Scary Movies: 11 Classic Films to Watch on Halloween

With Halloween on the horizon, I thought it might be a good time to revisit a number of classic flicks that would be appropriate to view on the holiday. All of these movies rely on atmosphere to underscore their frissons, providing sufficient creepiness for the occasion. Some of them are more well known than others, but they all, in my opinion, would be good choices for All Hallows’ Eve. So without further ado, here is my list.

Nosferatu (1922)

Eschew the 1979 Werner Herzog version of this evocative vampire tale for the original silent directed by F.W. Murnau and starring Max Schreck as the titular bloodsucker. Evocative camerawork and Schreck’s skeletal appearance make this film still ghoulish in this day and age. You won’t be sorry you saw it.

The Uninvited (1944)

Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey star in this eerie Hollywood ghost story directed by Lewis Allen. This is a slick production with strong special effects that still hold up well today, as well as a fine script. And, of course, Milland and Co. are reliably good as house hunters encountering a spirit they must try to understand. Nicely done.

Dead of Night (1945)

I adore this picture, a seminal collection of supernatural stories helmed by different directors and framed by an overall tale of a man experiencing déjà vu all over again as he visits a local house. The finest tale is the one starring Michael Redgrave as a doomed ventriloquist, one of the best – and scariest – iterations of the haunted-dummy theme. A must-watch movie.

The Thing from Another World (1951)

OK, this is more of a science-fiction flick than a supernatural tale. But it’s scary nonetheless. Filled with believable overlapping dialogue, this story of an expedition plagued by an extraterrestrial remains fresh and exciting, just as it did more than 60 years ago. John Carpenter’s 1982 remake is frightening, too, but this is the original and, in my opinion, should be seen first.

Curse of the Demon (1957)

Trust Jacques Tourneur to make a scary-as-hell movie about an occultist who summons a nasty demon to take care of people he doesn’t like. Sound, smoke and atmosphere combine to strike delicious fear in the hearts of viewers, and though the monster may not compare to the digitised frights of today, the requisite jolts are provided. This is an underrated gem that’s rarely seen on the small screen, for some reason.

13 Ghosts (1960)

Surprisingly effective, this William Castle spectacular may not be the most sophisticated ghost story out there, but the chills and thrills it offers are distinctly pleasurable. Castle’s tongue-in-cheek sensibility works well in this context, and you’ve got Wicked Witch of the West actress Margaret Hamilton, too, so what could be bad?

The Innocents (1961)

Don’t watch this movie with the lights off. Or, rather, do, and see how creepy things can get. Based on Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw, The Innocents is an underrated film that showcases terrific acting by Deborah Kerr as a governess assigned to a couple of disturbed children. There’s hardly any violence in this film, but atmosphere is plentiful, as is the great cinematography by Freddie Francis.

The Haunting (1963)

Sound and fury, signifying a lot. Robert Wise’s frightening haunted-house flick relies not on things jumping out at you, but a combination of eerie noises and creative camerawork to provide the jumps you need. Don’t watch the lame 1999 remake. The celebrated 1963 version is the one to see.

The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Scares in color? You got it. Roddy McDowall shines in this picture, which takes the familiar haunted-house story and gives it a sexually charged tinge. Fine cinematography and performances spark this picture, as does the disturbing ending.

Suspiria (1977)

The most violent of all of my selections, Dario Argento’s fear fest about a witch-filled ballet school features some of the wildest colors put on celluloid, as well as a brilliantly creepy, pulsating score. If you can get through the bloody frissons, it’s a rewarding experience … and like no other movie I can think of.

Halloween (1978)

It’s easy to forget that John Carpenter’s original iteration of this classic slasher tale was superbly done, with fabulous editing and cinematography, as well as a driving soundtrack. There have been plenty of sequels and remakes, but none compares to the 1978 version. A seminal horror film.

Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and has interviewed innumerable people—including two Auschwitz survivors whose story may be heard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website: http://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn189827. He also blogs about anti-Semitism for the Times of Israel. His views and opinions are his own.

15 thoughts on “Scary Movies: 11 Classic Films to Watch on Halloween

  1. This isn’t a great list. There are some good movies in here, but mostly it just seems like someone randomly picked them from a hat. Neither The Uninvited nor Dead of Night is not worth anyone’s time, but The Innocents certainly is. Suspiria and Halloween are great, but more contemporary than classic

  2. Good choices Simon. I think Carpenter’s The Thing is one of those rare instances where a remake improves on a pretty solid original. It’s one of my favorites. I’d also throw in The Seventh Victim, which I think is Val Lewton’s best horror, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, and The Stepfather, as somewhat off-the-beaten-path classics.

    • Thanks, Jon! I did like Carpenter’s version of The Thing, though I’ll respectfully differ with you on my preference. And those are some good choices as well. I dunno … should I have mentioned the original “Cat People,” too? Hmm…

    • I just rewatched “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death” after not seeing it for about a hundred years. It’s still really good! And “The Stepfather” made me a Terry O’Quinn fan forever. And I’m with you on “The Thing”, though if you start throwing even more Carpenter into the list…where do you stop? His movies are worth it for the creepy soundtrack alone.

  3. Nice list. I just watched “13 Ghosts”, after watching the 2001 remake and realizing after the fact that it was a remake. “The Innocents” always freaks me out. And it doesn’t get crazier than “Suspiria”. A friend of mine has a punk band, and when they play live they often project “Suspiria” over the band. It makes for an insane audio-visual feast.

    • Thanks! I agree about The Innocents … it’s such a chiller! Very well done. So is Suspiria, though on a different level. Sounds like a good idea to project it over a punk band … the frissons must be extreme!

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