‘Night of the Living Dead' (1968)
Between local TV commercials and industrial films, Pittsburg director George Romero ground out this cult gem, which still stands as one of the most frightening horror flicks of all time. A handful of strangers hole up in a remote farmhouse as corpses rise up and roam the countryside, hungering for flesh. The terror is relentless, the dialogue snaps, and black humor abounds. So does the gore. Cheap, grainy, black-and-white filmstock adds a stark realism to the gruesome proceedings, enhancing the feel of dread and doom, and the masterful use of light and shadow creates a disturbingly claustrophobic effect.
Janet Leigh in a bra and half slip, packing to run away with stolen money. Anthony Perkins as lanky, lonely, haunted Norman Bates, keeper of a forgotten motel, caregiver to a domineering mother. The shower scene. Mother. Indelible images from Alfred Hitchcock's horror masterpiece. Often imitated but never duplicated, this one remains the greatest shocker of all time.
‘An American Werewolf in London' (1982)
Writer-director John Landis' loving, rock 'n' roll-fueled tribute to monster movies has a young American traveler bitten by a wolf on the British moors, transforming him into the creature of the title without the aid of computer-generated visuals. Funny, frightening and a bit tragic, as all good horror films should be.
Writer-director John Carpenter is the architect of the low-budget, blade-wielding stalker film as we've known it for the last 30 years. The difference between this original and all its second-rate, mean-spirited, blood-soaked sequels and imitators is that it's a well made, well-told, genuinely scary take on the boogeyman fear we all grew up with.
‘The Shining' (1980)
The best screen version of any Stephen King work is this masterful collaboration between Jack Nicholson and director Stanley Kubrick. Together, they explore the darkest corridors of malevolence, madness and the macabre, playing it all out on the Grand Guignol stage of a massive mountain resort hotel. The opulent, sprawling Overlook, closed for the winter and isolated from the outside world — a monster in itself — is one of the main characters, and Nicholson's portrayal of the blocked writer/caretaker, who goes mad and stalks his wife and son with an ax, is one of his best. They may not have stayed true to King's novel, but that's what happens when books become movies. Sometimes, they top the source material.
German director F.W. Murnau's brooding expressionistic masterpiece started a movie vampire vogue that lives on and on, much like its title character. Spooky shadow effects, inventive camera work and the overwhelmingly chilling screen presence of its star, Max Schreck, as the bald, bloodsucking Count Orlok make this silent creepshow a milestone in monster moviedom.