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Classic and contemporary chillers guaranteed to scare your pants off

Frightfully Good


Classic Chillers (pre-1970)

"The Old Dark House" (1932) — Recently re-released thanks to the popularity of last year's Oscar-nominated film about its director, "Gods and Monsters." This strange and funny James Whale twist on the classic haunted-house genre features Boris Karloff as a scarred, mute butler with a penchant for alcohol.

"Freaks" (1932) — I saw this one as a child on late-night TV and was so scared and scarred I have been unable to watch it since. Tod Browning, who directed Bela Lugosi in the original "Dracula," takes us into even eerier territory in this tale of an evil trapeze artist who seduces and marries a midget in the circus, hoping to inherit his wealth. But she does him wrong. He is avenged.

"The Black Cat" (1934) — A masterpiece of expressionism, this Edgar Ulmer movie blends gothic genre with modernism as Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi square off as decades-old rivals who meet for a fateful showdown.

"Shadow of a Doubt" (1943) — In this, his 100th birthday year, I shall respect master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock's wishes and put his personal favorite thriller on the list. While his 1960 "Psycho" would be the more obvious choice, this Thornton Wilder-scripted tale based on an actual case from the 1920s is a worthy scary choice.

"The Uninvited" (1944) — Only recently out on video, this Ray Milland starrer is one of the spookiest ghost stories on screen. It's also one of the few haunted-house movies to treat the subject with respect and seriousness. Eerie, without the aid of special effects.

"Creature From the Black Lagoon" (1954) — Jack Arnold's horror classic that gave the genre not one but two visual icons: the web-footed humanoid gill-man with a hankering for women and the gorgeous object of his desire swimming in a luminous white bathing suit. Ah, "Beauty and the Beast" remade for the horror set.

"House on Haunted Hill" (1958) — No fright-night list would be complete without something from the infamous William Castle. Although this gimmick-filled, haunted-house tale is not so much a horror movie as it is a fairground fun house come to life. Vincent Price stars as a millionaire married to a greedy gold digger who refuses to divorce him.

"The Haunting" (1963) — Certainly one of the best haunted-house movies ever made, this Robert Wise film ignores cheap chills and gore. Its considerable frights come from the viewer's sensitivity to abject fear. You must rent this if you suffered through this summer's lame attempt at updating and remaking this classic!

"The Night of the Living Dead" (1968) — George Romero's low-budget shocker about a group of friends barricaded in a cabin while flesh-eating zombies roam the countryside. Though its gore is tame by current standards, the movie remains a unique scare that others have tried, without success until "The Blair Witch Project," to copy.

"Rosemary's Baby" (1968) — Roman Polanski's take on Ira Levin's best-selling tale of a young wife (Mia Farrow) who finds herself carrying the spawn of the devil. This movie still gives me the willies every time I watch it.

Contemporary Classics (1970 to present)

"The Exorcist" (1973) — William Friedkin's scary-as-hell adaptation of William Peter Blatty's controversial novel where "normal" 12-year-old-girl (Linda Blair) is possessed by the devil. World-weary priest (Jason Miller) tries to battle the devil and save the girl, as well as his own soul.

"Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974) — This cult and low-budget classic by Tobe Hooper is a creepy delight of blood-curdling chills. Loosely based on the true crimes of serial killer Ed Gein, who was also the inspiration for Hitchcock's "Psycho."

"Halloween" (1978) — Teen-age baby sitter Jamie Lee Curtis tries to survive a night of relentless terror as a knife-wielding maniac goes after the hormonally charged teens of Haddonfield, Ill.

"The Shining" (1980) — Stanley Kubrick meets Stephen King and they work their eerie magic through Jack Nicholson. A master's refinement of the haunted-house genre where special effects play second fiddle to mental decay and homicidal impulses.

"Poltergeist" (1982) — The dynamic duo of Tobe Hooper ("Texas Chainsaw Massacre") and Steven Spielberg combined their considerable talents to make this scary tale of a haunted suburban tract home that's really a portal to the "other side." Just like little Carol Anne, be sure to turn away from the light!

"Alien" (1979) — Perhaps not quite as good as it was cracked up to be, this modern classic about a voracious alien creature aboard a cargo ship in outer space has plenty of spooky moments and quotable horror dialogue.

"Scanners" (1981) — David Cronenberg's darkly paranoid tale of a homeless man incorrectly diagnosed as insane. The truth is he can't turn off the sound of other people's darker thoughts in his telepathic mind.

"Hellraiser" (1987) — Written and directed by Clive Barker, Britain's answer to Stephen King, this chilling and devilishly original tale is guaranteed to creep you out. Features one of the genre's newest fright icons — "Pinhead," whose pale, bald head is a geometric pincushion and symbol of eternal pain.

"Silence of the Lambs" (1991) — Jonathan Demme directs this adaptation of Thomas Harris' novel about a female FBI agent (Jodie Foster) tracking down serial killer/genius Dr. Hannibal Lecter (the superb Anthony Hopkins). Offers a creepy, suspenseful psychological descent into madness.

"Seven" (1995) — Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey star in this moody, gory and creepy tale of a homicidal maniac who forces each of his victims to die by acting out one of the seven deadly sins.

"Scream" (1996) — Veteran horror director Wes Craven and first-time screenwriter hit horror gold with the fright-fest that cleverly exploits the exhausted clichés of the horror/slasher genre. Scary and

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