Every Halloween comes with one essential question: “What horror movie are we watching tonight?” Horror is a vast and ever-expanding genre filled with more sub-divisions than one can count, so answering this question is quite the task. Here are some movies from across the decades that might quell the spooky itch that Halloween brings.
“Invasion of The Body Snatchers” (1956)
Maybe it’s cheesy for a modern audience, but “Invasion of The Body Snatchers” is such a fascinating portrait of 1950s social paranoia that it secured a spot on this list. One of the many sci-fi horror films of the decade, the story follows an extraterrestrial invasion of alien plant spores that create identical copies of already-existing humans. The film is steeped in the post-war Red Scare McCarthyism that found its way into every nook and cranny of the time’s pop cultural landscape.
Looking back, this film can be seen as a quirky yet very fascinating precursor to the horror motifs streamlined in later decades. While not scary by today’s standards, its well-formed noir aesthetic evokes an eerie atmosphere that much of modern horror has lost in the search for jump scares and gore. For a slightly less dated version of this story, its 1978 remake cemented itself as a classic in its own right.
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974)
If there’s a type of horror film that embodies the Halloween spirit, it would have to be the slasher sub-genre — and the 1970s and ’80s saw the slasher at its peak. This spot could have easily gone to “Friday the 13th,” “Nightmare on Elm Street” or “Halloween,” but none of those can quite match the pure terror and cinematic excellence that comes in Tobe Hooper’s twisted nightmare film “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
It’s a simple premise: Five friends on the way to visit the grave of one of their grandfathers stumble upon a deserted house that harbors a terrifying secret. What the film lacks in complex plot it makes up for with the atmosphere it produces. The film is full of muted colors and off-kilter angles that come together to create a dream-like aura throughout its marvelously brief runtime. But this of course is no cheerful dream — it’s an unrelenting nightmare. Most slashers feel the need to make their main killer some kind of ambiguously supernatural figure, but this movie’s mask-wearing, chainsaw-wielding antagonist is nothing of that sort. He’s just some guy that’s out for blood and you’ll never really know why — which makes it all the more horrific.
While this list is not meant to serve as a definitive ranking, “Audition” might just be the best movie here. An early work from Takashi Miike, Japan’s master of violence and gore, “Audition” is a twisted and disturbing tale of mysterious love that slowly becomes an unsettling body-horror film with one of the most shocking finales in cinematic history. With less obvious horror than some of the other films on this list, “Audition” still shines by making all of its moments of terror as impactful and resonant as possible.
The film follows a widower whose friend, in order to find him a new love, stages a fake audition in which women come to read for a role as the man’s wife. The woman chosen for the role winds up being something more sinister than the loveable persona she gives in her reading. The story is a slow downward spiral that leads to sadomasochistic perversion, but a haunting beauty lurks beneath it all. While an undeniable masterpiece, “Audition” is not for the faint of heart.
“28 Days Later” (2002)
This list would be incomplete without including a movie from the zombie sub-genre. “28 Days Later” is the perfect film to fill that gap. From “Night of The Living Dead” in 1968 to “Train to Busan” in 2016, the zombie film has had many marvelous incarnations over time, but none are as impactful as “28 Days Later.”
From its opening scene showing the completely abandoned streets of a once-bustling London, the movie fills the audience with a sense of horrific wonder and existential dread. While watching a worldwide virus spread rapidly with an ineffective governmental response might not be the most welcome nowadays, “28 Days Later” does the trope so well that it can be forgiven. The film’s unrelenting nihilism is complimented by occasional glimpses at a more hopeful future, which holds the viewer until an ending that asks more questions than it answers and yet somehow still feels satisfying.
As much a complex family drama as a bone-chilling thrill ride, “Hereditary” is the defining film of the current independent horror renaissance we find ourselves in. Other candidates in this category include Jordan Peele’s two genre-redefining works, “Get Out” and “Us,” or the recent “Barbarian.” But only “Hereditary” can capture the pure existential terror that makes a truly great horror film linger in your mind well after watching.
“Hereditary” is a story of inherited family trauma in the most literal sense. It’s a film whose course you can never predict. Once it starts to feel like you can, the plot does a 180 degree turn and completely changes everything. With a third act that will have you gripping your seat in equal parts fear and fascination, “Hereditary” is one movie that you can’t shake off once finished — it sits with you for a long time, with the terror only multiplying on the rewatch.
Finn Kirkpatrick is a senior staff writer in the arts & culture section. He is a sophomore from Los Angeles, California intending to study Comparative Literature who likes to review movies and other things of that sort.