Graham: 3 horror movies that deliver actual chills

Horror movies are fun, especially this time of year. Here are 3 that aren’t kidding around in terms of terror

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

October is the golden month for horror movies.

In the weeks leading up to Halloween, when the weather cools down and the leaves start to change color, horror movies fit the mood more than they do any other time of the year. (Our penchant for scares in October is at least partially the root of the recent wave of clown-related creep-outs, which, for once, the Insane Clown Posse has nothing to do with.)

Truthfully, there’s never a bad time for a good scare. The problem is finding movies that actually provide those scares.

I have always been a fan of horror movies, particularly those made in the golden years of the VHS boom (primarily 1983-1988), because their low-budget aesthetics result in cheesy fun.

But when it comes to movies that truly frightened me, that made me not want to be alone in the dark or had me looking out the window to make sure no one was there before I went to sleep, I can name only these three, which deserve to be at the top of any October horror movie marathon:

A scene from “Halloween.”


John Carpenter’s 1978 original, the standard for all slasher movies to come, remains a perfectly executed creepfest. No sequel, reboot or descendant — Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees are both children of Michael Myers — was ever able to match the first “Halloween” or the sheer terror of the blank-faced Myers standing on a sidewalk in plain sight or disappearing behind a set of hedges in the middle of the day. Myers is the embodiment of evil, and by terrorizing an idyllic suburban neighborhood, he showed horror can strike anywhere, at anytime. “Halloween” isn’t gory — it’s relatively tame by today’s standards — but there is a brutality to its violence that lingers. And Carpenter’s masterful score — some piano plinks here, a few synth stabs there — is enough to send shivers to this day.

Shauna Macdonald plays Sarah in the 2005 horror film “The Descent.”

‘The Descent’

If you’re claustrophobic, “The Descent” will give you the heebie-jeebies. If you’re not claustrophobic, the 2005 movie will make you feel like you are. A group of women go on a spelunking trip in the caves of North Carolina and wind up in some very tight spots, quite literally. Director Neil Marshall closes in on viewers until there’s almost no air left to breathe, capitalizing on the audience’s fear of the dark and of tight spaces, and then he decides to introduce bloodthirsty cave-dwelling demon monsters into the mix. Sheer, unrelenting terror.

Three masked crazies surround a house and torture the couple inside “because you were home” in the 2008 slasher film “The Strangers.”

‘The Strangers’

If spooky masks give you the willies, this is your “Citizen Kane.” A couple (Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler) head off to a remote vacation home following a friend’s wedding and get an unexpected knock at the door in the middle of the night. “Is Tamara home?” asks the muffled voice. There is no Tamara. From there it’s an all-out assault, as three masked crazies surround the house and torture the couple inside for no reason other than, as they explain in plain, expressionless English, “because you were home.” Director Bryan Bertino creates such an air of dread that the songs on the soundtrack — particularly Joanna Newsom’s “The Sprout and the Bean” and Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” — become haunting mood pieces that escalate the film’s already sky-high tension. (I haven’t heard “Mama Tried” since and not thought about “The Strangers.”) A sequel is supposedly on the way, but it will be hard-pressed to be in the same league as the frightening 2008 original.

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