You just can't beat the power of a classic horror film. While many horror flicks opt for cheap jump scares, there are some films that are so well done, so realistic, that you just can't help looking over your shoulder long after the credits have rolled. We're taking a look at the horror films that pushed the envelope, redefined the horror genre, and earned their place among the classics.
(Obviously, SPOILERS AHEAD.)
Who could forget the craze surrounding Paranormal Activity (2007)? The film spooked audiences across the globe for its simple yet powerful cinematic style. It even tricked some audiences into thinking what they had seen was actually real! But there would be no Paranormal Activity without the original The Blair Witch Project. This 1999 flick really kicked off the popularity of the found-footage style film. The movie follows three film students (Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard) as they explore a forest while making a documentary about a local urban legend, the Blair Witch. Unfortunately, all that remains a year after this expedition is the footage the students left behind. I won't spoil too much here if you haven't seen it (you should!) but the shaky camera movements, believable performances, and eerie setting all help make this story feel real.
Ghosts, comedy, and Michael Keaton? Tim Burton's 1988 Beetlejuice has that and more. Husband and wife Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara Maitland (Geena Davis) face a major obstacle in their new marriage: they're dead. What's worse than acclimating to the afterlife? Acclimating to the afterlife with really annoying neighbors. After the new couple tries (and hilariously fails) to scare away their home's new residents, they enlist the help of the titular Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) to get the job done. If dark comedy is your thing, you can't go wrong with this classic.
Psychological horror meets the grotesque in this 1982 classic. This monster flick stars a shape-shifting alien that makes its way to Earth and lands near a freezing research base. Once the scientists there discover the nature of the beast they're dealing with, they quickly descend into paranoia, accusing each other (something correctly, sometimes falsely) of being the lethal "thing." The Thing is compelling for its disgusting visual effects coupled with the intense disintegration of the crew. The soundtrack from Ennio Morricone (yes, the same composer of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly fame) also sets the suspenseful tone of film. If you want suspense and gory goodness, The Thing has you covered.
Jaws isn't just a classic horror film; it's a classic film, period. This story of a killer shark benefits from the direction of Stephen Spielberg, the iconic score from John Williams, solid performances from the leads (Roy Schneider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw), and a gigantic animatronic shark. The straightforward terror of a seemingly unstoppable killer shark, coupled with music that heightens the audience's sense of anxiety, makes Jaws the reason why so many people were afraid of the water for years after its initial release. (Don't worry though: the chances of a fatal shark attack are slim. In fact, you're more likely to go from a bike accident than a shark attack, according to the Florida Museum.)
The Sixth Sense proves M. Night Shyamalan is capable of making brilliant movies (yeah, I'm calling out The Last Airbender). From the sublime cinematography to the stellar performances of leads Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment, this film is a well-crafted delight from start to finish. What really cements this story as a classic is the Shyamalan plot twist at the end. Between that and the iconic "I see dead people" line, The Sixth Sense is a movie you'll be thinking about (and pop-culture referencing) well after viewing it.
Creepy twins + Stanley Kubrick's directing + Jack Nicholson's acting? Yeah, buckle up for a spooky time. This 1980 flick is an adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name; this alone should tell you that you're heading for horrorville. The story of a family tormented by an abusive father and husband as well as possible ghostly influences leaves a lot of room for interpretation (especially if you pay attention to the last few moments of the film). The ambiguity isn't all that makes it so terrifying, though. Besides phenomenal acting, The Shining is so genuinely terrifying due to plenty of nightmare-inducing images. From the cascades of blood to the creepy twins to that bathroom scene (you know the one), you'll be left more than a little messed up by the time you're done watching.
Based on the novel of the same name, this Hollywood adaptation has stood the test of time. The basic plotline is simple enough: FBI hopeful Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) enlists the help of the incarcerated Dr. Hannibal Lecter to track down another serial killer. It's Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), a former patient of the doctor. Bill's crimes? He starves and murders women so he can make suits of their skin. But the really compelling meat of the story comes from the dynamic between Starling and Lecter. It's clear that our protagonist is both morbidly curious about and repulsed by the doctor. His clear intelligence and perception is jarring when placed next to his insanity and history of cannibalism. The two's quid-pro-quo relationship is defined by manipulation as well as a bizarre sense of trust and understanding that's just as unsettling as the cannibalism. Propelled by award-winning performances from both Foster and Hopkins, there's a reason many consider The Silence of the Lambs a classic.
Jordan Peele showed he's a master of comedy with Comedy Central's Key & Peele. In 2017, he proved himself a master of psychological horror with Get Out. The story follows Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), an African-American man, and his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), a white woman, as they visit her family. What starts out as a simple weekend trip tinged with awkwardness and casual racism quickly descends into a literal nightmare for Washington. Whether it's the timing of the scares, subtle foreshadowing, clever dialogue, symbolism, or social commentary, Peele masterfully weaves together the overarching plot with the tiniest details to create a terrifying story grounded by very real social factors alive today. It's worth watching multiple times through to fully appreciate the dynamic layers Get Out offers viewers.
Say 👋hello👋 to what many consider the flick that paved the way for the zombie genre. On the surface, the film is straightforward enough: undead entities start attacking with a hunger for human flesh. Eventually, seven people hole themselves up in a house together as zombies surround them. However, the movie is much more complex than a simple monster plotline. The meat of the story really comes from the tension the trapped group faces as they disagree on how best to survive. As the plot progresses, it's clear that there's a real threat not just from the undead, but also from the living. It takes special talent from those like director George A. Romero to transform something bloated with flesh-eating zombies into a movie that stars humans as just-as-terrifying monsters.
(P.S. The copyright for this film expired without a renewal! You can watch Night of the Living Dead in its entirety online for free.)
It's not a credible list about horror films without this 1973 classic. And it's not just hype, either: this movie definitely earns its place as the quintessential horror film. The Exorcist follows two priests (Jason Miller and Max von Sydow) as they attempt to exorcise a possessed child, Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair). When the case escalates in intensity, the clergy members find themselves face-to-face with a powerful demonic possession that has deadly consequences. The fact that this movie is based on a true story should keep even the most die-hard horror fans up at night. The various scenes of Reagan growing increasingly more disturbed as her possession worsens are shocking, disgusting, and downright difficult to stomach at times (if you've seen the films, you know which scenes I'm talking about). This film isn't for the faint of heart. But that's part of what makes it one of the most memorable horror films of all time.