Night of the Living Dead. 1968. USA. Directed by George Romero

There are certain rules to a horror sequel: the body count should be higher, there should be more gore, the writing should be worse. But this is MoMA, where rules are meant to be broken, so the body count is significantly lower, you won’t need a squeegee and a bucket, and our contributors’ writing remains both thought-provoking and spine-tingling. So grab your popcorn, check under the bed, and read this year’s list of classic and underappreciated horror gems with all the lights on...because there’s nothing more terrifying than eyestrain.

God Told Me To. 1976. Directed by Larry Cohen

You have a chance to see Tony Lo Bianco in full bravado-mode as a mysterious, alien-catching police officer roaming the streets of 1970s New York...and you haven’t taken it yet? The style oozing out of Larry Cohen’s 1976 classic God Told Me To is disturbing and palpably human, as enigmatic spurts of paranoiac dialogue play with the corny, film noir–esque story structure and somewhat awkward pacing.

The film introduces a set of seemingly well-adjusted, mundane people who metamorphose into cold-blooded, galvanic killers, each uttering the same surreal dying proclamation: “God told me to.” As Lo Bianco uncovers resurging infernal forces, he realizes the common seed of these homicides is the sinister Bernard Phillips (Richard Lynch). The characters’ manic states are reinforced through Cohen’s characteristic use of real—and frequently unaware—New York bystanders, and there are some stirring guest appearances to thrill film buffs, including Andy Kaufman (in his screen debut) and Deborah Raffin.

This movie, absurdly, was the reason I wanted to move to New York! Be careful not to get too hypnotized…
—Mariana Filaretou, Department of Film

The Card Player. 2004. Directed by Dario Argento

Dario Argento’s early-Internet-age police procedural is not a film that graces arthouse marquees very often. Unlike his Suspiria, Opera, or Inferno, this lesser-known work was called an “embarrassment” and “oddly flat” by critics upon its 2004 release. While I’m not propping it up as comparable to any entry in Argento’s Three Mothers series, I still consider it oddly endearing. Perhaps it’s the premise, which was always meant to age like milk: a serial killer holds his victims hostage, only releasing them if his police pursuers can beat him in a game of online poker. Impossibly slow dial-up Internet dooms every would-be suspenseful scene to a comedic fate, as the respective players’ hands are revealed one by one by one. I imagine the hostages glancing at their watches and rolling their eyes, waiting for it to be over. Maybe this makes it excruciating to some, but I find it charming. I mean, the climax involves a victim trying to beat his prospective murderer at poker while tied to a train track, typing on his clunky little laptop for dear life.
—Alexandra Coburn, Department of Film

Faust. 1926. Directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau

“Behold! The gates of hell are opened and the horrors of the masses plague the earth….”

I’ll never forget the lights going down at Cinemateca Portuguesa’s main theater, the projector blasting a beam of light onto a screen where Goethe’s fateful words set the tone for a haunting evening. Though I saw it as a young cinephile already disillusioned by real life’s predictable, disappointing routine, often preferring the enrapturing spectacle of the moving images, F. W. Murnau’s Faust—particularly its first few minutes—still haunts me today. Without warning, a burst of dark clouds and flame explodes the audience’s senses, like death suddenly erasing a heavenly horizon from our memory. Three skeleton knights riding dead horses fly in our direction, a high-speed reminder of our unavoidable destiny; the figures’ amateurish fragility and clumsy body movements—wonderfully innocent traits of cinema’s early efforts to substitute life with an illusion—strangely turn their arrival into something even more terrifying. No one had ever seen anything like this—and no one ever will again. At least I felt that way.

Murnau proceeds to enthrall us with the eternal fight between good and evil, light and darkness, hope and despair—a moving representation of unsung passions and untold nightmares that shed light on the darkest traps of our subconscious. This über-romantic ride with Emil Janning’s treacherous Mephisto echoes cinema’s own Faustian promise: Give me your life, and I will provide you with an imitation of your wildest dreams. How could I refuse? Goethe’s conclusion likely handed me the answer I was looking for: If you accept that all things must pass, love can then become eternal. And yet, my dreams and nightmares were never the same.
—Francisco Valente, Department of Film

The Twilight Zone, “Living Doll.” 1963. Directed by Richard C. Sarafian

This list is a sequel, so this year I’m going with another Twilight Zone episode. There’s no Child’s Play, Annabelle, or M3GAN without Talky Tina, the star of “Living Doll.” When a little girl brings her home, the pull-string doll seems cute at first, but Talky Tina soon starts uttering increasingly disturbing phrases to the young girl’s unlikable, verbally abusive (even by 1960s standards) stepfather. Talky Tina only goes off script when she and the stepfather are alone, culminating in the creepy “My name is Talky Tina, and I'm going to kill you.” Sound familiar? The doll finally gets the better of the stepfather by, hilariously, tripping him down the stairs, killing him. In the end, the young girl, her mother, and Talky Tina live, it seems, happily ever after. But Tina wants more blood, and the show ends with her threatening the child's loving mother: “My Name is Talky Tina, and you’d better be nice to me.”

I often watched the Twilight Zone with my dad, and this was my first (remembered) encounter with a TV show or movie that scared me. I’ve rewatched the episode countless times as an adult, and it’s gone from scary to campy, but the memory of thinking, “Can dolls really do that?” comes back to me whenever I see it.
—Naeem Douglas, Content Team

Fire in the Sky. 1993. Directed by Robert Lieberman

In November 1975, six loggers had a close encounter the Arizona woods. Or did they? Only five of them return to the small town of Snowflake to face the suspicions of the police, their community, and the media. Everyone wants to know: What happened to Travis Walton?

Robert Lieberman’s Fire in the Sky quietly came and went from theaters in the late winter of 1993, mustering a small audience against the mighty Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. Starring a veritable who’s who of early-1990s “that guy” actors (D. B. Sweeney, Robert Patrick, Craig Sheffer, Peter Berg, Henry Thomas), the film leans into the interpersonal conflicts that erupt afterward among the group, with scenes set around kitchen tables, in town halls and local diners, that rely heavily on the talented cast—but play more like a TV movie of the week than a feature film. Travis is eventually discovered naked, bruised, and terrified after being missing for five days, and Sweeney, who is perhaps best known for his role in The Cutting Edge, brings a deep sense of melancholy to his attempts to return to his life in Snowflake. But the film has a hole card yet to play, and it turns out to be a doozy: one drop of maple syrup at his homecoming party sends Travis into a fugue state, and brings the audience along with him as he flashes back to his time inside the alien spaceship. This 20-minute, nearly wordless sequence stands apart from the rest of the film in almost every way. Lieberman, with an assist from Industrial Light and Magic, blends imaginative practical effects with haunted-house aesthetics and body-horror imagery to create a truly impressive piece of filmmaking.
—Sean Egan, Department of Film

Night of the Living Dead. 1968. Directed by George A. Romero

I get weirdly nostalgic about my old VHS cassette of Night of the Living Dead, a bootleg copy in a beige clamshell case that I purchased, at age 13, in an airport-adjacent convention hotel during the 1987 Fangoria Weekend of Horrors. At the time, most tapes of George Romero’s groundbreaking zombie classic were bootlegs, third-rate copies of copies, thanks to a copyright snafu that allowed the film to lapse into the public domain. And while pristine versions do exist—including a beautifully restored print in MoMA’s collection—for me the film’s gory, nihilistic black-and-white terrors are only enhanced by the grainy blur and tinny buzz of cheap reproduction, the haphazard framing of an old tube TV. These are the eerie, analog October thrills I’ve been chasing ever since: the risen dead shambling across a low-resolution America, a flickering, bluish glow the only light in countless living rooms.
—Jason Persse, Content Team