Scary Big Screen Hits and Misses: What’s the Movie That Makes You Sleep With the Lights On?

When it comes to horror, there is a fine line between big-screen classic and unimaginable flop. Which movies made us laugh when we were supposed to cry and which ones make us leave the lights on to sleep?

As you prepare to immerse yourself in the spirit of Halloween this week, here is a look at the Halloween classics that are must-sees and the ones you must stay away from.

Let’s begin with the classic characters.

Frankenstein: Not scary at all, just a very sad character.

Dracula: More sexy than scary. The only one I found very disturbing was “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992) played by Gary Oldman. Does not hurt that Keanu Reeves is the hero in the movie. (Anyone who knows me knows I believe Keanu to be the greatest actor of his generation.)

The Mummy: Just terrible! It may have been scary in the 1930s, but it does not work today. It didn’t work with Brendan Fraser or Tom Cruise. But hey, the franchise helped make The Rock a worldwide treasure, so at least there’s that.

Werewolves: Not really scary, but pretty cool character and concept. “An American Werewolf in London” (1981) is a classic (even though the effects that were state of the art back then now seem pretty cheesy).

“The Underworld” (2003) movies where it’s vampires versus werewolves are pretty fun and full of action. “The Wolfman” (2010) wasted amazing actors like Anthony Hopkins and Benecio del Toro and “Wolf” (1994) is overacting at its finest, with Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer also wasted in likely one of each of their worst three performances on screen.


Yes! Super scary when done right. “The Shining” (1980) is one of the scariest movies ever made. The twin ghost girls, even after 40 years, are still giving people nightmares. (And with the movie of the book sequel, “Doctor Sleep,” about to hit theaters in November, hopefully, a whole new generation will discover the magic of this film.) The trailer above gives more scares in two minutes than most “horror” movies deliver in two hours.

My favorite scary ghost movies: “The Others” (2001), “The Sixth Sense” (1999), “Thirteen Ghosts” (2001) and “Insidious” (2010, scary build up, but the end was a bit lame).

Ridiculous and Unbelievable

Pinhead from “Hellraiser” (1987): I was never able to get into these movies because the villain is so pathetically lame. Pins on your face is not scary, it’s just gross – and very unsanitary.

Chucky from “Child’s Play” (1988): He is just so over-the-top mean and inhumane, it comes off funny instead of scary. I am a big fan of the voice of Chucky, played by Brad Dourif (“Lord of the Rings,” “Exorcist 3”).

Ghostface from “Scream” (1999): This movie has a classic opening scene with Drew Barrymore and the twist at the end makes the movie enjoyable. “Scream” has a great cast, but I just can’t take that stupid mask seriously.

Candyman from “Candyman” (1992): You can’t name the killer after Sammy Davis, Jr.’s nickname! Come on, people.

Dudes Who Can’t Stop and Won’t Stop Killing

Michael Myers from “Halloween” (1978): This movie introduced the world to the great Jamie Lee Curtis (too many great roles to mention). Mike Myers is a very motivated and excellent killer. He really wants JLC dead. P.S. Stop making these movies, please! I’m begging. You’re never recapturing the pop culture moment with Myers again. You’re just killing the original’s legacy.

Jason from “Friday the 13th” (1980): Old school hockey masks are scary looking and Jason made them even scarier. He had 29 years of killing on screen, and that’s a good run. But that, too, needs to be over.

Jigsaw from “Saw: (2004): I enjoy how creative and clever he is. Everyone he kills seems to deserve it. No one escapes once he puts you into one of his games. You are done. Toast. Stick a fork in ya (and he just might).

Honorable mentions: Neither “Leatherface” (Great name from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” 1974) nor Freddy Krueger (“A Nightmare on Elm Street,” 1984) have withstood the test of time, but man, they were scary in their own time.

Too Real and So Disturbed

Hannibal Lecter from “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991): An icon in movie history! He’s a psychiatrist, genius, artist and cannibal. Anthony Hopkins plays the character so deliciously creepy (see what I did there), it’s pure nightmare fuel.

Pennywise the Dancing Clown from “It” (2017, 2019, 1990): Clowns are real and they will kill you! It’s science. Damn you, Stephen King, for inventing this creature. And double damn you to Tim Curry and Bill Skarsgard for making this character even creepier than he is in the book.

John Doe from “Se7en” (1995): Do not sin around this guy. He will kill you in the most elaborate way possible, so the world will know what a piece of human garbage you were. If Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman (two of the coolest actors of all time) can’t stop this maniac, what chance do you have?

Shout out to the old school: Norman Bates (“Psycho,” 1960), you cross-dressing psychopath. The original momma’s boy.

Super Scary, Period

Disclaimer: I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in a Latin/Catholic household (or I could just be a big chicken) and we believed in saints, angels, demons, devils and any other (silly) superstition that exist. But, to me nothing is scarier then devil and/or demon possession movies. These movies give me all the heebie jeebies that my body can’t handle.

And there are some seriously disturbing movies about possession.

“The Exorcism of Emily Rose” (2005): The scene when her body is disfigured and goes in all directions is insane.

“The VVitch” (2015, yes, that’s the right spelling): That possessed goat is scary as hell.

“The Omen” movies (1976-1981) have the scariest music of all time. In “Legion” (2010), the old lady crawling on the celling is chilling.

“The Exorcist III” (1990) with the great George C. Scott battling Satan. But, there is one that stands out as the scariest movie of all time, 1973’s “The Exorcist”!

I have only seen this movie twice in my life. The last time was 24 years ago. I am going to be 50 soon and so far, I have kept my promise to never see it again. But you’re welcome to look at the trailer below.

This movie is just so brutal and unforgiving. Just think of it a 12-year-old girl possessed by a demon, as her mother watches her daughter be torn apart from the inside out. The priest trying to help her, eventually dying in an act they believe ultimately saved her. it’s the ultimate good-versus-evil story with the soul of a young girl at stake.

I am still haunted by the scene where the Demon turns into Father Karras’ mother …  just writing about this is going make me sleep with the lights on!

Footnote: There are too many zombie and alien movies to add in here, so we’ll leave that to its own later review.

Val Davila
Val Davila is a lifelong Merrimack Valley resident and one of the founders of the Davila & DeFusco Insurance Agency in Methuen. Val has been our pop culture guru since the beginnings of Loop Weekly and is a fan of all things movies and TV.