Born on October 29th, I consider myself a Halloween baby. I’m not sure if it’s because of my inherent love for that time of year or because I’m naturally weird and love being terrified, but horror has always been my favorite film genre. I love being startled, thrilled and creeped out. I regularly have dreams about stalkers and ghosts, haunted scenery and zombie apocalypses (including a recent one involving Zach Galifianakis and I running away together). You’d think I would have stopped being afraid of scary movies by now, but no: I still sleep with a nightlight — well, technically they’re Christmas lights — and I am still afraid to take out my dog after dark.
Nevertheless, for those of you already starting to get excited for this season, here are some of the most frightening horror films I’ve seen. Keep in mind: some of these are actually really intensely frightening films whereas others are more on the suspenseful, eerie side of the spectrum. I’ll be sure to give fair warning on anything I think viewers might find too intense! Some of these are not necessarily scary so much as suspenseful or disturbing, but they’re all an excellent excuse to grab some snacks, grab a significant other or group of friends and turn out the lights.
1. Eyes Without A Face (Les yeux sans visage)
What it is: I figured I would kick off this list with a classically frightening film: Eyes Without A Face. It’s a 1960 French film directed by Georges Franju. It stars Edith Scob as Christiane, a woman whose face has been extremely disfigured by a car accident so she wears a mask in all of her waking hours. Her father, however, is a doctor determined to find a suitable face match on other women in order to transplant their faces onto Christiane’s.
How you should watch it: This one is very saddening and suspensful, but it’s not so scary that you won’t feel okay without other people there. Try watching it on a night when you’re bored and in the mood to watch something alone with merely popcorn at your side. This film is eerie and full of despair rather than fear, so if you enjoy Hitchcock-type films, you might love this one.
2. Cigarette Burns
What it is: This film is my personal favorite on this list, I think. It’s part of the Masters of Horror anthology series created by Mick Garris for Showtime. The concept for Masters of Horror was to have several renowned horror directors (i.e. the “masters”) create one hour films in which a terrifying story was told. This particular film was directed by John Carpenter, best known for the Halloween series as well as The Thing and Christine. It also stars Norman Reedus, one half — the more attractive half, in my opinion — of the Irish duo of brothers from Boondock Saints.
Cigarette Burns is about a mysterious film that causes anyone who views it to react in a profoundly violent manner. Think The Ring, but less supernatural and more group-oriented. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted as it includes quite a bit of violence as well as the deepening madness of all characters involved. If you’re squeamish, it’s probably best to proceed with caution. That said, I have shown this film to many people I know who hate horror typically and they have all enjoyed it (even if they had to hide behind their hands and just peek at the movie sometimes).
How you should watch it: Definitely see this film on as large a screen as possible, a projector if you have one. It’s a great one for Halloween parties (even to play in the background, if that tickles your fancy).
3. Ichi the Killer
What it is: Takashi Miike is easily my favorite horror director; in addition to this movie which I love, he also directed both Audition and Imprint (another Masters of Horror like #2). They’re all extremely intense, particularly when you find out one of the main characters in Audition was a method actor, and they leave a lasting impression (or imprint, hyuck hyuck).
In Ichi the Killer, based on Hideo Yamamoto’s manga series of the same name, a yakuza crime boss is apparently murdered and his enforcer Kakihara, pictured above, investigates the crime. The story tracks Kakihara as well as Ichi, an obliviously homicidal young man who’s normally an absolute coward. It’s a very, very strange film.
How you should watch it: Have a couple drinks, some snacks to eat and a hand to hold onto, all to distract from some of the more unpleasant/cringe-worthy sights. I’ve seen this in groups larger than eight people, primarily (I even convinced my horror class to watch it the last day), which has worked well because there are a lot of bizarre parts where everyone around you will look at what another and say, “WTF?” simultaneously.
This is definitely another film you should absolutely not watch unless you’re all right with a whole lot of graphic stuff. About half my horror class, whom all signed up for a class on horror, left during the screening because they thought it was too graphic. I’m not into gore porn like the majority of the Saw franchise, which has very little plot and mostly just finds ways to make you sick, so hopefully you don’t get the impression that that’s what this is; in fact, Ichi the Killer has great writing, amazing cinematography, ridiculous effects and some of the best costume design I’ve ever seen. Got a strong stomach and a penchant for the ridiculous? Definitely give it a go.
4. 28 Days Later
What it is: In this newer classic from 2002, Cillian Murphy’s character Jim awakens in a hospital to find that all of London is crumbling due to an outbreak of the “Rage Virus” that causes all its infected to turn into flesh-eating zombielike creatures. Plus, the infected are crazy fast, so that makes this situation even more terrifying than most zombie flicks with their groaning, slow-moving monsters. As he navigates through his country to find a safer place, he encounters other non-infected people whom he bands together with, though their group winds up encountering even more troubles.
How you should watch it: This is a great movie to watch with a date. There are always tons of screenings around Halloween for zombiefests that include this in their line-up. Plus, if you love it, there’s always 28 Weeks Later to put on…
5. The Poughkeepsie Tapes
What it is: Mockumentaries can be sort of corny; they often have low budgets, awkward acting and, in horror’s case, aren’t very scary. The Poughkeepsie Tapes, despite having some goofy lines added in for drama, is not corny. It is in the format of a program meant to educate people about the FBI’s discovery of a huge stash of tapes belonging to a serial killer in Poughkeepsie, NY. Not only do you hear about all the crimes committed by this individual, there are also snippets of these videos he filmed of himself stalking and attacking several people in an incredibly creepy way. The film follows the FBI’s profilers as they search for the killer and try to understand his methodology.
As I said, I am a huge fan of being terrified, but this film definitely frightened me more than any other on this list. One of my worst fears is masks, which this film has a lot of, so I spent quite a few nights checking under the bed and in my closets after this one. In my opinion, this is the most disturbing of these seven films but if you’re a big horror fan, it’s a must-see.
How you should watch it: The first time I saw this, I watched it with a large group of friends using a projector. The second and third time, I saw it with a significant other or close friend. If you think you might be afraid of things that go bump in the night, see with this other people who are equally interested in horror — chances are, anybody who doesn’t really enjoy the genre will ask you to turn it off.
6. Red State
What it is: I was definitely not planning on listing this, but given the generally intense political climate and the frequent discussions of religion, religious extremists, etc. in the media, I figured I would just put it out there.
Red State is strange: without spoiling too much, I can say that it shifts topics quite a bit and you see a lot of different viewpoints. The general plot, however, is that three teenage boys attempt to find sex through the Internet. Instead, they stumble onto a church full of very un-Christian Christians who believe in extreme punishments for those they deem “wicked.”
How you should watch it: I saw this last year with an ex at Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema. We were lucky in that we saw Kevin Smith talk about the film afterward, discussing the politics of it and answering questions regarding his intent, his experiences with the Westboro Baptist Church and why he shot and released the film the way he did. I haven’t seen it since, but I would strongly recommend that if you decide to watch this, either see it with people who would be willing to discuss it afterward since it’ll definitely offer some exploration into political topics or, if you definitely don’t want to discuss politics, be sure to see it with others who will feel the same way. I witnessed a lot of people arguing angrily with one another or insisting on each other’s views toward irritated listeners after the movie, so try and find a viewing partner who shares a similar debate style as you.
7. Man Bites Dog
What it is: Do you love the ridiculousness of reality television and the scariness of horror? Then this is perfect for you! It’s a 1992 dark comedy from Belgian that revolves around a witty aspiring serial killer named Ben. He’s being followed by a film crew who are documenting his crimes, during which he occasionally jokes and makes bizarre observations. You know how in Jersey Shore, the cast frequently talks to the cameras privately in “confessionals”? Ben similarly discusses his crimes, as well as other topics like classical music, his girlfriend and the world. It’s a strange dark comedy/horror about a profoundly sadistic individual whom the film crew is trying to understand a little too much.
8. Let The Right One In
What it is: This horror features two incredible child actors (Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson) playing intensely mature roles for their ages. Set in 1980s Sweden, this film explores an unexpected friendship between a normal child experiencing bullying and a… less normal child. If you haven’t seen it, I don’t want to ruin the plot; just trust me, it’s amazing and absolutely beautiful at the same time as it’s terribly sad and disturbing.
How you should watch it: I loved watching this alone because I mostly ended up crying and, considering the plot, most people don’t end up crying. I watched it on my own at home with all the lights out and a considerable amount of food to keep the suspense butterflies at bay (yes, I anxiety-eat). If you don’t like subtitles, you can try the American version (entitled Let Me In), but I’ve never seen it so I can’t vouch for its loyalty to the original film nor the book.
What it is: Directed by several different people, it’s a collection of stories as seen on VHS tapes by a group of unpleasant twenty-somethings who break into a house. Five shorts are shown, each with a different (but equally scary) story. In one, a different group of guys attempts to woo some girls at a bar with some seriously unexpected results. In another, a group of friends show up to a party in Los Angeles at a seemingly empty house before realizing that they’re not alone. I’m sure these sound like the same old stories from most scary movies, but believe me, the found footage style as well as the overall mood makes this a very freaky film.
On a random note, while we watched one of these shorts, my ex and I suddenly recognized a voice, then a face and realized it was a guy we went to college with whom I had done makeup for a few years back. So that made things a little less terrifying, but it was still a stressful watch.
Anyway, in case you couldn’t tell already, I have a pretty huge fear of masks, and I saved this one for last because it’s the most recent one I’ve seen. This particular film is definitely not one I would recommend to those who are easily afraid or disgusted. It is considerably more suspenseful and frightening than most of the others on this list, but since I’m sure there are lots of other horror-lovers like me out there, I figured I’d add it.
How you should watch it: See this with friends or a trusted loved one whom you know won’t scare the jellybeans out of you after you watch it. Plus, it’s being released in theaters all throughout October, so check to see when it will be coming to a theater near you. In a theater, it’ll be more intense, but in a dark house late at night, you’ll definitely receive the maximum effect.
- The Strangers because, again, my fear of masks. However, I couldn’t include it because Dennis from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is in it and so is Gemma Ward; suddenly it’s not scary.
- The Blair Witch Project because camping was NEVER THE SAME AGAIN.
- Scream because it’s probably one of the most quotable movies next to…
- Silence of the Lambs. Slurp slurp.
Lovelies, do you love any of these movies, too? Do you have any recommendations?
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