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Our critic names 10 horror films to watch this Halloween

The "Psycho" house from Alfred Hitchcock's movie.
The “Psycho” house from Alfred Hitchcock’s movie.
(Universal)

Favorite movies, in any genre, are rarely etched in stone. In coming up with a list of all-time horror greats, I have shamefully omitted any number of acknowledged classics — “Halloween,” “Carrie,” “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” for starters. The goal is not to be completist, but honest: These are the 10 movies that have terrified me most over the years, and continue to terrify me still. In alphabetical order:

“Alien.” It may be a sign of how much blockbuster standards have eroded that critics once panned Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi/horror landmark as the epitome of soulless, mechanical junk. Today it plays like an art film — astonishingly quiet, daringly slow, a work of unnerving elegance that (with apologies to John Hurt) takes its sweet time slithering its way into your chest.

“Audition.” “Words create lies. Pain can be trusted.” So ends this mind-bending masterwork from the prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike, which begins as a deceptively sedate family drama, plunges down a rabbit hole of hallucinatory mayhem, and winds up sticking needles in an entire culture of toxic masculinity.

“The Brood.” I still check the top of the fridge when I go into the kitchen sometimes.

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“Dawn of the Dead.” “Night of the Living Dead” may be the more seminal achievement, but the second film in George Romero’s incomparable zombie cycle has always been my personal favorite — scary, shrewd, exhilarating; in every respect a full meal.

Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) and Holly (Nora–Jane Noone, background) in "The Descent."
Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) and Holly (Nora–Jane Noone, background) in “The Descent.”
(Lionsgate )

“The Descent.” Five women enter a cave crawling with horrors both real and imagined (but mostly very, very real) in this squirmingly visceral freakout from the British filmmaker Neil Marshall — a tour de force of light, shadow and sound design, in which the mere scrape of skin against rock can twist your stomach into knots.

“The Exorcist.” It’s topped countless lists of the greatest horror movies ever made, but William Friedkin’s 1973 supernatural shocker has always struck me as one of the greatest of all religious films — a movie in which unbelief and spiritual despair are enemies as dangerous as the devil himself.

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“I Saw the Devil.” You’ve never seen a revenge thriller quite like this supremely savage entertainment from the South Korean director Kim Jee-woon, which pushes past mere sadism into frightening new depths of human depravity. Grisly, relentless, almost unwatchably great.

“Psycho.” Alfred Hitchcock’s terrifying 1960 landmark forever upended the audience’s narrative expectations, changed theatrical exhibition models and probably led to reduced water bills nationwide. Accept no substitutes.

“Repulsion.” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Tenant” might have been conceivable alternates for my Roman Polanski slot, but for sheer sustained virtuosity, this Freudian free fall into one woman’s psychosexual madness is awfully hard to beat. (True story: My home wifi password is “repulsion.”)

“The Watcher in the Woods.” Blindfolds, broken mirrors, Bette Davis — if you think a PG-rated ’80s Disney movie can’t make your blood run cold, think again.

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justin.chang@latimes.com

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