Here are some more movies that are just plain scary. Each of these movies has attempted (and I believe succeeded) to elevate the horror movie to a true art form, creating sublime moments of terror. These titles are more "mainstream" then some of the last ones I talked about, but successful in a genre where many others have failed. What do you think?
If you like horror movies, you should have seen this one by now (I'm talking Kubric's version, not the mini-series). Kubric's movie strays from the book in many ways, but I think this works; it makes it a Stanley Kubric movie instead of another one of the terrible movies made from Stephen King books and stories. Where Kubric's movies succeeds is in its sense of atmosphere; the scene everyone remembers is of little Danny riding around on his hotwheel bike through the empty hallways. Kubric's tight camera work makes the right-angled turns as Danny makes the turns, coming around on another empty hallway, then another, then to a sudden vision of the previous caretaker's two little girls, saying hello and showing how they looked slaughtered in the hallway. Kubric's version wins over the more accurate miniseries because it makes you feel the isolation and the loneliness of the situation (although I agree with King in that it is kind of lame having Jack Torrance and the hotel left frozen at the end rather than the hotel boiler blowing up).
Some might call it SciFi, but, ladies and gentlemen, this is most certainly a horror movie. The fact that it is set in space is secondary to the frightening concepts of having a bloodthirsty parasite growing inside of you and having nowhere to run from a spiky-tailed monstrosity. This movie could easily be another blood-and-guts thriller, but it rises above such a status with Ridley Scott's tension building scenes, camera work, and mise-en-scene. The dinner scene where the alien tears out of the belly of one of the crew members is brilliant, but there are many such scenes in this movie. This is also one of the first examples of a female heroine presented as being "tough-as-nails" with survival skills superior to the men--Ripley is a very cool character. The only moment where this persona fails, I think, is the moment Ripley breaks cover, risking her life to save the damn cat. This could be seen as a moment of female weakness (or so my academic mind cries out to me).
I just noticed that these first three movies all have the theme of isolation in common and they all pull it off beautifully: Deliverance is another great example. This is also another example of a movie that might not be considered a horror movie (all the best ones never are). It involves a group of guys in search of the "nature" experience in an area that is scheduled to be turned into a reservoir before it is gone forever. And yes, this is the movie that made the "Dueling Banjos" creepy. This is also the movie involving hillbilly rape. This movie is scary because of how real the situations in it are; this stuff could really happen and probably has!
I am always a big fan of horror movies with underlying social themes (when they're not too pretentious, that is). I'm not saying Candyman works on all levels, but it does use the real-world setting of the city projects in an interesting way. It is also interesting to note that this movie is an exception in a genre that rarely presents African Americans in any way other than as a side character to be killed half-way through the movie (remember Samuel L. Jackson in Deep Blue Sea?). Besides the city projects stuff, this movie is mainly about urban legends and how they are spread and grow and prosper. There is a terrifying scene in this movie where the protagonist, Helen, wakes up in a pool of blood with a knife and the body of her friend Bernadette near by. It appears as if Candyman killed her friend, but I argue this movie is about spiritual possession and it is possible Helen is to blame.
I love this movie (Cronenberg, 1986). There is nothing more frightening than slowly turning into some kind of disgusting insect-creature. This movie, at its heart, is a classic 'love triangle' drama, but with gruesome consequences. The characters are perfect and the plot is basic but interesting. The true impact of The Fly is, however, a visceral one. One of the most frightening scenes in the movie is Veronica (Geena Davis) giving birth to a wriggling grub. Then, of course, there is the end of the movie where Seth Brundle sheds his face and reveals his true Brundle-Fly self. Movies like this, that focus on visceral gross-outs, really contain such well-rounded characters and an interesting story. The Fly is a fantastic horror movie.