'm not "cool" -- as some may say -- for not liking the original, it's only because I want to stay true to my idea of what "truly scary" actually is.
The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter (who also did Halloween) remade the 1951 film The Thing From Another World with this one and, even though considered a box-office bomb, it's success now is a big nod to Carpenter's true talent of filmmaking. This film works on your fears, similar to The Shining, in which you never know who you can really trust, plus it works on being stranded -- the same as Alien. But the monster in this one is all kinds of gore! Plus, Kurt Russell kicks ass!
Trick 'r Treat (2009)
A fun, underrated throwback to the 1970s/1980s Halloween flick (think Tales from the Crypt and Creepshow), Trick 'r Treat is an anthology of short horror stories from Michael Dougherty, the writer of X-Men 2 and Superman Returns. These tales bring back all of the scares and laughs that make Halloween such a fun, spooky holiday. It has an all-star cast and the stories touch upon every aspect of scare you could think of. I think I saw the DVD of this for something like $5 or $9 and it's WELL worth the money; that's not an insult -- if you see it for this much, definitely get it!
The Walking Dead (2010-present)
Based on the graphic novel by Robert Kirkman, and originally developed for television by Stephen King-novel-to-superb-cinema master Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Mist), this AMC television series follows ex-sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) as he awakens in a world drastically changed when he discovers that the infected dead walk the earth and their hunger for human flesh never stops. He eventually meets up with his wife, son, best friend and a small group of other rag-tag survivors. This is a fresh, contemporary take on the zombie genre that better captures what filmmaker George Romero (Night of the Living Dead) set out to do with his Living Dead saga. This story teaches us that the zombies (or "walkers," as they're called in the series) are merely an obstacle; the true threat here is our fellow living. It's a social commentary that, basically, we are our own worst enemy -- zombies or not. But don't think this is some boring dialogue-driven drama. And don't think it's some mind-numbing zombie-killing plotless series. This is drama with great characters, great action and great writing. The Walking Dead is definitely worth checking out!
It's not a movie but The CW network's Supernatural (currently in its ninth season) takes all of the horror/urban legend lore and makes it real. And lead characters Sam and Dean are the brothers who hunt them. It's easy to see why it's lasted this long. If you want some good scares on television, this is the one to turn to ... or rent.