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Dracula (1931): Among the first batch of black-and-white monster movies from Uni­versal Pic­tures, this is the best of the bunch, though others prefer Franken­stein (1931) and The Bride of Franken­stein (1935). It’s based on a the­atrical pro­duction rather than Bram Stoker’s excellent novel and parts may feel campy today, but Bela Lugosi set the standard for blood-sucking Tran­syl­va­nians. He also inspired the finest song by the quin­tes­sential Goth band: “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” by Bauhaus

The Inno­cents (1961): This film asks one of horror’s staple ques­tions: Is the main char­acter troubled by evil spirits or is she just nuts? The evi­dence is ambiguous, but the sight of Miss Jessel in her black dress by the lake will make you shudder. Also, the source text is The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James — who wrote way more ghost stories than your English pro­fessors have told you about. 

The Birds (1963): It’s hard to pick this one over Psycho (1960) — director Alfred Hitchcock’s other horror classic — but it gets the nod because its terror comes from the incom­pre­hen­sible forces of the natural (or super­natural) world rather than the inner turmoil of dis­or­dered char­acters. Also, it totally creeped out my mom. These are the original angry birds

The Exorcist (1973): This may be the scariest movie of all time, though it has spawned a legion of imi­tators and deriv­a­tives, making it impos­sible to recapture the expe­rience of the first audi­ences. The head-spinning, pro­jectile-vom­iting parts are sen­sa­tional and the blas­phemous bits are dis­turbing. Yet the movie is also the product of the late William Peter Blatty’s sincere Catholic faith. It isn’t for everybody, but those who see past its provo­ca­tions will appre­ciate its richness. Also, its cli­mactic scene pro­vides an excellent and quirky tourist des­ti­nation in Wash­ington, D.C.: the Exorcist Steps. Climb them if you dare. 

The Omen (1976): This may be a decent horror movie rather than a great horror movie, but it scared the bejesus out of me as a kid. Life lesson: Good doesn’t always beat evil. The Omen II (1978) gets a thumbs-up as well. A few years ago, I asked the college’s librarians if they would con­sider buying The Omen Col­lection on DVD, half thinking that they’d rec­ommend a remedial lesson in the good, the true, and the beau­tiful. But you know what? We have awesome librarians.

Hal­loween (1978): I don’t care for slasher flicks, but this one is more inter­ested in sus­pense than in gore, which is sadly untrue of so many others in the sub­genre. The influence of Hitchcock is every­where, from the movie’s look and feel to the things-that-make-you-go-hmmm fact that star actress Jamie Lee Curtis is the daughter of Janet Leigh of Psycho. The sound­track demon­strates that there is such a thing as fright­ening piano music. If you don’t believe me, then listen to it for ten hours

The Van­ishing (1988): The best missing-person movie ever made, this film will make you think twice about taking your next road trip. Or it may give you a topic to talk about on the drive: the banality of evil. The ending is like some­thing out of Poe, and never has the stage direction “fade to black” felt more ter­ri­fying. Filmed in France and the Nether­lands, it has English sub­titles. Its Dutch name is Spoorloos, which sounds vaguely scat­o­logical. 

The Blair Witch Project (1999): This movie is a flawed mas­ter­piece: The char­acters are irri­tating and they make bad choices, but they’re up against one of the spookiest vil­lains in horror. More haunting than scary, The Blair Witch Project gave birth to a spate of found-footage films — and also has a ter­rific ending. Bonus spine-tingler: those sticks.

The Cabin in the Woods (2012): Part tribute and part sendup, this movie both cel­e­brates and cri­tiques the horror-movie genre — similar to the very good Scream (1996), but with more depth. It has aliens, clowns, demons, zombies, mummies, giant snakes, pump­kin­heads, and a weirdo gas-station attendant. But it’s really about free will. 

It Follows (2014): A lot of horror movies show how social trans­gression leads to ruin, and in this sense the genre can be deeply con­ser­v­ative. With its implicit warnings about casual sex, It Follows fits this mold. Yet it’s also more com­pli­cated without being des­perate to make a point. The story is com­pelling, the cin­e­matog­raphy is striking, and the sound­track reminds us of how well music can set moods — and invoke terror. Filmed in Detroit, it’s Pure Michigan horror.