It’s that time of year again folks. No, I’m not talking about dressing the kids up as superheroes, or eating excessive amounts candy, or even getting blackout drunk in a questionable costume. I’m talking about the time of year when we’re flooded with lists of the best-ever horror movies.
This both is and isn’t one of those lists.
Don’t get me wrong, it is a list. But it’s a list of 10 Halloween viewing suggestions you wouldn’t necessarily normally think of. Maybe you’ve never heard of them, maybe you haven’t seen them for years, maybe you’re a horror film fan like me and some of these choices seem pretty obvious. Deal with it.
Either way, we’re skipping your Halloweens, your Psychos, your Shinings, to get to those deeper, darker places where few dare to go. Follow me, dear readers.
In alphabetical order:
The Brood (1979), directed by David Cronenberg
It’s nice to start off with a bit of Canadiana and good old David Cronenberg, the king of body-horror movies. This isn’t one of his most mainstream or widely loved movies (such as ***Videodrome or ***The Fly) but it’s one of my favourites, with creepy mutant children, a wonderfully campy Oliver Reed and plenty of subtext about the horrors of divorce.
Sound weird? It is. But, as is often the case with Cronenberg, its weirdness is part of what makes it so fascinating and disturbing.
The Burning (1981), directed by Tony Maylam
The early 1980s were the heyday for the American slasher movie. Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, the first of the Halloween sequels and oh so many copycats all burst onto the scene within a few years. Some of them are great, some really dreadful.
One that never spawned a sequel (or ten) but holds its own next to the best of them is The Burning, another take on the killer stalks summer camp routine, but with some inventive twists, a mostly serious atmosphere and some good kills, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re interested in trying out a slasher, or have already killed the competition, The Burning is good place to turn.
Carnival of Souls (1962), directed by Herk Harvey
For the fan of the more classic horror features, Herk Harvey’s truly strange Carnival of Souls is a hidden gem. The film, about a bad car accident, a survivor and one crazy carnival, is a slow burn but the payoff is worth the patience.
An organ score and obvious low budget only add to how creepy and dreamlike Carnival of Souls can be, and it helps to make this somewhat surrealist B-flick a real spine-tingler. Its scares are a lot more subtle than the other films on this list, but equally as gratifying.
Christine (1983), directed by John Carpenter
In my – and many others’ – opinion, John Carpenter is the man when it comes to horror, what with the likes of The Fog, Halloween, The Thing and They Live to his credit, to name a few. But a title which often gets forgotten, or outright dismissed, is his one Stephen King adaptation, Christine.
But I’m here to stick up for it, because to me it has all the earmarks of a classic Carpenter creeper, with the added bonus of car-centric horrors, a somewhat specific cocktail that goes down easy for me. This tale of a possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury and the owner that obsesses over it has a lot going for it, including a great soundtrack, high-speed thrills and an unforgettable scene of, well, reconstruction.
Dead & Buried (1981), directed by Gary A. Sherman
What happens when the writers of Alien try their hand at a pure horror movie? Well, they make a film a little too atmospheric for the slasher fans, and a little too brutal for the haunted house crowd. But you know what I say? They got it just right.
Dead & Buried has all the gnarly kills of a classic slasher, but with the story, tension and acting chops of a classier horror picture. And the combination works perfectly for this story of a coastal community where the townsfolk are killing tourists and the tourists aren’t taking to it lying down. You’ll see what I mean. Not for the faint of heart, Dead & Buried is both chilling and thrilling.
The Descent (2005), directed by Neil Marshall
For hard-core horror fans this pick may seem a bit obvious, but I think for everyone else this is still the film you discover on Netflix late one night, with no idea what it is, and end up cowering on the floor. So for anyone who doesn’t already know, The Descent is one of the best modern horror movies around.
The premise is simple: six women go on a spelunking trip in some unmapped caves. And then things go bad. And then things go REALLY bad. There are two real terrors in The Descent – claustrophobia and…well, that’s all I’ll say for now. Which one is worse, I’m still not sure of, but what I do know is The Descent will leave you very thankful for fresh air and open spaces.
Frailty (2001), directed by Bill Paxton
Back before The McConnaissance, Matthew McConaughey was just another American actor full of promise but without much to show for himself besides a few lukewarm dramas and a couple of romantic comedies that would soon come to define him. Oh, and one deep, dark, disturbing horror movie about a man, an axe named Otis and the voice of God.
Trying out his directing chops for the first time, Bill Paxton managed to make a unique film in an often formulaic genre, which unfortunately not many people saw and fewer still seem to remember. But it’s worth a memory jog, because this genre-bender, one part police procedural, one part serial killer flick, really gets under your skin. But you’ll be fine. Unless you’re a demon. You’re not a demon, are you?
Let the Right One In (2008), directed by Tomas Alfredson
It looks like we have to go back to Europe for a decent vampire film these days, now that the Americans have beat the twilight out of them. But this 2008 Swedish film proved there was still the opportunity to do something interesting with probably the most common subgenre of horror.
Let the Right One In is occasionally bloody, often disturbing, totally creepy, but at the same time surprisingly tender and touching. It’s anything but formulaic or shallow, with devotion to taking its characters seriously and, by doing so, raising its subject matter to something like art.
Suspiria (1977), directed by Dario Argento
The name Dario Argento is well known to hardened horror fans, but for those not in this questionable fold, this Italian director may by the first great step into some stranger realms. His masterpiece is undoubtedly Suspiria, a bizarre and beautiful film about a dance school and witches.
Bathed in vibrant colours and featuring an unforgettable score from the band Goblins, Suspiria will seem jarring for those used to slick Hollywood horror. But get past this and you’ll find something beautiful in Argento’s twisted tale and bold cinematic style. This is truly one of the horror greats.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), directed by Tobe Hooper
You really can’t overstate the impact the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, made in 1974 on a shoestring budget by a bunch of punk film students, had on the horror genre, and American independent movies in general. Texas Chain Saw upped the ante in a big way on how intense, violent and truly terrifying a movie could be. Not only that, it was really, really good.
Cut to 12 years later, and original director Tobe Hooper brings the buzzz back for a long awaited sequel. Only thing is, this isn’t the film anyone was expecting and it was initially rejected by audiences and critics alike. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 pushes everything to the extreme: humour, gore, pacing, 1980s excess. And it’s a masterpiece all its own, completely different from the original in so many ways, but with a runaway train energy that leaves you wondering what the heck you just witnessed. The answer: sheer brilliant madness.