1. The House of the Devil
I’m not usually a big fan of horror movies today (too much gore, not enough genuine fright) but Ti West’s 2009 horror film, House of the Devil, is a definite exception. Besides being a throwback in tone, the film’s style is dripping in nostalgia from the ’80s—a time in which there was nothing scarier than being a babysitter. The cast are all unknowns (besides Greta Gerwig who’s making a successful transition to mainstream movies) and the plot is simple. A down-on-her-luck college student takes a babysitting job under vague pretenses. Once she gets to a scary house in the middle of nowhere, she meets her creepy hosts and strange things begin to happen. The movie’s main skill is building suspense. There’s hardly any gore and there doesn’t need to be. West’s masterful storytelling provides scares on its own.
2. The Shining
The Shining is a movie that can still scare the living daylights out of me, despite having seen it a million times. It’s a true testament to the film’s ick factor that it can still resonate with viewers after all these years. The last time I saw it was at a midnight showing at IFC Center. I was going on a date with someone I didn’t really know and we both decided to get super high beforehand. Big mistake. My paranoia was amplified during the movie, which made for a miserable moviegoing experience. At least we got to make out for five hours afterwards though. The Shining as an aphrodisiac: WHO KNEW?
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Nothing compares to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It marked the true end of the carefree ’60s. Hippies were not only over, they were dead as a damn doornail. This film plays on people’s fears of the impoverished backwoods, which is something that has been exploited for years in horror films. In case you weren’t aware, POOR PEOPLE ARE SCARY. They’re inbred and stupid, and, by golly, they might kill ya! Ignoring the classist overtones though, this movie is genuinely terrifying as we watch the heroine, Sally, fight for her life in near isolation.
4. Session 9
Session 9 is a psychological horror film, released in 2001, that went under the radar. Its plot is frightening—a group of asbestos cleaners get assigned to an abandoned insane asylum where, shocker, things start going awry. It’s similar to The Shining in the sense that it shows a growing level of paranoia and mental unraveling amongst the crew of men. Over the week they spend in the asylum, they begin to go, quite frankly, insane. Again, the power lies in the suspense that’s carefully built throughout the film. The ending is bananas!
5. The Sixth Sense
Isn’t it weird how M. Night Shyamalan made one superb movie and then just, like, forgot how to do it ever since? What’s up with that? How could The Sixth Sense come out of the same brain as The Happening? Is that even possible? (I still stand by my assertion that The Happening was actually a giant joke and M. Night Shyamalan was just like “LOL, suckers. Gotta pay my bills!”) At least we’ll always have The Sixth Sense, which was actually a great movie. Mischa Barton was even in it, playing a role that was INTENTIONALLY scary for once. Haley Joel Osment went to NYU and I saw him on the street a few times. I wonder how many house parties he had to go to where drunk people were like, “I SEEE DEAD PEOPLE” before he was all, “Screw you guys. I’m going home with a bag of coke. FOREVER.”