I've never really associated scary movies with Halloween, probably for the same reasons I don't associate love stories with Valentine's Day. I know a cash cow holiday when I see one, and every day can be frightening. But Halloween can't be all bad if it gives me a chance to wax scary on ten of my favorite scary movies. Herewith, a collection of classic chillers, some canonized, some more obscure, that still make my blood crawl.
Angel Heart (1987, directed by Alan Parker)
Cheesy at times, this existential detective story about a P.I. (Mickey Rourke in one of his best performances) hired by a dark stranger (Robert De Niro) cooks up a mean New Orleans gumbo of black magic, featuring a missing crooner with a massive debt to pay and a chit holder with friends in very low places. It's a potent blend of sound and image that has stayed with me since my first viewing.
Carrie (1976, directed by Brian De Palma)
Accompany me, if you will, to the prom, and to a time when De Palma wasn't merely imitating his own greatest hits (the remake of this one, directed by Kimberly Peirce, just came out). It's still a killer movie about what happens when you bully the wrong girl. Pig blood not included with purchase.
Dead of Night (1945, directed by Alberto Cavalcanti,Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer)
I saw this horror omnibus about bad dreams, angry ghosts and one scary ventriloquist's dummy when I was a kid, and it scarred my impressionable mind for good. The frame story, about a man who visits a house he swears he's visited before, draws you in to a killer set of spooky tales that manage to include a dollop of dry Ealing Studios British humor. But there's nothing funny about Redgrave's dummy sequence, without which there'd be no Magic.
The Exorcist (1973, directed by William Friedkin)
You know what's scary? Satanic possession. Know what's really scary? A Satanic possession movie that plays like a documentary. That's what gives The Exorcist its kick: Friedkin films the whole thing, spinning head and all, in a style that suggests this could happen to you next week. Pity for that new rug you just bought. The new 40th anniversary Blu-ray set features an interview with Father Eugene Gallagher, who told author William Peter Blatty the true story that inspired the novel.
Eyes Without a Face (1960, directed by Georges Franju)
Remember Face/Off, the Nicolas Cage/John Travolta mug-swapping yarn? This came way before, and it's far more sinister. An obsessive surgeon (Pierre Brasseur) is determined to fix up his beloved daughter, terribly disfigured in an accident. Like, really determined. Graceful, oddly funny and altogether haunting.
Kwaidan (1964, directed by Masaki Kobayashi)
Another one from the international archive. Kobayashi's quartet of ghost stories is marked by bold use of color and the kind of stern morality check you find in classic fables. You'll never look at a woman's long, black hair in quite the same way.
Night of the Living Dead (1968, directed by George Romero)
Is this the half-eaten face that launched a thousand zombie yarns? You bet. Like The Exorcist, Romero's first of many undead ventures terrifies by convincing you it's real. Grainy, black and white glory, set within an explicit civil rights era context.
Rosemary's Baby (1968, directed by Roman Polanski)
This fiendishly funny story of a young wife (Mia Farrow) impregnated by Satan remains Roman Polanski's best exploration of evil's banality. Poor Rosemary. All she wants is a safe life with her husband (John Cassavetes) and newborn. But then she has to deal with the kindly old devil worshipers next door, who engineer an elaborate conspiracy to make impending motherhood a living hell. Remember: he has his father's eyes.
Psycho (1960, directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
Without the shocks of Psycho there simply is no modern horror movie. Hitchcock wanted to show the B-movie chop-shoppers that he could make a similar but superior product on his own terms. Pretty safe to say he succeeded.
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Remember, I said scary movies, not horror movies. And if this documentary about what you're signing off on after not reading all that fine print on the Web isn't scary, I don't know what is.