My Top 13 Scary Movies

By Laura Crisp Davis - October 13, 2021
My Top 13 Scary Movies

It's Halloween month, so I had to make my list of favorite flicks to watch. Be warned--I'm a fan of classic movies, jump scares, camp, suspense, and game changers. If you're looking for over-the-top gore, you probably won't find it here. 

13. THEM! (1954, NR, 1h 13m)

why I love it: I mean, shout out to the art department. Are the giant ants kind of dumb compared to today's special fx? Yes. But are they incredible for the '50s? YES. The use of light and shadow, sound, over-the-top hero dialogue, and hysterical victims is perfect. The other thing I love is the play on the 1950s audience's paranoia about atomic/nuke experiments going wrong. Most people aren't really afraid of that anymore, but back then, the public held considerable fear about it. If you like the ALIENS franchise, you'll appreciate this classic for its queen and her army.

12. JAWS (1975, PG, 2h 10m)

why I love it: This monster movie was an absolute game changer on several fronts. First, it was a big detour from the classic monster flicks that often amounted to someone in a rubber suit, so again, big applause to the art department. Second, it used a real life horror story--the U.S.S. Indianapolis--to escalate fear for the audience. Third, to this very day if you hear that sound, you know. Da-dum. Da-dum. Da-dum. Da-dum-da-dum-da-dum! 

11. GREMLINS (1984, PG, 1hr 46m)

why I love it: It's one of a dozen '80s flicks that follow a great formula: follow these specific, odd rules or you'll be sorry. As a writer I love this, because as soon as a movie tells you the rules, you've got a checklist of anticipation for bad (or funny) things to happen. Bonus for creating a franchise. Also, some of you may not know Gizmo is voiced by none other than Howie Mandel.

10. POLTERGEIST (1982, PG, 2h)

why I love it: Two words. THEY'RE BAAA-ACK! Okay, also, CAROL ANNE. The premise of being haunted through the television, that creepy little girl, and the portal to evil sent chills through me and everyone I knew. Another franchise, yeah. But how could it NOT be? 

9. THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975, PG, 1h 55m) 

why I love it: First of all, William Goldman. The guy could write anything, in any genre, and audiences loved it. Second, weaving gender commentary into a horror story is freaking brilliant. This classic might be creepier now than when it first debuted because, thanks to some progress in gender equality, Millennials and Gen Z will find the "normal" relationships icky too. I love it even more because Jordan Peele says he wrote GET OUT to be Stepford, but with race--and I think Peele achieved that 100%. So, obviously, if you're a fan of GET OUT, check this one out!

8. PACIFIC HEIGHTS (1990, R, 1h 42m) 

why I love it: Is Michael Keaton absolute Halloween PERFECTION in Beetlejuice? Yes, yes he is. But is he CREEPY AF in this movie? HELL YES. But I'd guess many people haven't seen this underrated psychological thriller/suspense drama. It plays on several phobias that the audience might have, and keeps you in emotional distress to the very end. No spoilers, but I will say he's the WORST TENANT EVER.

7. THE SKELETON KEY (2005, PG-13, 1h 13m)

why I love it: Sure, Kate Hudson is fantastic in rom-coms and dramas, but have you seen her battle against Voodoo? I don't want to say too much, let's just say I love this specifically because of the twisted ENDING that I didn't see coming. SO freaking good.

6. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984, R, 1h 31m)

why I love it: I don't. It scared the living hell out of me as a kid. I had nightmares often because I had an undiagnosed sleep disorder, so the thought that I could fall asleep and actually get murdered by the guy in my nightmares TERRIFIED me. These days I do a standup bit about it:

My friend wanted to go see this new movie Nightmare on Elm Street and I was like, "No, that's not a movie. That's a documentary of my life."

I do love that it inspired that campy Fresh Prince song, "Nightmare on My Street" back in the day. Good times. :-) 

5. THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988, R, 1h 38m) 

why I love it: The concept is scary! What if anesthesia had its roots in a Haitian Voodoo hallucinogenic? Like a ROOFY that lasts long enough for your family to think you're dead and bury you alive! Sometimes the special FX are dated and excessive, but the concept still freaks me out. It was derived from a book but it turns out the author exaggerated or twisted the truth. Meh. Made a good movie anyway. If you like movies about ZOMBIES, you should watch this. 

4. GHOSTBUSTERS (1984, PG, 1h 45m)

why I love it: There's so much to love about this flick. One, Dan Aykroyd thought of the concept because of a book his father wrote. Two, the freaking cast: Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Sigourney Weaver, Rick comedy/fantasy/horror perfection. Three, another movie that almost didn't get made like six different ways then became a franchise. Four, game changer factor: the SONG. Forever and for all time, WHO YA GONNA CALL? will get the same answer from fans. If you know, you know.

3. BEETLEJUICE (1988, PG, 1h 32m)

why I love it: You know what word I can't say three times. It's the movie that made us love Ve Neill, THE makeup designer who delivers the iconic style we associate with director Tim Burton. The cast: Michael Keaton, Wynona Rider, Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin, Catherine O' quirky, so twisted, so classic. The idea of the afterlife waiting room? Freaking brilliant. To verify my extra fandom level, check out my instagram to see all of my #luckyHalloweensocks, many of which feature Beetlejuice style stripes.

2. THE LOST BOYS (1987, R, 1h 37m)

why I love it: Before Twilight, Vampire Diaries, and even before Buffy, we had the Coreys. Add in Jason Patric, Jamie Gertz, Kiefer Sutherland, and Dianne Wiest. HELLO? It was part brat pack, part camp, part horror, and just... everything that was cool about the 80s. Okay, I'm definitely dating myself here, but I saw this in the theater several times, and I don't know how many times I've watched it on TV. Good jump scares, teen angst, fun comic relief, classic "rules to follow," and yes, I did drive around listening to the soundtrack.

1. HALLOWEEN (1978, R, 1h 31m) 

why I love it: Three words. JAMIE LEE CURTIS. I freaking love her and I love that she's done really great things since her debut as a scream queen, but that she's never too far from her roots. I may be wrong, but I believe she's the original "last girl standing." Countless horror flicks have the bad guy who WILL. NOT. DIE. and only one girl is left, seemingly overpowered, but then BAM. Not only was this made on shoestring and bubblegum, it launched a ba-gillion-dollar franchise and a bunch of careers behind the camera too. Bonus points for its game-changer factor, using most of its budget to get the newest type of camera, which made it seem much more expensive than it was, and big bonus points to the producer/distributor who never freaking gave up. RESPECT. Also, when you hear this theme song, you instantly know it. Perfect. 

*Two more things. 1. Without JANET LEIGH (PSYCHO) we wouldn't have her daughter Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis so big props to the original scream queen, and 2. The Michael Myers mask was a microbudget revamp of a Captain Kirk mask, which means that we all owe LUCILLE BALL a huge debt of gratitude for saying yes to STAR TREK (her studio supported it when everyone else said no), which led to the massive Star Trek franchise and subsequently, the huge Halloween franchise, which led to dozens of other copycats and the modern day fandom of low-budget, high-grossing horror and sci-fi films/television. Yes, once again, ALL HAIL LUCY.

Happy viewing,

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Sometimes I'm serious, sometimes I'm silly. Any scripts referenced are for educational purposes only. (My lawyer made me say that part.)