It’s October and there are lists everywhere of best scary films. Google the phrase and you’ll find a hundred more authoritative than mine. What I look for in a scary movie doesn’t always jive with what classic connoisseurs of the genre look for. First of all, I like the scare more than the gore. Friday the 13th? Nightmare on Elm Street? I could never get into slasher flicks. But I do love getting freaked out. Also, I like my scary movies to be quirky. And if they’re funny? So much the better.
So . . . since I don’t always trust my own taste, I’ve enlisted the opinions of two experts, my teenagers Rick and Sofia, and together we’ve come up with these juried lists of movies that shouldn’t be missed this pumpkin spice season.
Traditional Scary Movies Where We Agree with The Experts:
- The Shining. The family snowed in for the winter in a hotel that is evil in itself. REDRUM. The creepy little girls. “Come play with us, Danny.” You can’t mess with perfection.
- Alien and Aliens. Go, Ripley! Yes, there are great jump scares because you just never know where these acid-dripping aliens are lurking, but we also love seeing Sigourney Weaver take them on, especially in the second movie, where she does it carrying around an orphan girl called Newt. Ripley is the original Nasty Woman.
- Silence of the Lambs. We identify with Clarice Starling so much, for half the movie we can’t help thinking how cool it would be to have a monster like Hannibal Lector on our side. Then he makes his move and that’s when we become truly horrified—not just because of what he does, but because we allowed ourselves to like him so much.
- Woman in Black. Yowza! Talk about creepy! This one stars Daniel Radcliffe in one of his first post-Harry Potter roles as a young lawyer sent to sort out a haunted estate on a seaside where the only road in or out is flooded at least once every day. Watch this with something to hug close at hand.
- Psycho. Right. I said we’re not fans of slasher flicks, but you have to give credit to Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense. This film is art. Check out the taxidermy behind Anthony Perkins’ head while he’s talking to Janet Leigh. Try to figure out at which point you’re sympathizing with a psycho killer.
Sentimental Favorites Featuring Stars We Lost This Year:
- The Hunger. I still miss David Bowie. Forget Twilight. Bowie and Catherine Deneuve made vampires look cool.
- Odd Thomas. Alas, it’s now a bittersweet pleasure watching our sweet, baby-faced Anton Yelchin talk to the dead.
Good for a Laugh:
- Shaun of the Dead. There are a lot of things to praise about this movie, but it’s worth it just to watch Simon Pegg go about his business obliviously while zombies are shuffling down the street behind him.
- Amazon Women on the Moon. Did you know that Jack the Ripper was actually the Loch Ness Monster? Neither did we, until we watched this cult classic about what you might see if you clicked through late-night TV in the eighties.
- Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. “I don’t think you understand the importance of this meteor, Betty. It could mean important advances in the field of . . . science.” This cheesy send-up of a pulp horror movie of the fifties is sly with its jokes, but if you’re a fan of flicks like The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Blob and Creature from the Black Lagoon, you’ll love this hilarious send-up. Thrills! Chills! A horrifying creature from outer space!
- What We Do in the Shadows. A “mockumentary” about four vampire roommates and the events leading up to a monster ball. Watch these guys as they struggle with such issues as, whose turn is it to do the dishes? And, how are they going to get invited into the swanky nightclubs? And pray that you never meet The Beast.
- Cujo. You don’t need to watch this one. But we had to include it because, as long-time lovers of Saint Bernards, we couldn’t help laughing as we watched this mutt drooling when he’s supposed to be evil. Seriously? Someone’s holding treats just out of camera range. If you want to watch a scary movie about a Saint Bernard, watch Beethoven and see what he does when he shakes mud off in the bedroom. Now that’s scary.
Bingeable TV Series:
- Stranger Things. Quirky characters? Check. Scary monster? Check. Dark ambience? Triple check. Definitely a must-see.
- Twin Peaks. If your parents haven’t made you watch this odd gem of a series from the early nineties, you owe it to yourself to watch it now, before the sequel runs in 2017 on Showtime. Get acquainted with Special Agent Dale Cooper. See if you can guess who killed Laura Palmer. And never, ever, utter the words, “Fire, walk with me.”
Favorite Scary Movie of All Time Watch It Now:
MJ: Rear Window. To me, this movie defines suspense. I love the scene with Grace Kelly digging for a human head in the pea patch and, finding none, climbing up the fire escape in a couture gown and breaking into a killer’s apartment. Talk about gutsy. Talk about glam. Alfred Hitchcock not only knew how to scare people, he knew how to dress his leading ladies.
Sofia: Cabin in the Woods. Sofia likes this one because it plays with stereotypes of horror movies. Plus, we’re all in for anything with Joss Whedon’s name attached to it.
Rick: Simpsons Treehouse of Horror #XXVII The One Where Lisa’s Imaginary Friend Murders People: All the Treehouses are good. Rick was hard-pressed to narrow it down to one. Especially one that doesn’t include forbidden doughnuts.
We hope you enjoy these movies as much as we have, sitting under blankets in our darkened family room, eating pumpkin spice bars and being leaned upon by our Saint Bernard, Newton, who is a lot of dog and doesn’t mind being hugged during the scary parts. He’s eight months old and so far hasn’t showed any signs of turning evil, other than drooling, which, according to the Cujo universe, means we’re doomed.
We’re not too worried, but according to the laws of every scary movie ever made, that’s when he’ll get us.