The Best of Hollywood Horror: 14 Scary Movies to Watch Before You Die

By Grace Lanier

I added another movie to this list to avoid unlucky number 13 (and also because I’m a huge movie buff).

The Babadook

Yes, we all know that the Babadook is a gay icon, but the film from which he got his start is a definitely considered a modern cinematographic masterpiece—and those tend to be rarities nowadays.

SUMMARY: A single mother in Australia is slowly becoming physically and emotionally exhausted by her “unusual” young son, whose strange hobbies and obsession with an unnamed monster are rapidly escalating. Things only get worse when they discover a gruesome picture book on the child’s bookshelf, simply called The Babadook.

MY RATING: 5/5

The Shining

Though I do prefer the book to the movie (because Stephen King is a literary genius), Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic interpretation of this iconic novel has become a classic in its own right.

SUMMARY: A father who is looking to cure his writer’s block has recently lost work accepts a job as the caretaker of a large resort in Colorado during its off season. He takes his wife and oddly gifted young son to live in the otherwise-empty hotel, and the three of them discover its dark past over the period of their wintry isolation.

MY RATING: 5/5

Halloween

Though it is not the most exciting of slasher films, the cinematographic choices and (at the time) groundbreaking content make it the classic that it is today. And even if you don’t watch it for the plot, the score alone—which we have now tragically warped into a horrendous remix—is phenomenal.

SUMMARY: The Halloween of a teenage girl escalates when the deranged Michael Meyers escapes from a mental institution and entangles himself in her Halloween night.

MY RATING: 4/5

The Sixth Sense

This one is less of a horror film and more of a haunting (pun intended) drama, but it is easily the best work of M. Knight Shyamalan’s directorial career. Those of you who were unfortunate enough to see The Visit can attest to that.

SUMMARY: Whether or not you knew where it was from, we’ve all heard the “I see dead people” line—but can he really? A psychologist with a mysterious past seeks to figure out what’s going on inside a troubled boy’s head.

MY RATING: 5/5

Insidious

This is one of James Wan’s (director of Saw and The Conjuring) most significant pieces, and though its sequels are less than cinematic gold, the series’ original film was actually quite thoughtfully designed and surprisingly well-made. (Until the last ten minutes, at least.)

SUMMARY: A young family moves into a new house to get a fresh start—familiar, right? Things quickly take a turn for the worse when one of the young children’s bizarre dreams escalate and he is pulled into a comatose state, which slowly has a paranormal effect on the house and on his family.

MY RATING: 4/5

The Conjuring

We did screen the second movie during one of the first few weekends of school, but I hope that the Internet lag didn’t impede your opinion of the franchise too terribly; the clever timing and period-piece atmosphere of the first film is actually very unique and well-executed.

SUMMARY: Based on a true story from nearly 40 years ago, a large family moves into a new home, in which mysterious music boxes and hide-and-seek take on darker meaning, and paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren must figure out the source of the disturbances before it’s too late

MY RATING: 4.5/5

Poltergeist

Though it may cease to shock members of our desensitized and jump-scare-craving generation, this 1982 classic is beautifully made and blissfully original—and, in case you couldn’t tell by my warm language, one of my favorite films.

SUMMARY: Young Carol Anne disrupts the cheery vibes of her family’s 1980’s suburban life when she begins speaking to static-y televisions and attempting to connect with mysterious figures within them—and, come to think of it, the tree in the backyard isn’t exactly inviting, either. Her family must attempt to save her before her youthful innocence takes her to a place from which she can never return.

MY RATING: 5/5

The Others

This film is shockingly overlooked by many, but its chilling tweaks to the haunted house tropes and clever cinematographic tricks make it one of the most interesting and effective horror movies I’ve had the pleasure of watching.

SUMMARY: A hyper-religious mother living with her two mysterious children must hire new help when her old staff suddenly disappears, and her ‘house rules’ certainly merit some raised eyebrows. That, along with her rebellious daughter’s claims of strangers hiding in their isolated home, is enough to provide endless intrigue and legitimate thrills.

MY RATING: 5/5

The Ring

Though this franchise is often framed as the epitome of cheap horror, the original film is surprisingly well-crafted and boldly unusual.

SUMMARY: The mysterious and synchronized deaths of a group of teenagers is traced back to a disturbing short film surrounded by dark lore. When an informal investigator watches it as evidence, her life is put on the clock and she must race to find out what the footage means.

MY RATING: 4.5/5

It Follows

Though this indie film is certainly bizarre (and not to be watched on campus), the creative execution of the relatively punchline-esque premise makes it a very engaging and thoroughly disturbing experience.

SUMMARY: A young woman’s frightening encounter with a man leads her to believe that she will be stalked by an ominous and ever-changing presence until she can pass it on to someone else. (Google it for more details—it isn’t at all kid-friendly, but it’s definitely worth watching.)

MY RATING: 4.5/5

Sinister

This film is a very recent addition to my List (yes, I have an extensive List), but it is one that I very adamantly believe should receive more recognition. The shrewd manipulation of more recent (and, in my opinion, distasteful) additions to the horror genre provide the darkest skin-crawling experience possible.

SUMMARY: A true crime writer years beyond his prime moves his family into a new home to overcome his writer’s block and research directly from the source of his latest novel. A strange box of tapes in the attic make it clear that there are much darker happenings behind the murders he is investigating and many others that may be linked to it.

MY RATING: 4.5/5

Carnival of Souls

I found this on a cheap DVD compilation of ancient scary movies years back, so it isn’t exactly a common selection, but it is actually the first horror movie that ever terrified me to tears. I can’t quite determine why it has such a profoundly chilling resonance, but I can confirm that those mystery elements were 100% effective.

SUMMARY: When a group of young people drives off a bridge and into a river, the police on the scene make the simple assumption that it was a tragic and fatal accident for all passengers. But a single young woman walks out of the submerged wreckage an hour later, completely unharmed, she must try to move on with her life and forget what happened to her—but how can she, when she is still consumed by its bizarre consequences?

MY RATING: 5/5

Scream

Though it serves a more satirical purpose than that of horror, I was pleasantly surprised by my legitimate enjoyment of this film. The crafty combination of horror and humor was strangely successful, and definitely make the film worthy of its weighty status in modern pop culture.

SUMMARY: The slasher killings by a mysterious figure in a dark cloak and Halloween mask epitomize the horror genre, and every high schooler and one ambitious reporter become deeply involved in the escalating murders.

MY RATING: 4.5/5

The Cabin in the Woods

Though this film also does not serve a directly horrifying experience, its ingenuity awes me to my core. The creative twists on classic horror movie tropes are witty and hilarious, and regardless of whether or not you actually enjoy the movie, you will always remember the experience.

SUMMARY: The perspective switches back and forth between a group of young, archetypical college students and a mysterious institution that is designed to give them hell and murder them for a mysterious sacrifice. But if you’re going to commit murder, why not add some fun twists?

MY RATING: 5/5

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