Horror movies are almost as old as cinema itself, and despite enduring popularity, perhaps no other genre has been more widely misunderstood. One of the most expressive forms of filmmaking, horror allows every element of the craft — from music and editing to sets and costumes — to be employed in the boldest of ways. Their sheer scope and variety offers something to delight, intrigue, and yes, scare, any movie lover.
The Academy's history is full of Oscar-winning horror films like The Exorcist, Jaws, Alien, The Silence of the Lambs, Misery, Black Swan, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, Pan's Labyrinth, and Get Out. Whether you're naturally a scaredy-cat or just think that you wouldn't enjoy a horror film, here's a list that just might change your mind.
Black Sabbath (1963)
If you can’t decide what kind of spooky film to watch, how about three for the price of one? One of cinema's great visual stylists, Italian filmmaker Mario Bava, pulls out all the stops for this influential anthology film hosted by horror icon Boris Karloff. Blasted with eye-popping color schemes, here are atmospheric tales of ghostly revenge from beyond the grave, a good reason to never answer the telephone, and a family trying to ward off a vampiric intrusion in their home. Being scared has never looked so beautiful.
The Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)
Inspired by France's legendary beast of Gévaudan that terrorized the countryside in the 18th century, director Christophe Gans' opulent mixture of monster mayhem, thrilling action and exquisite period detail is a must-see. A knight under King Louis XV and an Iroquois tribe member join forces to find out the truth behind the steel-fanged menace killing off locals, uncovering in the process a sinister conspiracy that goes up to the high ranks of power.
Cat's Eye (1985)
If you're new to Stephen King, this one should fit the bill with another three-part anthology delivering plenty of bang for your buck. An extreme stop-smoking program, a dizzying ledge-walking challenge and a little wall-dwelling beastie are all tied together by the presence of a resourceful kitty answering a call for help from a young Drew Barrymore. This is also the ideal genre film for fans of our adorable four-legged friends — with a heartwarming pet-friendly message, too.
The Changeling (1980)
In one of the screen's great ghost stories, Oscar winner George C. Scott unleashes a tour de force performance playing a recently widowed composer who discovers that the Seattle mansion he's begun renting, which had remained vacant for a long period prior to his moving in, has something very distressed and very spectral residing within its walls. Elegant, smart and chilling, this Canadian-shot production from director Peter Medak will make sure you never look at a bouncing ball or a music box the same way ever again.
A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)
The Hong Kong cinema boom that’s still influencing filmmakers today produced many classics, few of which had a bigger impact than this kinetic blend of supernatural chills, romance, comedy and high-flying action. Producer Tsui Hark and director Ching Siu-tung ensure that there isn't a single boring moment as cinema icon Leslie Cheung's overnight stay in an abandoned temple sets off a chain reaction from beyond the grave — along with an avalanche of daredevil camerawork that still hasn't been topped.
The Devil's Backbone (2001)
Guillermo Del Toro's unique ghost story melds the trauma inflicted on children during the Spanish Civil War with a chilling supernatural story of a young boy uncovering a tragic incident at an orphanage. Del Toro's love of classic genre cinema is infused with more than a touch of sadness including the unforgettable manifestation of a child's ghost wafting in spectral bubbles whose true meaning only becomes clear at the end.
The Final Girls (2015)
If you're curious about slasher movies but would rather have some laughs and maybe even shed a tear or two, look no further than this witty homage to '80s summer camp shockers. Taissa Farmiga stars as a teenager who, along with her friends, winds up getting stuck inside a loop of the cult horror movie that her mom, who has recently died, starred in.
Happy Death Day (2017)
The time loop movie gets the comedic horror treatment as a college co-ed (Jessica Rothe) keeps repeating the ill-fated day of her murder, a loop that will only end once she discovers the identity of her killer. Smarter and funnier than one would expect, this is one of the most appealing gateway horror films around — with a solid rom-com mixed in to boot.
Let the Right One In (2008)
Before his acclaimed adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson flipped the vampire story upside down with this story of a bond between a bullied young boy and his mysterious new neighbor, resulting in a darkly romantic saga that builds to a swimming pool finale that had moviegoers holding their breath. (Soon after, Matt Reeves contributed an English-language remake, Let Me In, which is also worth watching.)
Mad Love (1935)
The oft-adapted French horror novel The Hands of Orlac became one of Hollywood’s early horror masterpieces under the direction of Karl Freund, a pioneering German Expressionist cinematographer in one of his rare directorial efforts. Peter Lorre cuts a terrifying figure as Dr. Gogol, a surgeon whose obsession with a married stage performer compels him to replace her pianist husband’s severed hands with those of an executed killer. To say any more would spoil the fun, but there are multiple scenes here of poetic, macabre beauty that are simply unforgettable.
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Oscar-winning actor Charles Laughton only directed one film, but he most definitely made that one time count. Robert Mitchum is one of the screen's scariest villains as serial killing preacher Harry Powell, who woos widow Willa Harper (Shelley Winters) to get his hands on the stolen cash that her late husband left behind —which is now being protected by her two young children. A myriad of sinister yet beautiful imagery awaits you in this dark fable, inventively shot by the great Stanley Cortez (The Magnificent Ambersons).
The Sixth Sense (1999)
A surprise word-of-mouth smash hit during a very competitive year to close out one of the best decades in cinema history, M. Night Shyamalan's supernatural thriller established him as a deliverer of both twist endings and emotional wallops. Playing a young boy able to see the dead, Haley Joel Osment created one of the genre's most enduring catchphrases: "I see dead people." Even the most timid of viewers out there embraced this one, being rewarded with the thrilling experience of watching a finely crafted horror film.
Tales from the Hood (1995)
Director Rusty Cundieff gives the anthology format a satirical overhaul here, drawing on the history of E.C. Comics to comment on the state of being Black in America in the '90s. Laced with wry comedy and featuring diabolical twists, the stories tackle gang violence, white supremacist politicians, and the impact of slavery. Clarence Williams III steals the show here as the flamboyant mortuary owner who tells the tales.
The Witch in the Window (2018)
An emotional story of family bonding forms the core of this story about a divorced dad spending the summer working on the Vermont farmhouse that he intends to flip, with his son along for the ride. Unfortunately for the father and son in this low budget but high-quality horror drama, while the renovations are being made on the property, the malicious spirit of the witch who once lived there is only getting stronger.