Stuck at home waiting for little ghouls and goblins to knock on your door so you can throw bite-sized Snickers at their tiny masked faces? Or just looking for something to occupy your time while you gorge yourself on candy that you told the neighbors you didn’t have? Try binge watching one of these classic horror franchises, ranked helpfully in order from worst to best! And if you disagree with me, chew me and other people out in the comments below!
I used to confuse this series about a creepy-as-hell doll inhabited by the soul of a serial killer with the Problem Child franchise, leading me to wonder why everyone was so afraid of John Ritter. That aside, everyone’s favorite homicidal toy has had a run of six (six!) films, each of which stretches just how a tiny little doll can kill full-grown people as far as it can go, until finally we’re presented with Bride and Seed of Chucky, implanting the image of doll sex and birth firmly into our unsuspecting minds.
DEATH IS COMING FOR YOU. If that message plus a healthy dose of slow-motion psychic-prediction montages appeals to you, the five Final Destination movies should satisfy your every need. The interesting and occasionally well-executed concept of someone having a premonition of some sort of accident only to see the few people they saved picked off one by one by “death’s plan” eventually devolves later in the series solely into “how gruesome can this one-dimensional character’s death be.” So basically it’s like every horror franchise in history except that its attractive people have smart phones.
You really should just watch the first Saw film. It broaches brand new territory in the horror genre and offers some pretty disturbing situations and twists. After number one, each film becomes progressively concerned with devising the most cruel and sadistic ways to kill people, which, I mean, go for it if you’re into that, but it ain’t for me.
Friday the 13th
After twelve installments of Jason and Crystal Lake, I start to wonder why anyone goes to summer camp anymore. There are some genuinely scary moments in the first couple films of the franchise, but after around number two or three things just get crazy. I don’t know if there’s anyone outside of comic books who has been resurrected more often than Jason. I’m not sure whether to give the series points or take them away for the wonderfully bad Jason X, which gives us scientists who thought it was a good idea to bring the body of an unkillable psychopath onto a spaceship. I wonder what they got their degrees in?
The slow burn of the first movie really adds to the creep factor of a woman who is haunted by an unknown and unseen force. As the series goes on, it becomes harder and harder to justify the “found footage” trope, but the first two films definitely are worth plopping down on the couch for. There are a lot of excellent atmospheric scares, and I appreciate the way the filmmakers build on the same family’s story in a new way with each film.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
To date there are nine movies in which Freddy Krueger terrorizes young adults in their nightmares. The first Nightmare on Elm Street gets a lot of credit for introducing the world to both Freddy and Johnny Depp all in one go, and while the series faltered pretty drastically with a terrible second installment, the third and fourth are both pretty fun and do a good job of telling a cohesive story from one film to the next. Bonus points to Wes Craven for the seriously meta New Nightmare, in which Craven, Heather Langenkamp (Nancy from the first film) and Robert Englund all play themselves as Heather the actress is tormented by a manifestation of Freddy in our world.
You only need to see the first film. Don’t even try to bother with any of the others. If you need me to tell you that, you should probably go read a different list.
Night of the Living Dead
Zombies! Every movie in this franchise is at the very least watchable, with the first movie and Zack Snyder’s remake the most enjoyable. Those two movies prove that it is impossible to be in the zombie apocalypse without someone in your group of survivors completely working against their better interests. Also, Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead gives us a zombified newborn, which is pretty excellent.
The Evil Dead
I can’t speak to this year’s reboot, but the Bruce Campbell series is some of the greatest stuff you’ll ever see. There are some legitimate scares even in the unintentionally hilarious first film, but once Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell decided to go all-in with the schlock it all turns to gold.
Jamie Lee Curtis embodies the smart, capable female protagonist more horror films need. The audience roots for her from the beginning of Halloween to the end of Halloween II, and Michael Myers is rivaled only by the aforementioned Jason in his invulnerability. The series falls off after not even following the same storyline in number three, and in four to six tries much too hard to build on some sort of occult mythology surrounding Michael and what drives him to kill his entire family. Those flaws aside, the first two films alone put Halloween near the top of this watch list.
The ultimate subversion of the genre, Scream is easily the most self-aware horror film you’re likely to find. As is the case with most of these franchises, the sequels fail to live up to the brilliance of the first, but Ghostface is and will remain one of the most iconic images (and most popular Halloween costumes) in the history of the genre.
There might not be a more outright terrifying movie on this list than The Ring. Both the original Japanese film and its American remake are supremely effective at creating an atmosphere of undeniable and constant tension as the mother at the center of the film works to uncover the secrets behind the videotape that kills anyone who watches it in seven days. Reflections and blurry shots of oh-my-God-there’s-something-else-here, not to mention the chill-inducing sight of Samara emerging from the TV, hair covering her face, make The Ring an absolute must-watch for any horror fan.