This is obviously Alfred Hitchcock’s original film, although some of the remakes were fair. Psycho pushed the envelope for what a horror movie could do, get away with, and succeed with from an artistic standpoint. Making the bold choice of killing off its starlet, Vera Miles, early on (which started the trend continued by films like Scream), Psycho invented the slasher genre in a big way. The twist ending still holds up after many years of repeat viewing.
2. The Shining (1980)
With a creative team like Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King, it’s little wonder this film is so iconic. This movie is worth a watch just for the pop culture references in other works, but prepare to be shocked by how hard hitting the movie still is. This terrifying psychological thriller is a must watch not just for horror fans, but for any fan of classic films.
3. Jaws (1975)
Loosely based on real inland bull shark sightings, Stephen Spielberg’s great monster film captured the imagination of a generation of film goers. There are so many memorable things about this movie. The theme is iconic. The camera work is instantly recognizable. The characters are well drawn, complex, and funny. Jaws is both an entertaining popcorn flick and a great piece of art.
4. The Exorcist (1973)
Adapted by the author of the equally terrifying novel, The Exorcist is one of the scariest movies of all time. The common thought about how much tamer horror movies were in the past doesn’t apply to this film. This is not a subtly spooky thriller like Cat People. It is gory, gross, and deeply unsettling. Jason Miller’s performance as Father Karras is troubled and stoic, and it remains the defining idea of what an exorcist is in the public imagination.
5. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
What begins as an apparent haunted apartment film turns into one of the most twisted stories in 1960’s horror. Rosemary’s Baby is memorable for a very scary plot, but also for a great performance by Mia Farrow. This film may make you worried about your neighbors.
6. Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
Romero’s second zombie feature is also considered by some to be his best. Romero’s use of comic book style color and visuals sort of predicted the genre’s return to popularity with The Walking Dead. Dawn of the Dead is a gory horror film, but it is also a subversion of American consumerism, which was entering into a whole new level in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The mall shopper is the true zombie!
7. Freaks (1932)
Freaks is often quoted in pop culture, because, despite its age, it remains in the collective imagination of horror fans. Freaks is, at its heart, an underdog story… but there’s no rule that says the underdog can’t end up terrifying.
8. Halloween (1978)
This film is the standard to which all modern slasher movies are compared. John Carpenter’s early masterpiece critiques suburban ideas of safety while indulging suburban youth culture. Jamie Lee Curtis delivers one of her best performances as a baby sitter who has to become the ultimate horror movie survivor.