Director: William Friedkin
Cast: Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow
It still ranks as one of the most terrifying American films ever made, and the pea-soup industry still hasn’t economically recovered from its product’s memorable “cameo” in the film. The power of Christ compels you to see it again.
Watch if you liked: The Conjuring
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
Or, as we like to call it, Three Men and a Shark. Yes, it's the film that created the template for the contemporary Hollywood blockbuster. Pity that most of its successors suck so hard.
Watch if you liked: Sharknado
Director: Jennifer Kent
Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall
Aussie Jennifer Kent’s supremely confident feature debut already feels like a horror classic, restoring the genre to its psychological prestige while turning the monstrous-mommy gimmick on its head. Inventive, recognizably real and scary as fuck, the film staked out a shadowy domestic terrain last dominated by Roman Polanski.
Watch if you liked: Rosemary’s Baby
Director: Adam Wingard
Cast: Dan Stevens, Sheila Kelley, Maika Monroe
Those blandly blond good looks of Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) are put to sinister use in the role of a house guest who may be preying on a family's grief. Wingard, a formidable new name in horror who previously brought us the nifty You're Next and the recent Blair Witch sequel, coolly lets things escalate to a state of delirious violence.
Watch if you liked: It Follows
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Byeon Hie-bong, Park Hae-il
A huge tadpole terrorizes Seoul in Bong's ode to mutant-creatures-run-amok films—complete with the usual dollop of political paranoia. The director would go on to make the expressly class-conscious Snowpiercer, but this one is just as effective.
Watch if you liked: Mad Max: Fury Road
Director: James Wong
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ryan Merriman, Kris Lemche
The third time's indeed the charm for this horror franchise devoted to free-floating death: Roller coasters run off their tracks, fast-food drive-in lanes turn into demolition derbies, and a weight lifter gets crushed by some heavy metal. Anchoring it all with unusual dramatic commitment is Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Warning: This movie will make you afraid of everything in your apartment.
Watch if you liked: 10 Cloverfield Lane
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh
With Twilight in the rearview mirror, vampires had a rebound in 2014, thanks in part to this pulse-quickening debut by Ana Lily Amirpour. She’s an L.A.-based director who infuses her nighttime tale with weird Lynchian lulls, spaghetti-Western–sounding deep cuts and prickly gender politics.
Watch if you liked: Only Lovers Left Alive
Director: Rodney Ascher
It must be the case that a godlike filmmaker like Stanley Kubrick thought of every angle, right? Maybe not: Filmmaker Rodney Ascher takes this question as a winking premise, as he collects the theories of five fans obsessed with The Shining—normal folk, you imagine, until they begin to speak and reveal hours spent in the dark with their weird ideas.
Watch if you liked: The Shining
Director: Stuart Gordon
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton
Gordon's debut set a new standard for gross-out horror, most notably with a scene in which a man uses his own severed head to…well, never mind. What’s surprising is how witty and well acted the film is.
Watch if you liked: Shaun of the Dead
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Jeff Davis
A supremely enjoyable meta-movie, this is no ordinary franchise installment. In it, late director Wes Craven plays himself: a director who knows that Freddy Krueger is real, a demonic spirit released into the world by the movies. Our heroine is, once again, Heather Langenkamp, star of the first film, here a street-famous L.A. mom who is drawn into battle like the dream warrior she always was.
Watch if you liked: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Director: John Hough
Cast: Roddy McDowall, Gayle Hunnicutt, Pamela Franklin
Legend says that it isn't the most pleasant place, being as it's called, oh you know, Hell House and all. The great Richard Matheson (novelist of the original I Am Legend, one of the most influential books of all time), penned the screenplay.
Watch if you liked: Insidious
Director: Bruce McDonald
Cast: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly
A virus is spread by, of all things, talk radio in this thoughtful thriller. Thank goodness evil isn't spread through the airwaves in real life—that would be almost too sad to consider. (Insert winking emoticon here.)
Watch if you liked: Night of the Living Dead
Director: Clive Barker
Cast: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence
Horror author Barker made an auspicious debut as a director with this bloody shocker about a violent con artist who cheats death in gruesome fashion. One of the peripheral characters, a nameless cenobite with a fondness for pins, would be resurrected as the antiheroic star in several sequels.
Watch if you liked: Underworld
Cast: Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Iván González, Kyra Zagorsky
Tripping down the letters of the alphabet, more than two dozen international directors do their best to shock in five-minute segments; blessedly, we're never that far from a palate cleanse. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, directors of 2009's stylish Amer, emerge intact with "O Is for Orgasm" a surging montage of fluid colors and moans that make the whole film worth a rental.
Watch if you liked: V/H/S
Director: Neil LaBute
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ellen Burstyn, Leelee Sobieski
We don't even think this film is scary—certainly not like the original 1973 horror-thriller it's based on (that classic was remade again as Radiohead's "Burn the Witch" video). But Nicolas Cage's overblown performance, the stuff of internet legend, is reason enough to have fun with it. Not the bees!
Watch if you liked: Face/Off