William Friedkin’s 1973 “The Exorcist” might be one of the most frightening films ever made. When the young daughter of a movie star goes from acting strange to demonic, it becomes apparent that she has been possessed. “The Exorcist” is not just a horror film about an exorcism but a compelling story about faith and its place in a modern world where it seems like everything has a rational explanation. The first time you see “The Exorcist,” it might shock you to your core. And, like any good horror film, the methodical build up to the actual scares make them that much more frightening. “The Exorcist” is not just a terrific film for its genre, but it might just be one of the greatest horror films ever made, especially having been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
John Carpenter, director of “Halloween,” followed up his slasher classic with another horror movie — but one that had a more supernatural tinge to it. “The Fog” is a perfect watch for Halloween, as the film naturally gives off spooky vibes. A small seaside town in the northern Bay Area has their centennial celebration interrupted by the ghostly revenge of shipwrecked men who were intentionally cast to a watery grave by the town’s founders 100 years ago. What is so eerie is that the ghosts come into town from the sea in one of those rolling coastal fog banks that everyone in California would recognize. The ’80s aesthetic of “The Fog” is only heightened by the synth-driven John Carpenter score, and this film is a fun watch to get you into the holiday spirit.
Something that makes the best horror films is psychological terror rather than mere jump scares or cheap use of gore. “Rosemary’s Baby” is the perfect example of a film utilizing this strategy. The film, starring Mia Farrow, centers around the titular character who is pregnant with the antichrist after her husband makes a deal with the Devil in exchange for fame and success. Her slow realization that what she thought was a wonderful blessing is actually a disaster is poignant. Rosemary’s paranoia could be explained away by the hormonal imbalance that her pregnancy has induced … until a chillingly trippy climactic scene. The 1968 film is gripping because its themes lie with the burgeoning feminist movement, and the film makes a strong argument for bodily autonomy for women.
The new millennium of horror began with “Final Destination,” an intriguing movie about a group of teenagers that narrowly cheat death, only to have Death come after each one of them to claim the souls he thought were stolen from him. “Final Destination” has a riveting premise, and it has this supernatural element that makes the audience feel it will be impossible for the characters to literally escape fate. “Final Destination” does not have the critical acclaim that the other films on this list have, but it is a delightfully cheesy movie that is nevertheless a fun 90 minutes.
Everybody knows “The Shining,” even if they have not seen it. Who doesn’t know Jack Nicholson’s famously psychotic “Here’s Johnny,” delivered through a door he’s nearly broken down with an axe. “The Shining” is based on the novel by Stephen King, but director Stanley Kubrick takes the film in a much more sinister, stylized direction — sparking conspiracy theories about what the film is really all about … even though it was not his idea to begin with. The Torrance family thinks that the seasonal job of taking care of a ski resort in Colorado will be serene, only to have the menacing spirit of the hotel itself exploit each of their deepest fears. If you have not seen it already, “The Shining” is a memorable movie experience that will make you feel like you are losing your mind as you sit through this rollercoaster of a film.