Movies have always been the stuff of fantasies and dreams. Maybe that’s why, left to my own devices, I’ll choose period drama over horror any day. After all, I’d rather imagine myself in an empire gown, in a candlelit ballroom, in the arms of Mr. Darcy than crouched behind a tombstone, in a foggy graveyard, hiding from a chainsaw-ripping psychopath.

But, maybe that’s just me.

Nevertheless, Halloween is right around the corner and a big part of the fun (besides ingesting one’s body weight in candy corn) is getting a good scare. And, with so many horror titles available on Netflix these days, you can indulge in a spooky evening from the comfort of your couch.

Here are five recommendations from the past five decades, ranging from classic to camp with a couple of chilling thrillers mixed in for good measure. Enjoy them . . . with the lights on.

 

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Roman Polanski’s haunting psychological thriller features a young couple who receive a warmer than usual welcome from their Satan-worshipping neighbors. Filmed in New York’s legendary Dakota, the movie starred Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Ralph Bellamy and Charles Grodin. It’s an effective exercise is mounting tension; in fact, the scene in which Rosemary’s baby is conceived has been described as one of the most terrifying movie moments of all time. The film was well-received in its day, and a generation of young women adopted Farrow’s waifish style, babydoll dresses and pixie haircut.

 

The Omen (1976)

Another classic, The Omen, tells the story of a young child adopted by an ambassador and his wife, played by handsome couple Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. After years of coincidences, warnings, miscarriages, suicides and tragic “accidents,” the father starts to believe that the child is not the innocent tyke he appears. The mystery of Damien (creepy little Harvey Spencer Stephens) is gradually unraveled through the help of priests, trips to Italy and Israel, and the discovery of an unusual birthmark (666) on the child’s scalp. The ending (especially with an election year approaching) is satisfying in a sinister way.

 

Children of the Corn (1984)

If one child can wreak holy havoc, just imagine an entire town of possessed, weapon-wielding children. Based on one of Stephen King’s short stories, Children of the Corn stars Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton as a young couple that stumbles upon the town of Gatlin and its cult of murderous youngsters. These kids have taken religious zealotry to a whole new level. Despite ludicrous special effects, a lukewarm script and some pretty poor acting, the movie spawned no less than seven sequels. If you’re so inclined, you might want to indulge in a drinking game, doing a shot every time a wide-eyed child fearfully utters the name “Malachi.”

 

Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Sweeping the year’s top Academy Awards (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Screenplay), Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs is rightly regarded as a masterpiece of terror. Madman Hanibal Lector (an absolutely chilling Anthony Hopkins) and FBI Cadet Clarisse Starling (a pensive and controlled Jodi Foster) match wits while a young girl’s life hangs in jeopardy. Fans still gleefully quote the film’s iconic serial killers, from “It puts the lotion in the basket,” to “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” And this classic even inspired a hit off-Broadway parody, Silence! The Musical.

 

The Sixth Sense (1999)

The last (and most recent) of our Halloween recommendations is by another accomplished horror director, M. Night Shyamalan. The Sixth Sense pairs clairvoyant young Haley Joel Osment with tormented psychologist Bruce Willis. “I see dead people,” the child explains. He converses with the recently — and often violently — deceased, drifting souls who don’t realize that they’re dead yet. Meanwhile his mother (the always wonderful Toni Collette) worries about him. A haunting ghost story, The Sixth Sense is also a mystery with clues throughout. I’ll avoid spoilers, but a second viewing (or some Googling) may be in order when you’re done.

Happy Halloween!

 

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  • Cecilia Ford October 27, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    I think “Rosemary’s Baby” is one of the best films of any genre ever made. It works on many levels: as a straightforward thriller/horror film, a story of marital betrayal, and a commentary on “the banality of evil.” The performances (especially Ruth Gordon’s), direction, and haunting score are exceptional. I recommend it to anyone who has a serious interest in films. Pay special attention to the use of sound throughout the movie and watch for the small dramatic role played by the young Charles Grodin as an obstetrician.

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