William Friedkin’s demonic-possession masterpiece is beautifully made, well acted, and scary as hell. Simply put, there’s no better film to watch—for the first time, or for the 100th—very late at night, with the lights off, by yourself.
Night of the Living Dead
It created the modern zombie genre, and its fondness for sociopolitical echoes. But even more than that legacy, George A. Romero’s low-budget black-and-white original proved that you don’t need money to create a horror classic; you just need braiiiiiiiins.
John Carpenter’s bogeyman slasher nightmare spawned a legion of inferior sequels that couldn’t diminish the ominous power of his original, about a psychopath who returns to his hometown years later to don a misshaped William Shatner mask and stalk Jamie Lee Curtis.
Arguably the scariest film of all time, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s bestseller generates terror from its meticulous filmmaking. And, courtesy of Jack Nicholson’s turn as a murderous paterfamilias, it also features the most memorable horror-movie performance in the past few decades.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
The story of a child molester who returns from the dead to prey upon his killers’ children in dreams, Wes Craven’s seminal shocker recognizes that you’re never more vulnerable than when asleep.
Its sequel may boast grander man-vs. -beast action, but Ridley Scott’s gorgeous 1979 outer-space saga about a group of astronauts battling against a malevolent extraterrestrial is still the franchise’s most deeply frightening installment.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Ignore all the remakes, remake sequels, and remake prequels, and stick with Tobe Hooper’s original 1974 grindhouser, about a slightly unhinged hippie-hating family with a house notable for its giant meet hooks, human bone furniture, and slammable slaughterhouse metal doors.
A cautionary tale about the perils of stealing from your boss—and, also, about staying at roadside motels run by mamma’s boys—Alfred Hitchcock’s 1961 gem still retains its power to get under the skin.
Christian Bale is a yuppie with a taste for axe-wielding mayhem in Mary Harron’s wicked black-comedy adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel, which, among other things, recognizes that nothing is quite as bloodcurdling as the sound of Huey Lewis and the News.
The Evil Dead
Its sequel may improve upon its gonzo-insanity attitude, but Sam Raimi’s 1981 indie debut—about a group of kids who unleash demonic forces while staying at a remote cabin in the woods—produces greater anxiety.
The only thing scarier than facing off against a hideous intergalactic monster is facing off against one that has the ability to shape-shift into human form—a who’s-the-creature scenario that director John Carpenter employs for intense suspense (with some great, gross special effects).
Japanese director Takeshi Miike is infamous for pushing the boundaries of good taste, though he’s rarely delivered more extreme tension than with this 1999 film about a man who discovers that dating can be a deadly affair.
Let the Right One In
A young outcast boy meets, and falls in love with, a young immortal bloodsucker in this superb 1980-set Swedish vampire romance from Tomas Alfredson, which climaxes with an unforgettable pool sequence.
Do not take other people’s children as your own, and then name them Damien. And if you do, always remember to check their scalps for «666» birthmarks. These and other life lessons are offered up by The Omen, a return-of-Satan story that’s as scary as it is educational.
The Human Centipede: First Sequence
It may be too nasty for most to stomach, but there’s real artistry—albeit of a demented, go-for-broke sort—to this notorious 2009 film, about a deranged German scientist with plans to create the ungodly title creature.
Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-ho’s 2006 film is a fantastic, Spielbergian tale of a South Korean family under siege from an extraordinary foe—namely, a giant sea monster created from toxic dumping.
Blending horror and comedy with aplomb, this Stuart Gordon adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s famous short story concerns a medical student (the great Jeffrey Combs) determined to perfect the science of resurrection.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Michael Rooker is a serial killer whose crimes don’t warrant much attention from the powers that be in John McNaughton’s cold, clinical, harrowing character study (partly based on real events).
Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel is an unbearably disturbing portrait of youthful alienation and fury, with one of the genre’s most unforgettable fire-and-brimstone endings.
Don’t Look Now
A couple (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) grieving from the death of their daughter become convinced that she’s trying to contact them from beyond the grave in Nicolas Roeg’s profoundly unnerving thriller. You’ll never look at little girls in red coats the same way again.