Halloween: A druid Holiday. A 3-day festival marking the end of one season and the beginning of another. The time of the year where the veil between worlds is thinnest, and the world of the living can commune with the world of the dead.
The holiday is about supernatural mischief–ghosts and demons, insanity and monsters and pure terror. With this idea in mind, I’ve compiled a list of suggestions for Halloween movies to watch.
Most of the movies I’ve pulled from the pile have one thing in common: they are balls-to-the-wall scary. It’s rare that a truly scary movie comes along, and this is the cream of the crop.
In order to make it to the list, the movie also has to have some kind of supernatural theme. Sorry, folks, no Hostel type torture porn. Also, I have purposefully left the original Halloween off the list on the basis of obviousness. The Rob Zombie version is omitted because it blows.
Let’s get the more obvious ones out of the way, shall we?
The Exorcist –Scariest movie of all time, especially if you are catholic and/or believe in demon possession. I know it’s almost hackneyed to proclaim the scariness of this movie, but if you sit down with a group of people to watch this, a hush will invariably fall over everyone in the last 20 minutes.
That is, of course, if post-generation-X-ers can get through the “boring” first half of the film…which is essential to the themes and characters and setup of the story. And helps to build a shit-ton of suspense.
Come to this one for creepy scariness, though, and avoid if you’re looking for a gory romp. The movie is a fantastic drama about a woman dealing with her child’s sickness. That sickness just happens to be demon possession. Watch with this in mind.
Kubrick is an unmitigated directing god, and his foray into horror is a sparkling example of what kind of amazing and serious dramatic work can be done in the genre. The movie is about suspense and madness, and it tackles both subjects better than any of the others.
And who can keep from being creeped out when Danny is riding his big-wheels through the hall? The sound design and the fact that we know what’s coming…it’s a perfect horror movie moment.
Okay, so those are the two most obvious scary ones, on everyone’s “top ten” list. What else do I have to chill your bones?
The premise shows us a group of money-desperate hazmat eliminators who swoop into an abandoned mental facility to remove all the harmful pathogens. One of them discovers a series of tapes–interviews with a young girl who killed her entire family.
But that’s not what’s great about this movie. It’s about suspense and slowly revealing itself and drawing connections between ideas and themes more than giving you a clear-cut ghost to be afraid of. Sometimes a voice on a tape is all you need to get super creeped out.
In the Mouth of Madness–Directed by John Carpenter and starring Sam Neill, this one is much more in-your-face than the previous entries on the list. It’s the third of Carpenter’s “apocalypse trilogy” films if that tells you anything.
We follow an insurance claims investigator searching for a missing pop-culture-phenomenon horror author. When the investigator finds himself locked in one of the author’s fictional towns…complete with gothic cathedrals and people turning into monters…the shit gets real.
Even though it’s not based on any specific stories, this movie might be the best H.P. Lovecraft adaptation out there. It gets the tone right, complete with the themes of madness and twisted reality and ancient, malevolent all-powerful gods. It’s also got a fun twinge of the camp-factor that makes reading the over-dramatic Lovecraft so much fun.
Paranormal Activity–It’s not usually cool to include “in-theaters” movies on these lists, but I had to make an exception. I don’t know if this will hold up on video, when subjected to endless viewings, but it’s one of the most scary experiences I’ve had in a while.
More than that, it sticks with you. I think I was more scared lying in my dark bedroom the night I saw this than I ever was in the theater (go ahead, make fun of me).
I’ve always laughed at the prospect of demon possession…mostly because I’m not a religious fellow. But the simple way this movie presents the idea of a malevolent and evil spirit–well it makes the whole thing so plausible and believable that I now have a new phobia.
All of the above are scary, creepy, and balls-out great. But for good measure, let’s add a newcomer to the list that might be the perfect movie to watch with a cadre of jaded horror-philes.
More “fun” than scary, this one is a brand-new release that mixes together four stories of supernatural terror all taking place concurrently in the same town.
We’ve seen this done with the Creepshow movies and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, but this one really perfects the sub-genre. All the stories are loosely connected, and the non-linear nature of the movie provides great easter eggs for the perceptive eye.
I’d love to go into detail, but genre fans will enjoy this more if they go in blind. Just know that it’s a great mix of scares, mild camp, irony and genre-convention-twisting to give even the most jaded horror aficionado something familiar but still surprising.
So there it is. The list will change yearly, and feel free to add your own suggestions below. I know I’ve missed some gems but hey, these are the tried-and-true scare-fests that are guaranteed to drive to the heart of the holiday and evoke that most primal reaction that Halloween is all about: fear.
Watch with caution. And always with the lights out.