Halloween is once again here, which means it's the one time of the year where even non-horror fans start looking for scary movies to watch. While the various cable channels provide an abundance of fright flicks during the last week of the month (culminating in a veritable smorgasbord on the evening of Oct. 31), we decided to highlight 10 scary movies guaranteed to make the night spook-tastic.
So, grab the popcorn and your bag of Halloween booty, turn off the lights and settle in for 10 creepy classics that will put you in the ghoultide mood.
10. 'Dawn of the Dead' (George Romero, 1978: Rent It. | Buy It.)
The more common choice would have been Romero's 'Night of the Living Dead,' but 'Dawn' is just as good as the original. With its gloomy philosophy, social commentary about the nature of consumerism, pounding Goblin score and Tom Savini special effects, Romero's second zombie film is arguably his finest creation -- and a great film to show to anyone who happens by with the attitude that horror flicks can't be smart and scary.
9. 'Night of the Demon' (Jacques Tourneur, 1957: Rent it. | Buy it.)
Director Jacques Tourneur crafted this spine-tingling tale of the supernatural, based on author M.R. James' story 'Casting the Runes.' Filled with sinister imagery (including an unsettling opening narration sequence framed by stark black-and-white shots of Stonehenge), an effective score and great performances, the only thing that mars 'NotD' are two shots of the title creature -- images Tourneur despised. Despite that, 'NotD' is still an under-appreciated masterpiece that's best viewed on All Hallow's Eve.
8. 'Dracula' (Tod Browning, 1931: Rent it. | Buy it.)
No Halloween is complete without an appearance from the Count. Bram Stoker's bloodsucker has appeared on the big screen on countless occasions, but Browning's version still stands amongst the best. The reason it endures is thanks largely to the performance of Bela Lugosi. Lugosi's Dracula has become the gold standard, with many subsequent portrayals mimicking the actor's appearance and distinctive accent. While everyone from Gary Oldman to Frank Langella has donned the cape, Lugosi is still the face that pops into audience's heads when Dracula's name is invoked. Grab the DVD and rediscover why after the deluge of trick 'r treaters subsides.
7. 'Shaun of the Dead' (Edgar Wright, 2004: Rent it. | Buy it.)
Halloween isn't all about scares, as Edgar Wright's zombie comedy 'Shaun of the Dead' demonstrates. The amusing tale of a slacker (Simon Pegg) who becomes a hero during the zombie apocalypse is filled with laugh out loud moments, yet still manages to deliver the zombie goods when the scene calls for it. All too often, horror comedies skew the balance too far toward one side or the other. 'Shaun' nails it (save for the ending, where it veers off course slightly), and the result is one of the most satisfying horror comedies in recent memory.
6. 'Dead Alive' (Peter Jackson, 1992: Rent it. | Buy it.)
Audiences who only know Peter Jackson from the 'Lord of the Rings' films will be surprised to learn that long before venturing to Middle Earth, the New Zealander was making low budget gore comedies like 'Dead Alive.' Hailed as the one of the goriest films ever made, 'Dead Alive' deftly mixes comedy and carnage in a way that's sure to leave many giggling while they gag. The climax, which features a horde of zombies and a lawnmower deck, is one of the most hilariously disgusting things ever committed to film.
5. 'Frankenstein' (James Whale, 1931: Rent it. | Buy it.)
Mary Shelley's tale about a creature made of stitched together human body parts hasn't been adapted as often as 'Dracula,' but it's just as famous in horror circles. James Whale's 1931 version is haunting and gorgeous, featuring crisp images and a mesmerizing performance from Boris Karloff. Karloff imbues the monster with a strange humanity -- one that makes audiences fear him while feeling sorry for his plight. The merging of Whale's elegant direction and Karloff's nuanced performance make 'Frankenstein' perfect for the holiday.
4. 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' (Wes Craven, 1984: Rent it. | Buy it.)
Wes Craven assured himself of horror film immortality with the release of 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' back in 1984. The story of a disfigured killer armed with a bladed glove and the power to haunt nightmares struck a chord with audiences thanks to Craven's intriguing premise and a classic performance from Robert Englund. Freddy wouldn't morph into a wisecracking anti-hero for several more films, making the original 'Elm Street' one of the scariest of the '80s slasher flicks and a title that's sure to lead to unpleasant dreams.
3. 'Suspiria' (Dario Argento, 1977: Rent it. | Buy it.)
What goes better with Halloween than witches? Dario Argento's technicolor nightmare finds an innocent American dancer stuck at a German ballet academy run by a coven. Boasting lavish set-pieces, dizzying camerawork, a pulsating score from prog-rockers Goblin and a color scheme that's to die for, 'Suspiria' is sure to please viewers who are looking for something a little different than the standard American horror film.
2. 'Trick 'r Treat' (Michael Dougherty, 2007: Rent it. | Buy it.)
Michael Dougherty's 'Trick 'r Treat' almost never saw the light of day. Buried for several years at Warner Bros., the film was finally released last October -- and became an instant classic. There's a lot to love about 'Trick 'r Treat' -- including the 'Pulp Fiction'-esque overlapping storylines, cute killer Sam and a curmudgeonly Brian Cox -- but the best part is the film's ambiance. Dougherty's movie recalls a time when Halloween was simpler and less commercialized, making it a trip down memory lane for anyone over the age of 30.
1. 'Halloween' (John Carpenter, 1978: Rent it. | Buy it.)
It can't be Halloween without a viewing of John Carpenter's seminal slasher flick. This one has it all: Jamie Lee Curtis as a final girl, absolute evil embodied in masked killer Michael Myers, Midwestern Halloween atmosphere circa 1978 and Donald Pleasence running around like a madman as Dr. Loomis. Easily one of the greatest slasher films of all-time, and the perfect way to say goodbye to another October as the calendar flips over to November.