Scary is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s “Friday the 13th” is another man’s “Yentl.” So if you rent a movie this Halloween weekend, keep in mind these demographically coded viewing suggestions. Or just rent a Brittany Murphy (“8 Mile”) movie. She’s always scary.
KIDS (7 TO 13)
“Monster House” (2006): What’s worse than a haunted house? How about an anatomically correct haunted house (it has a uvula!) that snaps up unsuspecting children with a tongue-like runner and eats them whole? The year’s best animated movie, now out on DVD.
“Goonies” (1985): Richard Donner’s muchloved ’80s adventure yarn has all the accoutrements: secret caves, old lighthouses, treasure maps and a pre-“Lord of the Rings” Sean Astin. Not to mention plenty of bloodless, low-impact peril for tired trickor-treaters.
“Suspiria” (1977): Dario Argento’s wailing tale of a ballet academy infested by witches sinks its talons into your skin and never lets go. According to legend, Argento played the movie’s creepy soundtrack at full blast on the set to unnerve the actors.
“Prince of Darkness” (1987): “Halloween,” shmalloween. THIS is fi lmmaker John Carpenter’s scariest movie, an end-of-days affair about a researcher who finds a mysterious canister in an abandoned church. And it stars the scariest actor of all time: Donald Pleasence.
“The Shining” (1981): Duh. Even casual horror enthusiasts hardly need to be reminded how heart-arrestingly scary it is when Jack Nicholson suffers modern cinema’s most notorious case of writer’s block. Easily the best Stephen King adaptation to date. (I would put “The Dead Zone” a distant second.)
“The Omega Man” (1971): Archconservative hero and gun-rights advocate Charlton Heston is the last untainted human being in a world infested with freeloading mutant types. On the upside: all the target practice he wants, and no new taxes.
“Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004): What could be more horrifying to Dubya bashers than another shot of the president reading from “The Pet Goat” while jihad rains down on Manhattan? Plus, there’s that business with John Ashcroft singing “Let the Eagle Soar.” The horror.
“Poltergeist” (1982): You thought cracked flagstone was a pain in the rear? Imagine if your home was built over a cemetery, prompting disgruntled spirits to hold select members of your family hostage in your TV set. Twenty-four years after its release, this Steven Spielberg-produced horror classic (he did a fair amount of the directing, too) remains one of the smartest, most artfully layered ghost stories around.
“Rosemary’s Baby” (1968): After a day of bassinet and diaper shopping, why not go crazy and rent Roman Polanski’s gleefully macabre tale of an expectant mother (Mia Farrow) who learns that her unborn child is actually the spawn of Satan? Talk about buyer’s remorse …
“A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984): Wes Craven’s seminal slasher fl ick about a disfi gured groundskeeper who preys on victims in their dreams (right) gives teenagers another terrifi c reason to pull an all-nighter. Starring Johnny Depp, the rich man’s Skeet Ulrich.
“The Ring” (2002): With its inferior picture and sound quality and nonexistent menu options, VHS is truly the most evil of all home video formats. You don’t see ghastly, raven-haired little girls haunting Blu Ray discs, do you? In any case, this adaptation of the Japanese horror hit “Ringu” is arguably the scariest American movie of the decade.