One of childhood's most memorable pleasures is trading scary stories around a campfire, with the light and warmth on your face providing a welcome counterpoint to the cold chills running down your back. The adult equivalent is a well-made horror movie, and the best of these can draw you into their own world through skilled use of lighting, atmosphere and above all, a gripping story. Here are five very different movies, each capable of leaving you sleepless for days.
The sequels were competently executed action movies, but "Alien" stands on a completely different plane. You probably know the much-parodied alien birth scene, but the movie brings a lot more to the table. Although it's set in outer space, Ripley and her crew mates are just working stiffs in a job that's frankly rather dull. The film's low-key lighting, its sense of airless claustrophobia, and above all, its slow, deliberate descent from workaday routine to almost-unbearable tension make this film one of the all-time classic nerve-stretchers. Watch now on VUDU
2) Paranormal Activity
This is the film equivalent of a winning lottery ticket purchased with the change found under your sofa cushions. Made on a budget reported to be under $15,000, Paranormal Activity went on to gross over $100 million in the U.S. alone. Writer/directer Oren Peli tells his story largely through cell phone cameras and video chat, giving the film a homemade authenticity that complements the often-unscripted interaction between its characters. As things get weird—which they slowly, unnervingly do—it feels like you're watching people you know. Watch now on VUDU
3) The Candyman
Graduate student Helen Lyle is researching a thesis on urban legends, when she first encounters stories of the Candyman. Similar to another popular movie, which came out around the same time, the Candyman is conjured by repeating his name, but—unlike the comedic troublemaker of the earlier film—the Candyman is a supernatural slasher with a hook for a hand. As she investigates the story further, Helen begins to question whether, and to what extent, belief shapes reality. Watch now on VUDU
4) Stephen King's "It"
Creepy clowns certainly exist in real life—remember the famed clown clad serial killer from the 1970s? —but it was Stephen King's "It" that pushed coulrophobia, or the fear of clowns, firmly into the mainstream. Made in the form of a miniseries, its three-hour running time provides ample room for the cast to bring King's novel to nightmarish life. Pennywise the Clown is gleefully malevolent, using his victims' deepest fears to attack them. Other villains attack random, unfortunate strangers; but Pennywise knows who you are. Now that's a thought to keep you up at night. Watch now on VUDU
5) The Conjuring
Like other movies, horror films work best when you can relate to their characters and imagine yourself in their shoes. Consider Roger Perron, a hard-working guy who bought a quiet place in the country for himself, his wife and their five daughters. High on the things their realtor didn't mention was a malevolent, demonic presence that quickly makes their life unbearable. The shattered couple called in high profile real-world paranormal researchers Ed and Lorraine Warren, in a desperate attempt to identify and stop the cause of the incidents. Like other tales based on Warrens' case files that made it to the big screen, "The Conjuring" draws much of its chill factor from its purportedly true events. Watch now on VUDU
Photo Credits: Image courtesy Vudu
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