Alfred Hitchock's classic "The Birds" (1963) starring Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor and Susan Pleshette truly scared me as a child and I believe it gave my daughter a real fear of seagulls. Alfred Hitchcock is the master of suspense.
"The Haunting" (1963) directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Richard Johnson, haunted me for years. I saw it as a 9 year old and could not sleep without a light on for years. I still find long hallways with lots of doors very disturbing. **Side note: The hallway with the doors in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland was modeled after this film.
Roman Polasnki's "Rosemary's Baby" (1968) starring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes and Ruth Gordon, is a film I did not see in its entirety until a couple of years ago and was completely blown away by the stark nature of the film and the way in which Roman Polanski builds the suspense. Seemingly ordinary people are thrown into such a horror story that it makes you wonder if it could happen to you. A true classic.
"The Thing" (1982) starring Kurt Russell is the John Carpenter remake of the 1951 film of the same name starring James Arness that I watched on Saturday afternoons as a child. John Carpenter is another master in the genre of terror films and this one does not disappoint.
"The Silence of the Lambs" (1991) directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins and Scott Glenn, is an Academy Award winning film (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay) that is a must see for any film lover. It is suspenseful, horrifying, gripping and one of the finest ensemble casts ever assembled. Put it at the top of your list.
"The Sixth Sense"(1999) directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Bruce Willis, Toni Collette and Haley Joel Osment, is an experience the first time you see it. You are caught off guard more than once and treated to one of the best endings in film. I did not see it coming.
"Signs" (2002) also directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix and Rory Culkin, is one of those films that people either find silly or find truly frightening. I was one of the latter people. The scene at the birthday party made me jump for weeks whenever I thought about it. One of my favorite memories of my daughter's 13th birthday party was picking them up from the theater after seeing "Signs." I have never seen a group of 13 year old girls run so fast and work so hard to get that car door open and slam it shut. "Signs" did what a suspense film is supposed to do - scare you into running to your mom.
"28 Days Later" (2002) directed by Danny Boyle and starring Cillian Murphy, is a film that I made the mistake of watching alone, in the dark, in my family room while it was being remodeled. This film scared the living daylights out of me. At one point, the plastic sheeting over my new bookcase rattled and I nearly fainted. This film is a classic and will give you nightmares.
"28 Weeks Later" (2007) directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and starring Jeremy Renner, Rose Byrne and Robert Carlyle, I, again, made the mistake of watching alone, in the dark, in my family room, but this time it was completed. Did not help. I honestly think that this film was even scarier. It is one of those films that you wish you would stop watching but you just can't. I guarantee that you will be frightened.
"The Ring" (2002) was directed by Gore Verbinski and starred Naomi Watts. All I can say is SEE IT. You will never look at ferries, horses, televisions, little girls or videotapes the same again.
"The Descent" (2005) directed by Neil Marshall and starring Shauna MacDonald, Natalie Mendoza and Alex Reid, is another film that I viewed at home, alone, in the dark, in my family room. I was not expecting great cinema. I was wrong. It may not be a masterpiece, however, it is very, very scary as it drags you down into the cave with these poor women who you want to desperately help. It is a chilling film.
"The Crazies" (2010) directed by Beck Eisner, is a small film that I'm sure you've probably never heard of. It stars the wonderful Timothy Olyphant ("Deadwood" "Justified") and it gave me quite a scare.
"Drag Me To Hell" (2009) directed by Sam Raimi and starring Alison Lohman and Justin Long, is a film I saw with my daughter and her friend, who spent most of the film peaking out from behind his sweatshirt. "Drag Me To Hell" is a scary, suspenseful film that has a surprise ending. I was thoroughly entertained and frightened.
Last, but certainly not least, is "Se7en" (1995) directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and the incredibly evil Kevin Spacey, is truly one of the scariest films I've ever seen. Again I saw this alone, but this time I was in a dark theater. Not a good idea. The walk to my car afterwards was one of the longest walks of my life. It is truly a classic.