What makes a scary movie? A sense of suspense, a lack of control, that unique movie making power to convince the viewer that somehow the dream world of images on the screen is as believable as the world outside of it. When scary movies are good, they are perhaps the purest kind of filmmaking, riding on a sense that the image of a thing calls it into being, that the threat to the imagination is real.
The first time I saw Psycho was one of the most frightening movie experiences of my life. I first watched the Nightmare on Elm Street movies as an 8-year-old in a pitch-black basement while my parents and my neighbor’s parents chatted late into the night, not knowing the paralyzing fear we were unleashing via the Pandora-like television box. And there are plenty of ghostly freak-outs, in films like Rosemary’s Baby or Séance on a Wet Afternoon, that have conjured such indelible images I don’t believe I will ever be able to wash them from my mind.
But in choosing my five favorite Halloween movies, I tried to think of films that possessed these viseral qualities, while also excelling in both concept and craft. These are great films, regardless of genre, and every time you turn one on, they never fail to drag you back in over your head. I also tried to touch on a few different styles: one slasher flick, one gory freak out, etc. And so, here are my five favorite Halloween movies:
HALLOWEEN (1978) dir. John Carpenter
RINGU (1998) dir. Hideo Nakata
SUSPIRIA (1977) dir. Dario Argento (Full movie)
CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) dir. Herk Harvey (Full movie)
THE EXORCIST (1973) dir William Friedkin