In no particular order, because that's just not fair. But it's Halloween season and I love horror flicks, so I thought this list would be particularly timely!
The Changeling - 1980
Not the Angelina Jolie movie, this one stars George C. Scott. Guy buys a house, turns out it's haunted by a boy who died there, there's a creepy wheelchair, etc. Saw this at an inappropriately young age and it scared the pants off me.
Friday the 13th - 1980
Again, 1980, you creepy year! Classic movie, classic villian - Jason Vorhees. BUT...Jason isn't the killer in this one. And no Jason hockey mask, which actually didn't make an appearance until the 3rd chapter. In the first film, the mother of Jason Vorhees turns out to be the... oh no, spoiler alert!
Sisters - 1973
Directed by Brian De Palma, who is one of my favorites, and starring Margot Kidder. Lots of the film takes place in the claustrophobic space of a Staten island apartment. Low budget movie, but with an amazing score by Bernard Herrmann. The music only heightens the allusions to Hitchcock, in particular his film Rope, which is also staged in a New York apartment building. A neighbor witnesses a murder in her building and accuses Kidder's character, but the police are no use. A private investigator is hired and a mystery unravels.
Carrie - 1976
Another Brian De Palma classic from the 70's. Sissy Spacek is incredibly fragile and disturbing in the lead role. Her Catholic-sadist mother is played by Piper Laurie, who I think steals the show and is the most frightening piece of the film. The prom scene is one of the most iconic horror movie sequences of all time. De Palma is truly the master of setting up a sequence from the voyeur's point of view. (see Untouchables, Carlito's Way, Snake Eyes, et al). The tension mounts slowly as the viewer is shown the pig's blood prank that turns Carrie's night of dreams into a disaster of epic proportions. De Palma employs the same split screen technique here as he did in Sisters, and disciples such as Tarantino have kept this bit of cool movie-editing alive.
Let the Right One In - 2008
What a gem. This movie is perfect. Beautifully shot and acted. Dark, but also very touching. There was an American remake called Let Me In, but this is the Swedish original. A wonderful addition to the Vampire horror genre. This will break your heart and give you the willies.
Scream - 1996
Even though this was a very mainstream horror movie, I have to admit I was pretty disturbed. It was a premise that could happen in our world. With all the real life violence in the news, and kids killing other kids, it truly frightened me. Probably the only thing I've ever liked that had Courtney Cox in it, just sayin'.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre - 1974
I was really late to the party on this one, having not seen TCM until I was in my 30s. It was plain to see how much influence this movie had on what was to come. No big names, no real lighting it seems, and a big surprise to me... no GORE. I mean, hardly ANY! The scares in this movie are mostly brought on by the documentary-style look of the film. It feels viscerally real. SO many modern horror movies rely on the gore and the "pop-out" to frighten viewers, but it leaves no lasting impression. Nobody who ever saw Leatherface and the meat-hook would ever forget those images.
Black Christmas - 1974
Hey, two in a row for 1974! This one I didn't see until last year, but I was blown away. Couldn't believe that no one had recommended it to me. Maybe because Christmas horror movies generally suck; see "Silent Night, Deadly Night" or "Don't Open 'Till Christmas" or "Santa's Slay." Margot Kidder is in this one too! Forget "Christmas" in the title of this one and you have basically: a big empty sorority house, a corpse in the attic, a series of creepy phone calls, a concerned local police department, and some POV camera work with killer sound effects (that purportedly influenced John Carpenter's "Halloween" in a major way). This movie was one of the first of the "slasher" genre and you never even see the killer's face fully. So much is left to the imagination as you walk around in his viewpoint and listen to his deranged phone calls with Olivia Hussey. And similar to "Texas Chainsaw" there is very little to no gore in "Black Christmas."
Halloween - 1978
Forget all the sequels and reboots and the re-reboots! This is the only one that matters! You know the music (dee-du-du-dee-du-du-dee-du-dee-du), you know the mask (not Mike Myers, but Michael Myers), and you know the "scream queen" Jamie Lee Curtis. The premise here is super simple and effective: Michael Myers as a young boy was already a murdering psychopath, so he was put away in a mental institution. But oh no! He escapes years later on Halloween to go back to his small town and kill again. Worth watching every year, it's just that good.