Trick or treat! Halloween is the perfect time to catch up on some essential horror films. Check out our guide to the 25 most unforgettable fright flicks.
By CBSNews.com senior editor David Morgan
F.W. Murnau's stylized horror classic film was the first vampire film, "inspired" by Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula." Stoker's widow tried (and failed) to have have all copies of this unauthorized version destroyed, but fortunately Max Shreck's immortal performance as the sinister Count Orlok lived to see the light of day.
"Bride of Frankenstein" (1935)
Universal Pictures' horror cycle in the 1930s reached its pinnacle with this tale of scientists playing God AND Cupid. Boris Karloff captured both terror and pathos as the Monster, while the film's climax was as rapturous and over-the-top as Elsa Lancaster's hair style.
"Cat People" (1942)
Arguably the best of Val Lewton's horror films, this was a tale of an artist (Simone Simon) convinced she was descended from a race of women who turn into panthers if sexually aroused. The dangers are suggested in shadows and sound effects - the unseen being all the more chilling.
In 1982 Nastassja Kinski starred in an even more erotically charged, and more bloodily blatant, remake by Paul Schrader.
"The Night of the Hunter" (1955)
Robert Mitchum is absolutely riveting as a murderous preacher on the trail of two children he believes are harboring a bank robber's loot. Charles Laughton directed this mischievous mixture of wide-eyed, childlike innocence and stark horror.
"Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956)
In an era characterized by the Red Scare, a small California town's doctor (Kevin McCarthy, here with Dana Wynter) suspects that his neighbors are being converted into emotionless, zombie-like drones from whom there is no escape. "You're next!" Director Don Siegel was forced to film an epilogue which suggested the evil might be thwarted. The denizens of Philip Kaufman's 1978 remake were less fortunate.
Alfred Hitchcock's morbid tale of a murderous mother proved high art could come from low material. The film's look was partly inspired by the French thriller "Les Diaboliques," but "Psycho"'s mixture of Gothic elements (dim corridors, dusty, spooky old houses), blonde heroine, Freudian theory and striking visual design were pure Hitchcock. Audiences who entered the Bates Motel doubtless developed a lingering fear of showers (and of quiet young men who practice taxidermy).
"The Birds" (1963)
Hitchcock's film version of Daphne du Maurier's tale of birds mysteriously striking back at mankind pitted the inexplicable - what could possibly be causing this avian terror? - with a sense of helpnessness and doom.
"Rosemary's Baby" (1968)
Mia Farrow starred as a young mother whose suspicions surrounding her neighbors at New York's Dakota prove distressingly valid in this haunting supernatural tale, slickly directed by Roman Polanski.
"Night of the Living Dead" (1969)
George A. Romero's first feature film was an ultra-low budget horror flick, shot in the Pittsburgh area, about a swarm of flesh-eating zombies. Romero returned to the genre with "Dawn of the Dead," "Day of the Dead," "Land of the Dead," "Diary of the Dead" and "Survival of the Dead."
"The Exorcist" (1973)
This iconic image from William Friedkin's haunting tale of possession and faith shows Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) arriving to begin his task of casting out the demon terrorizing a little girl.
"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974)
This low-budget slasher film directed by Tobe Hooper, about some stranded youths who definitely enter the wrong house, boasted in ads that a copy had been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art.
Most movie adaptations of books can't compete with the originals. But Steven Spielberg's take on Peter Benchley's bestseller about a seaside resort terrorized by a mammoth great white shark tops the source novel by leaps and bounds, and is as pure movie heaven as a film buff could want.
"The Omen" (1976)
Yes, even the Antichrist, the most reviled character in the universe, started out as a cute baby. But cuteness wears off after nannies, caretakers and the curious start dropping like flies in the most gruesome ways imaginable in this hit boasting a golden cast (Gregory Peck, Lee Remick) and an Oscar-winning score by Jerry Goldsmith.
John Carpenter's sinuous horror story tells of a mental hospital escapee who resumes his murderous ways. The film launched a series of sequels in which the mask-wearing Michael Myers just could not be stopped.
"In space no one can hear you scream." -- ad line
An isolated group in space is terrorized by an unknown creature. Ridley Scott's throwback to 1950s sci-fi fright flicks featured startling makeup effects and stunning production design by H.R. Giger, which helped make this a monster hit.
"The Shining" (1980)
Stanley Kubrick's trademark precision brought an unsettling edge to this tale of a marriage gone very bad, in which a haunted hotel appears to unleash a husband's personal demons. Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall star.
"Go into the light!"
Director Tobe Hooper and producer Steven Spielberg concocted this scary story set in a placid suburbia in which a portal opens up to another dimension, into which a young child is kidnapped.
"The Thing" (1982)
Howard Hawks' 1950s sci-fi flick "The Thing" was a nimble little fright film about an alien creature terrorizing a military and scientific outpost in the Arctic. In 1982 John Carpenter filmed a new version that tracked more closely to John W. Campbell Jr's original story, "Who Goes There?" Kurt Russell confronts a shape-shifting creature that earned the film's R-rating.
"A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984)
Director Wes Craven's tongue-in-cheek horror flick about a spectral serial killer wreaking revenge on a small town via the inhabitants' dream states introduced the memorably witty Freddy Kreuger (Robert Englund), who returned in numerous movie and TV incarnations - once even facing off against Jason, the star of the "Friday the 13th" series of slasher films.
"Evil Dead II" (1987)
Sam Raimi (who later helmed the Tobey Maguire "Spider-Man" trilogy) launched a small franchise of horror films with a tale of students at an isolated cabin who unknowingly conjure up demons courtesy of an ancient Sumerian version of the Book of the Dead. When pressed to do a sequel, Raimi came up with a reboot that plays much like a satire of the original film. Bruce Campbell stars as the hero who, when confronting demonic forces, decides that a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do - with the help of shotguns and a chainsaw.
"The Silence of the Lambs" (1991)
The only horror film to win a Best Picture Academy Award, Jonathan Demme's adaptation of the Thomas Harris thriller about an FBI agent's hunt for a serial killer featured Oscar-winning performances by Anthony Hopkins as the cannibalistic Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster as rookie agent Clarice Starling.
"Ringu" (Ring) (1998)
So THAT'S what killed VHS. This tale of a cursed video (anyone who watches it dies within a week) is an excellent example of the recent wave of "J-horror" - Japanese tales of psychological dread and shock effects whose ability to creep out audiences cuts across all languages.
"The Blair Witch Project" (1999)
This independent film about some student filmmakers who set out to document a local legend and confront an unquantifiable evil was a hit at Sundance, in part because of its savvy web marketing - the film was sold as the product of footage "found" after being left behind by the now-missing students. "Blair Witch" became one of the most profitable films ever, and while it launched a plethora of "found footage" horror films (like the "Paranormal Activity" series and "The Bay"), none quite matches this film's unsettling air.
"28 Days Later" (2003)
This is not your father's zombie picture. Unlike past incarnations of the undead, who lurk and ominously trudge through graveyards, the zombies in Danny Boyle's high-octane thriller race through a London brought down by a mysterious infection.
"Let the Right One In" (2008)
The Swedish vampire film, based on a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, tells of a withdrawn boy who befriends a new girl in the neighborhood (Lina Leandersson) whose appetite for blood is more than unusual. Director Tomas Alfredson (who later filmed "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy") does a dandy job of balancing the shock effects and the tenderness of the young people's relationship.
Other suggested titles (because 25 just isn't enough horror): Carl Theodor Dreyer's moody 1932 "Vampyr" (left); "The Innocents" (1961), starring Deborah Kerr in an adaptation of Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw"; "The Masque of the Red Death" (1964), Roger Corman's most ravishing Poe adaptation, starring Vincent Price; "Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural" (1972), Richard Blackburn's Southern Gothic of a young girl lost among vampires; and "Don't Look Now" (1973), starring Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie, and a mysterious red-cloaked apparition.
Also: "The Wicker Man" (1973) starring Christopher Lee as the leader of pagans; Brian De Palma's schizophrenic "Sisters" (1973); Dario Argento's "Suspiria" (1977) -- watch out for that razor wire!; Stuart Gordon's looney "Re-Animator" (1985); "The Cabin in the Woods" (2012), which joyfully turns horror film conventions on their head; and "It Follows" (2015), in which a woman finds herself saddled with a deadly curse following a sexual liaison -- a curse she can only shake if she passes it on to someone else.
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan