Do you love scary movies but prefer to watch them while staying safe and snug at home? Here's my list of top picks of classic and contemporary horror movies that are available on video/DVD.
1. 'Psycho' (1960)Psycho
is a masterwork of suspense and horror. In my opinion, murderous psychos don't get any scarier than Norman Bates. The shower scene has some of the most terrifying footage in movie history. I doubt that I'm the only woman who hesitates to check into a motel alone since seeing the film. My favorite line: "A boy's best friend is his mother."
2. 'Dracula' (1931)
There have many movie adaptations of Dracula,
but to my mind, nothing tops the 1931 classic starring Bela Lugosi in the title role. Of course, circa 1931 special effects don't match the visual wizardry of modern movies, but the eerie atmosphere this movie creates in my imagination is perhaps the most potent effect ever invented.
3. 'Frankenstein' (1931)
This classic horror film based on Mary Shelley's novel is the monster movie that defined the genre. Demented by his power in artificially creating a man-like monster, Dr. Frankenstein is a mad scientist who exclaims "It's alive! It's alive!" moments after zapping a cadaver into a living monster. Boris Karloff's performance makes the monster seem pitiful and almost human.
4. 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1919)This classic silent horror movie is a masterpiece of German expressionist cinema. I love how the movie's production design and sets create a haunting psychological landscape. Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) appears to be a madman who keeps a somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) in his thrall, but as the story unfolds it becomes clear that things may not be what they seem.
5. 'Shadow of the Vampire' (2001)In the early 1920s, legendary German director F.W. Murnau made the classic vampire movie Nosferatu with actor Max Schreck in the role of the vampire. Shadow of the Vampire postulates that Schreck was not just playing a vampire--he really was a vampire! I loved how this movie did something few films can--evoke terror both intellectually and viscerally.
6. 'Young Frankenstein' (1974)Who could resist Mel Brooks' hilarious spoof of the horror genre in general and Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) in particular. But the best thing about this movie is that it never fails to make me laugh. In fact, some of the lines are even funnier the second and third time around. The Special Edition DVD includes Brooks' commentary on a separate audio track.
7. 'The Birds' (1963)When Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) delivers a pair of lovebirds to a man (Rod Taylor) in a seaside town, she gets more than she bargained for. A lone seagull attacks her, a flock of seagulls assaults kids at a birthday party, and bird-related havoc escalates. Once again, something as innocuous as a flock of birds is transformed by Hitchcock into a tour de force of terror.
8. 'An American Werewolf in London' (1981)
This is not one of your standard, by-the-numbers werewolf films. In my opinion, this chilling horror movie is one of the smartest films ever made about werewolves. Part of its appeal is that it doesn't take itself or the genre too seriously. Writer-director John Landis cleverly injects lots of humor, and for good measure he throws in a love story!
9. 'The Shining' (1980)Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson, at his diabolical best) becomes the troubled caretaker of an isolated resort hotel, where during off-season he and his family are the only occupants. Although this is an uneven movie, I think Kubrick's genius transcends the pulp sensibility of Stephen King's novel, creating a film of icy psychological horror.
10. 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1939)Horror and melodrama mix in this adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel. Charles Laughton gives a memorable performance as Quasimodo, a hunchbacked bell ringer at Notre Dame Cathedral who falls in love with the beautiful gypsy girl Esmeralda (Maureen O'Hara). What I like about The Hunchback of Notre Dame is that it's an evocative film that mixes horror, pathos, and tragedy.