THE EVIL DEAD (1982) Directed by Sam Raimi
Before he was the webmaster of the Spider-Man franchise, Sam Raimi was a college dropout with $385,000 and a nightmare. Plotwise, The Evil Dead is just your basic ”kids at a remote cabin in the woods foolishly read forbidden book and unleash demons” movie. But the result was a template for a generation of horror filmmakers, thanks to the wry Bruce Campbell (as ”Ash” Williams, in the performance that made him a cult horror hero), those predatory trees, and Raimi’s wickedly inventive direction. The furiously racing tracking shots came from what Raimi dubbed ”the Shaky-Cam,” a camera mounted on a two-by-four carried by two operators who would run like hell when Raimi yelled, ”Action!” As he told EW, ”When we made Evil Dead, I wanted [viewers] to jump and scream and feel my wrath!” We’re still feeling it.
CARRIE (1976) Directed by Brian De Palma
De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s first novel is set in the lurid, oversexed world of high school, where persecuted telekinetic Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) transcends catty rivals and a psychotically religious mother (Piper Laurie) to become prom queen — only to be doused in pig’s blood, go on a murderous rampage, and kill just about everyone. ”I got tricked into doing [Carrie],” says Laurie, who, like Spacek, won an Oscar nomination. ”It seemed so over-the-top, I thought it was going to be a satire. When De Palma stopped me in rehearsals, my heart just dropped. Whoops!” Pioneering moment: the best final scare ever. Period.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) Directed by George A. Romero
The horror movie whose zombie escapades inspired a thousand more, Dead was filmed in black and white for about $100,000, some of which was reportedly contributed by lead actor Russell Streiner. Although the film, about radiation-poisoned corpses on the hunt for fresh meat, was made on the cheap (any flub in the sound was covered with the chirping of crickets), the total gross has been estimated to be as high as $50 million. Because of legal problems with the original distributor, the filmmakers saw only a tiny fraction of the grosses, inspiring a remake in 1990. Stick with the original — the Blair Witch Project of its day.
THE OMEN (1976) Directed by Richard Donner
Someday, an enterprising film student will write a master’s thesis on why the Nixon-Ford era spawned the cinematic unholy trinity of Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen. Until then, let’s just picture the last of those demon seeds, Damien (Harvey Stephens) — the tiny Antichrist with the 666 devil sign on his scalp — maniacally pedaling his tricycle and knocking Lee Remick over the second-floor railing to the menacing strains of ”Ave Satani.” ”That boy was putty to direct…just a dream,” says Donner, who adds, ”A lot of people were afraid to see The Omen because The Exorcist scared the s— out of them so much.” It’s their loss, because when we picture Damien’s nanny hanging herself while screaming, ”Damien, it’s all for you!” we still get freaked out.