What the balls!? I feel like I could begin any post about Sion Sono with that time-honoured phrase, and I could probably just end the review right there. That wouldn’t be fair to the madcap artistry of Sono, or his fans, or anyone who stumbled upon this very odd Amazon Prime show from the Japanese master. Having been a fan of Sono’s work since the late 90s or early 2000s, a part of me wants to get all of these posts out of the way so that once his first US movie is released – the upcoming Prisoners Of The Ghostland In starring Nic Cage – people will have a nice spot to find reviews of his other work. And party because everyone Tom, Harry, and Dickhead who has never watched a foreign movie in their life is going to jump on the bandwagon, assuming Prisoners is going to be as wacky and successful as I’m hoping.
A very brief intro to the dude if you’re new here, or to Sion Sono; he’s a Japanese movie and TV director, and he also writes. He is one of a batch of very interesting and unique Japanese filmmakers whose work divides opinion and is frequently controversial, bewildering, and critically acclaimed. If there’s one aspect which sets him apart from his peers, I would offer that it’s his use of music and editing – songs and recurring score motifs feature heavily in his work, and he frequently breaks rules and fourth walls with his editing and directing techniques. Most people will know of his work either by name or by notoriety – Suicide Club (famous for its opening shot of school girls leaping to their deaths in front of a train), Tag (already meme bait thanks to its wacky intro where a bus of school kids and teachers are sliced in half by an invisible force), and Tokyo Tribe (an unusual Japanese hip hop musical). He started out in the 80s as a director of ‘Pink Movies’ and has tried his hand (successfully) in most genres you can think of – straight supernatural horror with Exte, poignant drama in The Land Of Hope, thrillers with Cold Fish and Himizu, fantasy courtesy of Love and Peace, and of course whatever the hell Love Exposure (arguably the best film of the last twenty years) is. While he recently did a show with Netflix – the unsurprisingly controversial (and good) The Forest Of Love – he worked with Amazon Studios first on his 9 part series of whatthefuckery known as Tokyo Vampire Hotel.
The title tells you the basics – there’s a hotel in Tokyo used by vampires – but within minutes (and throughout the entire running time) the plot becomes grossly overcomplicated, confusing, and increasingly bizarre. But don’t worry – it’s purposefully silly, it has one fanged tongue firmly in the corner of its mouth, and it’s ridiculously violent and perverse; in short, it’s wonderful. It will be difficult to write about any of this without getting into spoiler territory, but I’ll do my best to summarize the premise without giving too much away – it’s enough to simply say that there are tonnes of characters whose significance wax and wane drastically, and that certain story elements and twists are introduced which may be important and others which seem important but aren’t. A. Lot. Happens.
We begin with a young girl called Minami who is out with her friends one night. Out of nowhere, a violent gang enters the restaurant she’s in and murders everybody. They apparently let Minami live. Then a rival gang comes and there’s a huge shoot-out – everybody wants this girl. Turns out the gangs are from rival vampire clans and a prophecy foretold the importance of Minami, sort of explaining why they are fighting over her. Meanwhile, there’s a fancy pants party going on in an exuberant hotel. It’s an Invitation only affair, and while some of the guests seem to know one another, most are strangers who think they are being selected for some sort of game or dating show. Our host – Yamada – is a charismatic vampire of some respected standing and he informs the guests that they have been purposely selected because of their hyperactive libidos, and that in a few hours time an apocalyptic event is going to end all life on the planet. The sex fiends will be the last surviving people on the world and it will be their job to shag as much as possible and have as many delicious babies as possible so that the vampires have a never-ending food supply. That’s about the gist of everything, but a succession of new plot reveals and characters lets us know that there’s a hell of a lot more going on under the surface – literally.
It is a confusing show and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who bows out early. Anyone already a fan of Sono should stick around, and anyone who becomes curiously invested in any of what’s going on – the story, the characters, the punk tone, the gorgeous and zany look and feel of the things – will be rewarded with layer after layer of bonkers goodness. Everything about the show is wildly over the top – the acting, the violence, the seedy nature, the secrets. Sometimes in a show like this you need an anchor to keep you grounded – maybe you find that in Minami, maybe you find it in the vampire K, maybe it’s your need to find out what the hell the point of any of it is – for me it was simply to enjoy living inside Sono’s brilliant, demented mind for another few hours. The story has plenty of moments of intrigue and the characters who come and go at a moment’s notice all have their charm, but it’s how Sono squishes all of these aspects together in an apparent middle finger to form and expectation which kept me watching until the end. If you’re looking for a satisfying story with a beginning, middle, and end which follows the outlined premise you’ll probably be disappointed, but if you’re after a big pile of wacky stuff to laugh at and tell your mates about all punctuated by moments of sublime cinematic beauty, then Tokyo Vampire Hotel may be for you. There’s nothing like it on the market now – I’m not sure if there has ever been anything like it – and there’s no-one quiet like Sion Sono.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Tokyo Vampire Hotel!
Audition: A treat for the uninitiated; draw them in with a quiet (if a little odd) love story, then tear their face off with bizarre twists, sights, and an ending to make even the most hardcore horror fan twitch uncomfortably. Fairly ‘straight’ for a Miike film, fairly unconventional for a horror film, this will cut into your flesh and into your brain, staying with you for many Halloweens to come. Classic Halloween Scene: Kiri kiri.
A Tale Of Two Sisters: The past couple of decades have been good for Asian horror and this is one of the best. It stinks of quality from the first frame and is beautiful, sad, and horrific at every turn. It is one of the most eye pleasing horror movies ever, but also one of the most well acted and interesting. Naturally it wouldn’t be on the list without some scares and while this follows the slow burning style of the most popular Asian horror movies there are some quality frights. It’s a mind bender and will torture your thoughts as you struggle to remain calm and sane with your friends at the rest of the party. Classic Halloween Scene: The girls get a nasty bedroom visitor.
The Amityville Horror: For such a common and well known horro staple, the Haunted House movie doesn’t have too many great films. Then again, as horror sub genres go, it seems to be one which brings the most critically acclaimed films- The Shining, Poltergeist, Paranormal Activity. The Amityville Horror was fairly well received but was a commercial hit. Using the good old ‘based on true events’- something which is of no consequence to me as I’ve never understood why something which may have happened would draw people to watch a horror movie about it. Anyway, as Haunted House movies go, this one is up there- plenty of shocks, decent acting, and a creepy atmosphere throughout. It’s sure to get everyone talking about the ghostly experiences they may have had in their own homes. Classic Halloween Scene: She was shot in the head!
Bodysnatchers: If you don’t fancy the Sutherand version, bring things more up to date with Abel Ferrara’s excellent re-telling. Cold, angry, mistrustful like all of Ferrara’s best works this one condenses the countrywide paranoia of previous versions and makes it a family tale. Dad gets a new wife and job, daughter gets a new mum, brother, and home. On a military base. Mum and daughter don’t get along. Some of the soldiers on the base begin to act rather strangely and before long the family are trapped on the base surrounded by pod people. But who in the family isn’t who they say they are? This is an effective revamp and just as worthy as the past 2 versions thanks to some great effects and powerful performances. Classic Halloween Scene: Where you gonna run? Where you gonna hide? Nowhere. Cos there’s no-one like you left….WAAAAAAAA!
Cemetary Man: A twisted love story of the highest order, pretty much everyone missed this first and second time round. An Italian horror movie about zombies- fair enough. An Italian zombie movie from the nineties with American and English actors… maybe not. It is low budget, but it is one of those films which is packed full of strong ideas and fun that any money constraints fade into the background. We have the interesting twist of Everett playing a zombie killer, the interesting take on the genre- that he works at a cemetary performing his normal duties, but also acting as a reluctant chosen defender of the world; the cemetary is cursed in that every week some of the corpses are brought back to life and go hunting. Everett puts them down in a never ending cycle. After a brief romance and tragedy, the caretaker’s life takes on an even more bizarre twist. Classic Halloween Scene: The husband comes back.
The Company Of Wolves: One for a more sophisticated party- discussions of politics and Bergman movies accompanied by Mozart and a few glasses of the finest virgin blood. This dark/adult/buck nuts fairy tale is a twist on Little Red Riding Hood and is filled with metaphor and artistry. Plus you get to see Murder She Wrote’s head slapped off her shoulders- literally. Classic Halloween Scene: Though the entirely movie is filled with an inescapable nightmarish dread, some of Granny’s stories up the chill factor and give an anthology feel. But the ending bursts through the windows will live long in your memory.
Children Of The Corn: Even the poorest Stephen King adaptation is worth watching at least once. COTC is not the worst, bad it isn’t a classic. However, it is a great idea for a movie and some of the early scenes are effective at raising those neck hairs. Whilst not as spooky or funny as Wacky Molestation Adventure, there are plenty of chases, jumps, and 80s pyro joys. Classic Halloween Scene: One kid is prepared for meeting He Who Walks.
Dark Water: With Ringu alone, Hideo Nakata has cemented his name in horror folklore, but when you follow it up with another critical and commercial hit then you enter the realms of superfandom reserved only for the giants of the genre. Dark Water is much more personal film and retains both the scares, tone, and tragedy of the Ring series. it’s one thing to be terrified by the antagonist, but to empathise with them too helps to raise the character above standard horror fare. One to put the heebies and jeebies up any single parent, anyone who has recently moved house, and anyone else who happens to be alive. It may be slow, and not have the whoop-ass pay off final of Ringu, but each superbly acted and directed scene drips with unnerving tension whilst the conclusion of gripping and upsetting. Classic Halloween Scene: What is it about horror movies and bathtubs?
Dawn Of The Dead Remake: This movie single handedly kick started the resurrgence of zombies in popular culture, astounding considering it is only a remake. Even more astounding is the fact that it takes the greatest zombie movie ever, sticks it in a blender, chews on the rules of the genre, and spits out a movie which is almost as good as Romero’s Bible. Heart pounding from the outset, refusing to pander to the gore police, and filled with interesting dialogue, fresh ideas, and realistic characters, this is a film for any audience. Classic Halloween Scene: Hello little girl. It’s a bit early to be in my house, don’t you think? What are yo- wait, what’s up with your face? Are you o- aggh, arrgghh ARRRRGGHHH!
Dracula (1958): Christopher Lee steps into the role as the Dark Prince and single handedly re-invents the 20th Century perception of vampires. While it may not have aged as well as some other films on this list it stands out for the strength of the preformances and for the fact that we have a pile of grissled old men battling it out to save our soles rather and a bunch of fresh/pale face teens. Lee doesn’t sparkle, he owns, pwns, and kicks every shade of ass imaginable. Classic Halloween Scene: Harker descends into the crypt to make his final Stand with the Count. There’s still an hour of movie left so you know this won’t end well…
The Evil Dead 2: There aren’t as many genuine scares here when compared with the first movie, but we get a bigger budget, more laughs, more gore, and what we’re left with is possibly the most entertaining horror movie ever made. Have this in your party and the cheers of the nerds will be drowned out only by the laughs of the uninitiated. Classic Halloween Scene: What the balls is that coming through the front door!
The Fly (80s): David Cronenberg was already known for his movies depicting the horrors of disease and transformations which can sometimes invade the human body. What better film for him to make then than one about a man slowly mutating into a human-fly hybrid. Wonderful ideas, great acting from Davis and Goldblum, and some astounding and vomit inducing special effects. There aren’t many shock moments here outside of the gore, just the nasty feeling that something horrible is probably making a host of your own body as you watch. Classic Halloween Scene: The best arm wrestling movie moment ever.
Fright Night: Cinemagoers’ love for the creatures of the night continued to flourish into the 80s, while in the seventies Vampires were seen as seductive enchanters, and in the nineties they became any post-modern type you could imagine, in the decade that everything forgot they were nothing but cool. From Lost Boys to Near Dark, this was the decade that we relaised that Vampires kicked ass, and Fright Night added considerably to that belief. This traverses the lines between horror, comedy, and entertainment successfully with plenty of jokes, in jokes, homages, scares, and smarts to keep any fan happy. Calling back to Rear Window we see through the eyes of a teen who believes that a vampire has moved in next door. And as only teens mattered in the 80s we find out he was right. It’s down to him and his misfits to destroy the evil. Classic Halloween Scene: Evil Ed in a red wig, that’s scary, right?
Halloween II: This had the potential of being a great sequel with most of the surviving cast members from the original returning and the film following directly on from the closing moments of the first. Unfortunately, Senior Carpenter jumped ship and the film descended into a titty fest with cheap gore and cheaper characters. It’s still good fun, but it sure ain’t great. Nevertheless, if you tire of watching the original every year (weirdo) then this will do fine as an alternative and simultaneously remind you to stick with what you know the follwing year. Laurie is recovering in hospital after her antics with Michael, but wouldn’t you know that boy just won’t stay dead. Soon he’s off to the hospital to pick off more horny nurses and chumps before the final chase and massacre. Hospitals are always good for atmosphere and jump scares and we get some of both here. Classic Halloween Scene: Laurie breaking down as she realises Michael can’t be stopped and that this nightmare may never end, but Loomis gives her a gun and hope. Inevitable doom is one of the most frightening things in all of horror.
Halloween IV: If the first sequel doesn’t take your fancy, then how about the third? The world is introduced to the young Danielle Harris- a horror Goddess from the outset and whose performance alone carries the dead weight of the other lowly cast members. Pleasance is still flogging the life out of the franchise, presumably to put food on the table, or possibly because by this late stage in his life he believed he had become Dr. Loomis. Homestly, this is the best sequel of the bunch, highly entertaining and with plenty of fun kills to appease the gore hounds. There’s even a nice twist at the end which is even more shocking than certain events of the first film. The Druid links from the second film start to take fruition here but don’t really come into play until the next film, also starring Her Royal Highness, Lady Harris.
The Hills Have Eyes Remake: Although Craven’s shocker is a classic in it’s own right this remake does the unimaginable (especially in a time when 99 out of 100 remakes are utter balls) and improves upon the original in every way- better acting, better plot, better characters, and a sow’s stomach full of blood and trauma. The crazy mutant sub genre has served us fans well since the turn of the century and Aja’s take on it is surely the best. A lovely American family are travelling cross country for some reason, complete with subserviant mom, Rambo/scout/stars’n’stripes loving dad, emo son, hot Australian daughter, inappropriately femanine son-in-law etc. As is inevitably the case, they get a little lost and before you can say ‘why do have an arm growing out of your head’ a bunch of crazy cannibals are making merry sport with our innocent suberbians. Will they lie back and get picked off one by one, or will they unleash their inner Neolithic? This packs a punch and a boot and will add a spark to any gathering. Classic Halloween Scene: Son In Law wakes up in a terrible place only to find himself in an even more terrible place.
I Know What You Did Last Summer: Scream was awesome, bringing horror quicking and screaming out of the silly, campy 80s, and into the wiser, sarcastic 90s. Due to it’s massive success both in scaring audiences pants off and pulling them off thanks to a cast of outrageously hot performers, every other studio wanted in on the action. How hard could it be? Make an 80s slasher movie with updated hair and fashion (but simultaneously mock that decade so that no-one notices the plagarism/similarities), and throw in some hot young ass and some new ideas written by the guys who grew up on the aforementioned movies. IKWYDLS (a Soviet Vodka) was successful too and at its heart has strong performances, decent scares, and a decent idea brought into the modern age. People have probably forgotten this one by now so it may offer some nice surprises. Classic Halloween Scene: Run, Buffy, Run!
Jaws: If you haven’t seen this by now you’re either a new-born or a Shopping Channel enthusiast. Sure the shark looks like it was brought forth into existence by Wallace and Gromit and we all know every single second of what is coming, ,but half the fun of an annual party is in the familiarity and tradition. Everyone can gather round and watch while Brody and co are terrorized by the giant shark and whilst some will break off into chattering sub groups and others will venture into the cold for a fag, most will come bag just to see Quint get a good old fashioned chomping. Classic Halloween Scene: A young boy shows America just how much blood he has, and how far into the air he can spew it with the help of a little fish.
Last House On The Left: Craven was mentioned earlier on this list and upstaged by a young pretender to his throne who dared to make a superior version of one of his own films. The recent remake of this was decent, but it didn’t come close to touching the gritty, nasty realism of Craven’s beast. Horror films are a product now and have the power to make us laugh, to get our pulses racing, and sometimes make us think. But real horror should have the power to stop your heart dead, to make you luagh only because your respitory system has to make some sort of noise, and leave us reeling into the early hours, trapping our thoughts in an inescapable circular vault of panic. True horror should make you feel like you have suffered an ordeal and come out the other side scarred forever. Last House On The Left can make you feel all those things and when you see the bumbling, shambolic police scenes complete with capering music, you can feel your soul eating tself just so that it doesn’t have to endure another second of madness. Classic Halloween Scene: Take your pick; for me it’s the sight of a teenage girl sinking into a swamp with a dead eyed stare and the life that might have been disappearing forever into the murky depths.
Martin: Content that he had re-invented the zombie genre, Romero set his sights on vampires and damn nearly pulled off the same trick. John Amplas plays an awkward young man who believes he is a reincarnated vampire- in other words he’s crazy. Then again, Romero shows us several scenes which show that Martin may well be correct. Regardless of whether those scenes are real or imagined, Martin is a troubled young man, you know- the sort you see in every school, on every street corner, possibly dating your youngest now. This is psychological, real horror at it’s best, and though the budget and some of the acting leave a lot to be desired, the idea of a kid with a razor blade stalking women for blood is not the stuff of nightmares, but of weekly news reports. Classic Halloween Scene: The opener on the train tells us all we need to know- Martin is a killer, reluctant and enthusiastic, possibly a rapist, and that he can get at you very easily.
Near Dark: This has been going through a resurrgence over the past few years due to a love of 80s retro (i’m sure a remake will be on the way), a love of all things fangsome, and because Miss Bigelow finally received some acclaim via The Oscars. Near Dark is a sensual, beautifully pictured vampire film with fascinating characters and ideas, some memorable performances, and a healthy helping of the red stuff. And it’s heart it’s a love story based around a moral quandary; how far would you go to be with the one you love? Bringing together some James Cameron favourites we get wonderful cinematography enveloping spraying jugulars and murderous stares. Classic Halloween Scene: The bar scene, where Paxton kicks ass. Funny, scary, bloody, and a delight to behold.
Pumpkinhead: Stan Winston makes a foray into directing after spending years designing the things of nightmares, and what he made is an entertaining, cheesy romp of a B-Movie which is much better than it has any right to be. The effects are very 80s and low budget, but raised by the skilful touch of Winston. There aren’t many decent Scarecrow type horror films- this one is probably the best. Classic Halloween Scene: When we first hear Pumpkinhead’s voice beckoning one of the girls outside.
Pet Semetary: This is the stuff of nightmares. Like Last House On The Left above, this one is not to be taken lightly, althouth the movie treatments so far have not come close to the horror and tragedy of the book. That may be for the best. Depending on how you view it, this is either another cheesy, gore filled romp, or a desperately sad, creepy tale. I see it as a mix of both thanks to some decent special effects and an excellent performance from Miko Hughes. It does threaten to become a by the numbers horror film, but the tru horror lies in the calamity of losing a child and the maddening, unimaginable terror and grief it could bring. Classic Halloween Scene: There are quite a few to choose from, Gage waiting for Jud under the bed ticks all the boxes.
Re- Animator: Like Evil Dead this is a classic due to some wonderful humour and some of the best man made bloody effects ever seen. Inspired use of violence and make up films like this never fail to charm or impress and always go down well with a group of boozed up boys. Classic Halloween Scene: When the first corpse comes back and goes on a rampage.
Ring 0: Many people automatically assume that the Ring sequels aren’t good. Wrong they be, goblins be thine. Ring 0 has one of the most spine-chilling endings in recent history with a chase scene which will stretch your nerves beyond previously known realms until the shocking climax breaks your heart. This is a prequel focussing on the life of Sadako- the malevolant spirit crawling about in the first film. Rather than be a cheap expose or rip off, this lovingly delves into the characters and mythology of the series and turns a dimensional character into a fully formed person who we get deeply attached to. In places this evokes memories if Carrie, but if anything this is the classier tale- terrifying, yet ultimately tragic. Yukie Nakama gives an outstanding performance. Classic Halloween Scene: When Sadako feels herself slipping away, the screen turns a turgid sepia, and all those who deserve to get what’s coming to them prepare to get what’s coming to them. Watch behind the trees for hidden Sadako fun…
Shaun Of The Dead: If there are any hipsters at your party, or if there aren’t as many of your closest nerds in attendance then something like Shaun Of The Dead is the way to go- funny, throwaway if you want it to be, bloody in places, and entertaining enough for all types of people. This is easy viewing and isn’t likely to offend anyone. Classic Halloween Scene: Peter Serafinowicz in the shower. It could have been worse- it could have been Brian Butterfield.
Session 9: Haunted house, torture, ghosts, slasher, thriller, this one covers a lot of ground and is without doubt one of the sharpest, scariest, and most interesting horror films of the new millenium. The less said about it the better, but if you and your friends don’t mind a bit of subtitling (and why would you?) then add this to your list. Classic Halloween Scene: Going back for some coins.
Suspiria: Finely traversing the line between cheese and classic, Argento’s most famous work is juxtoposition brought to life- poor acting here, superb in other places, cheap gore placed against some of the best and most outrageous death scenes in history, haunting music set against trippy cinematography (and vice versa). Set in a girl’s school (another horror film standard) we have slasher chases, jump scenes, uber-violence, and of course some witchcraft. It is a girl’s school after all. Classic Halloween Scene: Room of wire.
PA2: A few sequels recently have been proving the old ‘sequels are rubbish’ rule wrong. PA2 is both a sequal, a prequel, and a remake and out of any other horror film i find it has most in common with Evil Dead 2. Both films are essentially bigger budget remakes of the original with similar themes, scenes, and styles, but both also act as sequels and standalones. On top of that, PA2 is also a prequel as it largely sets up the events of the first film whilst revelaing it’s details and reasons with deliberate slowness. It’s also one of the best group watching experiences I’ve ever had, with people screaming, laughing, clapping, and crying all around me. Some of the best jump scares of all time, some excruciating tension, and much more likeable characters than those jerks from the first movie. Classic Halloween Scene: Never sit in a kitchen on your own.
The Grudge: Take your pick- The TV version, the japanese movie, the american remake- they’re all good and pretty much identical. There are some narrative differences regarding the time-jumping, and some of the scenes will be modified slightly, but overall this is the same story- a tragic murder leads to a house being stained by a curse. ANyone who comes into contact with that house or anyone in it is also tainted and soon picked off by an evil cat/boy/long haired lady in increasingly scary ways. Great performances and terrific use of sound, and a good mix of traditional japanese slow burning fear and hollywood style BOO(!)s. Classic Halloween Scene: You’re not even safe in bed.
Insidious: The boys behind Saw strike gold again with this eerie haunted house horror. The set up and opening 2 thirds of the movie switch up the tension to excessive levels before it rapidly becomes a confused psychological mess of dream logic and twists. Having said that, the film from start to finish is a highly fun experience and packs in as many jumps scares per minute as any pic you could name. The film revolves around a young family being seemingly stalked by various ghosts and demons before calling in a trio of crazy investigators to try to find the route of the problem and rip out the evil. Classic Halloween Scene: Having been using a baby monitor quite a lot recently, any scene with creepy voices coming through or freaks standing over cribs is sure to send my balls cavorting up into my stomach.
As always, feel free to comment on my list: Have I missed any classics? Let me know what you plan on watching this Halloween.
Halloween isn’t just for murderers, psychos, and drunk frat boys, you know- I believe that children deserve to have some spooky fun too- you don’t want to scar them, no, but kids love to be scared, and I’m sure you love being the strong reassuring parent too.
This list of 31 movies was created so that you can split the fun over the entire month (alternatively you could wait until closer to the day and have a few marathon sessions) and let yourself tremble ever so slightly in the supposed safety of your own home. And kids- just be sure that mum and dad have locked the doors and windows, and that they’ve checked under your bed and in your closet for… anything. After all, better they get chopped to pieces and eaten than you, right? Just remember, Mum and Dad are old, forgetful, and possibly drunk, so maybe you should check the doors yourself. And keep your toys and dolls close, because if and when the time comes they may be your only friends and your greatest protection against the dread armies of the night which are gunning for you and only you. Maybe sneak that baseball bat, hockey stick, or golf club into bed too- I’m not saying you’ll need it, but I’d rather be swinging that than a pillow.
Don’t worry, movies can’t hurt you- if anything they will prepare you for any real horrors you may be unlucky enough to encounter. So watch them closely, and listen as if your life depended on it. You never know when your fears will come in handy. Maybe tonight…
These don’t have to be watched in any particular order, but some would suit the big day (or night) better than others. Enjoy.
Abbot And Costello Meet Frankenstein: The first of several meetings with Universal’s monsters, I’ve included this because vampires exist more prominently on this list (plus all manner of creatures pop up here anyway). With a host of stars and a surprisingly smart script, this is obviously played for laughs but should act as a good introduction to the world of classic monster features. There are a few moments which younger kids should find entertainingly scary, and it’s short and fast enough to stop them from becoming restltess. Classic Halloween Scene: When Dracula rises in the House of Horrors.
Arachnophobia: Everyone’s afraid of spiders, right? If not, then you’re an idiot (spiders cause at least 14 million human deaths each year- need source…) and should watch this film to remind yourself of how deadly they can be. We follow the adventures of a deadly spider from Venuzuela to a small American town where it mates with a local and have thousands of evil babies. Amongst this we have a new family arriving in the town in classic The Birds style. Jeff Daniels plays the new doctor and he has to deal with some prejudice from the locals, but he soon finds himself investigating a string of mysterious deaths. This has just enough scares to unsettle the kids but enough laughs to keep the mood light- a good introduction to horror. Classic Halloween Scene: When the Doctor sees a dark shape on his bedroom wall.
Beetlejuice: More of an offbeat comedy this, but with enough surreal and disturbing moments to warrant its selection. Tim Burton’s film is a triumph of plot, ideas, visuals, acting, and comedy. An excellent all-star cast give some of the best performances of their career, while the ideas surrounding the afterlife are fresh and innovative. Kids will get kicks from both the gruesome jokes and some of the darker scenes. Classic Halloween Scene: Beetlejuice becomes a snake.
The Changling: This one seems to have been a rite of passage for some kids, but it is one which passed me by when I was young. I only saw it for the first time after my teens had disappeared behind me, and maybe some of the scares were lost on me. Watching from the perpective of a child though, the big house, the dark rooms and sounds, and that wheelchair on the stairs could be terrifying and make the youngster a bit more apprehensive about spending a few hours alone at night in their own home. Classic Halloween Scene: When we climb into the attic.
Casper: A lighter one for the younger kids, this at least deals with the ideas of ghosts, the afterlife, good vs evil, haunted houses, and is filled with good performances and action for the whole family to enjoy. Classic Halloween Scene: When Casper’s family show up for the first time.
Corpse Bride: Another lighter one, and another eye-fest from Burton. This has all the hallmarks of a Disney classic- the enchanting and enchanted characters, the weird and wonderful worlds, the struggle between an innocent goodie, and an ogre like baddie, though most of those conventions are turned on their heads. Burton gives it a grim Victorian feel where everything is dark and dank, and even above the shadows there are things which creep and crawl lurking around every corner. Classic Halloween Scene: When Victor first gets taken down to the land of the dead.
Dracula (30s): A classic to chill the bones of all comers, this still has the ability to… worry those who haven’t seen it before. A film that’s almost a hundred years old- how could that possibly be scary? Well, there’s a reason why this is still considered the best version. Classic Halloween Scene: When Harker first meets The Count.
Edward Scissorhands: There isn’t much horror here, but there are some ideas which are more usually found in horror- the crazy scientist, the old castle, the misunderstood outcast, the tyranny of normal people. Most of all though it is a love story but one which even you’re most manly son will enjoy thanks to Depp’s superlative lead. Classic Halloween Scene: When our friendly jock pushes Edward too far.
Frankenstein: This would act as a good partner with Dracula for an old school horror night. If the kids haven’t been scarred enough by The Count, then torment them with visions of lumbering giants who just want to live and be loved, and crazy scientists who just want to scream. Whale’s campy film has plenty of iconic moments and shocks and even though the film is roughly 400 years old, it should still have enough power to make the younglings tremble. Classic Halloween Scene: I wonder if this child can swim- another good example to call upon when telling your children why they shouldn’t talk to strangers.
Fright Night: This vampire flick has plenty of laughs and scares for ages 9-14 and can be enjoyed by all ages, especially those were around in the 80s. This will stir your child’s imagination with thoughts of what that funny new neighbour really gets up to by himself at night, and will have them questioning how they would react if a vampire was stalking his neighbourhood. Classic Halloween Scene: Evil Ed in a red wig, that’s scary, right?
Ghostbusters: Who ya gonna call? Mummy probably after being scared senseless by the opening scene in the library. This has just the right amount of scares for kids, balanced nicely by humour which all ages will appreciate. While the kids dream of hunting down monsters with their proton packs, dads can dream of being Bill Murray. Classic Halloween Scene: Rick Moranis being chased by the devil dog.
The Haunting: One of the best haunted house movies of all time, the atmosphere, the sounds, and the scares should be more than enough to keep your brood enthralled and make them forget they are watching a ‘black and white’. The film follows the standard ‘spend a night in a haunted house’ formula as two men and two women, each with their own reasons for staying, are put to a variety of supernatural tests. Classic Halloween Scene: Waking up to all that banging, booming, noise.
Hocus Pocus: This one is Halloween through and through, depicting all the things you’re kids will likely be getting up to- trick or treating, dressing up, trying not to be abducted by witches. Parker, Najimy, and Midler are eerily convincing as a trio of wicked sisters, whilst the younger actors are more than their match. Watch this with a few episodes of Eerie Indiana and remember that Omri Katz kicked ass before he vanished, possibly into a parallel evil milk man dimension. Classic Halloween Scene: When it looks like our heroes may be boiled in broth.
Jaws: You should be familiar with the film- chances are you saw it quite young, and you turned out mostly ok, didn’t you? The gift of childhood will mean that any bad effects will be overlooked thanks to the fantastic action on screen. Just be aware that your kid may not want to take a bath ever again. Classic Halloween Scene: A young boy shows America just how much blood he has, and how far into the air he can spew it with the help of a little fish.
Lady In White: Frank LaLoggia’s underrated gem is a treasure trove of drama, heart, nostalgia and asks the audience some important questions about race and morality, but more importantly is that it has some terrific tension filled scenes. When a boy is trapped in his school locker room by bullies he inadvertantly witnesses what seems to be the re-enactment of a young girl’s murder, via the spirit world. Moments later a man enters and catches the boy. He loses consiousness. The rest of the film sees the police trying to find a serial killer, while our hero is haunted by the event and by the ghost of an old woman- it seems he must find the killer too. This one also has an effective Halloween setting and an authentic 60s feel. Thanks to some great acting the scenes of horror still hold up today. Add this one to your list if you can find it. Classic Halloween Scene: The Lady In White coming down the stairs.
Poltergeist: Possibly the most famous of all the haunted house movies, Spielberg’s teaming with Hooper is a riotous success. Scares typical of Hooper, laughs and vision typical of Spielberg, we see a family brought to their knees by a house which doesn’t want them. Indian burial grounds, evil trees, loony psychics, clowns, freaky children, parallel worlds- it’s all here. There are some gory moments and the tension is turned up pretty high, so be on hand in case it is all too much for some of the kids. Classic Halloween Scene: Looking in the mirror, sometimes you just want to pull off your face and start over.
Q- The Winged Serpent: What says Halloween more than a giant, flying prehistoric Mayan dinosaur God? Not a lot. Marvel as Michael Moriarty and Shaft race around New York trying to prevent the beast from carrying off any more unwary sunbathers. Unfortunately their plan doesn’t involve resurrecting King Kong and having a ‘Giant Off’ but nevertheless this is a decent romp which the kids will enjoy for the big monster and the few moments of blood and terror. Don’t worry mum and dad, there isn’t much blood on show. Classic Halloween Scene: Any of the camera sweeps over the Manhattan skyline as I wonder what terrors are coming down for us.
Sleepy Hollow: This one is decidedly dark and if it wasn’t for Depp’s fun performance as Ichobod Crane which lightens the mood quite a bit, then I wouldn’t have included this for kids. All the Burton hallmarks are there- miniatures, gloom, pale faced oddities and so on. There are be-headings, but these are not shocking, and the sight of Walken as the headless horseman would be, I imagine, quite nerve-wracking for your bambinos- just what you want. Things don’t go too far though, plus there’s a love story thrown in, and though it looks and feels quite dark, there isn’t anything terrifying or brutal. Classic Halloween Scene: Any time Christopher Walken opens his mouth.
Village Of The Damned: Don’t bother with Carpenter’s version- not even Luke Skywalker and Superman could save that from being a disaster of Glee proportions. The original has all the ominous dread you could wish for, and as the film ends and the children turn slowly, in unison, to look at you with their eyes, you’ll wish you made them watch The Human Centipede instead. Classic Halloween Scene: When the kids decide to show off their power by making a man crash his car, and his brother shoot himself.
The Witches: Roald Dahl’s wonderful story is brought to the big screen with giant helpings of Angelica Huston and Mr Bean. A young boy is staying at a hotel with his family when he accidentally uncovers a massive group of witches who are plotting to turn children into mice. Can he stop them in time? There are some nicely gruesome effects here and thankfully the entire cast are excellent. Dahl’s storys are eternal and have that elusive quality of being enchanting to children and highly entertaining for adults. Classic Halloween Scene: When the witches first uncover themselves.
Monsters Inc: One of the first Pixar mega hits, this should please the wholy family with stunning animation, stellar voice cast, entertaining story, and homages to classic horror moments. I think we all wondered at some point in our younger days about what may be lurking in the closet or under the bed, and this film shows a delightful alternative to what we may have imagined. Classic Halloween Scene: I guess some of the monsters may look quite scary for younger kids.
Gremlins: Growing up in the 80s, this was a staple of both Halloween and Christmas. It has that small town America, nostalgic tone which movies nowadays just don’t have. Maybe things were more innocent back then. Although, when you think that this film depicts cuteness becoming evil when rules are not obeyed, animals being blown apart in microwaves, an old woman being fired out of her home via her roof , and assorted other nasties, it seems amazing nowadays that this was seen as a kids movie back then. If a kids movie now doesn’t feature singing, dancing, every token character imaginable, and at least one ridiculous romance, then it isn’t a kids movie. In my opinion, if there isn’t violence and minor atrocities then it isn’t a kids movie. Classic Halloween Scene: The Christmas tree.
Tremors: As entertaining now as it was then, and with effects which have held up surprisingly well, Tremors is like a cheesy 50s monster movie, but with modern humour and sentiment. It is pretty gross at times, and there is some swearing, but the blood and guts is mostly coming from the monsters while your kids will be too entranced by the plot and action to pick up on the cussin’. Maybe. Set in a desert wreck somewhere in the US, Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward and assorted other inhabitants must battle their way to safety and survival whilst being hunted down by giant subterranian worm monsters. This takes a simple, well worn idea, and packs every moment with wit and invention to make it seem incredibly fresh and fun. There are some scary moments, but mostly this is a fun trip which will live long in the memory. Classic Halloween Scene: The old couple think their car will keep them safe…
The Frighteners: Peter ‘Barefoot’ Jackson makes the leap from New Zealand zombie weirdness to Hollywood ghosty madness, a few years before taking the final step to Mordor. This is a sometimes confused film, but has more hits than misses and should entertain young and old alike with the satire and scares. There aren’t many scares and the film relies on Michael J Fox and some snazzy effects, but that shouldn’t stop everyone from having a good time watching it. Classic Halloween Scene: The opening moments seem to suggest a scarier tone than what actually follows, but there are still some tense parts.
Critters: A more direct horror film than Gremlins, but still one with more moments of laughter than screams, Critters is to Gremlins what Twin Peaks is to Dallas. A group of evil, furry monsters land on earth to breed and eat- humans seem like a tasty target. Luckily for humanity, a couple of bounty hunters are not far behind. Classic Halloween Scene: Don’t these people learn? If your power goes off, you never go off by yourself to the barn/kitchen/basement.
The Watcher In The Woods: Ahh, Lynne Holly Johnson- she could walk through my woods any day. Whatever that means. Disney go for scares here, and perhaps they went a little too far because this sank without a trace upon release. The story follows a family moving to an old mansion owned by a creepy Bette Davis. Soon the daughters begin to notice and encounter some strange and frightening behaviour. This was a difficult shoot as there were disputes over how intense the scenes of horror should be, and indeed the film was pulled from theatres and some new endings were filmed. Check them all out on DVD. Classic Halloween Scene: Standing beside a pond is a terrible place to be hypnotized.
Monster House: The scary version of Monsters Inc. This may be an animated kids film, but be aware that some parts may be too intense for younger viewers. A young boy and his friend investigate their creepy neighbour’s house after the neighbour suffers a heart attack. It seems that the house has some dark secrets. Naturally this has plenty of funny, witty moments, and the animation is perfectly suited to the Halloween nature of the story. Classic Halloween Scene: When we see the house ‘come to life’ for the first time, and chow down on a toy.
IT: I remember the first time I saw this- i must have been 9 or 10, possibly 11. Just the right age to be exposed to this. Naturally you should know if you’re child could handle this or any other horror film. This one will give them nightmares, but if watched with friends then they can fight through their fears together and come out the other side stronger. Again it’s a good one to watch over a number of days. If they wake up screaming that a clown is after them you may feel that they shouldn’t see Part 2. But then they won’t have any closure- there’s nothing worse than never knowing how the nightmare ends. Classic Halloween Scene: Out of many, lets go for the rain-soaked opener with Georgie- once seen, never forgotten.
The Lost Boys: A great one for the younger teens to watch, before they get too self conscious and laugh about the hair and clothes. This was the epitome of cool at the time, and it still has that fleeting 80s air of cool which not even the passing of decades can shrug off. Yeah we can laugh, but Feldman, Patrick ,and Sutherland have never been better. Vampires are at once romanticized and demonized. We see how seductive the life (or death) style is- sleep all day, party all night- but also the cost of losing yourself, your family, your soul. This has plenty of twists, memorable scenes, humour, action, and one liners, and while it isn’t bloody it does have a high level of fear inducing moments. Classic Halloween Scene: When Sutherland and his team head for Michael’s house as soon as sun sets for a final battle.
The Hole: Joe Dante goes back to doing what he does best- family oriented horror adventures and does a good job of recalling his best work. A young family move to a new town, new home, and the teenage son falls for the girl next door- so far, so Dante. Upon finding a seemingly bottomless pit in their basement, the group investigate and a tonne of strange and scary events start happening to them. Dante has always known how to get the best out of a young cast and how to turn an interesting script into something fully entertaining. Most people missed this on the big screen, but there’s no excuse in DVD land. Classic Halloween Scene: The creepy TV eye.
Return To Oz: Vastly superior to the original in every way (don’t hurt me), Return To Oz is pretty horrific, portraying Oz as it should be- an unending nightmare. If your young son or daughter was sucked off to a magic parallel world of witches and wonder, chances are they’d spend the first few hours shrieking in horror and the next few sitting under a tree holding their knees in a foetus position and rocking backwards and forwards. If the tree didn’t eat them, they would eventually get up and explore. The film follows Dorothy who has, for all intents and purposes, gone crazy after her adventures in Oz (naturally) and has been sent to a hospital by her family. It turns out the hospital is more like an asylum, and after some terrifying moments, Dorothy flees, only to wake up once more in Oz- though the Emerald City has been destroyed and her friends have been turned to stone. Dorothy begins her quest to find out what has gone wrong. Featuring men with wheels for limbs, headless witches, hell, man eating rock monsters, and any other number of nightmares, this is either a wonderful movie, or the spawn of Satan. Classic Halloween Scene: Dorothy trying to sneak around the corridor of heads.
Feel free to leave any comments and suggestions- are any of these films clearly not suitable for kids, or have I missed any which you would show at this time of year? Which films spooked you as a kid?
Aah, Halloween- the most wonderful time of the year. When even those who wouldn’t usually subject themselves to all manner of terrors decide to watch the odd scary movie or 2. Unfortunately for me, this part of the Spac Hole which I currently inhabit does not indulge in the season as seriously and joyfully as other places, so I have always felt a little deprived. Sure, we had some parties, sure we threw fireworks at Gerry’s house, and yes we would watch whatever limited choice of movies were on over the few days but compared to other places (particularly you festive folks in the US) it just didn’t seem as much damn fun. In my mind, the whole month of October should be a vessel for Halloween activities, from dressing up to trick or treating, to watching scary movies and hiding under the beds of people you don’t know with a chainsaw.
To that end I have helpfully made a few lists of classic horror movies which sould chill you to the bone, and add to the singular atmosphere of this most evil time of the year. This list of 31 movies was created so that you can split the fun over the entire month (alternatively you could wait until closer to the day and have a few marathon sessions) and let yourself tremble ever so slightly in the supposed safety of your own home. Just be sure to lock your doors and windows, close the curtains, and tuck up the kids tightly in bed (checking underneath and in closets for me) before turning off the lights. Maybe check those locks once more, you can never be too sure or too safe. Oh, what’s that? That noise from outside? I wouldn’t worry, probably just the wind. By all means go out and check, but that would mean going into the basement to find batteries for your torch. Really, just relax and watch the film, your paranoia can’t hurt you. The thing outside, yeah- it could hurt you. But you locked the doors, right?
These don’t have to be watched in any particular order, but some would suit the big day (or night) better than others. This is not meant to be a list of the best or even my favourite horror movies (though I love them all) but rather I feel these offer something of the atmosphere of Halloween. Enjoy.
An American Werewolf in London: This one has it all- gore, jump scares, atmosphere, action, humour, and a great plot with likeable characters. WereWolves, like Vampires have taken a rather glossy beating recently. This proves that you can wrap up a love story with horror without being teeny, without being sparkly, without being demeaning to viewers with brains. Classic Halloween scene: The Nazi section.
A Nightmare on Elm Street: Wes Craven, Johnny Depp, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, and Robert Englund- lovely ingredients for a tasty Halloween Pie. This is the original and best, before the horrific character of Freddy (Here just Fred) became a snuggleable, bantering chum. What could be better for Halloween than scaring yourself so badly that you can’t sleep- knowing that something terrible may be waiting for you in your dreams. A story with more depth than it gets credit for, dealing with the Craven standard of ill-advised parenting and how the children have to cope with the mistakes of the elders, this is full of genius set pieces and bloody action. Classic Halloween Scene: Nancy gets a bloody post coital surprise- but not what you’d expect. And did they say she was 14??
Alien: Often described as Halloween in space, or a Haunted House in Space, Alien deals with our fears of isolation, of being trapped, of being in s situation way beyond our control and way above our heads. Remove the alien, remove the setting, and this could be any slasher movie from the time. However, that would be taking away the fun, the fear, the atmosphere, and the ingenuity. This is dark, claustrophobic stuff, and the perfect film for Halloween to make you look out the windows into pitch darkness and wonder if something is staring back. Classic Halloween Scene: Dallas goes hunting, but realizes too late that he is the prey.
The Blair Witch Project: Similar to Alien this deals with our fears of isolation and the un-experienced unknown, but spices things up with issues of abandonment, paranoia, and things that go bump in the woods. A classic survival tale for city folk poking their ill-prepared noses where they don’t belong, Blair Witch succeeded because of it’s innovative filming and marketing techniques. It still succeeds today amongst a rubbish tip of similar films because the plot is solid, the acting is real, the rising tension and fear played out between the characters feels exactly like how we would react, the growing dread is almost unrivalled, and the climax is absolutely chilling. Classic Halloween Scene: The search for Josh in the freakshow house at the end will get you tingling and gripping the seat every time.
Creepshow: Halloween isn’t just about traumatizing each other, it’s also about good old fashioned camp-fire tales to warm the heart and soul. This is cheesy at times, but never boring or irritating, it feels nostalgic both for children of the 80s and of the 50-60s. The tales are brief, well written and acted, the effects are still top-notch with an earthy feel, and the scares are tense and fun. Classic Halloween Scene: Trying to convince your abusive wife to enter a box where a monster lives has never looked so enjoyable.
Candyman: Both Cliver Barker and Tony Todd are vital ingredients in any scare-fest- put them together and you’d better have a few spare pairs of pants lying around. An intellegent, sexy, city based horror which merges old world supernatural fears with the modern world of big business, CSI policework, snooping journalists, and end of the century hairdos. Barker at his height was a fountain of invention, bringing a freshness to the genre which made everyone else’s ideas look like old creaky mummy movies. Candyman merges urban myths with ancient folklore, mysticism with science, gore and shocks with beauty and lyricism. Todd’s presence is as powerful as any of the classic monsters, while Madsen gives a refreshing twist on the final girl character. Classic Halloween Scene: Hook through the chest.
Carrie: One for the teens this, though it may have aged some due to being so authentically 70s, the scares and the themes of abuse, loneliness, bullying, and separation are no less relevant or universal today. The story is simple but pumped up by ideas of religion, extremism, and psychotic mummies (not those ones). The acting by the main players is superb, there is something bleak about the whole sordid business, and we manage both to sympathize with and be scared by Carrie. And wish we had her gift. De Palma twists the tension knobs until they break off, though some of the intrusive camera guff is laughable now. Classic Halloween Scene: Everything between the bucket dropping and the school burning.
Child’s Play: The evil doll is a well worn sub genre of horror, but one which has very few, if any, classics. Child’s Play is amongst the best, and the series is certainly the most notorious. Like many 80s horrors, the series was unfairly derided for it’s supposed impact on our youth with some people going so far as blaming it for some grisly murders. As with most of these series, the quality decreased as the sequels increased, but the original remains surprisingly effective given the silly subject matter. If you don’t know the story- multi murdering maniac transfers his soul into a popular doll moments before his death, doll is picked up by young boy, doll begins murderous rampage again until it realises that it needs to sacrifice the boy to become human again. There are sure to be some laughs, some screams of just kick him in the balls and throw hm out the window!’, but maybe a few jumps too. Classic Halloween Scene: Chucky terrorizes the baby-sitter and we all jump when the phone rings.
Dawn Of The Dead: There is something quite special which you may not know about Dawn. If you watch it at Dawn- depending on where you live etc, try to time it where the film will just be ending as the sunrises. Then go for a walk immediately. It’s likely there won’t be many people around. The ones you will see will probably be shambling. The bleak nature of the film rarely hits harder than in these moments and you will surely look around yourself and feel a stark aura fill your being. There are few things more terrifying than waking up to an otherwise beautiful day and not wanting to be any part of it. Classic Halloween Scene: So many to choose from, from funny, to scary, to bleak, but I’ll go for the truck parking section as we realize that paradise can quickly become hell, and a haven can suddenly become a tomb.
Day Of The Dead: Surely the most grim of all the DEAD films, this is perfect Halloween viewing, not only because of the exquisite gore and effects. Claustrophobia and paranoia again play a large part, and you can’t help wondering why all these psychopaths keep getting in the way of your enjoyable apocalypse. Most people would be happily looting and whiling away their days watching DVDs, playing games, reading books, getting drunk, but there always has to be a crazy doctor or maniacal military group to spoil your good times. Halloween is all about good times, stick this on to reap the benefits. Classic Scene: When the Zombies step on the lift and it begins moving downwards- you just know all hell is about to break loose.
Dracula (30s): A classic to chill the bones of all comers, this still has the ability to… worry those who haven’t seen it before. A film that’s almost a hundred years old- how could that possibly be scary? Well, there’s a reason why this is still considered the best version. Classic Halloween Scene: When Harker first meets The Count.
The Exorcist: Now we get into the truly demanding territory. A rarity in the genre, The Exorcist was a massive financial and critical hit upon release, pampered with awards and then…uh, banned. It may not be as hard-hitting these days, but it’s still rough, creepy stuff. Plus it is played extremely coldly, and without a hint of humour. This is as bleak as horror gets, and even the supposed happy ending leaves us with a bitter, fearful taste. Excellent performances, bewildering jump scares, and freaky moments all conspire to chill the soul and ensure you cuddle up to your beloved in bed. Classic Halloween Scene: Spider walk.
The Evil Dead: This was mostly played for scares over the played for laughs sequel, and while there is humour here, the main focus is on sudden frights and wonderful, innovative camera techniques. You’ll have fun watching this one as each character gets picked off, comes back, and gets picked off again. Classic Halloween Scene: Cheryl at the window, not in the cupboard.
Friday The 13th: One of the original slashers and one of the most successful, this one has plenty of ideas and violence, and staples of the sub genre which have now become clichés. It has dated, it is silly and quite tame, but it was made with love and ambition and freshness. The ending is shocking, the performances are ok, and there isn’t a hockey mask in sight. Classic Halloween Scene: Arrow through the neck- don’t have sex kids.
Final Destination: Another rarity- an inspired modern horror film with great ideas which blends humour and genuine frights. We have a series of characters who rather than getting picked off one by one in an uncaring fashion, are shown to be real kids with real lives, fears, and concerns- and then they are picked off one by one in increasingly exciting, tense, and innovative ways. A film which deals with our fear of death, of inevitability succeeds on every level. Classic Halloween Scene: During a heated discussion in his car, one reckless character refuses to accept that his life is pre-destined or that death is stalking his every move. To prove the point he parks his car on train tracks with his friends as the train hurtles towards them. He soon realizes he was wrong.
The Fog: One of the great campfire spook stories, The Fog is still sadly underrated. Carpenter creates a wonderful atmosphere here which suits the season perfectly- even better if you’re near the sea or if there is fog around. Classic Halloween Scene: The introduction with the wizened old sailor sets the tone for the rest of the show, and should set the tone for your night.
Hellraiser: Another British one now, offering something different from our American cousins. We have sex, violence, lots of gore, and some S&M themed fun. This is gritty in an Eastenders sort of way- you don’t really want to look or have anything to do with these characters. Classic Halloween Scene: When Kirsty first meets the Cenobites- what is the finger in the mouth about?
Halloween: What more can I say? This is the movie which should be watched every Halloween- not only is it a genuine classic of the genre and a kick-ass movie no matter which way you look at it, it drips with and evokes that special Seasonal feeling that few things do. Make this the highlight of your night. After you’ve cut some throats. Classic Halloween Scene: Young Laurie runs screaming down her street being chased by a murderous maniac. She clambers to the front door of a neighbour, knocks and begs for help. A light is turned on. Then switched off. Did they think it was just kids messing around? Were they too afraid to help? Welcome To America folks.
Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers (70s): Some us like to dress up at Halloween as ghosts, vampires, or our favourite horror movie characters. Some people go further and pretend to be the person that the costume depicts. This definitive version of Bodysnatchers takes the idea of hiding behind a costume to dramatic and terrifying extremes- what if person next to you on the bus, your neighbour, your friend, your wife, or child was no longer the person they once were? In fact, what if some alien creature had taken their body as host and was walking around as an imperfect mockery of that person’s life? What if this alien race had designs on all your friends and everyone you’ve ever known, and what if you were next? This chilling view of a world snatched away from under our noses is all about loss of identity and mistrust, and makes for unsettling Halloween viewing. Classic Halloween Scene: The final moments. I’ll say no more.
Night Of The Living Dead: A staple of midnight viewing, the surrounding darkness makes the black and white all the more stark and cold; There are no easy answers or happy endings here. If you are watching this with a group of people, ask yourself which ones you would trust in a life/death situation. If your cosy home was surrounded suddenly by thousands of undead, who amongst you would come out as leader? Would you sit back, would you make decisions, would you think only of yourself or would you think of the safety of the group? Either way, you’re bound to get a chewing. Classic Halloween Scene: They’re coming to get you, Barbara.
The Omen: So far we don’t trust our neighbours and friends, but what if you thought your son was the Antichrist? The Omen is an apocalyptic film in more than one way and is filled with strong performances, gripping and bloody deaths, and a memorable, frightening score. Music is often pivotal in horror movies, and as you clamber the stairs to bed after this, with infernal monks chanting obscenities in your head, that corner of darkness you can’t quite see clearly may fill with unspeakable evil more readily. Classic Halloween Scene: Damian decides to ride his bike.
Prince Of Darkness: I find this to be Carpenter’s most underrated film mostly because it is awesome and should be mentioned in the same breath as Halloween and The Thing. Sure the plot is messed up with it’s evil green satanic liquid taking over zombies and bums mixed with time-travelling dream messages and psych jargon, but seriously it is awesome. It has more effective jump scares than any of his other shows and there is a creeping sense of dread and atmosphere throughout. In many ways it is classic Carpenter- a group of different thrown together in a building who have to team together or fall apart and stand against an overpowering threatening external force. It is a siege movie, it is clever for the genre though at times it doesn’t know what genre it wants to be. I think that was part of the fun though- like Big Trouble In Little China it is more than just it’s labels instead transcending notions of what it should or shouldn’t be, and is well ahead of it’s time. Classic Halloween Scene: The final survivors holding up behind some furniture while one of the crazies admires himself in a mirror with a large blade.
Ring: Please please please watch the Japanese version, not the abomination that is the remake. Sure the remake has plenty of jump moments, but it also has a deer on a boat, Brian Cox in a bath, and a director who decides it would be clever to cut away from the movie’s most important scene for the sake of a car chase. The original has Nanako Matsushima and Hiroyuki Sanada and if that isn’t enough of a recommendation then please remove thine eyes from mine page post haste. Watch this deep into the night, possibly as the last film, then play the lovely game of phone your friend once they have left to terrify them. Unfortunately the ideas first seen here have been so over-used that these games have become diluted, but the film still has an unflinching power. Not a drop of blood is shed, there are no knives, guns, or people bursting in from behind doors with a loud noise- this is the best horror film of the nineties and goes against everything that decade threw at us. And it’s a damn good story with excellent performances. Classic Halloween Scene: Sadako. TV. Sleep tight.
Scream: The second best horror movie of the nineties is the stuff of parties. By know everyone should have seen it, but many of you will have forgotten it and how good it still is. Plenty of shocks, laughs, scares, and action as well as a script the quality of which horror movies rarely get. And my beloved Neve Campbell is in it. Few horror films provide this much entertainment whilst still being scary, funny, and clever. The nods to horror movies will keep the nerds amongst your bunch happy and you can shout out when you spot a reference. Classic Halloween Scene: The final house chase scene as Neve doesn’t know where to run or who to trust.
The Shining: It’s rare for most people to get snow at Halloween, even more rare to be completely snowed in and surrounded. Try replacing the notion of snow with rain or darkness- would you want to go wandering outside if it was completely dark or hammering down? Anyway, this is another film which plays on isolation, claustrophobia, and paranoia. It’s probably best not to watch this one as a cosy night in flick with your little family- you’ll start wondering what the hell is going through each other’s minds. This is a giant of the genre with heaps of atmosphere and plenty of unsettling moments which deserves to be menti0ned at any Horror Movie Marathon. Classic Halloween Scene: Danny was warned not to go in that room. Prepare to be scared when Daddy goes looking too.
Silence Of The Lambs: The critic’s choice. Don’t invite any critics to your party as they will moan, groan, bore your girlfriends, and likely drink all your wine. There should be wine. This is nasty stuff from start to end as poor Jodie Foster tries to solve a murder whilst hiding her own fears from the unlikely Terminator Anthony Hopkins. This is better suited to smaller group viewing as it isn’t exactly cheery, blood n guts fun but it does the job when you’re on your own. Classic Halloween Scene: Anything with Bill really.
The Thing: In many ways the ultimate John Carpenter film, the ultimate macho man fest, and the number 1 examination of the paranoia which creeps into people during periods of isolation. The effects here still blow me away and they are only part of a long list of quality to describe this film- look at the cast, the performances, the music, the scares, the cinematography, and the way Carpenter drags the tension out of every shot until we don’t know who has been infected and who hasn’t. Great action adds to the great scares, but the special effects and story are kings here. Classic Halloween Scene: When the survivors are tied to chairs and Mac goes through each one by one to test if any are not human. Genius.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: This one still hurts today- it’s just so damn grim, dirty, and repulsive as to make the horror timeless. Sure they scares may be cliché now and the gore is almost non-existent, but the low down atmosphere, the miniscule budget, and the amateur (but good) performances all conspire to make this uncomfortable watching. I’m sure that there are plenty of people out there who still think that there could be a family like this in their town, just as much as I’m sure that there probably are still families or people like this in the world- maybe not in your town, but possibly the next one over. And chainsaws are awfully easy to come by these days. Classic Halloween Scene: The entire dinner scene. Truly horrific, the use of sound and various camera techniques make this one of the most intense few minutes in any horror movie.
28 Days Later: A modern classic, and one of the few great British horror movies of the last few decades. Taking riffs from Romero and King this is a post apocalyptic survivalist’s wet nightmare. Empty streets, shops to loot, cars to steal- all great if it wasn’t for the hundreds of thousands of psychopaths charging towards you in search of your blood. This is the 21st century folks, and zombies ain’t got time to amble and stumble about- these are confident, successful, modern big business, stepping up to the plate, corporate bull-shitting zombies, and they won’t take closing a door in their face for an answer. If you can’t run fast, you’re screwed. And just to make things Mega Man 9 difficult- these fiends don’t even have to bite you to kill/convert you- one drop of their blood/saliva entering your body, through a gash, a scratch, a kiss, or a tear is enough it recruit you. And sheesh! They don’t even give you time to grieve for your fallen comrade- within seconds of getting exposed, your best friend will be diving for your jugular too. My advice- kill everyone you see and hide under a pile of coats till it all goes away. Classic Halloween Scene: An abandoned car sitting in the middle of an abandoned London- nothing to fear but technology.
The Wicker Man: Nothing to fear but religion. Look closely enough and all religions begin to look like cults; they all have a figurehead, the followers worship the figurehead unquestionably and offer prayers, thanks, songs, and sacrifices, there are certain rituals usually borne of centuries long since dusted, those involved are usually inviting to outsiders in person, but have a secret hatred, anger, or issue against them once backs are turned. So we have The Wicker Man, possibly the best British Horror Film of the whole sorry lot. Aah, the confusion of two worlds colliding as we watch a upstanding lawman and guardian of his own archaic faith fall victim ever so slowly to a cult even more decrepit than his own. He knows something terrible is amiss, but it isn’t until his toes turn to cinders that he realizes his fate was sealed the second his feet touched the land. Classic Halloween Scene: When we first see Mr Straw and realize our hero’s fate.
Paranormal Activity: Proof not only that horror movies still have the power to scare, entertain, and bring in the mega bucks, proof not only that a good story well executed can be more than a match for buckets of blood, but also proves that in this day and age of $200 million dollar movies that a small group with talent, an idea, and a few months worth of average salary can make a great movie. Romero did it in the 60s, Carpenter did it in the seventies, Raimi in the 80s, Myrick and Sanchez in the 90s, and now Oren Peli has continued the tradition. Using every trick in the book he has made a classic pastiche of the genre and a thrill ride akin to running naked through a field of land mines. The setting of the movie is perfect for Halloween viewing- primarily it is set in the home and most of the scares happen at night- the film invades you with a sense that you aren’t safe in your own house and makes you take a second or third glance at that cup that you swore you set on the table which now sits on the ground. Likely to lose its impact with subsequent viewings this is best served to people who haven’t seen it. The scares (while you sense them coming) are unexpected and rewarding and while the characters are painfully annoying, you’ll still soil your drawers. Classic Halloween Scene: NEVER leave your foot hanging out of bed.
Trick R Treat: Anthology movies have had their heyday- we had a succession of British hits in the 70s, then a slew of bloodier efforts in the 80s. Then for 20 years anthology fans didn’t have a lot to be excited about aside from a few cheap efforts (although Asia did produce some great ones at the turn of the century). Trick R Treat is good enough to kick start a revolution in the genre, or at least it would have been had it been released in any cinemas. Straight to DVD (yet with a decent budget and big name cast) Trick R Treat features four shorts linked by an over-arcing plot and is to Halloween what presents are to Christmas. This one is destined to be shown and loved every Halloween for years to come, possibly as a double header with Carpenter’s classic. Classic Halloween Scene: The creepy opener sets the tone for the movie and features everything we love about the season, dripping with atmosphere, and settling us in for a bumpy ride.
Please leave your comments and suggestions for films you think are best viewed at Halloween, and let us know which films terrified you when you were growing up at this time of year.