It's not Halloween without some scary movies. These are five that still scare me, and I admit that some of the choices are obvious. Leave your own recommendations in the comments section.
1. "Blue Velvet" (1986). I don't know whether this falls into the "horror" category, but it is one of the most disturbing movies I've ever seen. It begins with the discovery of a severed ear in a field, and culminates in Isabella Rossellini humiliated, naked and sobbing on a lawn in the middle of the night. In between we have Dennis Hopper as one of the most frightening villains of all time, and a tragic Dean Stockwell (whom I admit to a major crush on, normally) ruining Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" for me forever.
2. "Carrie" (1976). Sissy Spacek plays a persecuted high school student with powers that unleash themselves at the prom. For me, the scariest parts of this movie happen before the violence of the prom: Carrie's humiliation in the locker room; Carrie's insane mother (Piper Laurie) telling her, "They're all gonna laugh at you;" Betty Buckley as the gym teacher, facing down Nancy Allen's high-school sociopath. If you ever feel nostalgic for your own teenaged years, watch this movie and get over yourself.
3. "The Exorcist" (1973). This remarkably faithful adaptation of the novel is just as scary, if not more so. Someone told me that the theme music, Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells," was originally supposed to be Christmas music, and the whole movie is that way: pleasant things that turn terrifying. Linda Blair is remembered most for her performance as the possessed Regan, but the true stars of the film are Jason Miller, as the doomed Father Damian Karras, and Ellen Burstyn, as Regan's frantic mother.
4. "The Haunting" (1963). The Haunting does several things movies aren't supposed to do — playing with points of view and giving us an extended voiceover from Julie Harris' character, Eleanor Lance, among other things — but it all works. Eleanor (Nell) serves as the film's unreliable narrator; is Hill House haunted, or is it just Nell?
5. "Poltergeist" (1982). The best horror films are about outsiders trying to get in. Five-year-old Carol Anne Freeling, watching TV in the middle of the night, announces, "They're here . . ." and the Freeling home is invaded by malevolent spirits who want everything they have, starting with Carol Anne. Poltergeist is not only a horror film but a social satire and a cautionary tale about everyday suburban isolation and greed. The Freelings battle the forces of hell in their tract mansion, and although their neighbors are close enough to interfere with the TV's remote control, no one even notices.