Director: Brian De Palma
Cast: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Nancy Allen
Carrie was among the first films to utilise that most terrifying supernatural force: puberty. Stephen King’s novel recognised the trials of adolescence as ripe ground for horror, and found a worthy suitor for his first cinematic adaptation in director Brian De Palma, who brings the tale to life with sadistic relish and intelligent, daring camerawork. Sissy Spacek, meanwhile, imbues Carrie with childlike innocence and genuine pathos, blotted only by mild bouts of, erm, telekinetic murder. It’s a testament to her range that, come that prom finale, you find yourself feeling simultaneously sympathetic and scared stiff.
Director: Eduardo Sánchez
Cast: Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, Josh Leonard
It wasn't the springboard its director and crew might have hoped after banking $250 million from their nano-budget horrow, but The Blair Witch Project's legacy continues apace. It's instructive to see how little Adam Wingard's surprise sequel deviates from the set-up and formula of the original (bunch of kids head into the Black Hills, record the results on the shakiest of shakycams) 17 years later. At the time, it sparked a revolution in the genre. Since then have come dozens of imitators, although even the best of them fall short of replicating Project's disorientating chills. Twigs and bits of foliage have never been so scary.
Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, Jim Siedow
Five years after Scooby-Doo first aired, Tobe Hooper similarly put some teenagers in a van to endure a scary mystery. Their experience was rather different. Maybe they should’ve brought a dog, although it’s doubtful it would have helped them. Actually quite light on gore, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre nevertheless remains a uniquely gnarly, punishing experience, from its grotesque production design to its family of cannibal freaks and its stand-out villain Leatherface. Some have suggested an intriguing Vietnam-era subtext about America eating its young, but the film functions perfectly well without it on a pure, primal level. Burns’ screams ring in your ears long after the exhausting last act is over. The final shot of Leatherface dancing with his saw is an indelible image.
Imagine a trip to see Psycho in 1960. Its deliberately oblique marketing, fronted by Hitchcock himself, would have prepared you for a motel to feature prominently but not much else. The opening 20-odd minutes must have seemed like a pretty standard noir set-up, with Janet Leigh eloping with a bunch of money and the tantalising possibility of a new life that lasts precisely as long as her next trip to the shower. Then came the full-bore shock of that brutal knifing, each stab driven home by Bernard Herrmann's jarring score, unexpected and almost entirely without precedent. Audiences must have wondered if it wasn't Hitch himself who, in the nicest possible way, was the real psycho here.
Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke
Moving into a family home on an ancient burial ground presents the kind of real estate connundrum even Kirstie and Phil would be hard-pressed to help with. The problems faced by the Freeling clan in this much-mimicked Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg horror involve supernatural beasties, vortexes in the landing, floating objects and some major interdimensional childnapping. That's just about every supernatural domestic catastrophe in the handbook, short of finding the Dyson is haunted and the guinea pig is Satan. Despite the restriction of its PG rating (it was initially R-rated but changed on appeal), the result remains a refreshingly scary brew.
Director: Richard Donner
Cast: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Harvey Spencer Stephens
Boys, eh? Muddy-kneed, conker-smashing little blighters... all running around and falling over and, in Richard Donner's timeless chiller, turning out to be the Antichrist. The unwitting adoption of devil child Damien (Harvey Spencer Stephens) has horrifying consequences for parents Gregory Peck and Lee Remick in one of the bleakest collisions of faith, religion and superstition in the genre. It's not held in quite the same critical esteem as The Exorcist or Rosemary's Baby these days, but make no mistake, The Omen is still a powerful potion.
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles
Many have tried to imitate John Carpenter’s style and mood in the years since he carved his way into the horror pantheon, but few, if any, can match him. Inspired by Hitchcock, he found the scares lurking within suburbia, making them instantly relatable to the audience. And he’s helped by a combination of the simple horror of Michael Myers and the naive-yet-tough charm of Jamie Lee Curtis’ heroine. You can largely ignore the sequels (we’ve a soft spot for the third) and reboot: stick to the original to see a true master of the creepy, tension-building story at work.
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Robert Englund, Johnny Depp
There have been, at time of writing, nine entries in the Nightmare On Elm Street series, including a reboot, a crossover, and a sequel rather prematurely titled The Final Nightmare. (It was not, obviously.) None quite compare to Wes Craven’s remarkable original. Taut, witty, and nightmarish (clue’s in the title), Elm Street stands out on the map during a decade hardly short of horror hits, and, in Freddy Krueger, presented the most terrifying boogeyman ever to wear knitwear.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
It followed his shorts work, TV movie Duel and The Sugarland Express, but Jaws truly announced the arrival of Steven Spielberg as a major talent. Massive production issues became the mother of real invention and needing to keep the toothy villain off screen as much as possible just ratcheted up the tension that much more. Primal fears fuel a thriller that also feels human thanks to Scheider, Shaw, Dreyfuss and the rest. Not forgetting John Williams’ iconic, simple and terrifying score. Jaws sticks in the brain and makes the heart beat that much faster.
Director: William Friedkin
Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair
There are horror movies with infamous reputations. And then there’s The Exorcist. This is a film which prompted cinema exhibitors to routinely offer ‘barf bags’ for queasy patrons; which had St John’s Ambulance on standby at screenings to aid the regular fainters; which was accused of corrupting young minds with subliminal imagery. Amid the noise and furore, William Friedkin’s achievements were almost ignored – how he deftly blended the religious and psychological with themes of unconditional faith and maternal love. And yes, it’s head-spinningly scary. Don’t forget your barf bag.