From little girls in a red mackintosh to cenobites from another dimension, there are many types of monsters that get us scared this time of the year. As you celebrate National Horror Movie Day looking through your eyes, know that you're not alone. These are the movies, moments, and moods that are going to keep us up all night.
Patrick Brown, The Shining
The Shining  is probably the best horror movie ever made. Like any other horror movie, some of its scares haven’t aged well—for example, one of its most notorious moments, in an age more accepting of marginal sexual identities like “furries,” doesn’t pack the punch it’s supposed to. But director Stanley Kubrick’s deviously constructed mise-en-scene makes for a haunted house film that manages to deeply unsettle the viewer even before the ghosts show up. There are also, of course, something like “jump scares.” But the power of The Shining’s jump scares is that when Kubrick shows us something unexpected, it’s not merely shocking, but horrifying: it’s an image composed to stick with us after the film is over, a lingering shot that forces us to internalize the horror. Like any ghost story, The Shining is about the return of the repressed, the forgotten presence of the past—of death—in our everyday spaces. But here what returns isn’t merely death in an abstract sense, but the horror of male violence that lurks beneath our civilization. It’s power-mad white men like Jack Torrence who have built society [i.e., The Overlook Hotel] on the graves of Native Americans, the abuse of women, the murder of black men. The link between Jack’s violence and the history of the Overlook Hotel is what gives the film its nuance, what makes it such an enduring horror film.
Josh Brunsting, In My Skin
While it may be a genre best known as the home for much of David Cronenberg’s filmography, the world of “body horror” is fertile ground for some truly unsettling cinematic terrors. One such film comes from French filmmaker Marina de Van, and is one of the great horror films of this century. Entitled In My Skin, the film tells the story of Esther [played by de Van], who lives a rather lavish life, a life that slowly unravels after she is wounded while in her backyard. What seems like a relatively standard accidental injury, our lead goes about her life, gradually becoming more and more infatuated with said wound in ways that will leave the viewer as disturbed as completely enthralled. At once a body horror film and also a stark meditation on bourgeois malaise, In My Skin is a deeply unsettling film that may lack a serial killer but could be described as an inverted slasher picture. The wound becomes a seductive figure for our lead, pushing her life to the edge and culminates in a final act you won’t soon forget. Beautifully crafted with subtlety and nuance, the images may be grotesque but the themes the film toys with will be as unforgettable as anything seen on screen. Simply, it’s a masterpiece, and a horror film that has seemingly gone entirely unseen by wide audiences here in the US. It’s unlike anything you’ll ever see.
Zachary Davis, The Thing
Horror and suspense are intertwined, but whereas horror is subjective, suspense never goes out of style. But favorite horror movie? Well, it’s got to hit all the major attractions of good horror while still maintaining the sustainability of timeless suspense. In terms of a favorite, the one that keeps me coming back for more has to be John Carpenter’s The Thing. Isolated setting? Well—an American Research Base in Antarctica. Check. Unexplained horror that attacks without motive or discrimination? Yep—check. Creepy, crawling horrors? Ohhh, check [that spider-head is panic-inducing]. Disfiguring body horror? Definite check. Spooky music? It’s John Carpenter with Ennio Morricone, so of course, check. A suspenseful fear of the unknown where evil can lurk anywhere? Well, hell yes—after all, the suspense all comes from what you cannot know; namely, who the hell is secretly “The Thing?” The terror is built on the fact that you can trust no one because the monster is everyone. There is no hiding and no escape—there is only the suspense of wondering who is next and who [if anyone] will be left. And that ending? Horror movie perfection. Check, check, and check. Oh, and it’s got Kurt Russell. On second thought, choosing a favorite horror movie seems absurdly easy. I’ll go back and visit that Antarctic research base anytime.
Felicia Elliott, The Shining
I have never been a fan of horror movies. I don’t understand the appeal of watching gore for the sake of gore, or waiting for something to jump out and startle you. That’s not to say that I dislike all horror movies—it just has to have a damn good story to pull me in. The Shining is my favorite horror movie because it doesn’t rely on cheap tactics to be scary. The tension begins building right away, and that’s where it pulls it’s sense of horror from. I recently watched it on an international flight, and watching it with headphones really made me notice how important the music is. From the very start, the music manipulates the viewer, putting us on edge, and making us wait for something creepy to actually happen. It makes us wait a long time. Silence is used just as meticulously as music is and usually the silence is even scarier than the music. Jack Nicholson’s performance has a similar effect. There is clearly something off about him; he’s acting scary without initially doing anything scary. And when he finally does get scary, it’s terrifying. The unnatural calmness of the son, Danny, is another essential component to the horror of The Shining. Finally, the long, wide shots make the viewer comprehend just how isolated and empty the Overlook Hotel is. The Shining doesn’t knock it’s viewers over the head with blood and gore. It’s selective in what it chooses to scare you with, which makes it even more effective. It’s a good horror movie for scardy-cat snobs who don’t mind getting creeped out once a year.
John Gilpatrick, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
I'm not sure it's my scariest movie, but my favorite horror movie and the one that first gave me hope that this genre could work for me is 1920's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari from director Robert Wiene. I grew up in an age dominated by the Saws and Final Destinations of the world—films that revel in inventive, bloody deaths that repulse me more than than they frighten me. A college screening of this nearly 100-year-old expressionist masterpiece made me realize at an informative age that cinematic scares are not only possible but also wonderful, and in the case of this movie, which follows an evil hypnotist and his murderous somnambulist partner, it doesn't even require sound to make you cover your eyes in horror.
Sarah Gorr, The Descent
The first time I watched Neil Marshall’s The Descent, the first 60 minutes felt like a lifetime. The clock ticked by and I kept wondering when the action would really start—I was already on the edge of my seat, sick with tension. You see, I hadn’t seen a trailer or read so much as a two-line synopsis before watching it [my boyfriend insisted I go in completely blind]. So while I didn’t know what was supposed to happen, I did know that an hour of a relatively short movie had passed without anything too horrible happening, which could only mean one thing: the final 40 minutes might actually kill me. Oh, and did they ever. No monster has ever shocked me more or been to tuned in to my own specific fears. The claustrophobia, the isolation, all of it upset me to the point of literal, actual tears. Yes, I got so scared I cried. I haven’t seen it in years, but it’s still my benchmark film for true horror.
Alec Jensen, The House of the Devil
Ti West’s understated 2009 masterpiece The House of the Devil doesn’t feel like a modern horror movie. On a superficial level, like this summer's hit Stranger Things, it’s a visual homage to the scary stuff of the '70s and '80s, complete with Reagan-era fashions, grainy film texture, and titles in that Gothic font we associate with Stephen King paperbacks. But what makes The House of the Devil truly stand apart is West’s resistance to the urge to over-stimulate the audience. There’s no horrific pre-credits murder, no fast, choppy edits, and few cheap false alarms. Instead, the film creeps along nearly at the pace of everyday life, demonstrating an understanding that real suspense is about withholding information. After accepting an unconventional babysitting job, undergrad Samantha Hughes [Jocelin Donahue] spends the majority of the film plopping down on couches and chairs, flipping through the channels, listening to music, and ordering a pizza. Much of the film echoes that one classic sequence in American Werewolf in London in which the protagonist restlessly putzes around an apartment, waiting to see what happens when the full moon peaks out from the clouds. The House of the Devil’s pacing and focus on mundane detail creates a sense of realism. We identify with Samantha. We’ve had nights like her's. We’ve experienced the stillness of an empty house. Of course, this house is not as empty as it seems, and the climactic crescendo of activity is all the more terrifying because of the quiet that preceded it.
Jonathan Lester, Killer Klowns from Outer Space
Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a fantastic and dumb Halloween movie. The premise is simple enough, alien clowns [or klowns if you really want to] invade a small town on Halloween. There are all the trappings of a great bad movie: stupid people dying in stupid ways, overly theme based weapons, and a crazy deus ex machina ending! What I love most of about this movie is that it got me over my fear of clowns. When I was 5 the television movie for Stephen King’s It premiered. Thanks to early 90s parenting, I was parked in front of the television watching it. Tim Curry’s haunting portrayal of Pennywise the Clown scared me away from storm drains, sewers, and clowns for years. Killer Klowns with its over the big top portrayals of clowns replaced the fear with the mild contempt I still hold today.
Mark Levine, The Brood
If you have a crippling fear of having a child but a deep love for late '70s fashion, David Cronenberg’s The Brood is a can’t-miss Halloween scare. The film centers on a psychotherapy cult called Somafree that uses roleplay and psychodrama to move emotional rage into the body, resulting in a variety of horrific physiological consequences. One of the cult members, Nola, is locked in a legal battle with her husband, Frank, over custody of their Carol Ann lookalike daughter, Candace. When Frank discovers bruises on Candace, he immediately blames Nola and threatens to keep their daughter away from the cult. This sends Nola into dizzying rage, and soon little monsters in bright snowsuits start wreaking havoc on the family. The film probes deeper into the cult, and the truth of what’s happening there is startling, leading to a final reveal that is equal parts ridiculous and terrifying. The film’s major success is that the audience understands the reasons behind the dumb things the characters do and the vulnerable positions they put themselves into. With so many horror films featuring stupid characters doing stupid things, it’s refreshing to find yourself caring about the people—and marveling at the proportions and complexity of their '70s haircuts. The design and environment of the film feels kitschy and retro now, but it gives it this demented After School Special vibe that is disarming and fun. All the more effective when the curveballs start coming, dragging the audience into a weirdly cerebral realm of body horror that mixes classic horror tropes with unsettling twists. It’s an especially recommended film for pregnant parents or parents of newborns. You’re really gonna relate.
Alex Moore, Don't Look Now
For me, it has to be Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 classic Don’t Look Now. This film, rather than provoking any explicit scares, builds a seething mass of creepiness that persists long after the film ends. In particular, it’s more effective than any other film I’ve seen at placing you into a character’s state of paranoia and emotional confusion. Through the clever use of editing and sound design, viewers are kept in state of disorientation which only increases as the main character grows perturbed. In an added layer, the film leans on Venice’s labyrinthine architecture to further confuse viewers. This technique, rather than making you feel like you’re watching a poorly edited mish-mash of clips, leaves you in a pliable state that makes the film’s odd imagery more effective. Underpinning all of this imagery and sound is the theme of the loss of a child. The specter of this death hangs over the entire film, peeking out of every alleyway and emerging out of every conversation. Don’t Look Now isn’t going to leave you terrified as its credits roll. Instead, as days pass, you’ll realize that its themes and images have slithered into your unconscious, haunting you when you least expect it.
Aaron Pinkston, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
In all of cinema, there is one moment that will forever be etched into my brain. One of the unfortunate vacationers in the heart of Texas stumbles upon a seemingly abandoned farm house. With nothing else in sight, in need of gasoline, and with a little curiosity, the young man enters the house and walks back toward an usual looking doorway. As he stumbles at its frame, a massive man dressed in an apron and strange mask suddenly steps into frame, raises a sledge hammer and sharply brings in down. The young man falls and begins to violently convulse. The figure we come to know as Leatherface pulls his victim in before slamming shut the metal sliding door. We're left for a second with the pulse of its slam, wondering what the hell is behind that door. It's our introduction to one of the great movie monsters and one of the most interesting characters in all of cinema, and boy is it a statement. This is the beauty of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [yes: "Chain Saw" is two words]. The film shows us just enough, tells us just enough to make us just as curious as the young man stumbling in on this horror. Ultimately, we get to see more of the Sawyers and their horrific nature than we could ever want. Their family dinner scene, involving an unwilling participant [the wonderful Marilyn Burns], is almost unintelligible, all screams and squeals, and feels so dirty and gross. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is weird and cruel and surprisingly understated and, most importantly, absolutely terrifying.
Matt Warren, Hellraiser
Author Clive Barker is one of the undisputed masters of modern horror, not to mention a black-belt expert at weaponizing perversion. Hellraiser, Barker’s first-and-finest foray into cinema, is probably the best film about kink that’s ever been made, horror or otherwise. It’s the kind of weird, gross, totally outrageous 1980s gore movie that even as you’re watching it seems like some sort of terrifying wet dream. It’s easy [too easy] to imagine Barker writing the entire screenplay one-handed, steadily pecking away at the typewriter with one overworked index finger while furiously working his pale British penis over with his free hand, painting the underside of this blood-red mahogany writing desk white with a Pollock-postcard of congealed, glue-like jism. What’s that, you’ve never seen Hellraiser? Well, the movie is equal-parts dark fantasy thriller, haunted house fable, slasher movie and erotic romance. The details aren’t important, but suffice to say there’s an undead masochist trying to escape from hell in order to steal his estranged brother’s A) wife, and B) skin—but not if Pinhead and his undead cenobite brethren have anything to say about it. Too bad for the poor American expat [Ashley Laurence, the Bill Paxton to Heather Langenkamp’s Bill Pullman] caught in the middle. Hellraiser is what all scary movies should aspire to be: a place without safe words.