Trying to find the perfect scary movie to watch can be a real fright. If you’re struggling to find just the right movie to scare yourself silly this Halloween, why not take a recommendation from your favorite horror director? From cult classics to childhood favorites to, in one case, a music video, we’ve compiled a list of the films that frighten the masters of horror. Read on for insight into the twisted minds of your favorite horror directors, along with some terrific horror movie recommendations.
1. JOHN CARPENTER ON NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
Just in time for Halloween, John Carpenter provided Fader with a list of eight of his favorite scary movies. The first film on his list was George Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead. Carpenter, the legendary director behind movies including Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982), and, of course, Halloween (1978), praised Romero’s impact on the last half-century of zombie movies.
“The fact that a loved one can be turned into a zombie. It’s just tremendous,” Carpenter told Fader. “I mean, look at the movies that have ripped it off! Look at [The] Walking Dead. I mean come on.”
2. EDUARDO SÁNCHEZ ON THE EXORCIST (1973)
Eduardo Sánchez was the co-director of one of the most innovative, infamous, and absolutely terrifying found footage films of all time: The Blair Witch Project (1999). But the movie that scared his socks off as a child was The Exorcist.
“I was raised Catholic, and I was taught that everything was real,” Sánchez tells Mental Floss. “Satan was real, God was real, there was this fight between good and evil happening on Earth. And then The Exorcist came along. My parents didn't take me to the theater to see it, but when it came out on TV, we all sat around the family TV to watch it—almost like it was a documentary. It was almost like, 'This is what can happen.' At that age, it felt totally real to me, and it just scared the crap out of me. To this day, it still scares me, even though I don't believe the same things I did as a kid."
3. WES CRAVEN ON DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)
For nearly four decades, Wes Craven pushed the boundaries of the horror genre, directing everything from exploitation horror movies like The Last House on the Left (1972) and the classic slasher movie A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) to the horror satire Scream (1996). In 2010, Craven shared 10 of his favorite horror movies with The Daily Beast. Writing about Nicolas Roeg’s horror classic Don’t Look Now, Craven explained, “This was one of the movies that just completely enthralled me and scared me at the same time, where I was watching a film that was a pretty moving work of art as well.” The film, based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, follows a bereaved couple who, on a trip to Venice, begin seeing an apparition they believe may be their deceased daughter. Craven was particularly struck by Roeg’s ability to build fear without relying on blood and gore, explaining, “The sense that the child is either a ghost or is torturing them with her presence by disappearing was a wonderful example (not that I followed it) of being able to scare without showing blood.”
4. ANDRÉ ØVREDAL ON POLTERGEIST (1982)
Norwegian filmmaker André Øvredal is best known for the tongue-in-cheek monster flick Trollhunter (2010). Most recently, he directed The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016), a stripped-down supernatural thriller set entirely in a small-town morgue over the course of a single night. Øvredal tells Mental Floss he chose Poltergeist as his favorite horror movie “for its sense of awe, wonder, and humanity in the midst of horror.”
“It revels in the ideas of the movie, it has a philosophy on its own subjects, not just trying to milk the opportunities for a scare,” Øvredal explains. “It’s also extremely close to the characters. You get to know and care for them, so you quickly fear for them. I think the filmmaking is really clever, visually stimulating, and tells the story with a surprising amount of humor, that only adds to the horror and sense of reality.”
5. TOBE HOOPER ON THE HAUNTING (1963)
Tobe Hooper’s cult classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is a masterpiece of chaos and gore shot on a shoestring budget. But the late director's favorite horror film is something quite different: an understated haunted house film from Academy Award-winning director Robert Wise, based on Shirley Jackson’s classic short story “The Haunting of Hill House.”
“It was the first horror movie that floored me,” Hooper told Filmmaker Magazine in 2000. “I really felt what the characters were going through. There is one scene where some of the characters have locked themselves in a room in the house and there are strange sounds and the walls start moving. My imagination ran wild, and it left an indelible impression on me.”
6. PATRICK BRICE ON JACOB’S LADDER (1990)
In his 2014 directorial debut Creep, Patrick Brice built a chilling thriller using just a few key elements: a remote vacation home, a creepy wolf mask, and a supremely unsettling performance by Mark Duplass. The low-budget found footage film was such a surprise hit, Brice directed a sequel, Creep 2, which was released on streaming platforms this month. For his favorite horror movie, Brice chose Jacob’s Ladder, Adrian Lyne's hallucinatory film about the visions of a traumatized Vietnam veteran.
“For its ability to be formally experimental, relentlessly terrifying, and downright touching all at the same time, I really think Jacob’s Ladder is one of the undervalued gems of horror,” Brice tells Mental Floss. “There are moments in the film that use practical and in-camera effects to pull off scares that are beyond comprehension. I remember having to rewind certain moments asking myself how Adrian Lyne was able to pull them off, and it's his only horror movie!"
7. DANIEL MYRICK ON JACOB’S LADDER
Patrick Brice wasn’t the only director we spoke with who was enthralled by Jacob’s Ladder. The Blair Witch Project co-director Daniel Myrick also chose to recommend Adrian Lyne’s classic horror classic.
“It’s really hard to designate one film as my ‘favorite,’ but certainly Jacob’s Ladder ranks up there for me,” Myrick tells Mental Floss. “This is more of a psychological thriller than actual ‘horror,' but those are always the scariest in my opinion. The way Adrian Lyne played with your senses on every level was masterful and to this day, one of the greatest endings ever.”
8. GEORGE ROMERO ON PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006)
In a 2010 interview, legendary horror director George Romero told TIME he wasn’t a fan of modern horror—with one exception. “ I don't like the new trends in horror,” he explained. “All this torture stuff seems really mean-spirited. People have forgotten how to laugh, and I don't see anybody who's using it as allegory.” But Romero, who directed classics like Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Creepshow (1982), professed his respect for Pan’s Labyrinth, a surreal and often terrifying dark fantasy film set shortly after the Spanish Civil War. “The guy I love right now is Guillermo del Toro,” Romero told TIME. “I’d love to make a film like Pan's Labyrinth.”
9. BABAK ANVARI ON THRILLER (1983)
Babak Anvari’s directorial debut Under the Shadow (2016) tells the story of a mother and daughter facing the horrors of war and haunted by something supernatural in 1980s Tehran. But the work of horror that has haunted him since childhood isn't a film at all, but a music video by the King of Pop.
“I have too many favorite horror films,” Babak tells Mental Floss. “But, the film that scared me most as a child, almost traumatized me, was actually not a film but a long music video: Michael Jackson’s Thriller directed by John Landis. I accidentally watched it too young—I think my older brother showed it to me first—and I got really freaked out. I used to be even scared of the tape that it was recorded on. I couldn’t be around it even during daytime. I kept thinking that zombies would crawl out of the tape to eat me alive.”
10. MICHAEL DOUGHERTY ON HALLOWEEN (1978)
Michael Dougherty’s first feature was the 2007 anthology film Trick ‘r Treat, so it’s fitting that his favorite horror movie is Halloween. “It’s very simple, in that it sort of defined the slasher genre, but it did so in a very elegant way,” Dougherty tells Mental Floss. “It’s beautifully made, and it’s beautifully shot. I remember as a kid, it was the first time I felt suspense—like genuine bone-chilling suspense.”
But Dougherty doesn't think you should stop at just one horror movie. “Halloween is a great time not to just revisit your one favorite horror film, but [to] watch just a whole slew of them,” he explains. “It’s a good opportunity to go back and revisit all your favorites or to introduce yourself to classics you might not have seen before: Halloween, The Exorcist, The Omen (1976), Poltergeist, It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (1966). These are the things that make for a really good Halloween season.”