Man with eyes and mouth wide open pointing.
Donald Sutherland in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1978).

What’s your favorite scary movie? A horror film watch list for October.

From "Candyman" to "The Wizard of Oz"(!), VCU students, faculty, alums and staff share hair-raising recs for the spookiest of months.

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October is heaven for ghouls, ghosts and others who love a good scare. With Halloween fast approaching, we asked members of the VCU community for recommendations of frightening films to savor as the shadows grow longer – and the chills get chillier.

“Nosferatu” (1922)

Olivia Landry, Ph.D., Associate Professor of German, School of World Studies

My recommendation is Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau's silent film “Nosferatu.” The horror genre started in Weimar Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. “Nosferatu” was one of the first horror films ever made and contains many of the classic tropes we have come to expect from horror: the supernatural, contagion, haunted houses, romantic landscapes. It is one of my personal favorites mostly because of its material quality, though. It's an old film made on nitrate, so its black-and-white images contain tinges of yellow and violet. This quality adds to its eeriness.

“Creep” (2014)

Kathleen Shingleton, President, VCU Horror Club

If you’ve ever wondered what a mix between “Nathan For You” and “The Blair Witch Project” would be like, then “Creep” has your answer. For people who like found footage, it’s a great comedic (but still scary!) take on the genre. Mark Duplass’s performance as the titular “Creep” is unforgettable and surpassed only by his performance in “Creep 2.”

“Candyman” (1992)

Grace D. Gipson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of African American Studies, College of Humanities and Sciences

“Candyman” is a classic example of how a film can and does eloquently have a conversation surrounding racism, Black pain and historical memory. This in many ways is what separates it from other horror films, telling the story of a mysterious Black man who comes back to life after being brutally executed. Having watched this film at three different phases of my life (as a teenager, a college student, and a college professor), I became more aware and informed on the entanglement of lower-class Black life as seen through a horror film. Uniquely, “Candyman” serves as a precursor to Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” (2017) and “Us” (2019), along with providing a solid foundation for Nia DaCosta’s 2021 sequel/remake (of the same name) as it creatively embeds social critique and commentary on urban housing, white privilege and the white savior complex, the tragic legacy of enslavement and the power of urban legends. All in all, while the film is very much a blending of slasher, fantasy and horror, I can't help but note how “Candyman” becomes an example of “art imitating life.”

“Don’t Look Now” (1973)

TyRuben Ellingson, Director, Department of Cinema, Associate Professor, Department of Communication Arts, School of the Arts 

This is a challenging question for me since I have so many favorites. However, if forced to choose, my top scary movie recommendation would be Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece, “Alien.” Even though “Alien” is now over 40 years old, its ability to provoke fear and deliver thrilling shocks remains undiminished, thanks to its pervasive atmosphere of claustrophobic dread and a highly imaginative, deadly creature. Assuming most readers are familiar with “Alien,” I’d like to spotlight another potentially less-known film: “Don’t Look Now,” a 1973 classic from director Nicolas Roeg that stands out for its unsettling and eerie narrative. Starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, “Don’t Look Now” weaves a tapestry of emotions: terror, poignancy, mystery and tragedy. While many view the film primarily as a psychological thriller, I believe the supernatural overtones place it in a unique category that's challenging to describe. Regardless, the film is a distinctive, slow-burning experience that leaves an indelible, unsettling impression on viewers. Be advised, “Don’t Look Now” delves into the heart-wrenching theme of loss and, while not as explicit as many contemporary films, contains scenes of graphic sex and violence.

“The Others” (2001)

El Rodriguez, senior majoring in theatre, School of the Arts

A really scary movie that I would recommend to others is “The Others,” starring Nicole Kidman. This psychological thriller is definitely not what you would expect with a very mind-numbing and mysterious plot. With a spine-chilling twist, this movie may be too intense for some (if you have certain triggers, I suggest looking up the plot first). 

“The Curse of the Cat People” (1944)

John Glover, Humanities Research Librarian, Associate Professor, VCU Libraries

“The Curse of the Cat People” is a delight for the spooky season! A 1944 sequel to the better known 1942 “Cat People,” this film was also produced by Val Lewton. Instead of Jacques Tourneur's moody direction, however, this supernatural thriller was the work of many hands and a complicated production history, directed by Robert Wise and Gunther von Fritsch. At only 70 minutes long, the film is an oddly meditative tale full of ghosts, remembered ancestors and imaginary friends. If you need a break from rampaging cannibals and homicidal androids, check out this film from VCU Libraries as part of a 2-DVD set that also includes its more famous predecessor.

“The Autopsy of Jane Doe” (2016)

Ness Sinclair, senior majoring in theatre, School of the Arts

My favorite horror movie is “The Autopsy of Jane Doe.” I like it because it has historical and psychological aspects, and they mention VCU!

“Blood Quantum” (2019)

Jessica Casey, Administrative Affairs Coordinator, Performing Arts, School of the Arts

I don't know that I can honestly say I have a favorite horror movie, but “Blood Quantum,” directed by Jeff Barnaby, is definitely one of my favorites, which is shocking because I don't normally enjoy zombie movies. The plot is based around the concept of blood quantum, which has historically been used as a tool of oppression against Indigenous American communities, but the film reclaims it as a point of strength and beauty through this really graphic zombie slasher narrative. I really appreciate such attention to not only the established horror zombie sub-genre but how it carefully incorporates real, social horrors as well. It's definitely a fun movie to watch if you're just looking for something with a wild zombie slasher vibe or if you're looking for something more thought-provoking and nuanced – it somehow walks the balance between those two things and creates a really compelling movie.

“The Wizard of Oz” (1939)

Chris Semtner, VCU alum, Curator of The Poe Museum

If I had to name my favorite horror film, it would have to be “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935), a weird and wonderful classic that defies classification, but, if I were to tell you about the one movie that ever really creeped me out, that could only be the parentally edited version of that delightful musical “The Wizard of Oz” (1939). I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 when I saw it — at least most of it — on television with my parents. It got to the part in which the witch captured Dorothy and told her that she would perish as soon as the hourglass emptied. Then there was a commercial break, so my mother insisted it was my bedtime and, over my many protestations, sent me to my room before I got to find out there would be a happy ending. I went to bed that night believing that the witch killed Dorothy and Toto — that evil had prevailed — and, from my hiding place beneath the covers, I swear I even heard the villain cackling in delight outside my window (although it was probably coming from the television). Maybe that’s what made me love horror.