Great. You’re Next has me all freaked out about home invasions again. I didn’t need the help.
You might think that film critics, people who see hundreds of films in a year, year after year, become immune to the tricks of horror movies. And I assume some do. I just don’t know those people.
But I do know the 11 other critics I’ve assembled here (I’m even married to one of them – no, not Leonard Maltin). I asked them one question: What horror film got under your skin and stayed there? Which one, good or bad, ruined your sleep and made you check the closets and under the bed?
Mine is The Strangers. Embarrassing, I know. It shouldn’t be. It’s not a very good movie. But the second those bag-headed murderers silently intruded and began terrorizing Liv Tyler, it smashed down an irrational fear button—the one that inspired every childhood Manson Family and Night Stalker nightmare I ever had. That The Strangers is a hollow, illogical film isn’t the point. It grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. My doors and windows are locked now, day or night.
Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
The things that really scare me are within the realm of possibility. I cannot be shaken up by [supernatural horror films] because they exist on a level of fantasy. But you could imagine someone stalking you. I watched Dead Calm on VHS many years ago, alone, scrunched up in a little terrified, quivering ball on the couch. I can’t say that experience was pleasurable. I won’t be revisiting it. But it holds a very special place in terms of my somatic reaction.
Peter DeBruge, Variety
The horror movie that really got to me lately, the one that reached its claws into my brain and touched some primitive nerve center deep inside, was Kill List. It doesn't haunt my dreams the way scary movies did when I was a kid, but it affects my waking thoughts in strange ways. It basically pulls the skin back from certain personality types and reveals the nasty business underneath. It suggests we might all be a thread away from snapping in incredibly violent ways, if sufficiently provoked and within reach of a hammer.
The Blair Witch Project
Amy Nicholson, L.A. Weekly
Anyone who claims they weren't terrified by The Blair Witch Project is lying or already dead. It ruined the last summer I ever spent with my parents, who had just moved into a house with a glass back wall that faced a small forest. As soon as the sun set I'd get too scared to walk to the kitchen for a snack. Movies about ghosts and demons are nonsense, as soon as the light comes up their spell is broken. But trees and shadows and digital cameras are everywhere, and when I find myself alone with all three, I still get Blair Witch flashbacks.
Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times
When I think about the movie that gives me pause if I'm presented with the opportunity to see it again, it's Roman Polanski's Repulsion, about a young woman (Catherine Deneuve) going homicidally mad over a weekend in her sister's apartment. There's a claustrophobic, nightmarish gestalt to the movie I've never been able to shake, from the black-and-white cinematography, to the expressionist angles and the sounds, and finally that disturbing, enigmatic final image of younger Carol in a photograph. I've always been more affected by psychological horror than externalized fears, and Repulsion is the gut punch of all time in that respect. I'm getting the shivers all over again just thinking about it.
My Bloody Valentine
Alynda Wheat, People magazine
A police officer friend of the family moonlighted as a security guard at a movie theater, and he used to take me with him. One night, when I was six, I wandered into My Bloody Valentine, just as the mayor opens the candy box with a human heart in it. I still don't like surprises.
Leonard Maltin, Indiewire and LeonardMaltin.net
I avoid contemporary horror films because I am such a wimp, and so easily upset by them. (I tend to take them too seriously, as opposed to kids who regard them as a goof.) For me, The Exorcist is in a class by itself. I will never forget the first time I saw it, and how from the opening notes of the score I felt a sense of dread and unease. This was more than a passing “scare.” It was genuinely unsettling, and I’ve felt the same way revisiting it over the years.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
John Powers, Vogue
The first movie to ever scare the bejeezus out of me, when I was a little kid in Martensdale, Iowa, was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, where Bela Lugosi was so scary to me that my mother had to check for him inside my bedroom closet every night for at least a year before I could go to sleep. Since I've gotten older, the movie that scared me the most was Repulsion, which I saw at my college film society. I've always gotten the creeps from movies about madness they're done subtly and Polanski builds this one up so skillfully that you're both scared for -- and of -- Catherine Deneuve.
James Rocchi, MSN Movies and host of The Lunch podcast
The film I can't let go of is Inside, by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. It's a home-invasion flick that takes place on Christmas Eve, with an expecting mom inside, and on the outside, a woman saying "Let me in... and I'll cut out your baby." What makes it work -- what makes it terrifying --is that for all of the blood and jumps and bumps in the night it's all revealed to be driven by characters who have real reasons and real personalities, not 2D killers and blood-spouting mannequins. If you can find it, it's a blood-dark gem that haunts.
Alonso Duralde, TheWrap.com and cohost of Linoleum Knife podcast
Before I ever even had a chance to see this movie—which is about Anthony Hopkins losing his mind and thinking his ventriloquist doll was talking to him and telling him to commit murder—the TV ad for it sent me running from the room. It was a close-up extended shot of the evil-looking doll talking about how you were going to die. Later in life I monitored a Q&A for a documentary on ventriloquists and the director brought her doll with her and spoke to me through it for a laugh. I was terrified of that thing.
Justin Chang, Variety
I was a college student when I caught a midnight showing of Takashi Miike's Audition at a local off-campus theater. I remember watching the climactic 15-minute torture scene through my fingers, trying to keep my eyes on the screen, but also continually distracted (and yes, a little amused -- not a bad thing under the circumstances) as one visibly shaken moviegoer after another stumbled toward the exit.
Christy Lemire, ChristyLemire.com and cohost of What the Flick?!
When I first saw The Shining as a little girl, the sheer visceral terror of the imagery is what got to me: the wall of blood tumbling from the elevator shaft, the creepy twins at the end of the hallway, and a possessed Danny rasping a cryptic “Redrum…” Now, as a grown-ass person—and a wife, and a mother—it's the idea of losing your mind and hurting the people you love most that frightens me.