Staying in for Halloween this year? Gonna camp out in front of the television/computer with popcorn and pray you’re not disturbed by trick-or-treaters? Not sure which movie you should watch? Never fear, we’ve got you covered – and with recommendations from six different sub-genres, there’s something for all tastes in this list.
With special thanks to our guest contributor & full-time horror enthusiast Georgia, who can be found on twitter at @GeorgiaMaeSixx.
Psychological Horror Films
GEORGIA’S PICK: 1408 (2007, dir. Mikael Håfström)
1408 (2007) © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc
It’s very hard to keep an audience captivated when the majority of your film is one actor in a single room, but John Cusack sells it. An unconventional story about a haunted hotel room with one of the most solid twists in recent memory, this film is definitely unsettling. Mike Enslin, a skeptic who writes about the ‘haunted’ locations he has stays in, decides to visit the eponymous room 1408 in The Dolphin hotel, and the fun ensues. The director successfully adapted the Stephen King short story whilst putting his own twist on it. The film does not rely on the grisly details or gore and instead goes for imagery that truly disturbs. Samuel L. Jackson also stars as the owner of the hotel and also delivers a strong and unnerving performance. The film also features three endings including the theatrical release so make sure to watch all three as they offer very different resolutions to the film.
MEGAN’S PICK: The Orphanage (2007, dir. J.A.Bayona)
The Orphanage (2007) © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc
There are few things as scary in cinema as weird children, masks & abandoned buildings. ‘The Orphanage’ takes all three and blends them smoothly into a sentimental ghost story teeming with suspense that provides plentiful fear without ever relying on cheap jump scares or overwhelming digital effects. This Spanish film tells the story of Laura, a woman who returns to the abandoned orphanage she grew up in, along with her husband and their young son Simón. (To anyone who has ever watched a horror movie, this is clearly a terrible idea.) Sure enough, before long, Simón begins to draw mysterious pictures of a boy in a creepy-as-hell sack mask – his new not-quite-imaginary friend – and the secrets of the orphanage begin to unfold in terrifying ways. There’s a perfectly executed plot twist to be enjoyed here too, so make sure you don’t get spoiled!
GEORGIA’S PICK: Scream (1996, dir. Wes Craven)
Scream (1996) © Dimension Films
This is the film that redefined an entire subgenre of horror. Originally titled ‘Scary Movie’, the film dares to ask you what your favourite scary movie is, and the answer could be life or death. We follow Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) as she navigates everyday life in a world where teens are being killed by a maniac in a Ghost mask but show a refreshing knowledge of the standard tropes of Horror films. A personal favourite character, Randy, delivered his famous three rules for surviving a horror film in this classic: You may not survive the movie if you have sex. Never drink or do drugs. And most importantly, never say “I’ll be right back”, “Hello?” or “Who’s there?”. Director Wes Craven delivers a fun, gory look at the slasher genre that was needed in order to stop the slew of sequels to already popular franchises that sent slashers into a slow decline. You’ll find yourself on edge. You’ll find yourself grossed out. You’ll find yourself thinking: Would I survive this?
MEGAN’S PICK: Halloween (1978, dir. John Carpenter)
Halloween (1978) © Compass International Pictures
If you know me well, you’ll know that I’m weak for a good Carpenter film, and ‘Halloween’ is undoubtedly one of his very best. If ‘Scream’ redefined the subgenre, then ‘Halloween’ defined the subgenre in the first place (sorry Georgia!) and you could do much worse than a double feature of the pair for your spooky movie night in. For those unaware, the film follows iconic villain Michael Myers as he stalks and murders a group of teenagers – pretty standard slasher fare, right? The simplicity of the concept, however, is made perfect through Carpenter’s knack for framing a horror scene, and though watching the film may now feel like a rehash of many tropes, it’s important to note that ‘Halloween’ created many of these stereotypes in the first place. Countless sequels and remakes have never been able to replicate the same visceral terror that the original created, and you’ll struggle to find many horror movies that can claim the same level of influence as this one.
GEORGIA’S PICK: The Fly (1986, dir. David Cronenberg)
The Fly (1986) © 20th Century Fox
There’s a reason Rick and Morty referenced Cronenberg: he really is the king of gross-out body horror. Loosely based on the short story of the same name, this film follows the experiments of scientist Seth Brundle (played by Jeff Goldblum) and his downfall when he accidentally teleports with a fly inside the machine with him. The fly DNA begins to fuse with Brundle’s own, and the deterioration of Seth is brilliantly done by Cronenberg and led him to win an Academy Award for Best Makeup. It has become a mainstay in the world of sci-fi horror and you really feel for this man as his body is decaying step by step as he transforms into a monster. The film also gave birth to the tagline “Be afraid – be very afraid”, such a staple in pop culture that most may not realise it originated in this film. Definitely one to check out, but maybe not whilst eating dinner.
MEGAN’S PICK: Alien (1979, dir. Ridley Scott)
Alien (1979) © 20th Century Fox
‘Alien’ is a perfect film. This is 100% categorically something which I will not argue about. From the eerily clean surfaces of the Nostromo labs, to the claustrophobic hallways full of enemy hiding spots, to the jarringly foreign shots of the alien habitat itself, every single frame of the film builds towards a crescendo of blood-spurting madness, before settling back into a tense wait for more violence. Ellen Ripley, played by the ever-wonderful Sigourney Weaver, takes the role of the ‘final girl’, chews it up, and spits it back out again, as she uses all her wit and strength to try and escape the clutches of the alien. The sequels are a mixed bag – ‘Aliens’ has received almost as high acclaim as the original, but is much more of an action piece, whilst ‘Alien 3’ is best not talked about – but the first title is firmly a must-watch.
GEORGIA’S PICK: IT (2017, dir. Andy Muschietti)
It (2017) © Warner Bros. Pictures
Is this really a surprise to anyone? The film that broke records when it launched its initial trailer and broke the box office honestly didn’t disappoint. Another Stephen King adaptation (not to be confused with the 1990 miniseries starring the great Tim Curry), this horror film managed to tred the line successfully between drama and horror. It’s a coming of age film that features a shapeshifting, child eating clown and delivers the scares whilst also bringing witty one-liners. The Losers Gang, a group of children brought together against the terrifying Pennywise, are played by promising child actors that all feel like real, developed people that would actually be friends outside of the confines of the plot. The scares are better than a cheap jump scares (though the jump scares featured were so tense that the cinema had that giggle afterwards) and really brought the legendary King villain to life. Bill Skarsgård is utterly insane as the clown, using his unique ability to move both eyes independently to always have that one glowing blue eye focused on the audience, as if to keep you on edge. I look forward to chapter 2 in 2019!
MEGAN’S PICK: The Others (2001, dir. Alejandro Amenábar)
The Others (2001) © Warner Bros/Dimension Films/Mars Distribution/Lucky Red
This film is the film that made me stop associating a scarier movie with a higher classification rating. I can distinctly remember making the mistake of watching this film in the dead of night as a fourteen-year-old. I had laughed at the “12” rating. I was young, reckless and unaware. I didn’t sleep for about three weeks afterwards. This Spanish-American ghost story stars Nicole Kidman in what is, according to the Kidman Cup, her fourth-best role, playing a devout Christian mother in the aftermath of the Second World War. Kidman’s character Grace and her two children move to a – yep you guessed it – creepy old house in the middle of nowhere, and the expected ghostly shenanigans ensue. It’s once again the distinct lack of special effects and cheap scares that make this film golden, as well as the incredible performance by Kidman at the heart of the film. Films such as ‘The Others’ are a reminder that truly great horror needs a great story at its core – and that scariness most definitely does not need to be sacrificed for this to be achieved.
GEORGIA’S PICK: Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010, dir. Eli Craig)
Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010) © Magnet Releasing
Horror comedy is a very hard subgenre to get right, as some films struggle to find the balance between the two. Tucker and Dale are two redneck men, living their life out in the forest in their dream vacation home, a rundown cabin. These two men, albeit hapless, are genuinely well meaning and have real chemistry, a credit to the actors involved. Their vacation is interrupted by the arrival of a group of teens (your typical victim fodder), but this is where the typical structure of a horror film is challenged. These teens are terrified of the hillbilly duo due to a massacre that occurred in the town 20 years ago, and so desperately try to escape them, and find themselves in very precarious and fatal situations. The duo only tries to help these teens but end up making situations worse. It’s light-hearted, features some very funny deaths, and is definitely one to watch with a group of friends.
MEGAN’S PICK: Shaun of the Dead (2004, dir. Edgar Wright)
Shaun of the Dead (2004) © Universal Pictures/Rogue Pictures
As Georgia mentioned, one of the problems this genre tends to have is that often, horror films that attempt to incorporate comedy simply don’t manage to pull off successful scares. It’s a tone that’s incredibly difficult to balance, and can often veer into a complete parody. ‘Shaun of the Dead’, however, succeeds on every platform that director Edgar Wright attempts, blending hilarious one-liners and genuinely terrifying zombie attacks with ease. The film follows professional losers Shaun and Ed, played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost respectively, as they attempt to navigate a sudden zombie apocalypse. The film is not only brilliant in itself, but also kickstarted the Cornetto Trilogy, a series of comedies directed by Wright which star both Pegg and Frost. (Of the three, ‘Hot Fuzz’ is also exceptional, and ‘The World’s End’ is at least worth your time.) Regardless of your opinion on its sequels however, ‘Shaun of the Dead’ is – quite literally – bloody brilliant.
GEORGIA’S PICK: [•REC] (2007, dir. Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza)
REC (2007) © Filmax International/Magnet Releasing
I am a very big fan of Spanish horror films it seems (The Orphanage nearly made it onto the list as one of my picks as well). This film has become a staple of the ‘found footage’ genre, and follows the plights of a documentary team who are following round a group of firefighters when they’re called out to an emergency at an apartment building. Cue the mayhem when the residents begin vomiting blood, screeching and murdering each other. It’s a fresh take on the typical zombie film: these zombies are genuinely terrifying, and the nature of the lock in means there’s nowhere to run. They’re in it for the long haul (if they survive). Even if you’re not a massive fan of watching subtitled films I highly recommend you check this out, as the American remake Quarantine is a shadow of its predecessor. Watch this with the lights off for the full immersive experience and be ready to jump.
MEGAN’S PICK: Night of the Living Dead (1968, dir. George A. Romero)
Night of the Living Dead (1968) © Continental Distributing
The film community sadly lost George A. Romero this year, and what a huge loss it was. Romero – and by extension, his debut Night of the Living Dead – completely revitalised the zombie genre, and became crucial to the understanding of the zombie apocalypse in pop culture. Romero linked the phenomenon with consumerism and capitalist culture, allowing social commentary to permeate his filmmaking. Inspiration for hundreds of horror flicks across multiple genres can be linked back to ‘Night of the Living Dead’, as its gruesome nature inspired the splatter film genre, and later the slashers of the 70s and 80s. Romero’s masterpiece is not only an incredibly enjoyable watch, but also a historic piece that influenced all horror film-making from then on. ‘Night of the Living Dead’ is a sadistic blood-splatter on the timeline of cinema, and deserves to be seen by all this Halloween.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know your thoughts and what you’re watching this Halloween at @muchadocinema or in the comments below!