Tales of Terror: Top Ten List

I became a horror movie fan at a very young age. That explains a lot. Here is a list of my top ten favorite thrillers just in time for Halloween. You can probably find them on most streaming services, or maybe even in your own DVD collection. Are DVD’s still a thing? 

Night of the Living Dead (1968); Director: George A. Romero
A ragtag group of Pennsylvanians barricade themselves in an old farmhouse to remain safe from bloodthirsty, flesh-eating zombies who are ravaging the East Coast. The first time I watched this film, I had to turn it off after the first five minutes. I wasn’t able to watch it again for many years – and even then, only during daylight hours. The black-and-white cinematography adds gritty realism to the explicit gore. The casting of African-American actor Duane Jones in the heroic lead role was a bold choice given the political climate of late 1960’s.

The Exorcist (1973); Director: William Friedkin
When a 12-year-old girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her. It’s even more scary when you find out this was based on a true story. I got to skip school to see this movie in Boston with my older brothers. I zipped up the hood of my winter snorkel coat throughout much of the film while I waited for certain scenes to end.

Don’t Look Now (1973); Director: Nicolas Roeg
This movie is based on a story by Daphne Du Maurier, author of the classic “Rebecca”. In this tale, a married couple grieving the recent death of their young daughter are in Venice when they encounter an elderly psychic woman who brings them a warning from beyond. Donald Sutherland is at the height of his career with his portrayal of a grieving father. You may want to postpone that trip to the catacombs when you find out what lurks in those dark tunnels.

Carrie: (1976); Director: Brian De Palma
Actress Sissy Spacek is Carrie White, a shy, friendless teenage girl who is sheltered by her domineering, religious mother. Carrie unleashes untapped telekinetic powers after being humiliated by her classmates at her senior prom. But no matter what horrible power lurks inside Carrie, it’s her twisted mother who is the real monster in this film. Still one of the best Stephen King film adaptations to date.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978); Director: Nicholas Roeg
When strange seeds drift to earth from space, mysterious pods begin to grow and invade California, where they replicate and replace residents, turning them into emotionless automatons one body at a time. Then again, this was the 1970’s. If it happened today, how could anyone tell? As a cautionary tale, the story works on many levels. The ending will haunt you long after the movie is over. Donald Sutherland stars in this film as well. I’m beginning to see a pattern here.

Alien (1979); Director: Ridley Scott
After a merchant vessel in space receives an unknown transmission as a distress call, one of the crew members is attacked by a mysterious life form. The remaining crew members soon realize the strange creature’s life cycle has merely begun. Essentially, this film is a haunted house movie set in outer space. Sigourney Weaver’s take-charge character Ripley was ahead of her time as the film’s heroine. Artist H.R. Giger’s design of the alien creature has never been surpassed. The director added a subliminal human heartbeat in the background of the film’s soundtrack. He sped up the beats to heighten the audience’s suspense. He didn’t have to. The film is intense enough on it’s own. 

The Blair Witch Project (1999); Director: Daniel Myrick
Three film students vanish after traveling into a Maryland forest to film a documentary about the local Blair Witch legend, leaving only their recorded footage behind. This film was promoted as being pieced together from the material found on the recovered videocamera of the lost film crew. Initial audiences believed what they were seeing was real. The hoax worked and moviegoers were terrified as the “found footage” genre blurred the lines between fantasy and reality. 

Sinister (2012); Director: Scott Derrickson
Washed-up true crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) finds a box of outdated Super 8 home movies in his new home that suggest the murder that he is currently researching is the work of a serial killer whose work dates back to the 1960’s. The most terrifying part of this film is viewing the “home movies” as the writer uncovers the underlying horrors contained within the film reels. Deeply disturbing. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Witch (2015); Director: Robert Eggers
A Puritan family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic, and possession. Actress Anya Taylor-Joy, as the innocent Thomasin, gives a fantastic portrayal of a young girl whose family is torn apart by suspicion and superstition. The local Massachusetts scenery perfectly captures the historical vibe. Once you meet the goat named Black Phillip, you’ll never look at Plimouth Plantation (or petting zoos) the same way again.

Midsommar (2019); Director: Ari Aster
A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown’s historical mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly escalates into a violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult. This film totally transported me to another place, much like the mushroom tea offered to the festival’s visitors. Even though the majority of the film takes place in the sunny daylight of the Swedish countryside, the pastoral scenery can’t mask the horror that unfolds before your eyes. You probably won’t be able to keep them open all the way through anyway. By the time the new May Queen is crowned, you’ll be heading for the hills wishing you watched The Sound of Music instead.

Autumn is the perfect time of year to turn the lights off, light a candle, make some popcorn, and let a scary movie take you away to another world for a couple of hours. Remember: It’s only a movie. No matter how terrifying it seems, it can’t compare with what’s happening in the real world right now.
Have a safe and happy Halloween!

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