Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly

Your 10 Favorite Horror Directors’ Favorite Horror Movies

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly

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 youngI 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.”

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
12 Surprising Facts About Robin Williams
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA

Robin Williams had a larger-than-life personality. On screen and on stage, he embodied what he referred to as “hyper-comedy.” Offscreen, he was involved in humanitarian causes and raised three children—Zak, Zelda, and Cody. On July 16, HBO debuts the documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, directed by Marina Zenovich. The film chronicles his rise on the L.A. and San Francisco stand-up comedy scenes during the 1970s, to his more dramatic roles in the 1980s and '90s in award-winning films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; Awakenings; The Fisher King; and Good Will Hunting. The film also focuses on August 11, 2014, the date of his untimely death. Here are 12 surprising facts about the beloved entertainer.

1. ROBIN WILLIAMS GOT HIS START AT A COMEDY WORKSHOP INSIDE A CHURCH.

A still from 'Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind' (2018)
HBO

After leaving Juilliard, Robin Williams found himself back in his hometown of San Francisco, but he couldn’t find work as an actor. Then he saw something for a comedy workshop in a church and decided to give it a shot. “So I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don’t get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo," he told NPR. "And then I started to realize, ‘Oh.’ [I started] building an act from there."

2. HE FORMED A FRIENDSHIP WITH KOKO THE GORILLA.

In 2001, Williams visited Koko the gorilla, who passed away in June, at The Gorilla Foundation in Northern California. Her caregivers had shown her one of his movies, and she seemed to recognize him. Koko repeatedly signed for Williams to tickle her. “We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” Williams said of the encounter. On the day Williams died, The Foundation shared the news with Koko and reported that she fell into sadness.

3. FOR A TIME, HE WAS A MIME IN CENTRAL PARK.

In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine captured photos of two mimes in New York's Central Park. As it turned out, one of the mimes was Williams, who was attending Juilliard at the time. “What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, Todd Oppenheimer, was an unusual amount of intensity, personality, and physical fluidity,” Sorine said. In 1991, Williams revisited the craft by playing Mime Jerry in Bobcat Goldthwait’s film Shakes the Clown. In the movie, Williams hilariously leads a how-to class in mime.

4. HE TRIED TO GET LYDIA FROM MRS. DOUBTFIRE BACK IN SCHOOL.

As a teen, Lisa Jakub played Robin Williams’s daughter Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. “When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy,” Jakub wrote on her blog. “My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a ‘non-traditional’ student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.”

Sensing Jakub’s distress over the situation, Williams typed a letter and sent it to her school. “A student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work,” he wrote. “She should also be encouraged to return to the classroom when she’s done to share those experiences and motivate her classmates to soar to their own higher achievements … she is an asset to any classroom.”

Apparently, the school framed the letter but didn’t allow Jakub to return. “But here’s what matters from that story—Robin stood up for me,” Jakub wrote. “I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.”

5. HE WASN’T PRODUCERS' FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MORK ON MORK & MINDY.

Anson Williams, Marion Ross, and Don Most told The Hallmark Channel that a different actor was originally hired to play Mork for the February 1978 Happy Days episode “My Favorite Orkan,” which introduced the alien character to the world. “Mork & Mindy was like the worst script in the history of Happy Days. It was unreadable, it was so bad,” Anson Williams said. “So they hire some guy for Mork—bad actor, bad part.” The actor quit, and producer Garry Marshall came to the set and asked: “Does anyone know a funny Martian?” They hired Williams to play Mork, and from September 1978 to May 1982, Williams co-headlined the spinoff Mork & Mindy for four seasons.

6. HE “RISKED” A ROLE IN AN OFF-BROADWAY PLAY.

Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
Michael Caulfield, Getty Images for PCA

In 1988, Williams made his professional stage debut as Estragon in the Mike Nichols-directed Waiting for Godot, which also starred Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham. The play was held off-Broadway at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The New York Times asked Williams if he felt the show was a career risk, and he responded with: “Risk! Of never working on the stage again! Oh, no! You’re ruined! It’s like you're ruined socially in Tustin,” a town in Orange County, California. “If there’s risk, you can’t think about it,” he said, “or you’ll never be able to do the play.”

Williams had to restrain himself and not improvise during his performance. “You can do physical things,” he said, “but you don’t ad lib [Samuel] Beckett, just like you don’t riff Beethoven.” In 1996, Nichols and Williams once again worked together, this time in the movie The Birdcage.

7. HE USHERED IN THE ERA OF CELEBRITY VOICE ACTING.

The 1992 success of Aladdin, in which Williams voiced Genie, led to more celebrities voicing animated characters. According to a 2011 article in The Atlantic, “Less than 20 years ago, voice acting was almost exclusively the realm of voice actors—people specifically trained to provide voices for animated characters. As it turns out, the rise of the celebrity voice actor can be traced to a single film: Disney’s 1992 breakout animated hit Aladdin.” Since then, big names have attached themselves to animated films, from The Lion King to Toy Story to Shrek. Williams continued to do voice acting in animated films, including Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2.

8. HE FORGOT TO THANK HIS MOTHER DURING HIS 1998 OSCAR SPEECH.

In March 1998, Williams won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. In 2011, Williams appeared on The Graham Norton Show, and Norton asked him what it was like to win the award. “For a week it was like, ‘Hey congratulations! Good Will Hunting, way to go,'” Williams said. “Two weeks later: ‘Hey, Mork.’”

Then Williams mentioned how his speech accidentally left out one of the most important people in his life. “I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience,” he said. “Even the therapist went, ‘Get out!’ That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to his pants]! How’s the award?’”

9. HE COMFORTED STEVEN SPIELBERG DURING THE FILMING OF SCHINDLER’S LIST.

At this year’s 25th anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, held at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Steven Spielberg shared that Williams—who played Peter Pan in Spielberg’s Hook—would call him and make him laugh. “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” Spielberg said. “I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”

10. HE HELPED ETHAN HAWKE GET HIS AGENT.

During a June 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Ethan Hawke recalled how, while working on Dead Poets Society, Williams was hard on him. “I really wanted to be a serious actor,” Hawke said. “I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane [Williams] got. He would make fun of me. ‘Oh this one doesn't want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand I was trying to do a good job.” Hawke had assumed Williams hated him during filming.

After filming ended, Hawke went back to school, but he received a surprising phone call. It was from Williams’s agent, who—at Williams's suggestion—wanted to sign Hawke. Hawke said he still has the same agent today.

11. HE WAS ALMOST CAST IN MIDNIGHT RUN.

In February 1988, Williams told Rolling Stone how he sometimes still had to audition for roles. “I read for a movie with [Robert] De Niro, [Midnight Run], to be directed by Marty Brest,” Williams said. “I met with them three or four times, and it got real close, it was almost there, and then they went with somebody else. The character was supposed to be an accountant for the Mafia. Charles Grodin got the part. I was craving it. I thought, ‘I can be as funny,’ but they wanted someone obviously more in type. And in the end, he was better for it. But it was rough for me. I had to remind myself, ‘Okay, come on, you’ve got other things.’”

In July 1988, Universal released Midnight Run. Just two years later, Williams finally worked with De Niro, on Awakenings.

12. BILLY CRYSTAL AND WILLIAMS USED TO TALK ON THE PHONE FOR HOURS.

Actors Robin Williams (L) and Billy Crystal pose at the afterparty for the premiere of Columbia Picture's 'RV' on April 23, 2006 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Starting in 1986, Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg co-hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless. Soon after Williams’s death, Crystal went on The View and spoke with Goldberg about his friendship with Williams. “We were like two jazz musicians,” Crystal said. “Late at night I get these calls and we’d go for hours. And we never spoke as ourselves. When it was announced I was coming to Broadway, I had 50 phone messages, in one day, from somebody named Gary, who wanted to be my backstage dresser.”

“Gary” turned out to be Williams.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind premieres on Monday, July 16 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

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Walt Disney Pictures
10 Facts About Hocus Pocus
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

In a 2014 Reddit AMA, Bette Midler said she'd be interested in doing a Hocus Pocus sequel. "You have to go to send in your cards to the Walt Disney company," she said. "The ball's in their court." While you get those cards ready, here are some facts about the original, which arrived in theaters 25 years ago today.

1. THE STORY ORIGINATED AS A BEDTIME STORY.

The story for Hocus Pocus came about after writer David Kirschner invented a bedtime story for his kids. He later wrote the story up and submitted it to Muppet Magazine (why does this not still exist?), where it gained recognition.

2. THE WRITERS USED PROPS TO PITCH IT TO STUDIO EXECUTIVES.

Bette Midler in 'Hocus Pocus' (1993)
Walt Disney Pictures

To pitch the story to Disney, the writers had execs enter a dark room with broomsticks and a vacuum cleaner hanging from the ceiling. They also scattered 15 pounds of candy corn throughout the room in an effort to invoke Halloween nostalgia. It obviously worked!

3. IT WAS NOT AN IMMEDIATE HIT.

Though it’s a cult classic now, Hocus Pocus didn’t do that well when it first came out in 1993, perhaps because it was released in July instead of September or October. Though it didn’t have a terrible opening—$8,125,471, putting it in fourth place at the box office that weekend—it fell to $2,017,688 a few weeks later, and bad reviews from the critics didn’t help matters.

Entertainment Weekly was particularly put off by the movie, calling it a “piece of corny slapstick trash” and saying that “It’s acceptable scary-silly kid fodder that adults will find only mildly insulting. Unless they’re Bette Midler fans. In which case it’s depressing as hell.”

4. BETTE MIDLER LOVES IT.

Bette Midler, by the way, has said that Hocus Pocus is her favorite film out of all of the films she’s ever done. (At least as of 2008.) Thora Birch agreed, recently saying, “The most fun I ever had on a film was Hocus Pocus.”

5. KATHY NAJIMY LOVES IT, TOO.

Midler isn't the only star of the film who isn't immune to its allure: Kathy Najimy has said she watches the movie with her family every year on August 15.

6. IT COULD HAVE STARRED LEONARDO DICAPRIO.

The role of Max was originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio. He turned it down to do What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

7. SARAH JESSICA PARKER IS RELATED TO A WOMAN FAMOUSLY ACCUSED OF BEING A WITCH.

Had Sarah Jessica Parker known then what she knows now, she might have approached the role of Sarah Sanderson a little differently. When the actress went on the show Who Do You Think You Are to trace her family history, Parker discovered that one of her ancestors was Esther Elwell, one of the women accused of being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. After a young girl said she saw Esther’s “spectre” strangling neighbor Mary Fitch, Elwell was arrested, but escaped going to trial.

8. THORA BIRCH REVISITED THE NEIGHBORHOOD IN AMERICAN BEAUTY.

While the kids are prematurely celebrating victory against the Sanderson sisters after locking them in the kiln, they’re shown talking in front of a house as they walk to a park. The house was later used as the house Thora Birch’s character lived in for American Beauty.

9. THE KIDS WEREN'T HUGE FANS OF THE CATS.

The kids all hated working with the cats. Many different cats were used to represent Binx, and each one served a different purpose—one was good at cuddling with the kids, one would jump on command, etc. Every time a new cat was used, the children would have to coerce the kitty to trust them by using treats and a clicker. They got sick of it.

10. MUCH OF THE ORIGINAL CAST REUNITED FOR A 20TH REUNION.

Most of the cast participated in a 20th anniversary event for D23 (the Disney fan club) members. Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler were not in attendance, but pretty much everyone else was, including Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson), Vinessa Shaw (Allison), Omri Katz (Max), Thora Birch (Dani), and Doug Jones (Billy Butcherson). You can watch some of that reunion above.

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