List of horror films I could watch any Halloween. No, you will not find “Friday the 13th” or “Nightmare on Elm Street” on this list. I’m too much of an art film guy. Horror art film guy.
1. The Shining (1980, 143 Minutes, R) – The best horror film ever made and probably the best one there will ever be. Many devotees over the years have revered it for its supernatural elements, its haunted symbolism, its hypnotic camerawork that spells delirium and claustrophobia. I see something else: A parable of the world’s most loveless marriage. This Stanley Kubrick film scrambles the brain the longest. You can watch it several times over the course of a decade and find you are still working at unlocking its secrets.
2. The Exorcist (1973, 121 Minutes, R) – The original blueprint for half of the horror movies cranked out of Hollywood in contemporary times. Its’ power is primal, however, thanks to the pulsating and pungent directing of William Friedkin (“The French Connection,” “Bug”). Friedkin lets the early scenes live and breathe in a real environment, slowly letting manifestations of the devil rise to presence. Friedkin gradually unleashes feverish visual techniques and sputtering soundtrack devices. The head-spinning last section, a blow out between good and evil, is a thunderous battle of spiritual wills.
3. The Silence of the Lambs (1991, 118 Minutes, R) – Terrifying and immersed into depraved psychosis. FBI agent-in-training Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) consults the incarcerated serial killer Hannibal the Cannibal (Anthony Hopkins) to catch on-the-loose serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). The sexual profiling of the killer as well as the clinical matter of fact dissection of the victims, gets under your skin. Even though director Jonathan Demme is working with a straight-forward narrative, he summons up great hypnotic power.
4. The Fly (1986, 95 Minutes, R) – David Cronenberg’s emotionally supple love story (Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis) intermixed with grossness. Goldblum, in the one performance that should have got him an Oscar nomination, is a brilliant scientist who creates a transporting matter device. His DNA gets spliced up with a housefly, and the results are nauseating. And mesmerizing.
5. The Cell (2000, 107 Minutes, R) – The heartstopping race against the clock thriller, and even though it has fantasy elements, it is as effectively disturbing as anything else. Jennifer Lopez plunges into the mind of serial killer Vincent D’Onofrio in search of the whereabouts of a victim in captivity. Inside his mind is a Salvador Dali-esque panorama of diseased imagination. Director Tarsem Singh also made the interesting 2006 extravaganza “The Fall.”
6. The Thing (1982, 108 Minutes, R) – A cold and frightening horror movie, this John Carpenter film is set in Antarctica. The unclassifiable monster can mimic humans and animals and insects, and when it is inevitably cornered, it is seen morphing from one imitating organism to another before our eyes. In other words, it’s impossible to really corner it. Kurt Russell is the main hero, but this is really an existential story with no outs.
7. Audition (1999, Japan, 115 Minutes, Unrated but Adults Only) – Advanced cineasts only. For me, this is the only film to truly give me nightmares in my adult life and they lasted for months. You think for a few moments that this is yet another nasty horror of female victimization, but that is anything but the truth. This is really a slow build to the final mind-boggling, and ultra-disturbing twenty minutes. I hate every other Takashi Miike film, but this one is too psychologically fascinating for me.
8. Rosemary’s Baby (1968, 136 Minutes, R) – Chilling, no matter how many times you see this Roman Polanski spooker. The conspiracy is against Mia Farrow and her womb. Her actor husband John Cassavetes is atrociously selfish, trading love for success. The husband makes friends with the nosiest of elderly neighbors (Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon, who snatched an Oscar), who only seem harmless but turn out to meddle with the fate of this couple. The dream sequence is hauntingly surreal and bonafide satanic.
9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, 117 Minutes, PG) – Not as terrifying or as gooey as “The Fly,” but it’s still a supreme creature feature. Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams are San Francisco Health Inspectors that catch on that pod people from another planet are replicating and replacing human beings. They get you in your sleep! This story has been told four times, and I recommend 1994’s very underrated Abel Ferrara entry “Body Snatchers,” taking place on an army base.
10. Jacob’s Ladder (1990, 116 Minutes, R) – Bad dreams. Very bad dreams. Or they are hallucinations. Tim Robbins gets back from Vietnam and after a few years he finds it very difficult to cope. Something happened in Vietnam, something like Agent Orange. But worse. “Ladder” has motifs of whirling heads and faceless creatures, and other hellish elements vaguely seen.
11. Insidious (2011, 103 Minutes, PG-13) – Hair-raising trips to the other side. 1982’s “Poltergeist” inspired this, but this is way scarier. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne star as parents who try to protect their child from phantoms that have confined the boy’s soul, with further plans to overtake his human body. There is great visual imagination here.
12. The Mist (2007, 127 Minutes, R) – Monster bugs attack residents of a small town, hording outside a supermarket. The bigger the bugs get, the more skin-crawling it works on you. I guess there is something here with me and giant bugs, right? Writer-director Frank Darabont actually tried to get this made back in the early 1990’s, before “The Shawshank Redemption” if you can believe it. “Shawshank” is a masterpiece, but this is a damn fun howler.
13. REC (2007, Spain, 78 Minutes, R) – Bad fever. Residents of an apartment complex are trapped while a virus turns them into flesh-eating cannibals – all of this captured in found footage by a feisty female news reporter. I saw the 2008 American remake “Quarantine” first (it’s by the same director), and so while I was watching “REC” I considered them for a long time about equal. I give “REC” the edge, however, because the female reporter is hotter, and the ending is spine-tingling for a longer stretch.
14. Arachnophobia (1990, 103 Minutes, PG-13) – The one title on this list that’s more appropriate for pre-teens (the predatory bugs in the ground movie “Tremors” from the same year is another youth-appropriate horror). This one is all about spiders from South America, and kind doctor Jeff Daniels trying to save his square family from these nasty little crawlers. I hate it when spiders try to get you on the toilet.
15. Re-Animator (1985, 86 Minutes, R) – Slimy and disgusting, as well as hysterically funny. A scientist revives corpses to become the walking dead. We get a talking head, deadly-threshing intestines, teeth-gnashing by lots of mauling living dead, and lots of boob shots of a B-actress. Jeffrey Combs is mad Dr. Herbert West; Barbara Crampton is the screaming babe with lots of boobage. This flick is so outrageous, you will be s#*%ing bricks. I only recently discovered Stuart Gordon’s 1986 horror follow-up “From Beyond,” with much bloody body obliteration, that’s nearly as fun.
Additional horror picks that are worth seeing at least once, if never a second time. If you can stomach them: “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974), “The Hills Have Eyes” (1977), “Creepshow” (1982), “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn” (1987), “Near Dark” (1987), “Cube” (1997), “May” (2002), “Paranormal Activity” (2009).