As Halloween approaches, fear is in the air.  Horror movies have surrounded us, like a mob of vile and inhuman zombies closing in on their prey.  The question is, which movies are worth watching and which movies are worth avoiding?  If you’re looking for classics, I have you covered.  These movies will leave you trembling in a corner, looking over your shoulder to: A) make sure there’s no one there with a murder weapon and B) make sure there’s no one there who might have noticed the urine staining your pants.

Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen of Burnpoetry, here’s my list of top 5 horror movies of all time.

#5  “Jaws”

This movie, first hitting big screens in 1975.  It is loosely based on a true story of a shark that terrorized a small New England community.  “Jaws” hasn’t lost any of its ability to scare people either.  This movie, launching the career of a talented young director named Steven Spielberg, is timelessly scary.  What it lacks in special effects, which are never truly that high on my horror-meter anyway, it more than makes up for in sinister, slow-simmering suspense.  “Jaws” was one of the best movies at not showing us what we were all so scared of.

It’s ability to build suspense with every ticking minute, and every white cap that stirs across the water’s surface is un-rivaled.  We only see bits and pieces of the shark.  The genius of “Jaws” is in what we don’t see.  It’s in trying to strain your eyes at the surface of a seemingly idyllic piece of ocean and trying to see what stirs in the depths.  After I saw this movie, I firmly made up my mind that not only would I never get into the ocean, but that I might move to the desert simply to avoid water in all forms.

Spielberg’s masterful horror film featured the single creepiest 2-notes in the history of cinema.  “Da-dum. . .da-dum.”  John Williams, famous for his work making music for every good movie ever, composed the score and it could, in all honesty, be the scariest part of this movie.

The point is this: “Jaws” is a timeless horror movie.  It was scary during a time when we were embroiled in a seemingly never-ending war, the economy was struggling, and the nation was experiencing great unrest.  And it was scary in 1975, too.

#4  “Psycho”

And I’m not talking about the crappy Vince Vaughn remake.  Although I do see the potential for a “Wedding Crashers” sequel with the reception taking place in the Bates Motel reception hall in which Vince plays two roles.  But that’s neither here nor there.  Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece is a little slower moving in the early stages but is a truly haunting piece of cinema.

With the single most famous non-nude shower scene in history, and one that has spawned countless spinoff attempts (although generally featuring a racier approach) this horror classic stands alone as one of the more taut, suspenseful horror movies of all-time.

Norman Bates’ “mother” also ranks as one of the bitchiest old ladies of all time.  And while I’m on the late, great Mrs. Bates, she is also one of the ugliest “women” in cinema history (apologies to: the entire cast of “To Wong Foo.”  I’m looking at you, Wesley Snipes.).

While Hitchcock and Co. may have famously used chocolate syrup as blood in the aforementioned shower scene, it is your blood that runs cold when watching this piece of genius.

#3.  “Silence of the Lambs”

You might be saying to yourself, “But wait, Chris, this isn’t really a horror movie.  It’s more suspense, isn’t it?”  To which I would happily posit, “Write your own damn ‘Top 5 List’!”  In all honesty, I understand that this movie isn’t necessarily considered a horror movie by many purists, but you have to admit, it is damn scary.  Anthony Hopkins’ character, the terrifying Hannibal Lecter, is on the Mount Rushmore of sick, demented Villains and Buffalo Bob plays the Scottie Pippen of F-ed up to Hannibal’s Jordan.

Set in a variety of creepy settings, with a dark and brooding score to match, this movie left me checking the locks on my parents door like an OCD patient in mid-freakout.  Made all the more terrifying in that it is one of the more plausible horror movies, which I find can truly instill fear, it was a truly great look into the minds of deviant killers.

#2.  “Halloween”

If all other virginal-babysitter-under-siege-from-criminal-madman movies are Lindsay Lohan (i.e. young, hip, allegedly,good-looking but lacking any substance to speak of) than “Halloween” is Meryl Streep.  Older, yes, but with a certain amount of gravitas that just makes all the Lohan’s of the world look like silly little girls by comparison.  This is John Carpenter’s masterpiece of horror.  It’s the Sistine Chapel of chopped-up sitters.

The music alone is enough to make an MMA fighter curl into the fetal position and tap out before the movie has truly even begun.  The white mask of serial killer Michael Myers which is, believe it or not, actually a doctored up “Captain Kirk” mask has become an iconic symbol of horror movies.

While my personal belief, that we should show “Halloween” in every sex ed. and anti-drug class in the nation as a preventative measure, is currently not shared by congress it does show that if you have sex and/or drink and/or smoke some of the ganj, you will get murdered.  You had better believe that I’ll be screening this movie with the first baby-sitter that I hire for my children so they realize the consequences of shoddy baby-sitting technique.

Simply, and much more shortly, put: this movie is a classic.  I’d love to write more but it’s on AMC in about 2 hours and I need the lead-up time to get properly, and nerdily, pumped.

#1.  The Shining

Directed by Stanley Kubrick and hitting the big screen in 1980, this horror classic is a lit fuse of tension that snakes its way slowly and masterfully towards an explosive and jaw-dropping conclusion.  Don’t let the inclusion of a guy named Scatman Cruthers fool you, this movie is the real deal.  Jack Nicholson is unbelievable as Jack Torrance, the writer-gone-mad.

Kubrick’s camerawork in this movie could almost be a character itself.  Set to skin-tingling strings-sounds that call from offscreen like hidden sirens, the steady-cam operator of this movie deserves his own star on the walk-of-fame in Hollywood.  The hotel where the movie takes place, painted in vivid and surreal colors, truly takes on a life of its own; radiating menace from every keyhole and every staircase.

This movie, along with “Halloween,” is one of the few movies that I will drop everything for and sit down and watch the entire way through without hesitation.  Partially, as well, because I’m a loser with nothing else to do.  If you’re worried about the pacing of the movie, simply dim the lights and turn the volume up and you’ll feel as though an icy hand has slid its fingers along the back of your spine.

What does your list look like?


  1. Peter Dunphy says:

    I love this list. What’s great about your choices is that these are horror movies that really linger in the memory for long after you’ve seen them. So many horror movies these days go for the loud audio sting or grisly murder while all-but-abandoning dramatic tension.

    For me, suspense is what the best horror movies are all about. I must say, I’m looking forward to seeing the new Paranormal Activity because the first movie generated lots of suspense without showing anything as such. The new one’s supposed to be better so I’ll try to avoid any in-depth reviews and make my own mind up.

    Anyhow, a very nice choice of horror movies and mine would be very similar I think. There are few movies that get under my skin but The Shining really does it for me! Terrifying. Happy Halloween from Ireland!

  2. Nick L. says:

    Great list! With the notable exception of Jaws, I have watched every other one of those movies in the last seven days.

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