Script Recommends: 15 Flicks for Your Halloween Weekend

The Exorcist; Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved

The best horror/suspense films offer lessons for all writers on compelling character, simmering tension, and killer endings. Whether you prefer a classic freak fest or a modern scare, Script’s editors and contributors have some recommends for your holiday. Share your picks in the comments section for a chance to win a frightful DVD from the vault.

Chad Gervich, Script contributor, columnist:

The Exorcist
Obviously. If you put anything else as your number-one scary movie, you’re just plain wrong. The Exorcist taps into such universal feelings about children and parents and coming of age; it terrified me when I first saw it as a kid, and now it terrifies me in whole new ways as a parent.

Rosemary’s Baby
Every time I go to a doctor … or take my car to a mechanic … or drop my computer at the fix-it store, I wonder: How do I know I can really trust these people? I mean, they could just tell me whatever they want about things that are valuable to me — I need to take these pills, fix this drive, pay them that — and I’d believe them. Rosemary’s Baby does an amazing job of capitalizing on how we trust those closest to us — our spouse, our doctors, our friends and neighbors — especially regarding matters that are most important, like our unborn children.

Open Water
I’m not a big fan of the ocean. Sometimes I look off the Santa Monica Pier at night and think, "Man — if you were floating just a few miles out there, it’d be nothing but black above you, black below you, black all around … and no one would even know you were there." Yes, Open Water has sharks, but the real monsters are the hopelessness and desperation the couple feels. I’ve seen this movie once, and I have no desire to watch it again any time soon.

Maureen Green, Web Editor,

The Orphanage; New Line Cinema/Time Warner

Cape Fear

The first and last time I saw Cape Fear (the Scorsese version) was as a teenager, and it still haunts me. The fact that there are no supernatural elements — just a sick, twisted individual at the center — makes it all the more terrifying. Max Cady exemplifies how one strong character can dictate a story from beginning to end, controlling the emotions of all of the other characters, even when he is not physically present in a scene. Max Cady could be seated next to you, planning to follow you home, right now.

The Orphanage (El Orfanato)
Just thinking about the eerily ethereal world of The Orphanage sends a chill through me. There are moments in the movie that I find myself lingering over, dissecting. Were the supernatural forces good or evil? Were there any supernatural forces at all? Could I live with myself if I had done what Laura (the protagonist) did? The ending is so completely satisfying and sorrowful, I can watch this film again and again and still be moved. It’s not just one of my favorite scary movies; it’s one of my favorite movies.

Let me say up front, from a continuity point of view, Frailty has some problems, and the DVD commentaries do nothing to clear them up. However, I went into this movie blind and was completely able to buy into the ending, which I still find one of the cleverest in the last several years. If you can overlook one or two gaps in the plot, the resolution makes the film worthwhile, and Bill Paxton’s earnestness in the mercenary role elicits true, visceral fear.

Shelly Mellott, Editor in Chief, Script:

The Exorcist
I think The Exorcist is one of the scariest movies ever, because fear is elicited by things in everyday life — a little girl, a crucifix. The idea of evil being able to infiltrate our lives is a common one, but to watch it happen slowly and inexorably is terrifying. And the girl walking backward down the stairs? Too much! Plus, the story is grounded in fact, to some degree. You think about that while you are watching it.

Paranormal Activity
I loved Paranormal Activity for many of the same reasons. That film took the reality up a notch and you were truly gripped by how these people were trapped in their home by evil. And the scene at the end made me jump a foot off the couch! Not a lot of movies do that these days, because we are so desensitized to violence. Instead, they rely on gore and not on the slow build of psychological torment that really creates fear.

A Nightmare on Elm Street
I will always be terrified by good ol’ Freddy. I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was around 13 in my grandparents’ creepy old row home, with the double-level basement and creepier furnace. Scared the crap out of me! The idea of something you can’t escape – like the need to sleep – makes the antagonist unbeatable. There is no way out. And the fact that the kids didn’t even kill him, their parents did, made it worse.

A Nightmare on Elm Street; New LIne Cinema/Time Warner

A Nightmare on Elm Street; New Line Cinema/Time Warner

Ray Morton, Script senior writer; columnist:

For me, James Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein remains one of the scariest movies ever. The performance of Boris Karloff as the monster — aided by that amazing make-up by Jack Pierce, make-up that was so good and so convincing that it looked like they had actually found an actor who looked like he had been stitched together from pieces of dead bodies — is absolutely haunting. Horrible to look at and possessed of both a mute, monstrous rage and strangely affecting pathos, Karloff’s monster is both incredibly alien and incredibly human, which makes him so much scarier than any animatronic or rubber or CGI monster could ever be. And the film’s soundtrack — which, having been recorded very early in the sound period, is full of odd mistakes and imperfections (such as an eerie lack of ambient sound, weird echoes, and deadened drop-offs) — makes the whole thing even more creepy and disturbing.

The Silence of the Lambs
The Silence of the Lambs still scares the Chianti out of me. Not the gory parts (although they do work pretty well), but the absolutely unsettling quality of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter (the quiet, subtle, insidious version — not the campy boogeyman of the sequels), and the incredibly tense and horrendous climactic scene, in which Jodie Foster stumbles around in the dark as the very mad Buffalo Bill reaches out to stroke her. Oh my God, I’m getting jumpy just thinking about it.

They’re real, man. And they are coming for you through the most terrifying rainstorm you will ever endure.

Staton Rabin, Script senior writer, columnist:

The Birds
When I was six years old, my parents went out for the evening and left me with a teenage babysitter. Their instructions to the sitter were: "Don’t let her watch The Birds!" Of course, my babysitter and I watched the movie together the moment my parents left. I couldn’t sleep that night, and ever since, I can’t look at a flock of birds without wondering what they might be planning. Hitchcock (and writer Evan Hunter) knew that the mundane and ordinary can be turned into something far more scary than anything transparently "supernatural," and this Master of Suspense built the tension, using sound effects and strategic silence, keeping his audience on edge at all times.

The Wizard of Oz
Everyone I know, who was under the age of 12 when they first saw this movie, thinks the Wicked Witch of the West (played by the great Margaret Hamilton) is absolutely terrifying — and I concur. When the anguished image of Auntie Em appears in that crystal ball at the Witch’s castle ("Dorothy … where are you? …. We’re trying to find you.") and is suddenly replaced by the Witch’s hideously evil green face and mocking voice, it was enough to send generations of children into therapy. Why is the Witch so scary? Because the role is written and played totally straight, and when she makes a threat, she doesn’t mess around. "How about a little fire, Scarecrow?"

Andrew Schneider, Managing Editor, Script:

The Exorcist
I know it’s cliché, but the original Exorcist immediately comes to mind because, as a youngster, that was a new kind of horror/suspense for me … maybe because it was a possession story, I don’t know. But after first seeing the movie (a handful of years before I probably should’ve been allowed to) and even watching it today, Linda Blair’s Regan MacNeil — from the carpet pissing and head-spins to the projectile green vomit and vile expletives — still gives me the creeps.

The Devil's Rejects; Lionsgate

The Devil’s Rejects
The Devil’s Rejects
by Rob Zombie was very frightening, but for a different reason than most horror films. Not on a supernatural level, but more the shock value the audience experiences from such an utterly deranged and perverse family of characters that the writer-director created. You shudder and cringe in disgust at the heinous acts they commit yet, somehow, you find yourself rooting for them at the end of the film … or was that just me?

Last decade, while everyone was in a frenzy over the Saw franchise and its brand of torture film, I preferred Eli Roth’s Hostel movies. Personally, I thought the stories were much more believable, thus further ramping up the suspense for the audience. Any film that makes you want to rethink your vacation plans is my kind of horror.

Share your favorite horror/thriller/suspense films below for a chance to win a DVD from the vault. And Happy Halloween!

7 thoughts on “Script Recommends: 15 Flicks for Your Halloween Weekend

  1. James Helton

    I hated “Open Water.” The characters were extremely unlikeable and just argued for the entire movie, even when they were in a life-and-death situation. I actually wanted them eaten. Yes, the couple of shot of real sharks swimming under the actual actors was chilling, but other than that the movie was boring. Given that it was promoted as based on a true story, the ending proved that 90% of it was fiction–and since the story and dialogue was invented by the writer, it would stand to reason that it should’ve been much better than this.

  2. Tibor Szakaly

    One of the most frightening films is With You. I think you can rent it on Netflix. It is so low budget, okay acting and cinematography, that it you let your guard down. The simplicity of it makes it all the more scary, that it can happen to you.

  3. Dale Crowe

    I have many favorites within the horror genre. It’s at the point where my top favorites depend on what kind of scare I’m looking for. What FLAVOR of adrenalin do I want pumping through my veins?

    Brain munching, body stealing, face hugging aliens?

    Howling and growling from the furrily inclined?

    A nice “chills down my spine” spook-fest?

    What movies stand out as ones that flat-out scared me?

    The Thing
    While the original is still a favorite sci-fi movie, John Carpenters version delivered more of a scare. I’ll never look at huskies quite the same again.

    Event Horizon
    This film fairly dripped evil. The tension and confusion, the maintained suspense and the purely malevolent nature of the antagonist all made for a heady blend of horror.

    The Boogeyman
    This is from a Stephen King short story that was responsible for me not being able to sleep with a closet door open. Just a good, scary concept that hit me on a visceral level.

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  6. Erica

    My top three would be:

    Nightmare on Elm Street – before the campy sequels – the original Freddy scared me so much I slept on my back as a kid so I could look out for him, just in case he popped up from the side of the bed (like he did with Nancy). The bed blood geyser scene is still pretty epic.

    Halloween – It doesn’t fall back on gory scenes for the scare, but instead it’s a slow burn of psychological torment that builds. So when you see his mask illuminate in the dark behind Lori it’s totally freaky.

    Exorcist – For the simple fact that I have to watch it with the lights on if I’m alone.

  7. C.A. Fitzgerald

    Let’s hits some classics – these great films creep you out without gore, just great story, acting, music, and atmosphere!

    The Haunting (1963): what an amazing horror film. A beautiful adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel that captures its terrifying atmosphere! That is what makes this film so eerie – atmosphere. I can watch this in the middle of the day, when hardly anything is really happening, and yet my nerves on so on edge I can barely sit still! The house is “wrong” and you feel that – in every inch of your body.

    The Uninvited (1944): Not available on DVD (what is up with that?!) so you have to catch this on TCM. I grew up watching this and I still get chills from the subtle effects, the rose dying in the room with the “cold”. Beautifully filmed and acted… and what a score!

    The Innocents (1961): What is there to say except Deborah Kerr nails the part of the Governess from Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw”. Again, something is “wrong” here, but we’re never exactly sure what that is. Supernatural os something else?