Lee has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.
My mother was a huge horror film fan when I was growing up. Classic horror. Modern horror. She wrote her thesis about Hitchcock.
Because of her, I was introduced to the horror genre at a very tender age. She used to make me go to bed and wouldn't let me watch the movie with the rest of the family, so I would sneak back into the living room, hide behind the couch, and watch anyway.
This was how I was first introduced to horror.
I'm not a big horror fan, per se. But as the years went by, I kept watching horror films because of her and eventually developed a sensible taste for what was tasteful and well-written horror and what was shock value gore.
An actual horror film doesn't rely on disgusting the audience with puke and bile. Making the audience puke is not what horror is supposed to be about. Actual horror is about scaring people, making them cling to the person next to them, making them squirm in their chair, jump at their own shadow.
With that in mind, and with Halloween around the bend, I'm going to recommend some movies that are guaranteed to make you sleep with the lights on.
Please keep in mind that only films that actually scared me will make it onto this list.
I'm probably gonna lose some points for this, but 1996's Scream scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. You can't help but clench your entire body while watching poor Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) struggle to figure out where the killer is and how to save to herself. She couldn't even call 911 because the killer was on the line and would know.
Pre-internet-911 was a scary time.
A creepy voice watching you from an unseen location is pretty messed up. What was worse, it was a situation that could happen to (almost) anyone. Anyone could be home alone watching a movie only to have some psycho call them and start playing games.
You smartphone-obsessed tech brats are laughing now, but considering that this movie came out before the invention of Caller ID, it was terrifying. The second film even has a joke about it, where Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) calls out a pranker by reading his number from the Caller ID screen aloud.
Not only was Scream a scary movie, though. It was also smart. The self-aware meta theme was amusing and refreshing for the time, and instead of bumping off walls like a dumbass, the female lead fought back.
Sidney was smart. She was fearless. She packed a piece and wore a bullet-proof vest.
It was pretty awesome to see a female character written that way, instead of as a dumb stereotype who existed to look hot and get sliced up.
What's even better? The sequels (barring the unfortunate fourth installment) were pretty awesome too. The characters were just great enough that you would want to see the sequels, and Sidney was a protagonist worth rooting for.
All in all, Scream is one of those horror film franchises I'll always remember fondly.
1963's The Birds is actually a pretty scary horror film based in part on the novel by Daphne du Maurier -- a very brilliant novelist whose Rebecca still haunts me to this day. Sadly, like most women writers, she was not taken seriously until her death (when she couldn't benefit from it).
The Birds is a smart, almost charming story that still manages to be horrifying. You're probably noticing a pattern here. Yes, I prefer for my horror films to be smart. This story is intelligent in the way it analyzes its characters and subsequently resolves each plot thread.
Yes, not very impressive and basic story stuff, I know.
It seems impressive because -- sadly -- it's not common these days for horror films to actually have character development, which makes The Birds seem smart by comparison.
The most horrifying scene of the film is probably when Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) goes into the attic and is attacked to delirium by vicious birds. What's most appalling about the scene is that the director, Alfred Hitchcock, actually had real birds hurled at Hedren until she went insane.
I know they didn't have CGI back then, but this was still pretty much abuse and method acting to the extreme. Also, there was no real excuse. Even in those days, they had special effects. Something could have been done to avoid emotionally scarring a human being for life.
I can't even say if it was really worth it considering not many people talk about The Birds anymore. People are more likely to associate Psycho with Hitchcock.
Still, that doesn't take away from the fact that it was a great film and deserves to be watched in the merry month of October.
Night of the Living Dead
I was a pretty brave kid growing up. I wasn't afraid to sit on Santa's lap. I hugged the Easter Bunny. I loved Tim Burton films. I brought home insects and toads in my pockets. And I wished a monster would try hiding under my bed!
But there was one thing that scared the living crap outta me: zombies. God help me that zombies became some kind of craze in the recent years, right?
Zombies scared me because it made absolute sense to be afraid of them. They didn't have a weakness except to be blown apart by a shotgun, and I -- a seven-year-old kid -- did not have access to a shotgun.
Zombies were super strong. They could break through walls. They were already dead, so forget about "killing" them. And worst of all? They wanted to eat your frigging brains!
Yes, very smart to be afraid of them.
For this reason, I always steered clear of video games with zombies or zombie-like creatures (except Bethesda games, too much fun there), and I recall hiding behind the couch anytime Micheal Jackson's Thriller came on the tv.
You can imagine, then, how horrifying it was for me the first time I watch 1968's Night of the Living Dead. It was absolutely terrifying, but it was still a good story.
I wasn't so afraid that I stopped looking. In fact, I stayed glued to my seat to the very end. I especially loved the twist ending.
I'm a sucker for those.
For some odd reason, I was obsessed with 1988's Child's Play as a kid. Probably because it was the first horror film I ever saw. My mother sent me to bed, and feeling defiant, I snuck back into the living room and watched from behind the couch as Chucky killed a man.
After that, I was obsessed.
I've seen all the Child's Play films, and to be perfectly honest? Only the first two were actual horror films. After that point, the films drift off into another genre completely, and while they weren't exactly bad films, they just . . . weren't the same.
Like most endless horror movie franchises, the "Chucky" franchise had its ups and downs. In my personal opinion, the best films in the series were Child's Play, Child's Play 2, and The Bride of Chucky.
I consider Child's Play and Child's Play 2 to be cult classics. They had great stories and character development. They were funny, smart, and even charming. The voodoo subplot still made sense and animatronics hadn't yet taken over, so Chucky was still terrifying -- rather than an obvious robot.
The Bride of Chucky was the beginning of the shock value comedy in the series, but it was still entertaining enough that I didn't mind.
Also, who can get enough of Brad Dourif's insane cackling?
American Werewolf in Paris
Even though it's a comedy horror film (and a sequel at that), American Werewolf in Paris actually terrified me. Most likely because I saw it in theaters, with surround sound, in complete darkness.
The way the werewolves prowled through the dark and you never knew if they were coming to kill the protagonist was pretty scary. And the silly CGI werewolves actually didn't take away from that -- not something we can say concerning many of today's films.
Andy McDermott (Tom Everett Scott) is the main character and spends the film being haunted by the dead people he killed while under the influence of the moon. It has the potential to sound horrifying and grim, when really, it's just hilarious.
The only really terrifying thing about the film was the dark tunnel sequences where you didn't know which way the werewolf was coming from and you actually feared for the protagonist.
Aside from that, it wasn't really scary. It even had a happy ending in the form of a wedding! Still, the film made this list because it actually did scare me, and because it mostly stuck to the ground rules of what makes a horror film.
Be sure to watch it in the dark.
To be perfectly honest, I can hardly remember Insidious. It came out in 2010 (so eight years ago), and I remember watching it and Insidious 2. But I can barely remember the plot or any significant moments that frightened me. I mean, I probably only saw it once.
I'm adding Insidious to this list because I remember being impressed by it. It was the first horror film in a long time that was smart, and had character development, and plot, and didn't rely on silly jump-scares and shock value to get a reaction from the audience.
I must've really liked the film to have watched the sequel. I remember there was a third one that didn't impress me, which is probably why I didn't bother watching the films anymore.
I also recall being frustrated by Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson), who was probably the most useless protagonist I've ever seen in a horror film. The CGI and special effects were good, though. And the acting was decent.
Perhaps I'll look at this film again this Halloween. After all, there must've been something good about it if I remembered it for this list.
Not to go on a Patrick Wilson rant, but 2013's The Conjuring was also pretty good, and so was its sequel.
It was based on a true story (regarding the famous Warren couple), and it really felt that way as well. I would recommend it for anyone who loves realistic ghost stories and the whole "I see dead people" trip.
Like Insidious, this is a film I've only seen once and not for several years, so not much to say here. Maybe I'll watch it again and report back.
Considering that the "phone call" sub genre of horror scares the crap out of me, it makes sense that 2008's The Strangers would have given me goosebumps.
The story is basically about this unhappy couple. The woman turns down her boyfriend when he proposes marriage, and for some odd reason, they decide to spend the night in his old summer house in the middle of no where.
You'd think they'd want to -- I don' know -- actually be away from each other during such an awkward time in their relationship. But nope! They decide to stay at this house in Nowheresville.
What's worse, the boyfriend goes off and leaves the girlfriend alone in the dark, in the middle of nowhere. He leaves under the premise of running to the store, but he really just wants to get away from her.
Have neither of these people ever heard of a hotel?
As soon as he's gone -- you guessed it! -- some weird strangers in masks start screwing with the girlfriend. First, they do little things to let her know they have access to the house. They enter unseen and turn on record players, leaving creepy music to play a warning. They appear briefly on the doorstep. They call on the phone.
It's slowly revealed over the course of the film that there are not one, but three of these people. They don't want anything. They just want to terrorize, play, and prey upon unsuspecting suburbians.
The main characters do so many stupid things, it's hard to feel sorry for them while they're being trolled like this. By the end of the film, the audience probably doesn't pity them at all.
The cold callousness of the killers is what makes the movie horrifying. They have no motive. They just want to stab. The fact that they have no motive makes the situation (mostly) unavoidable for people who want to spend the night in a house in the middle of no where, and this is what makes it so scary.
The Entire Year 2016
Yeah. 2016 was a bad year for multiple reasons.
That's all the movies I can think of for now. If you're wondering why I didn't mention Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween or Friday the 13th, it's because I found those films predictable, silly, and anything but scary.
Don't take that personal. Just my opinion.
If I think of more movies to recommend, I'll be back. Until then, grab your popcorn and hook up Netflix.
Whacha waitin' for?
© 2018 Lee
Lee (author) from U. S. on March 28, 2019:
I agree. I think I meant to add Wolfman and just forgot. I remember seeing it and thinking it was amazing.
Major Walloughby from Texas on October 05, 2018:
I am curious why you would select Lon Chaney Jr.'s Wolfman as your avatar for this article, but not include that Universal Pictures' classic film in your list. When I first saw The Wolfman on TV in the early 60's, I watched it all pretty much from under the coffee table. It's tame by today's standards, but Chaney's transformation from amiable, tortured soul into the growling, snarling and stalking werewolf was terrifying to me. And at the time the movie was released in 1941, the transformation was considered so disturbing, the censors didn't allow the camera to show Chaney's face making the transition from man to werewolf, only his legs and feet. We later see Chaney's face making the opposite transformation back to man, however. Later installments of Universal's classic monster films that included Chaney's Wolfman did finally exhibit the full transformation. I enjoyed your article, but think your list would be more complete with The Wolfman in it.