In honor of Halloween, some denizens of the Interwebs are indulging their list-making mania by compiling lists of scary books or movies. Below is a brief list of my own: six works—three books, three movies—that were created with one purpose in mind: to scare the bejesus out of us.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
This 1959 novel is the haunted house story. Hill House is a long-abandoned country residence with an unsettling reputation. An investigator of psychic phenomena, Dr. Montague, plans to live there for the summer, observe and take notes. He takes three companions with him: Luke, the nephew of Hill House's owner; Eleanor, a woman who had experienced poltergeist activity as a child; and Theodora, who is believed to have a capacity for extrasensory perception. As the companions settle in and Dr. Montague investigates, tensions among the characters arise and a deepening isolation envelopes them, responding to the malevolent force at work in Hill House, for "whatever walked there, walked alone." When The Haunting of Hill House first appeared, a reviewer for The New York Times wrote, "Jackson can summon up stark terror, make your blood chill and your scalp prickle."
And now for the premier vampire story:
Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
In 1893, a young English solicitor named Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to provide legal assistance to one Count Dracula, who intends to buy property in London. Harker begins to notice odd things about the Count and his castle: no mirrors; he never seems to be around during the day. And as he walks around the castle, he notices all the outside doors are locked. He's a prisoner. Meanwhile, a ship runs ashore on the coast of England. The crew are all missing and presumed dead. The captain's corpse is tied to the mast. The cargo is boxes of dirt from Transylvania....These two events lay the groundwork for a terrifying story.*
Carrie by Stephen King (1974)
Do I really need to summarize this one for you? King's first published novel is the story of Carrie White, a teenage girl with an abusive mother. And school is no refuge from home: Carrie's been an outcast since first grade. But as this poor girl hits puberty, something more than the normal changes occur. And when her classmates subject her to brutal humiliation on prom night, they learn that Carrie has the power to wreak an even more brutal revenge...
Alien directed by Ridley Scott (1979)
This heart-stopping horror story of outer space not only launched Sigourney Weaver's acting career, but also features a stellar cast playing the secondary characters: Ian Holm, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto, and Harry Dean Stanton. If you're unfamiliar with Alien, let's just say it's the ultimate bad-things-happen-when-you-pick-up-hitchhikers story. Warning: Don't watch this if you're prone to heart trouble.
The Shining directed by Stanley Kubrick (1980)
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a writer who gets a job as the off-season caretaker for a mountain resort. He takes with him his son and wife (Shelley Duvall). When they get snowed in by a storm, Jacks comes down with a really unfortunate case of cabin fever and gets to know some of the hotel's permanent "residents" with potentially lethal consequences for his wife and son.
Rosemary's Baby directed by Roman Polanski (1968)
What can I say about a movie this famous except that it's considered the best horror movie ever made? This thoroughly chilling film is a masterpiece of acting and direction, with an unrelenting atmosphere of menace. Mia Farrow was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her role as Rosemary Woodhouse, and Ruth Gordon won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Minnie Castevet (the last sort of neighbor anyone wants). The film was ranked #9 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 most notable horror films.
*If you want to read something else by Stoker after Dracula, I've heard Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland (1879) is quite the page-turner.