Halloween is always a good excuse to watch a scary movie. There are so many to choose from and so many sub-genres out there. What one person finds scary may just be silly to another (and there's something to be said for the 'so bad it's funny' type of movie too). Personally I don't like slasher films that rely too much on gore and not enough on suspense but you may have other ideas. Here are a few of my favourites:
The Descent (2005) has an all female cast and in spite of this there is no gratuitous nudity. It's the sad tale of a group of female adventurers who become lost while exploring a cave system and find that they aren't the only ones down there. You won't want to go anywhere near a cave after watching this one.
Psycho (1960) is a classic. After stealing a large sum of money from her employer, Marion Crane panics and drives across the country, stopping to stay the night in a motel on a lonely stretch of highway. She is never seen again alive. Her sister, Lila, and a private detective, Milton Arbogast track her to the motel to try and find out what became of her and find instead the motel's creepy owner Norman Bates. Watch it to see why the shower scene made cinematic history.
Ring (1998). Reporter Reiko investigates an urban legend that anyone who watches a certain mysterious video tape will die exactly one week later. When Reiko's young son watches the video she goes on a cross country journey to try and find a way to break the curse before he becomes its latest victim. The final scene is absolutely terrifying.
The American remake, starring Naomi Watts, has a few extra plot holes and is nowhere near as scary.
Funny Games (1997). Alfred Hitchcock once said that he enjoyed playing the audience like a piano. This film does just that. When I saw it in the cinema, during the scene with the golf ball (if you have seen it you will know the one I mean), the entire audience groaned in unison. It wasn't a "this movie is bad" groan, but a groan of sympathy for the heroine. We all felt for her but couldn't look away.
Again, there is an American remake staring Naomi Watts who is becoming the Jamie Lee Curtis of remakes. This one is a shot for shot remake by the same director as the original so it might not suck.
Shadow of the vampire (2000). In 1921, F.W. Murnau's filmed Nosferatu, an unauthorised version of Bram Stoker's Dracula. In this fictionalised version of the making of that film, the cast and crew of the film gradually become suspicious of the bizarre behaviour of Max Schreck, the actor who plays the villain. There is a very simple explanation- he is a real vampire! While this sounds silly it is played entirely straight and the stellar cast make it very unsettling to watch.
Night of the living dead (1968). The first in Romero's iconic Living Dead series is the scariest, partly because it's in black and white so the zombie make-up doesn't look as dodgy. This is the movie that established many of the tropes of the genre. It's well worth seeing if only to understand the many references to it in popular culture.
REC (2007). This Spanish film has been remade in America too, as Quarantine starring Jennifer Carpenter, because Naomi Watts was busy. I haven't seen that version but the Spanish one is truly terrifying. It's about a reporter doing a story on a local fire station. When the fire fighters are called to an apartment to rescue an old woman who is trapped in her flat they find that she and other residents are infected with a strange virus that causes its victims to become violent. It is told entirely from the point of view of the reporter who is filming events so the camera work is shaky and a little disorienting at times.
28 Days Later (2002) This film about a virus which turns people into crazed killers is possibly the first movie to feature fast moving zombies, a very different beastie from the slow shambling monsters of Night of the Living Dead. It's a real emotional roller coaster ride with frantic chases and fight scenes interspersed with moments of calm and even humour. The early scenes in a deserted London make a change from all the horror movies set in US cities. It also has a terrific soundtrack.
Single mother, Jess, goes on a boat trip with friends and somehow becomes trapped in a time loop where the same tragic events keep repeating. I found it a bit distracting to see actors I know are Australian speaking in American accents, but you forget that once you get sucked into the story. It's film is beautifully shot and very creepy.
The Others (2001).
In the aftermath of World War II, Grace, a Catholic woman lives with her two children in an isolated manor house on the island of Jersey. The children have a disease which makes them sensitive to light so they live in darkness with the curtains drawn. When three new servants arrive strange things start to happen which make Grace start to think the house might be haunted. The sense of isolation and slow building tension in this film make it truly spooky.
What are your recommendations for a good spine chilling film that leave the viewer gripping the arms of the couch until their knuckles turn white? .
Enjoyed your list Jennifer. I agree that the best horror movies are the suspenseful ones, Funny Games is a great shout! Mernau's original Nosferatu is very atmospheric, I was surprised just how spooky it was! The Shining, The Omen, Alien, Evil Dead, The Exorcist, Carrie, The Thing (1982), etc are all rightfully classics. Less well known horrors I have enjoyed include The Orphanage, Chronos, Let the Right One In. Guity pleasures include the original April Fool's Day and Cabin Fever (sorry!).