Thoughtful Thursday: What’s your favorite scary movie?

An oversized radioactive octopus wrestling with a mad scientist in a mudpit… that is the earliest image that I have of any horror movie. This B&W scene somehow made a huge impact on my 5-year-old mind, as I sat watching it on a grainy TV screen, and was in part responsible for setting me on the road of horror filmdom.

Today, I have come to realize that the scene in question was just a snippet from – of all things – Ed Wood’s notorious 1955 cheapie Bride of the Monster, a film that elicits mainly laughter in the adult me, instead of scares and awe. But oh, what an impression it made on my kindergarten self back then!

During the intervening decades, my tastes in the arena of horror have matured a bit, and the films that I deem scary these days are a bit more sophisticated in nature. (You can find some thoughts on 22 recent horror watches of mine in this month’s annual Shocktober Film column.)

The Haunting 1963For me, the most chilling horror film will probably always be The Haunting (1963), based on Shirley Jackson’s equally frightening 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House. Other close runner-ups would have to be William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill (1958), which frightened the bejeebers out of me as a little kid and still manages to chill today, and the superb British horror anthology film Dead of Night (1945). And then there’s Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique (1955), whose final segment is as scary as they come, and Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, as great a work of horrific art as was ever made… and not a little frightening, too. And oh… don’t even get me started on Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), two seminal horror masterpieces.

All of which raises the question: What is YOUR favorite scary movie, and why do you find it so very frightening to watch? I realize that this is a very subjective question, and that what is scary for one viewer might be laughable to another. One person’s lurching zombie, after all, might very well be another’s goofy clown. I am hoping perhaps that you will be able to turn me on to some great and truly chilling films that I have not already experienced. And by the way, best wishes for a fun, safe and creepy Halloween weekend!

One random commenter will choose a book from our stacks OR a $5 Amazon gift card.

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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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  1. Noneofyourbusiness /

    I’ll always have a soft spot for Disney’s “Don’t Look Under the Bed” as a scary (when I was that age) and funny movie.

  2. I don’t like scary movies. I was traumatized as a small child – a family friend took me to the theater to see The Devil’s Rain when I was small enough to sit on his lap and I still get the shudders from scenes I can picture from it. So my favorite ‘scary’ movie is Poltergeist because A. it isn’t all that scary but B. it did give me the willies once when I awoke in the middle of the night after watching it and my computer screen was glowing while it was shut off.

  3. My favorite is HELLRAISER, probably because I was way too young when I watched it the first time. Still scares me 30 years later. The characters are the craziest I have ever seen, and they all have physical abnormalities that compliment their craziness. Their voices are horrifying, as well, and the setting really take air to another level. It is very much an assault on the senses.

    • Sandy Ferber /

      Haven’t seen “Hellraiser” since it first opened. I need a refresher….

  4. John Smith /

    Well, I suppose the most frightened I have ever been watching a “horror” film was watching the afternoon movie showing of “Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy” on the TV, probably at Christmastime. It was a terrifying tale of horror! Nothing could be more frightening than that mummy, risen from the dead, its rotten bandages wrapped about its decaying flesh as it seeks only death and mayhem….!

    • Sandy Ferber /

      Haven’t seen that one, but DO think “A&C Meet Frankenstein” is the greatest horror comedy ever made….

  5. The Distinguished Professor /

    I don’t know if this counts as “favorite”, but I do not wish to see “Event Horizon” ever again.

  6. SandyG /

    The first movie that ever scared me was the original version of Halloween. I think because it was different from anything else I’d seen.

  7. Actually I just saw ANTEBELLUM. It is definitely horror, tho’ not with the usual monsters. I thought it was horrifying AND terrifying.

    Both versions of THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE scared me, and I liked the remake of THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL for the sets.


    • Sandy Ferber /

      “Antebellum,” huh? Thanks for the hedzup. I’ll make a mental note….

  8. Lady Morar /

    “Alien” is a classic, of course. The first one was more survival horror.

    • Sandy Ferber /

      I like “Alien” a lot, although prefer that first sequel MUCH more….

  9. Horror movies are my favorite. I’m a big fan of folk horror so “Hereditary” and “Midsommar” top my list, though Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is probably my most favorite. In the classic vein, I prefer Vincent Price films, with “House of Wax” and “The Last Man on Earth” topping the list.

  10. I am such a wimp. I don’t watch horror movies. :(

    • Sandy Ferber /

      Try “I Walked With a Zombie from 1943, Kat. It’s a bit like “Jane Eyre” and is a real work of art….

  11. Believe it or not, I saw “The Exorcist” when I was 8 years-old without knowing it was a “scary” movie. My mother was watching it and I came into the room right as the girl became possessed completely. Strangely, I knew what had happened to her (I attended church and Sunday School), so I thought nothing of it. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of those scenes freaked me out, but I don’t remember being scared. A few years later (I was still in elementary school), my classmates kept saying how scary that movie was, and I thought they were over-exaggerating, which didn’t help with my “relationship” with them.

    All that being said, “The Shining” scared the hell out of me! I believe in hauntings by vengeful spirits (it’s cultural).

  12. Rosanna /

    I would have to say my all time favorite is The Exorcist. I was just married and saw it in the theater and could not breath through most of it I was so scared! Then came home and my husband kept shaking the bed and talking like Regan in the movie! (divorced him :-D) My favorite for more recent times though is Shaun of the Dead, love the humor mixed with the horror!

    • Sandy Ferber /

      Still haven’t seen “Shaun”; gotta rectify that omission one of these days. And yes, imitating a possessed devil girl in bed SHOULD be grounds for divorce, I’d say…. :)

  13. Jillian /

    I love horror movies! My favorite is definitely either a quiet place or it. They are so unique and amazing.

    • Sandy Ferber /

      I really enjoyed “A Quiet Place” as well. Still haven’t seen any of the “It”s yet….

  14. Sethia /

    My scariest would be The Skeleton Key, something about it still haunts me 15 years latter.

  15. Rosanna,if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks, or a $5 Amazon gift card.
    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Happy reading!

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