Halloween is creeping up and while Indians don’t really celebrate it as enthusiastically as those in the West, we decided to put together a list of classic horror movies that would work well for a spine-tingling marathon session of blood, guts and ghouls, for the freaky weekend. Interestingly, as we researched these movies, we found a lot of them are based on books which we have also linked up in each entry – that is if you get pleasure from reading as much as you love watching.
‘Classic’ is obviously a strong word to use and out of fear that movie buffs might not agree with some of the titles on here, we will say we did maintain one criteria consistently – the ten movies listed are over a decade old. More than anything else, we’ve also looked at the influence these movies have had on the genre and can safely say all of them have played a significant role as much as they have scared the jeepers out of us. Serial killers, demon-children, man-eating sharks, diabolical witches and hunky vampires (thankfully, Twilight is not a classic just yet!) are the central characters of the movies on here, brought to you by the very best directors in film history; Polanksi, De Palma, Spielberg and Kubrick to name just a few.
If that’s not enough, Flipkart are offering a featured deal with a limited time only 20% discount on the ten movie titles in this list (a Halloween sale, if you will)… Trick or treat!
Based on the book of the same name by Ira Levin, Rosemary’s Baby was released only a year after the book was published. Directed by Hollywood’s exiled maestro, Roman Polanski, the movie stars a young and beautiful Mia Farrow in the lead role of Rosemary, with Ruth Gordon in a creepy supporting role which saw her win an Oscar.
The movie is set in Manhattan and tells the story of Rosemary Woodhouse, a young housewife married to a struggling actor. The couple move into a Gothic apartment and there is something peculiar about their over-friendly borderline invasive neighbors. What plays out for the rest of movie, is a frightening turn of events for Rosemary, as she finds out all those who are around her are not who they seem to be, including her husband. When she becomes pregnant and develops cravings for raw meat among other odd symptoms, it becomes clear something is terribly wrong. Farrow’s physical transformation in this is especially horrifying as she soon resembles a malnourished child in a third world country (even though she’s pregnant?).
Rosemary’s Baby is heavily influenced by Satanism and it’s tragically ironic that only a year after the movie was released Polanksi’s pregnant wife Sharon Tate was murdered by Charles Manson’s devil worshiping cult at the couple’s house. It certainly adds a sinister dimension when you are viewing this movie. This is Polanski at his best and when you have critic Roger Ebert stating; “Polanski has taken a most difficult situation and made it believable, right up to the end. In this sense, he even outdoes Hitchcock“, you know this is a masterpiece, with powerful performances by all actors.
A true classic by a pioneer in the horror movie genre; many consider Psycho to be Alfred Hitchcock’s ultimate masterpiece. The movie is inspired by the 1959 novel of the same name by Robert Bloch, which is based on a real-life serial killer who had a knack for collecting and wearing his victim’s body parts and at the same time was obsessed with his deceased mother.
The movie is one of the first to depict a schizophrenic serial killer and is a timeless and chilling study of people who suffer from multiple personality disorder. Besides the disturbing psychological themes of Psycho, Hitchcock’s second-to-none filming technique and eerie use of sound makes this movie a tour-de-force in suspense horror. Deranged motel owner Norman Bates played by Anthony Perkins, is now a cult-figure in the horror genre and the famous ‘shower scene’ is considered classic for its use of sound, the shrilling scream and the unique first person perspective camera use. Psycho has been considered a blue print for contemporary slasher movies for decades. There have been sequels and remakes of this, but nothing, absolutely nothing compares to the original.
Based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist is constantly scary because the book itself was based on true events. Dealing with demonic possession and subsequent exorcism, the movie follows a single mother Chris MacNeil, played by Ellen Burstyn, who soon discovers her 12 year old daughter, Reegan, is behaving drastically aggressive, violent and profane. With no scientific and psychological explanations from doctors and her daughter’s condition worsening rapidly, Chris turns to a priest for help. Soon enough, it becomes obvious that a supernatural force has a hand in Reegan’s condition as she begins to levitate, develop telekinetic powers and at the same time becomes overtly blasphemous and increasingly violent.
The movie was nominated for ten Oscars and went on to win for Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay. Both Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair, who plays the possessed Reegan, were nominated for Best Actress and Supporting Actress respectively. To add to the movie’s freaky nature, it’s been rumored that it was cursed – with an actor dying of the flu during filming, the set for the house in which the MacNeil family lives burned down (except for Reegan’s room) and the two lead actresses were hurt badly during the scenes in which Reegan behaves vicious and maniacal. All said and done, the image of a scarred and green Reegan at the peak of her possession, screaming and abusing in the devil’s voice will most probably be an image that will stick with you for a long long time.
A horror movie list is not complete without a shout out to the master himself, Stephen King. Directed by Brian De Palma and based on King’s book of the same name – Carrie at the start can be perceived as an angst ridden teen flick, in which the title character is shown to go through all the nonsense we tend to associate with high school; teasing, bulling, meaningless infantile politics. To add to her problems, Carrie’s mother is a staunch born-again Christian who habitually punishes her for the most absurd reasons. As the movie progresses, you soon realize that Carrie is special and quite clearly has telekinetic powers, spurred when she’s feeling deep seeded frustration.
By the time the epic prom scene takes place at the beginning of the end, things get extremely messy/bloody for all the characters. The scariest part of the movie takes place after the prom scene, when Carrie is confronted by her over zealous mother, who is convinced her daughter is now possessed by the devil. Sissy Spacek who plays Carrie and Piper Laurie who plays Carrie’s mother were nominated for Oscars for both their roles and there is a rather mischievous cameo made by John Travolta as well. Piper Laurie is amazing in this, her character is ridiculously creepy – she might be a hardcore Christian, but more often than not, you really feel she is a mother from hell.
One of many masterpieces by Stanley Kubrick, based on one of many classic horror novels by Stephen King; The Shining is a blend of a psychological thriller added with supernatural terror, with none other than Jack Nicholson playing the lead role of Jack Torrance. In an attempt to revitalize his writing career, Torrance takes his wife Wendy and his son Danny (who is clearly special) to a remote, snowbound, seemingly haunted hotel in which Torrance assumes the role of caretaker as the hotel shuts down for winter.
As time passes by, Jack becomes more and more peculiar, prone to extremely strange behavior and regularly encountering ghostly figures of the hotel’s past. At the same time his son Danny, who is able to read minds, claims to have been beaten by a ‘crazy woman’ in one of the rooms of the hotel, though Wendy suspects its her progressively deranged husband. Within no time, Jack falls over into the depths of insanity (“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy…”) as his wife and child are perilously left to fend for themselves against their now psychotic husband and father.
As expected with the late Stanley Kubrick, this is a movie of epic proportions in terms of its influence on the horror genre. Supported by a powerful performance by Jack Nicholson, The Shining will leave you in as much terror as Wendy and Danny experience, and the iconic “Here’s Johnny!” scene at the peak of the movie, will keep playing in your mind for many years to come…
Got to have one Steven Spielberg movie in this list, though you might not consider him a classic horror movie filmmaker; that being said, Jaws is consistently listed as an iconic movie in the genre. There is no serial killer, no demon child, no supernatural monsters – there is however an extremely blood-thirsty man-eating shark. Based on the novel of the same name, Jaws is set in a quaint seaside town where everything seems bright and chirpy, until a girl goes missing and her remains (clearly been devoured) wash up on the beach. Not taking caution, the town continue to frolic by the sea, as officials refuse to confirm (for fear that tourist season might be ruined) there is in fact a rather terrifying and hungry shark trolling the waters. Predictably, a boy swimming in the sea is mauled and killed in broad daylight and within no time the entire town take it upon themselves to catch the murderous shark…
Jaws might not be in your face scary, some would argue the National Geographic channel can prove to be more chilling – nonetheless, put this movie on, get through it and I can guarantee next time you’re on the beach and you’re contemplating a swim in the sea, you will think twice. This was the movie that essentially put Spielberg on the map; nominated for numerous categories and going on to win three Oscars. The production and shooting was especially grueling with a ton of setbacks, but it went on to be a box office record setter at the time – made for $12 million and going on to earn $470 million. We’ll say the sequels were truly horrid (not in a scary way), but the original is definitely a classic that will keep you on your toes and probably lead to a life-long phobia of beaches.
Yet another demon-child movie, The Omen tells the story of the childhood of the Antichrist, or as we’ve come to know him, Damien. When Robert Thorn makes the decision to secretly replace his miscarried baby with a new-born from an Italian orphanage, little does he realize the danger he has put his family in – unknowingly he has adopted the son of the devil. As the child grows up, the affluent Thorn couple continue to face a string of gruesome and bizarre events – their nanny commits suicide, they miscarry another child, the priest who warns them of their evil son is mysteriously killed and so on… Damien is a peculiar child who isn’t as innocent as he appears to be. Will Robert Thorn realize in time to stop the son he has spent over 5 years bringing up?
The Omen movies are one of few series where the sequel is as powerful as the original – Damien: Omen II is definitely worth a watch and if you found the first part enthralling and terrifying (he’s the Antichrist for God sake!), this is equally effective. Killing a child on screen in Hollywood has always been a big no-no (for various reasons), but for the first time ever, you will find yourself rooting for this in The Omen…
So many vampire movies to pick from and while this is may not be considered primarily ‘horror’, Interview with the Vampire can definitely be labeled one of the best in the vampire genre. Inspired by the same titled book by the legendary vampire writer Ann Rice, this movie is an intense combination of drama, love and horror, much like all vampire movies.
Brad Pitt’s breaking out movie, Tom Cruise nailing a villainous role, Christian Slater as a third leg, Kirsten Dunst playing the adolescent femme fatale and a feisty cameo by Antonio Banderas. With its brilliant casting and classic plot line, Interview with a Vampire is a mesmerizing tale with an array of colourful characters, that strays away from the conventional Dracula theme. A flawless movie that tells the story of blood suckers like no other.
Long before Sam Raimi was taking care of the Spiderman franchise, he was a champion of the zombie genre with his ultra gruesome ‘Evil Dead’ trilogy… influenced by George Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’, Raimi has taken zombies to a whole new level in this. While the movie is extremely scary and ridiculously violent, Raimi also adds hints of dark humor through it, sometimes the violence is so exaggerated, you can’t help but laugh at some of the situations (not taking away how truly terrifying it is). The movie was banned in Germany and also saw limited release and yet it is still considered a cult classic among horror buffs.
Only a decade old and I can hear all the purists muttering to themselves, how is this classic? Blair Witch might not exactly be an old school movie, but its influence on the horror genre over the years has been greatly significant. A part of me wants to tell you the movie is based on true events (remember how effective the marketing campaign was?), but this has been disputed. Described (at the start of the movie) as discovered footage of three young filmmakers who disappear while shooting a documentary about a forest haunted by a diabolical witch, the entire movie is shot on hand-held cameras, giving it an amateur yet realistic and gritty feel. Despite being warned by locals, the filmmakers continue to explore the woods of Burkittsville, encountering voodoo dolls and weird symbols engraved in trees, in what seems to be a desolate area – without spoiling anything, things just get creepier and creepier.
Whether Blair Witch is a true story or not, it’s an extremely scary movie, that will have you on the edge of your seat throughout. When I first watched it in boarding school, surrounded by trees and forests, I will admit that I screamed like a little girl on numerous occasions. Unlike most movies, you really are put in the shoes of the characters thanks to its unique style… and the way the tension builds through each day and night is as clever as it is terrifying. We wouldn’t have movies like Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield if it wasn’t for this – the first of its kind, Blair Witch is a masterpiece. That being said, avoid the sequels like an innocent child fleeing a deathly witch spirit.