A scene from "28 Days Later"

When it comes to ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, I think we can all agree:

These days it’s scarier in the so-called real world than anything the movies have ever, um, coughed up. 

Still, a slowly opening coffin, a dead-eyed flesh-eating zombie or something half-glimpsed in a supposedly empty room retain a power as old as the first humans swapping ghost stories around a campfire.

So, if Skittles, candy corn and the possibility of the occasional razor blade embedded in an apple don’t tempt you out on Halloween, why not stay home and scare the bejesus out of yourself. Here are some decade-by-decade suggestions.


“Nosferatu” – The antithesis of Bela Lugosi’s suave Dracula, this is a vampire with teeth. And nails even Barbra Streisand would envy.


“Freaks” – Tod Browning (who directed the Lugosi “Dracula”) assembled a real-life collection of, well, differently abled people for his unforgettable shocker featuring Johnny Eck, the Half Boy, Prince Randian, the Living Torso and an engaging pin head named Schlitze. One of us! One of us! 

“M” – Peter Lorre is more monstrous than any of Browning’s freaks playing a child molester/murderer who whistles “In the Hall of the Mountain King” while stalking his young victims. And when the whistling stops…



“Bedlam” – In the 18thcentury, an aristocratic beauty who spurns a nobleman’s advances is committed to an insane asylum.  Early feminism?


“Night of the Hunter” – Charles Laughton’s only directorial effort stars Robert Mitchum as the creepiest preacher this side of, well, you fill in the blank yourself. It’s like a Grimm’s fairy tale gone nuts.


“Psycho” – According to her daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh never took a shower again.

“The Haunting” – Probably the best haunted house movie ever made and one that proves that whispers can be a lot more terrifying than screams. 

‘Night of the Living Dead” – It revolutionized the zombie picture. Also, the scariest movie ever made in Pittsburgh.

“Alien” poster


“The Exorcist” – Little Linda Blair spewing pea soup is just the beginning.

“Halloween” – The first and best of the entire slasher genre. 

“Alien” – A haunted house movie set aboard a creaky spaceship, with an “And Then There Were None” plot. The scene where something disagrees with John Hurt at dinner remains one of the most gruesome ever filmed.


“The Vanishing” – Not the lame Jeff Bridges remake but the Dutch original. Something unspeakable happens to a young couple on vacation. And it begins at an innocuous gas station in broad daylight. Will shake you to your toes. 

“Silence of the Lambs”


“The Silence of the Lambs” – Hard to say which is more frightening, the finale in the spooky house where the serial killer keeps his victims or Anthony Hopkins making those slurping sounds at Jodie Foster. One of the few horror movies to win multiple Oscars, including Best Picture.


“28 Days Later” ­– Before he invented the atomic bomb in “Oppenheimer,” Cillian Murphy played a London bicycle courier who awakes from a coma to discover a virus has turned most of the world’s population into murderous zombies (are there any other kind these days?)

“Pan’s Labyrinth” – World War II Spain mixes with a terrifying fantasy world (or is it somehow real?) Directed by Guillermo del Toro.



“Midsommar” – Soooo scary.  A still unknown Florence Pugh goes with a group of pals to a seemingly harmless summer festival in rural Sweden. What could go wrong? Hint: everything.


Matthew Perry never became a Major Movie Star, but he didn’t need to. “Friends” was a thousand times better than most movies.

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE...

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.