It's been pretty scary for the past year and a half, but we are now officially in spooky season. October is a great chance for film fans to look back on the history of horror movies, and this year you really don’t have any excuse not to dig into the classics. Streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Peacock have curated great collections of all the essential favorites you absolutely need to watch.
You can also always return to theaters, which could really use your support right now. Michael Myers returned again in Halloween Kills, and directors Scott Cooper and Edgar Wright are launching more elevated fare this week with Antlers and Last Night in Soho. Make sure to check out the very weird Lamb from A24, too, if you like your horror on the quirky fable side.
Not all horror films are alike, so there’s a need to differentiate by subgenre. We’ve collected a handy guide of all the ones you need to knock out during your spook binge.
Best Vampire Movie: The Horror of Dracula
Dracula is one of the most frequently adapted characters in film history, second only to Sherlock Holmes. There’s a lot of great movies about the charismatic vampire (we love the 1922 German expressionist classic Nosferatu and Gary Oldman’s take in Bram Stoker’s Dracula), but no one personifies him better than Christopher Lee.
Honorable Mentions: Fright Night, Blade, The Lost Boys, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, What We Do In The Shadows.
Best Frankenstein Movie: Frankenweenie
I, Frankenstein? Yikes. Victor Frankenstein? Nope. A great many would cite the 1931 original Frankenstein as the definitive version, but we’re big fans of Tim Burton’s reimagining of the classic Mary Shelley story with an animated boy and his dog.
Honorable Mentions: Frankenstein (1994), The Bride of Frankenstein, Young Frankenstein, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Son of Frankenstein.
Best Stephen King Adaptation: The Shining
Stephen King famously hated this adaptation of his novel, but it doesn’t matter; Stanley Kubrick’s beloved horror classic favorite spawned countless conspiracy theories (and not to mention iconic shots such as the twins and Jack Nicholson's crazy face going through the door), and a pretty damn good sequel with the underrated Doctor Sleep.
Honorable Mentions: Gerald’s Game, Misery, 1922, Secret Window.
Best Outer Space Horror: Alien
Ridley Scott’s pitch for the original 1979 film was “Jaws in space,” and Sigourney Weaver’s character Ripley became an icon and a sci-fi action hero as badass as Luke Skywalker or Han Solo.
Honorable Mentions: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Predator, High Life, War of the Worlds, The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Best Giallo: Suspiria (1977)
A 'Giallio' is a really weird, artful Italian movie with weird music and a lot of chaotic mystery that makes no sense. If you’re looking for a place to start, Dario Argento’s 1977 epic film about a young American dancer in Berlin is a good introduction to the genre.
Honorable Mentions: Deep Red, Don’t Torture The Duckling, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Tenebre, A Bay of Blood.
Best Remake: Suspiria (2018)
Horror remakes usually suck. See Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street for examples. However, this all-girl 150 minute reimagining of Argento’s classic is maybe even better than the original. It certainly has more Tilda Swinton, who plays several different characters throughout.
Honorable Mentions: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1979), The Thing, The Fly, It, The Blob.
Best Movie About Cults: The Wicker Man (1973)
“Not the bees!” OK, we’re not talking about the Nicolas Cage version. The 1973 original finds the actual horror in restrictive religious societies. We’re just going to pretend that the Cage version with the bear suit doesn’t exist.
Honorable Mentions: Midsommar, Hereditary, Rosemary’s Baby, The Lodge, Red State.
Best Psychological Thriller: Se7en
Serial killer movies can fall both inside and outside the genre of horror, and there’s a debate over whether or not something like Silence of the Lambs even counts. We think Se7en is pretty damn frightening nonetheless, and (spoiler alert) any movie that ends with Kevin Spacey getting shot in the head can’t be bad in our book.
Honorable Mentions: The Mothman Prophecies, Manhunter, Zodiac, Psycho.
Best Scary Movie for People Who Hate Horror Movies: The Others
Some people really hate to be scared, but some horror movies are so good that they're worth the fright. Just pile the trauma away with the rest of it that lives in your mind and enjoy Alejandro Amenabar's stylish, subtle masterpiece with Nicole Kidman in all her iciest brilliance.
Honorable Mentions: Parasite, Pan's Labyrinth, The Sixth Sense, The Changeling (2008), Get Out.
Best Horror Classic: The Exorcist
You can't call yourself a horror film lover and not have the image of child actress Linda Blair's spinning head etched into your mind. The 1973 film will give you the most guaranteed creeps.
Honorable Mentions: The Omen, The Night of the Living Dead.
Best Slasher Film: Just kidding! There are none.
Those are all pretty bad. Fight us.
Actual Scariest Movie Ever Made: Cats
What if you want something that’s actually going to give you nightmares? Nothing intentionally scary is ever going to match the carnal horror of Judi Dench as a furry CGI cat.
Honorable Mentions: The recent Dear Evan Hansen.