Like liver with a nice chianti and some fava beans, there’s nothing like the proper menu of horror movies to curdle your blood in time for Halloween. Here, some choice pairings to sink your cinephile fangs into.
Jack Nicholson in "The Shining"
Ghost Stories: Pair director Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of horror novelist Stephen King’s “The Shining” (1980) – a chilling, increasingly claustrophobic tale starring Jack Nicholson (left) as a hotel caretaker gradually descending into madness with a supernatural shove – with M. Night Shyamalan’s atmospheric, twisty “The Sixth Sense” (1999) featuring psychologist Bruce Willis trying to help a scared boy who sees dead people.
Psycho Killers: Best to start with the granddaddy of the genre from the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock, “Psycho” (1960), still expertly shocking and disturbing in its craftsmanship – especially that shower scene – then move on to Anthony Hopkins’ bravura performance as Hannibal Lecter (left, with co-star Jody Foster), the twisted but charismatic psychiatrist who gets in people’s heads, in more ways than one, in “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991).
Haunted Houses: “Poltergeist” (1982) made the haunted homes genre feel fresh again by moving to the Spielbergian suburbs, where the Freeling family is terrorized by everything from killer clown dolls to daughter-swallowing TV portals into the netherworld, while 2013's “The Conjuring” (left) uses a taken-from-real-life tale from a pair of actual parapsychologists and director James Wan’s excruciatingly suspenseful style for an equally scary interpretation.
New Line Cinema
Terrorized Teenagers: Director John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978) is the standard-bearer for all slasher films to follow, with masked killer Michael Myers picking off morally challenged teens one by one while stalking straightlaced heroine Jamie Lee Curtis; while in a more supernatural landscape, director Wes Craven unleashed knife-gloved Freddy Kruger (left) to plague the dreams of naughty teens in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984).
Fearsome Forces of Nature: Filmmaker Steven Spielberg perfectly captured the perils of battling a relentless, often unseen enemy from the deep with his prototypical blockbuster “Jaws” (1975) which literally scared swimmers out of the ocean; while another cinematic savant, Hitchcock, created the template for nature-gone-awry terror in “The Birds” (1963), pitting humanity – via Tippi Hedren (left) – against avian aggressors.
Courtesy Film Society of Lincoln Center
Demonic Possessions: The first horror film ever nominated for an Oscar and now considered perhaps the scariest movie of all time, William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” (1973) still leaves heads spinning with its visceral depiction of a 12-year-old girl (played to possessed perfection by Linda Blair) inhabited by fiendish forces (left); while writer-director Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity” (2007) refreshed the genre with a “found footage” approach and a respect for shiver-inducing silence.
Homecoming Scream: The troubles of a high school girl who doesn’t quite fit have never been more terrifying than in director Brian de Palma’s blood-soaked “Carrie” (1976), starring Sissy Spacek (left) as the paranormal prom queen of Stephen King’s story; in filmmaker Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) Mia Farrow is the anxious expectant mother of what increasingly appears to be the spawn of Satan.
Vintage Vampires Bram Stoker’s Transylvanian count made his formal film debut in “Dracula” (1931), starring Bela Lugosi (left) as the alternately charming and creepy bloodsucker in formal wear under the dramatically moody direction of Tod Browning; vampires got a then-modern makeover in motorcycle leathers for “The Lost Boys” (1987) director Joel Schumacher’s kinetic tweaking of the tropes starring Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric and Coreys Haim and Feldman.
Monster Mayhem: In the superior sequel “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) director James Whale introduced a vein of camp into the follow-up to his previous adaption of the Mary Shelley novel, notably in The Monster’s (Boris Karloff) adolescent demands for a Mate (Elsa Lanchester); director John Landis’ cult classic “An American Werewolf In London” (1981) also mixed genuine horror with dark comedy while masterfully depicting David Naughton’s wolfman transformation via Rick Baker’s groundbreaking makeup effects.
Spine-Tingling Sci-Fi: Artist H.R. Giger’s now-iconic design for the near indestructible extra-terrestrial (left) stalking warrant officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the crew of the Nostromo in “Alien” (1979) was horrific enough to create a classic, but director Ridley Scott’s stylish cinematic touch induced screams in space; back on Earth, Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982) provided a grimmer, more apocalyptic-minded take on an alien invader than Howard Hawks’ original 1951 film.
Walking – and Running – Dead: Zombies may seem ubiquitous today, but it was director George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) that both unleashed reanimated flesh-eating corpses as horror-flick staples and raised the stakes by introducing social themes and then-taboo subjects; the mindless masses staggered a major step forward when they got fast – very, very fast – and even more infectious in director Danny Boyle’s taught, allegorical “28 Days Later” (2002).
Bloody Amusing: Only a handful of horror films can claim to have several laugh-out-loud moments, and among the best are “The Cabin In the Woods” (2012), in which writer/producer Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard satirically send up horror film conventions – and explain them in occult terms – while still serving up startling scares (left); and director Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead” (2004), where a British electronics store clerk (Simon Pegg) contends with his directionless life, unhappy girlfriend, dysfunctional family – and an apocalyptic zombie uprising. - Scott Huver