Do you enjoy horror films? Watching them in the dark, sleet hitting the windows, branches throwing shadows of skeletal fingers on the wall? Or do you turn on every light in your home, pull every curtain, maybe only watch them during the comfort of the day? Which kind of horror do you prefer? The growing dread or the slasher? The creature feature or the thriller? The supernatural or the splatter? The found footage or the psychological? Haunted house or urban legend? The body horror or the comedy horror? Zombies or vampires? And what kind of ending do you need? The optimism of Jaws, the cynicism of House of a Thousand Corpses or the what-just-happened of The Shining?
Anyway, the aim of this wee listicle is to give you and yours something to watch over this Halloween season. They're in no particular order, they can be found on most streaming services or wherever you find your films and such. I'm trying to avoid the obvious here, more try to bring some attention to something forgotten, something overlooked, something new, something old. If I was forced to list my favourite horror films, along with the below, the list would include Alien, The Shining, The Exorcist, Jaws, Paranormal Activity, 28 Days Later, Todd Browning's Freaks, Psycho, The Babadook, The Thing, and Get Out. And about a hundred more that I'm not going to bother you with.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Let's begin with something family friendly. Jack Skellington discovers Christmas Town and Halloween Town takes over Christmas. And what else can I say about The Nightmare Before Christmas that hasn't been said a thousand times over the past twenty five years. Henry Selick and Tim Burton and their team created something very special, something that will outlast all of us. Jack Skellington has become an icon, you can find him on toques and socks and hoodies and coffee cups. Even people whom have never seen the film can be heard humming "What's This?" And the film holds up incredibly well.
Another family friendly film, let's get these out of the way first. Miguel dreams of being a musician on par with the Ernesto de la Cruz, the most famous musician in the history of Mexico. Unfortunately, he comes from a family that hates music. Stuff happens and he finds himself in the Land of the Dead. Coco is, truly and honestly, one of Pixar's masterpieces. It's damn near perfection. It's not a horror film, but, like The Nightmare Before Christmas before it, Coco is most definitely a Halloween movie.
La Manoir du Diable
From 1896, Georges Melies' La Manoir du Diable is the first horror movie. A bat transforms into the Devil, stuff happens. At just over three minutes long it's a quick watch. And it's very theatrical, everything taking place on one stage, the camera stationary. But it's all here, witches and demons, good versus evil. A hundred and twenty two years later and there are filmmakers still riffing on things found in this piece of nineteenth century film history.
The haunted video tape movie. It crawls under the skin and scratches away, the tension builds and builds and builds until you want to scream. The Ring is like the definition of what should not work - an American adaptation of a Japanese horror film about a haunted video tape. But somehow it works. It could be the performances, especially Naomi Watts. It could be Gore Verbinski's direction, the way he creates an atmosphere thick with dread and terror. It's a premise that falls apart the second you stop to think about it. But for those two hours, The Ring climbs into the lizard part of our brains and just flicks away at that most primitive parts of our psyche, daring us not to take it seriously when the phone rings and someone says "Seven days".
Evil Dead II
The Evil Dead trilogy starts off with ultra low budget camp, ends with a comedy. But in the middle, that's where the sweet spot lives. I love, love, love Evil Dead II. Slapstick meets horror, like some kind of mutant Three Stooges fan film mashed with some of the great horror of Ever. It is somehow both a remake and a sequel to the first movie. It has all the good stuff and then some. Demon trees and deadites and chainsaws and Bruce Campbell and bad visual puns and crew in the rafters and hands gone bad. Sam Raimi created some of his trademarks during the making of the first Evil Dead, he perfected them here. Evil Dead II might not be the greatest of Sam Raimi's films, but it is my favourite of his horror films.
At its simplest, Oculus is the evil mirror movie. But it is so much more than that. It's a love letter to Lovecraft, it's a family drama with elements of psychological horror and supernatural horror. Oculus announced writer/director Mike Flanagan as an exiting new voice in genre film making. There is a moment in Oculus that is so original that it actually took my breath away, it made me jump and fall back down and it made me swear in admiration. Look, if you've never seen the movie, anything else that I write here about Oculus will just spoil the discovery.
When I first watched It Follows it didn't scare me, didn't fill me with dread, didn't make me squirm and wish it would end. I admired it, respected it. I thought to myself, "self, that was a fine film. Don't know about horror, but a fine film nonetheless". And then I went about my life. And couldn't stop thinking about It Follows. For weeks, months. Hell, here we are years later and now that I've started thinking about it I can't stop. There is nothing like It Follows, seriously. Nothing else like it. It can't be compared to, contrasted to, referenced to another piece of art anywhere. It can't be described. It just has to be experienced.
Cloverfield, for me, is the Jaws of found footage films. It's the Everest, the Pieta, the 9th Symphony of found footage. I can't tell you how many times I've seen it. But I can tell you that the subway stresses me out every single time, that I still get dizzy and disoriented in the tilted building, that the end crushes me. Every single time. And I can tell you there is no scarier found footage movie.
Cool story time. I saw Seven in a packed theatre. The film ended, David Bowie started singing Heart's Filthy Lesson, the credits started rolling. And not one person in the audience moved, no-one said a word. The credits rolled and rolled and still we all sat there in silence. The credits finally ended and we all stood up and shuffled out of the theatre. And still, no-one said a word. Outside, the smokers lit up, the non-smokers bummed smokes. And everyone smoked in silence. I don't know how long all of us stood in that parking lot in silence. Finally, someone, I don't know who, in a defeated voice asked "what did I just watch?"
The Witch is one of the most amazing films of Ever, it's a modern masterpiece. And it is terrifying. But I can't tell you why is so scary. It's almost impossible to underline what is so terrifying and dreadful and scary about The Witch. We watch a family banished to the wilderness in the 1630s. We watch as the family crumbles under the pressures of weather, religion, patriarchal rule. And we watch them crumble from the pressure of the unknown, from what may or may now wait in the woods.