Halloween is approaching, so it’s time to watch some horror films and scare yourself half to death. Rather than a new release, why not watch something that has been time-tested?
These 13 classic horror movies on this have been frightening people for decades. Join them!
You’ll need to write these down somewhere, so open up a note-taking app like Obsidian and sync them to your phone so you don’t forget them later.
1. Le Manoir du Diable (1896)
Starting to watch the horror classics means going back in time and watching the original versions of movies you already know. It might take you to this, the first horror movie ever made.
Le Manoir du Diable (The House of the Devil) was made way back in 1896 by French filmmaker Georges Méliès. He pioneered the horror genre and the special effects in early cinema. Despite the shortness of this film (it only runs for 3 minutes,) the special effects, using magical illusions and stop motion, are non-stop.
Méliès made Le Manoir du Diable before title cards were common, so this silent film relies entirely on what happens on screen. A nobleman arrives at a spooky castle where a series of eerie and magical occurrences confront him. Ghosts, demons, a bat, and eventually, a cloaked figure, revealed to be the devil, appear and disappear at will.
Find it on YouTube here.
2. Psycho (1960)
You can’t call yourself a fan of classic horror movies without seeing a collection of films from renowned horror director Alfred Hitchcock. Psycho is one of his best psychological horror films. Wes Craven said, “Hitchcock at his finest. The horror of the mind and the camera.”
Psycho tells the chilling story of Marion Crane, who checks into the mysterious Bates Motel and encounters Norman Bates. Bates is an enigmatic figure with a secret. The question is, will Marion make it out of Bates Motel?
What Makes Psycho a Classic?
Hitchcock is often called the Master of Suspense, and this can be seen nowhere better than in Psycho; his skill in creating tension will have you on the edge of your seat throughout.
The shower scene is perhaps the most talked about scene in the entire horror genre, electrifyingly gruesome yet strangely beautiful at the same time.
3. The Shining (1980)
Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick, and Jack Nicholson – when you consider the elements that went into making The Shining, it’s easy to see why this is a classic horror film.
Kubrick’s adaptation of King’s novel follows the story of the Torrance family, who have taken on the Overlook Hotel for the winter.
Isolated from the outside world due to snowfall, the empty hotel becomes a central character in this psychological thriller, building tension through its eerie hallways and remnants of its violent path.
The isolation, the paranormal activity, and the psychological strain become too much for Jack Torrance. The Shining tells the tale of his descent into madness.
What Makes The Shining a Classic?
Aside from the iconic performance from Jack Nicholson, who plays Jack Torrance, The Shining has become a cultural touchstone for anyone who loves classic horror. Many experienced this movie for the first time through The Simpon’s parody in Treehouse of Horror V in 1994.
4. The Exorcist (1973)
Few knew the Catholic Church still performed exorcisms until the release of The Exorcist. This film shocked audiences more than any other on this list.
Ask almost anyone who watched The Exorcist in the 70s, and they’ll tell you how the film affected them.
Directed by William Friedkin, The Exorcist tells the story of the Macneils, a middle-class family living in Washington, D.C..
Things take a dark turn when the Macneils’ daughter, Regan, a sweet child, starts acting with increasing violence. She becomes deathly ill and exhibits superhuman strength.
Doctors are called but can’t diagnose or treat Regan. Mrs. Macneil turns to the church and contacts Father Damien Karras. Father Karras is working through his own issues, leaving the audience to wonder whether he can exorcise Regan’s demon and save the poor girl.
You’ll have to watch it to find out.
What Makes the Exorcist a Classic?
The Exorcist explores themes of faith, doubt, and the battle between good and evil, all set against the backdrop of a modern, secular world. The film’s graphic depictions of demonic possession shocked audiences at its release. They contributed to its status as one of the most influential and controversial horror films ever.
5. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is probably the most brutal and grotesque horror film ever made.” That quote would make anyone pay attention, but when you find out that it is from the mouth of Quentin Tarantino, you need to listen.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a gritty and raw depiction of a group of friends who venture into rural Texas. On the way to an old family home, they hear tales of graverobbing that become more real once they arrive.
They inspect the seemingly abandoned neighbor’s house, only to find a group of cannibalistic chainsaw-wielding killers occupying it. Anyone will need more than a few martial arts skills to defend against those guys!
This movie is for you if you want unrelenting violence and raw realism wrapped up with brutal slaughter sequences.
What Makes the Texas Chain Saw Massacre a Classic?
Besides the tip of the hat from Tarantino, this low-budget film deserves its classic status due to its influence on the slasher subgenre. Films like The Hills Have Eyes, The Evil Dead, and more recently, High Tension all draw from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, one of the greatest horror films of all time.
6. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
You could excuse Gen Z for thinking they invented the zombie subgenre, but it’s been around for a while. Night of the Living Dead is, without a doubt, the most influential and groundbreaking zombie movie ever made and one you must put on your “to-watch” list.
Barbera flees to a nearby farmhouse for refuge after a reanimated corpse kills her brother in a local cemetery. There, she finds Ben, and together, they attempt to secure the farmhouse from the marauding zombies outside.
As this early zombie apocalypse continues, you’ll feel trapped, claustrophobic, and full of fear and dread.
What Makes Night of the Living Dead a Classic?
George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead created the modern zombie archetype. It spawned an endless number of remakes, spoofs, and copycats. From Dawn of the Dead to spoofs like Shaun of the Dead and modern TV shows like The Walking Dead, all owe a debt to this classic zombie flick.
7. Alien (1979)
Are you tired of the “alpha male vs. sigma male” stereotypical storyline? Sigourney Weaver displays girl power as the kick-ass alien killer in this classic!
While most horror films are set somewhere close to home, this sci-fi horror film takes place aboard the USCSS Nostromo, a cargo spaceship sometime in the future.
The crew’s transport mission is interrupted when instructed to investigate a rogue signal from a nearby moon. On inspection, they find a hoard of alien eggs, and one of the crew members, Kane, gets implanted with an alien embryo.
Unknowingly, the crew brings him back to the ship, where the embryo gestates and finally bursts out of Kane’s chest.
The rest of the movie is a tale of survival. The now fully grown Xenomorph alien roams the ship, hunting down the crew and killing them one by one.
What Makes Alien a Classic?
Whether it’s the incredible special effects (remember this is from 1979,) the unique storyline, or the unrivaled portrayal of Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ellen Ripley, Alien is a movie you must watch. James Cameron said, “It’s the scariest movie ever made.”
8. King Kong (1933)
Everyone knows the story of King Kong, but have you watched the original 1933 classic or a remake?
If you’ve only ever seen the remake, perhaps this year should be the year you finally watch the original King Kong. Watch the giant ape, brought from his home in Skull Island to New York City. He goes on a rampage, leading to a dramatic climax atop the Empire State Building.
Yes, it’s black and white. Yes, Kong climbs the Empire State Building (built only two years prior.) Yes, you’ll love it more than the Jack Black version!
What Makes King Kong a Classic?
The black and white of the 1930s New York backdrop somehow gives King Kong a timeless feel. The stop-motion animated Kong integrated with the live-action sequences was revolutionary in the early 30s and still holds up well today.
King Kong laid the way for so many more effects. Would Power Rangers or Godzilla have existed if King Kong hadn’t sat atop the Empire State Building? Probably not.
9. Frankenstein (1931)
Originally written by Mary Shelley in 1818, Universal and James Whale took the classic novel and ran with it, bringing Shelly’s Frankenstein character to life.
Dr. Frankenstein brings his monster (a patchwork of body parts) to life using a massive electrical apparatus. Like most of the monsters on this list, Dr. Frankenstein’s creature quickly escapes and terrorizes the community nearby, although inadvertently.
A vengeful mob forms and eventually corners Frankenstein’s monster in an old windmill. Watch the film to find out if the monster survives. Ask yourself whether the monster should survive or whether it should ever have been alive to begin with. This movie begs for a line between what science can do and what it should do.
What Makes Frankenstein a Classic?
Shows like The Addams Family and The Munsters owe an obvious debt to Whale’s Frankenstein. Still, this movie deserves its classic status for something else. Few films of this age still pose as relevant a question as Frankenstein does, “Should we embrace new technology, even when it has no moral compass?”
10. The Sixth Sense (1999)
If you were alive in the 90s, you’ve no doubt whispered the phrase, “I see dead people” in someone’s ear. If you weren’t, watch The Sixth Sense, and you’ll be dying to do it before the movie ends.
For some reason, putting a child in a horror movie makes it all the more frightening, although the scariest thing is that kid is 35 now!
Take Bruce Willis, a kid who sees dead people, an eerie atmosphere, and some emotionally charged storytelling, and you have a great film to watch this Halloween. Add a plot twist that redefines the entire movie, and you have one of the best supernatural thrillers ever made.
What Makes the Sixth Sense a Classic?
The Sixth Sense was a great psychological horror film and a huge box-office success. It was the second-highest-grossing film of 1999, behind Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.
11. Dracula (1931)
Ever wonder why vampires in movies are suave, sophisticated, and charismatic? It’s because that’s how Bela Lugosi portrayed Dracula in Tod Browning’s interpretation of Bran Stoker’s classic horror novel.
While Dracula is hell-bent on sucking the blood of his victims across London, Professor Van Helsing is determined to prove the vampire’s existence to save his friend from being the next victim.
Van Helsing eventually tracks down Dracula in his London lair at Carfax Abbey. He uses a crucifix to keep the evil vampire back. Ultimately, Helsing opens the curtains and lets the sunlight into the abbey. You can guess what happens to the centuries-old vampire when it hits him.
What Makes Dracula a Classic?
Without Bela Lugosi’s iconic performance, we would never have Sesame Street’s Count Dracula, but other reasons exist for its classic status, too. Dracula paved the way for future vampire movies by expanding the lore surrounding these mythical evil beasts. Using the crucifix and sunlight as weapons, the Hungarian accent, and Gothic architecture have all become standard vampire fare to the point of cliche.
12. The Birds (1963)
Another Alfred Hitchcock movie, but no list of classic horror films, would be complete without his masterpiece, The Birds.
If you don’t have a fear of our winged friends, you will after watching this all-time great horror movie that terrorized audiences for decades.
Panic and fear ensue as a Californian coastal town falls victim to relentless and aggressive bird attacks. For seemingly no reason, flocks of seagulls, crows, and other species start a barrage of swooping violence on the townspeople.
The film is unsettling, to say the least, and leaves audiences anxious about going outside. They’re left with the question, “What could we do if a never-ending army of beaked dive-bombers attacked from the skies?”
It’s a question the townspeople can’t answer as no resolution to the violence is forthcoming at the film’s end, just a lasting feeling of suspense and dread.
What Makes The Birds a Classic?
The suspense Hitchcock can draw out through his cinematography and direction escalates a trivial topic of attacking crows into a terrifying ordeal.
Martin Scorsese said it best, “Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ is so unsettling because of its apparent ordinariness. It has the same quality as the birds themselves, the birds you see in everyday life, outside your window.”
13. The Blair Witch Project (1999):
Creepy doesn’t begin to describe this “is-it-real?” film. This classic horror movie will make your skin crawl!
The Blair Witch Project was presented as “found footage” documenting the terrifying experiences of a group of students in the woods.
Friends set off to film a documentary about a legendary local sorceress, the Blair Witch. The shooting takes them into the town, where they start by interviewing the locals, but eventually, it leads them into the woods.
It’s once the threesome enters into the woods that things take a turn for the terrifying. The handheld and shaky camerawork add to the immersive nature of this film as you find yourself vulnerable in the woods alongside the three filmmakers.
When you find a derelict house in the woods, would you go in? Watch The Blair Witch Project to find out if they do.
What Makes the Blair Witch Project a Classic?
When The Blair Witch Project was released, audiences didn’t know the film was only a movie. The marketing for the film was so perfect, including false police reports and interviews with the actors in character, that people truly believed they were watching actual footage.
Other films have since employed the “found footage” technique to add a sense of realism, such as Paranormal Activity and, more recently, As Above, So Below.
Have a Spooky Movie Night!
If you make it through Halloween this year and still haven’t seen every movie on this list, you don’t need to wait for the next Friday the thirteenth to roll around. Arrange a weekly classic horror movie night.
Just remember to keep the curtains closed!
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.
Originally from the U.K., Greg has lived in Asia for over 15 years. Fluent in a handful of languages, he ran a management consultancy before creating FaceDragons, a site dedicated to facing challenges and getting stronger. He travels around Asia, writing, taking photos, and drinking coffee.