Obviously there's a lot of horror films out there- from The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920) to Get Out (2017)- so I decided (in the spirit of the season) to give some recommendations. I'll be honest, I'm not a massive horror fan- that's really more Watcher Matt's arena- but these 13 films are, for one reason or another, definitely worth a watch in my opinion.
Don't Look Now (1973)
dir. Nicolas Roeg; starring Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland
1973 was a banner year for horror movies: The Exorcist, The Wicker Man, and Theatre Of Blood were all released this year, as was the haunting and brilliant Don't Look Now. Adapted from a story by Daphne du Maurier, the film sees married couple Laura and John Baxter travel to Venice to try and get over the death of their young daughter. Whilst Laura gets a mysterious message from a psychic old woman, John starts to see a small figure in a red coat running around the streets. Could it be their daughter? The film is as famous for the passionate sex scene between Sutherland and Christie (which was rumoured for years to have been real) as it is for its pervading sense of dread and a shocking twist ending.
The Omen (1976)
dir. Richard Donner; starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Harvey Stephens
An American ambassador and his wife have a beautiful baby boy. But, as the child grows up, mysterious things start to happen around him. Could the boy actually be the Antichrist? There are a couple of truly shocking moments: the death of Damien's first nanny, and a death by decapitation, may stay with you after the film has finished. Peck and Remick are great as the struggling parents. There's a terrifying performance by Billie Whitelaw as Damien's nanny Mrs Baylock, and good support from David Warner and Patrick Troughton. The 2006 remake with Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles is also fairly good (which, for a horror remake, is high praise) but- as a rule- I'd always recommend the original.
The Shining (1980)
dir. Stanley Kubrick; starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
A writer, struggling with alcoholism, takes a job as a winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel and moves in with his wife and young son. However, the young boy has a paranormal gift- the shining- and, soon, the dark past of the Overlook comes back to haunt them all. There are strong performances by Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall (who really goes through the wringer), along with several shots and set-pieces that have now passed into cultural memory. Stories of Kubrick's obsessive perfectionism and his mistreatment of Duvall are as known as the film itself. Incidentally, Stephen King is not a fan of this adaptation, comparing it to 'a great big beautiful Cadillac with no motor inside'.
dir. Tobe Hooper; starring JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O'Rourke
The Freeling family home is haunted by a malevolent spirit who seems to fixate on the youngest daughter Carol Anne. As the spirit begins to make its presence felt, a team of paranormal investigators and a psychic come to help cleanse the house. So much of the language of this film has permeated into pop culture- from the tree attack, to the killer clown, and Carol Anne's amazingly creepy 'they're heeeere!'. Zelda Rubinstein is brilliant in a supporting role as diminutive psychic Tangina Barrons.
The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
dir. Jonathan Demme; starring Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn
Is it a horror? Guess it depends on your definition. It's not a slasher flick by any means, but it utilises a lot of the same tools that horror films do, and that's good enough for me. Ably directed by the late Jonathan Demme, this adaptation of Thomas Harris' novel is a masterclass in tension. Whilst the presentation of Buffalo Bill (the killer) is somewhat problematic, brilliant- and Oscar winning- performances by Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins make this worth a few hours of your time.
The Craft (1996)
dir. Andrew Fleming; starring Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell, Rachel True
Released the same year as Scream, The Craft helped to herald a revival in teen horror; other good examples are I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Urban Legend (1998) and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998). This twisted tale of a coven of teen witches whose powers get out of hand is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine- Fairuza Balk is great as the increasingly unhinged Nancy and there's a kick-ass soundtrack too.
Perfect Blue (1997)
dir. Satoshi Kon; starring Junko Iwao, Rika Matsumoto (voices)
Again, the argument could be made that this isn't exactly a horror film in the strictest sense. But it's a psychological trip that's deeply unsettling. A young popstar, Mima, retires from singing and takes up acting. However, not everyone is happy with this decision. Mima starts getting stalked by an obsessive fan but also seems to be haunted by the ghost of her former self. It's not an easy watch in places but it's a strong piece of film-making. Darren Aronofsky is a big fan, and you can see its influence in Requiem For A Dream (2000) and Black Swan (2010).
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
dir. Daniel Myrick & Educardo Sanchez; starring Heather Donohue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard
Well, it had to be, didn't it? A true sleeper hit that kickstarted the vogue for 'found footage' horror. Three students making a film about the legendary Blair Witch disappeared during filming and their footage was found a year later. Coupled with a canny publicity campaign- which actually convinced some people that the actors were indeed missing- this film is a slow burner but, as they get into the woods and the weirdness starts happening, it really grips you. Heather's breakdown has been parodied and sent up relentlessly ever since but the final shots of the film are chilling.
The Others (2001)
dir. Alejandro Amenabar; starring Nicole Kidman, Christopher Eccleston
A ghost story with a twist, this might not be an obvious choice for a list of horror films but the wonderfully atmospheric setting and direction provides more than its fair share of surprises. Nicole Kidman is stunning in the central role as a mother who has retired to a mansion on Jersey towards the end of the Second World War with her two children, waiting her her husband to return. When three servants arrive to help the family, the strangeness begins. Who are the strange people that the family keep seeing in the house? The twist at the end is quite inventive and I remember being impressed by it.
My Little Eye (2002)
dir. Marc Evans; starring Kris Lemche, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Sky
Five people apply to live in an old house together for six months whilst their every move is recorded and broadcast. If one person leaves, they all lose. There's a million dollars up for grabs... but what will people do in pursuit of that prize? There are some genuinely unsettling moments throughout this film, which- for the time, as 'reality TV' was really getting its hooks into the cultural landscape- had an alarmingly prescient hook.Similar in style to The Blair Witch Project (with the use of various camera angles, including night vision), it's definitely worth a look as a bit of a curiosity.
The Descent (2005)
dir. Neil Marshall; starring Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid
Six friends go spelunking in the mountains, but get cut off from their entrance point. As they descend further into the cave complex, it's clear they're not alone. The tension and claustrophobia created in The Descent is, at times, almost unbearable. The relationship and interchanges of the six women is as vital a part to the tension as the location and the unseen threat. If anything, once the Crawlers are revealed, the film loses some of that tension. But the ending... oh my God, the ending. An exquisite- but wholly depressing- gut-punch. Something it has in common with the next film on my list.
The Mist (2007)
dir. Frank Darabont; starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Andre Braugher
When a strange mist engulfs a small American town, the townsfolk hole up in a local supermarket. Tensions begin to rise amongst the inhabitants whilst they search for answers to what's caused the mist... and what's hiding in it. A terrifying look at mob mentality and the petty nature of mankind, this isn't a film that will affirm your belief in the inherent goodness of people. People act selfishly, horribly, for their own preservation. There's a really unnerving performance by Marcia Gay Harden as the religious zealot Mrs Carmody (who sees the mist as a herald of the end of days) and the film ends on a despairing, downbeat note.
Tucker & Dale Vs Evil (2010)
dir. Eli Craig; starring Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden
A molasses-black horror-comedy in a similar vein to Elvira: Mistress Of The Dark (1988) or The Cabin In The Woods (2012), this smart, funny, but also remarkably gory flick tells the story of a typical crazy redneck slasher film... from the redneck perspective. Tucker and Dale just want a quiet weekend at their cabin in the woods. No trouble, no drama. However, when they stumble across a group of college students, the students automatically see them as stereotypical mad hillbillies who want to slaughter them. Nothing could be further from the truth. You'll need a slightly sick sense of humour to really enjoy this, but it's definitely worth a watch.
So, there's some food for thought. Whilst the blog's been running, we've also discussed some classic horror movies at length, such as the original Psycho, the Evil Dead films, both versions of Carrie, and Alien. Check out our thoughts on these classics and have a very happy Halloween!