Trick or treat! Halloween is the perfect time to catch up on some essential horror films. Check out our guide to 50 of the most unforgettable fright flicks from around the world.
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan
"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1920)
In Robert Wiene's "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1920), a somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) is used by his hypnotist-caretaker (Werner Krauss) to commit murder. Lil Dagover co-stars. With remarkable German Expressionistic set designs that were miles ahead of what Hollywood was creating at the time. Recommended: The version with a score recorded by the Club Foot Orchestra.
F.W. Murnau's stylized horror classic was the first vampire film, "inspired" by Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula." Stoker's widow tried (and failed) to 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.
After directing the lost Lon Chaney horror film "London After Midnight" and Bela Lugosi in "Dracula," Tod Browning concocted "Freaks" (1932), in which a circus trapeze artist marries a dwarf from the sideshow, while plotting to kill him and gain an inheritance. When the other members of the sideshow learn of her plans, they exact a terrible revenge. Though widely admired today, the film was hated upon its release, and it practically killed Browning's career.
Carl Theodor Dreyer's moody 1932 "Vampyr," in a which a man arrives at a village that is under the spell of a vampire. At one point the protagonist has a vision of being buried alive.
"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 producer 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. Directed by Jacques Tourneur.
In 1982 Nastassja Kinski starred in an even more erotically charged, and more bloodily blatant, remake by Paul Schrader.
"I Walked With a Zombie" (1943)
In Jacques Tourneur's "I Walked With a Zombie" (1943), a nurse arrives on a Caribbean island only to face voodoo practitioners and the walking undead. A trance-like film, it was inspired both by tales of possession and by Charlotte Bronte's Gothic romance, "Jane Eyre."
"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 Innocents" (1961)
Deborah Kerr stars as a governess who comes to believe that ghosts are threatening the children under her care, in "The Innocents" (1961), one of several adaptations of the Henry James novel, "The Turn of the Screw."
"Carnival of Souls" (1962)
After a young woman's car crashes into a river, she emerges in a bizarre land of specters. Yes, you can guess where she is (can you say "Twilight Zone"?), but "Carnival of Souls" (1962) is a haunting ride nonetheless.
"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.
"The Masque of the Red Death" (1964)
Roger Corman made a cottage industry of film adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe stories – some loose and tongue-in-cheek ("The Raven"), and some serious, such as the ravishing "The Masque of the Red Death" (1964), starring Vincent Price. The director of photography, Nicholas Roeg, would go on to direct such films as "Don't Look Now" and "The Man Who Fell to Earth."
"Kwaidan" (1964), a highly theatrical depiction of four ghost stories, features cool aesthetics, jaw-dropping cinematography and a deliberate pace, which make the film even more chilling.
"Wait Until Dark" (1967)
Adapted from a hit Broadway play, "Wait Until Dark" (1967) stars Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman whose home is invaded by criminals seeking a stash of heroin hidden inside her apartment. Co-starring Richard Crenna, Alan Arkin and Jack Weston. Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar for her performance.
"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, color film in hand, for "Dawn of the Dead," "Day of the Dead," "Land of the Dead," "Diary of the Dead" and "Survival of the Dead."
"The Blood on Satan's Claw" (1971)
While Hammer, the best-known British horror studio, produced enjoyably bloody titles in the 1950s and '60s (including a long run of Dracula films starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing), lesser-known studios like Amicus (which produced anthology films like "Tales From the Crypt" and "Asylum") and Tigron ("Witchfinder General") also created fun, chilling drive-in fare. One of the most atmospheric is Tigron's "The Blood on Satan's Claw" (1971), in which a demonic corpse is plowed up in a field, triggering a wave of witchcraft in a rural English village in the 17th century. There is terrific period detail, not a little gruesomeness, a music score you can't get out of your head, and fine performances, including from Linda Hayden (pictured) as Angel Blake, the beguilingly Satanic ringleader of a group of young devil worshippers.
"Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural" (1972)
"Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural" (1972), also known as "Lemora: Lady Dracula," is Richard Blackburn's Southern Gothic of a young, pious girl lost among vampires. Though ridiculously low budget, the film has terrific atmosphere, a good script, and a fine performance by its star, Cheryl Lynn "Rainbeaux" Smith.
"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 Wicker Man" (1973)
"The Wicker Man" (1973) stars Christopher Lee as the sinister Lord Summerisle, leader of a pagan cult on a Scottish island, to where a police officer (Edward Woodward) is sent to investigate a missing girl.
Margot Kidder played twins (one of whom is a mentally disturbed killer) in Brian De Palma's schizophrenic "Sisters" (1973).
"Don't Look Now" (1973)
"Don't Look Now" (1973), based on a Daphne du Maurier story, stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as grieving parents, and features a mysterious red-cloaked apparition.
"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.
Sissy Spacek earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress as the Stephen King heroine bullied by her high school classmates, who takes telekinetic revenge during her senior prom, in Brian De Palma's "Carrie" (1976).
"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.
Dario Argento's "Suspiria" (1977) is perhaps the most celebrated example of Italian giallo horror – a blend of crime, horror and exploitation elements, with a generous amount of bloodletting. Watch out for that razor wire!
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.
"Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1978)
Philip Kaufman's 1978 remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" transposed the invasion of "pod people" from a quaint, off-the-beaten-path town to the teeming, anonymous urban landscape of San Francisco, heightening the feelings of paranoia and giving "flower power" a delicious new slant. Starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright. And if you saw the original, don't think you will know what happens here.
"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 From Another World" 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, "The Thing," 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.
H.P. Lovecraft's writings haven't usually translated well to movies, but the highlight of Lovecraftian horror is Stuart Gordon's horror-comedy "Re-Animator" (1985), starring Jeffrey Combs as a medical student who invents a serum that can bring the dead (or various parts of the deceased) back to life.
"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 Vanishing" (1988)
George Sluizer's Dutch thriller "The Vanishing" (1988) starts off with the disappearance while on holiday of a vibrant young woman (Johanna ter Steege), which triggers an obsessive, years-long search for her by her boyfriend. It ends with one of the creepiest denouements ever filmed. You've been warned.
"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.
In Takashi Miike's "Audition" (1999), a widower looking to remarry searches for a marriage candidate via a unique approach: by auditioning actresses for a prospective movie. There he meets a woman named Asami, who seems perfect for the role – but what's with that sack in her apartment? With terrific performances from Ryo Ishibashi and Eihi Shiina, the film is an intriguing character study until the third act, when its twists turns cruelly violent.
"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. "The Blair Witch Project" 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.
"The Cabin in the Woods" (2012)
Drew Goddard's "The Cabin in the Woods" (2012) joyfully turns horror film conventions on their head, when a group of friends spending their break camping out find their cabin retreat hides more than one deadly secret.
"The Babadook" (2014)
In Jennifer Kent's "The Babadook" (2014), a bogeyman emerges from a twisted bedtime story – literally, by way of a black-and-white pop-up book that mysteriously appears on a young boy's shelf.
"It Follows" (2015)
In David Robert Mitchell's low-budget thriller "It Follows" (2015), Maika Monroe plays a woman who 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.
"Get Out" (2017)
Jordan Peele's smashing directorial debut "Get Out" blends satire and horror in a tale of especially poor race relations. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), visiting the parents of his White girlfriend, can't put his finger on the weird behavior he witnesses of the community's Black servants, nor of the Black husband of one White socialite. A terrifying session with his girlfriend's mother, a hypnotherapist who offers to treat Chris' smoking addiction, leads him to suspect that something is definitely not right in this bastion of wealthy liberals – and certainly not once the scalpels come out. One of the most imaginative films in years, "Get Out" won Peele an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
Harking back to the folkloric horror of "The Wicker Man," "Midsommar" (2019) features a group of grad students taking a trip to an isolated Swedish village to observe a midsummer festival, without being told in advance exactly what they will witness. What makes Ari Aster's film about a pagan cult all the more chilling is that not all of the newcomers are creeped out by what they see. But you will be!