Horror movies are weird in that they can be both good and bad simultaneously. Scares can be served up with or without a well-crafted plot or a bevy of brilliant acting. These days, horror movies lean on being able to look incredibly realistic. But movies that are just a decade or more older leaned on some good old fashioned mind games (along with some gore, of course). These are 31 classic horror movies that every guy should see at least once.
28 Days Later
Maybe you’ve had enough pandemic over the past couple of years. But if fiction pandémica are still on your list, this movie from 2003 takes you through a wild story about a virus that passes from animal to human and turns all but a select few survivors in London into zombies.
An American Werewolf in London
No horror movie list is complete without a healthy dose of classics. American Werewolf in London is about as classic as it gets when it comes to quintessential ‘80s horror flicks. Part comedy, part horror, the movie centers on an American college student who is mauled by a werewolf and has subsequent nightmares about the afterlife and becoming a werewolf. Fun fact: The movie won the first Academy Award for Best Make-up, which was created in 1981.
This is not one to watch with your small child. That goes for the majority of these horror movie picks, but it’s especially the case for The Babadook because the whole thing centers around a children’s book called Mister Babadook. The main character, Amelia, lives alone with her only son Samuel who is, naturally, afraid of monsters. Unfortunately Mister Babadoo hides in their house. Forewarning: a dog’s neck is broken and a head is cut in half. Maybe just never open old children’s books?
This Alfred Hitchcock classic debuted in 1963 and is still a point of reference to this day. The story centers around Melanie Daniels who heads to a small town north of San Francisco and starts to notice some strange things about the birds there: they’re incredibly violent for your average winged creature. The birds hunt down and kill people, including seagulls who take down the center of town, crows who take out children, and sparrows who peck through doors to get to the man inside. Some 3,200 birds were trained for the movie, and Hitchcock said that the seagulls were the most real-life vicious when talking about the movie on The Dick Cavett Show.
The Blair Witch Project
When three film students walked into a Maryland forest for their documentary on the Blair Witch that allegedly lived there, horror movies changed forever. Ok so, there was no real Blair Witch, but the faux documentary definitely did have an impact on the horror genre and led to subsequent movies like Paranormal Activities, and it precluded the takeover of reality TV when it came out in 1999. While there’s no shortage of Blair Witch Project haters, there’s no denying a classic. Plus it’s featured in the Guinness Book of World Records for the Top Budget: Box Office Ratio category. The movie took $60,000 to make and grossed $248 million.
Stephen King is the king of horror. The movie Carrie is based off of the book by the same name — the first that King published, thereby kicking off an empire. The story follows social outcast Carrie White, whose religious mom is about as anti-sex as one can get and goes so far as to think that menstraution is proof of sin. Teenage hijinx are taken to an extreme, including the famous scene of pigs blood being poured from the ceiling onto Carrie. While it’s an interesting look at early Stephen King, some aspects of this 1976 movie have not aged well. Take, for example, the gratuitous nudity of people planning high school girls.
Dawn of the Dead
Long before there was The Walking Dead there was Dawn of the Dead. Four people in Philadelphia try to flee zombies who have taken over by hiding out in a shopping mall (possible the most American of places when this movie first came out in 1978). Carnage ensues, because if the mall was a true hideout then there wouldn’t be anything else for this movie to depict. More than jump scares, you’ll notice a whole lot of blood and body parts, including a scene when someone’s stomach is torn open and zombies eat him from the inside.
The Devil’s Backbone (El Espinazo del Diablo)
The American movie industry doesn’t have a monopoly on terrifying horror. Case in point: The 2001 movie The Devil’s Backbone from Guillermo del Toro (or El Espinazo del Diablo in Spanish). The movie takes place in 1939 after three years of Spain’s civil war. A child left at an orphanage finds just the type of negative environment that orphanages play in many movies, plus the ghost of one of the former orphans.
Drag Me to Hell
Everything seems to be going right for main character Christine Brown until it doesn’t. Brown forces foreclosure on an old woman, who the puts a curse on her to take her to hell in three days. There’s only so much that can be done, and most of what can involves psychics, cursing goats (and goat sacrifices), throwing up dead cats, and lots of mouths filled with rows of pointy teeth.
The Evil Dead
This classic movie from 1983 takes place in a remote cabin in the woods, because where else? Against all of the advice that has been learned from scary movies over the past decades, the five college students at the heart of The Evil Dead read incantations from a book and audio tape found in the cabin. One by one they fall in a gorey mess that earned the movie an NC-17 rating. Sure, all the gore a little over the top and special effects weren’t quite up to par, but the sight of a woman biting off her hand and the sound of her chewing up the bones will stay with you forever.
When it comes to scary movies, few are as talked about as The Exorcist. It spawned a slew of sequels and spinoffs, as well as nightmares in bedrooms across the country. And who’s to forget the classic demon diss “Your mother sucks cocks in hell.” When an apparent illness takes out a 12-year-old girl and makes her speak in tongues and projectile vomit, you know a good demonic showdown for multiple souls is about to happen.
Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage)
Eyes Without a Face is a French film (Les Yeux Sans Vigase) from the early 1960s. A young woman’s face is disfigured after a car accident, her surgeon dad takes it upon himself to replace his daughters visage using the skin of people who look like her (and he won’t settle for skin on an already dead body). One notable feature is the mask, which supposedly was an inspiration for the one Michael Myers wears in Halloween.
Serial killers are scary. There’s no bones about it. But the onslaught of documentaries and behind-the-scenes stories of real-life serial killers has kind of taken the wind out of the fear factor. Just watch Funny Games to get that fear back. Two young (and in the vein of the smart killer, very smart) killers turn their attention on a family in their vacation home in this 2007 movie.
Few horror movies have had as much of an impact as Halloween. There are also few music scores that are as connected to a franchise series. Before you watch any of the new Halloween movies, you first have to watch Jamie Lee Curtis survive in the original from 1978. The movie follows Michael Myers after he killed his sister when he was six, then breaks out of confinement the night before Halloween — the same night that he killed his sister.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
There was a real serial killer named Henry Lee Lucas who had real victims. This movie is based on those true events in a very graphic way. Henry and his roommate Otis go on a killing spree by targeting random strangers. There’s lots of rape, graphic and realistic kills, and plenty of scenes that will make you think twice about that friend you suspect might have psychopathic tendencies. When the movie was released in 1990 there was no such thing as an NC-17 rating, so it was released with no rating at all.
When it comes to horror movie tropes, backpacking in a new place is right up there with splitting up to check out a suspicious sound. In short, if you backpack then you might end up cut into pieces and stuffed in someone’s backpack. Hostel tells the story of two Americans on a post-college romp who are looking for a good time. Naturally, they’re staying in hostels and are looking for sex, which leads them to Slovakia with an Icelandic man. To top it all off, this 2006 flick was filmed in a mental hospital in Prague from 1910. Hostel essentially defines the sex, gore, and torture of horror movies in the 2000s and 2010s.
Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen)
Ingmar Bergman wrote and directed this classic movie from 1968. Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen in German) is, in fact, Bergman’s only scary movie and follows an artist as he tells his worst memories and desires to his pregnant wife during “the hour of the wolf” just before dawn.
A generation of people afraid of clowns likely have It to thank. The killer clown created by Stephen King can turn into whatever a kid fears most before killing them, and proves to be a menace even when the kids come back to confront the monster 30 years after spotting him as a kid. The original, released in 1990, is all the more important if you enjoyed the remake.
It Follows has nothing to do with Stephen King’s It, but it does follow a classic horror theme. In the case of this movie, that theme is that sex kills you. “It” passes by having sex and follows that person until killing them.
Julia’s Eyes (Los Ojos de Julia)
Blind folds had a major moment in horror movies with 2018’s Bird Box, but eight years prior was Julia’s Eyes. Guillermo del Toro produced this Spanish movie (Los Ojos de Julia) about a twin with macular degeneration who is quickly losing her sight not long after her sister had the same problem happen shortly before her death. Weird events, and deaths, happen on the periphery of losing her vision.
Let the Right One In
This Swedish film from 2008 follows the plight of a bullied 12-year-old boy named Oskar who falls for a vampire who looks to be 12 but is actually more than 200. This movie will make you think about the pros and cons of having a supernatural being that survives off of human blood on your side, but from the perspective of a middle schooler. It comes complete with blood falling into a bucket as it drips from a teenager’s slit throat who is hanging from a tree and plenty of blood sucking sound effects.
Following the lead of the Blair Witch Project a decade before it, Paranormal Activity is shot like a faux home movie. In this case the setting is the much more innocuous suburban home instead of the remote forest, but setting doesn’t matter too much when the demonic presence follows you in a new home. If you’re already familiar with the movie but haven’t seen the alternate endings, you’re going to want to check them out for a dark twist. What isn’t scary is the amount of profit that the movie made: with a budget of about $15,000, Paranormal Activity grossed more than $190,000,000 worldwide.
Steven Spielberg made a name for himself with blockbusters like E.T., Indiana Jones, and Jurassic Park. In that same time period he also made Poltergeist, which is just an iconic staple of the horror genre as those other movies are in adventure and sci-fi. It also made people terrified of the white noise screen on old TVs (thankfully those no longer exist, though that leaves the question open of what the supernatural beings are using as a medium these days). This haunted house flick about the ghosts of abused corpses stealing the youngest daughter in the family has some gory scenes of ripping a face off and clown dolls strangling kids, but it’s the thinking about the movie after its over that will really get you.
Psycho is an even more famous Hitchcock horror film than The Birds. It leans on now-classic touchpoints like someone driving away to start a new life, stopping at motels in bad weather, and women who have a tough time finding a partner. One scene from this 1960 movie inspired countless others and made who knows how many people think twice about bathing alone: the famous shower scene.
The Ring is another movie that made every TV with a fuzzy white screen and white noise seem ominous. The driving point of terror in this movie may be lost now that a certain generation has never seen a VHS tape or player, let alone know how they work. Still, the straight fear factor of the whole plot is enough. The VHS tape leads to death seven days later for anyone who watches it, and it’s up to an intrepid journalist to figure it out (and she’s on her own seven-day timeline). What the video depicts has some of the most disturbing scenes, like suicide, hangings, nails through fingers, etc. The idea of something you watch leading to your death is something else entirely that sticks around long after the movie is gone — as does the image of a horse being blended by a boat propeller.
Once you’ve seen the 2002 American remake, you need to see the original 1998 Japanese movie based on the novel by Kôji Suzuki. Of course there will be plenty of similarities, but the original has a volcanic island and psychics.
After The Exorcist, there’s no horror movie that leans on Catholicism in a creepier way that Rosemary’s Baby. The film follows Rosemary (played by Mia Farrow) as she tries to start a family in New York City. It’s filmed at the Dakota, the same building where John Lennon was murdered. When Rosemary does get pregnant, it’s no spoiler to say that it’s all downhill from there with rape, violence, and demons.
For many people who were kids in the aughts, Saw defined the gore horror genre. It also ruined the question “want to play a game.” After waking up in a bathroom, two men have to play sadistic games designed by the clown-mask killer Jigsaw. It’s thrilling from early in the movie and rarely lets up, whether that means depicting extreme violence and hard character choices that really make you think, or keeping up with the many plot twists.
This should come as no surprise, but there’s another Stephen King adaptation on this list. The Shining is among the most famous king movies and has Jack Nicholson playing an iconic lead role as a violent, hallucinating father just trying to have a vacation in a Colorado mountain town (the real-world Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado). Nicholson’s character fails to overcome writer’s block, but does not fail to have a stream of horrifying images run through his head, like an elevator with a waterfall of blood or two twin girls at the end of a hallway.
The Silence of the Lambs
The Silence of the Lambs is the rare horror movie that earned high acclaim. The movie, staring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, won five Oscars. It tracks with America’s obsession with serial killers as an FBI cadet uses a cannibal killer with a hankering for Chianti and fava beans to try and capture another serial killer. This is more of a psychological type of scary than jump scare or heavy gore, but it’s terrifying nonetheless.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Chainsaws are not subtle. Neither are masks, or the nickname Leatherface. But in 1974, a movie about five friends in Texas who get wrapped up with a family of cannibals features both, and it has been a defining movie in the horror genre since it was released.