Spooky season is upon us. It’s that time of year when we remember that Mike Myers isn’t just that funny guy that voiced Shrek and our current economic and political crisis perhaps isn’t the scariest scenario we could be faced with (subject to argument).
This brings up a specific genre which celebrates the scares and horrors that filmmakers for decades have loved to bring us. From serial killers and stalkers to aliens and monsters. Many people are dismissive of such filmmaking choices whilst others relish in the yearly dosage of demons and Draculas.
Below are my five picks to watch during this Halloween season. Five films that explore different ideas and techniques but share the same genre. As always, this list is based solely on my own opinion. No IMDB ranking bias or what I even objectively believe to be the best horror movies, just simply my favourites.
A monster horror directed by the king of horror himself John Carpenter, The Thing (an adaptation of John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella, Who Goes There?) provides a delightful display of practical effects, great story and character building, and of course plenty of scares.
Starring Kurt Russell as MacReady, a helicopter pilot stationed in Antarctica during a research expedition, when he and his team discover more than they had bargained for. A shapeshifting alien entity that leaches onto a new host, absorbing their likeness and characteristics to blend in with its surroundings. A great formula for a horror based ‘who is it?’ scenario where like the characters in the story, you’re wondering who will be next.
Carpenter brings his trademark style to the horror genre again, having already had Halloween (1978) and The Fog (1980) under his belt. But The Thing is his masterpiece. It builds upon its tension with incredible set pieces and nerve wrecking narrative choices.
The Thing is a masterclass in horror. Even in the frames that no horror is psychically seen, it’s certainly felt. Using eerie tracking shots, a thunderous but simple soundtrack and some gloriously grotesque sequences that will forever fill your horror needs, it’s a perfect format that future filmmakers should follow.
I guess your reaction to David Fincher’s Se7en appearing on this list is down to your perception of the word horror, which I translate as an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust. The reason I say this is, is whilst Se7en is considered a benchmark for the crime/thriller department it’s often forgotten as a straight up horror, but I think this noir 90’s thriller is perhaps more horrifying than we give it credit for.
Set in an unidentified city that is so dull, wet and reeking of an impure population that you could believe it’s the birthplace for Batman. Detectives Somerset and Mills – played by Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt respectively – are on the tail of a serial killer whose setting his murders to the seven deadly sins. As you could expect from a movie which is centred around such a dark theme, Se7en is gruesome, shocking and certainly not for the faint-hearted.
After disappointing results mainly caused by studio interference for Alien 3, it seemed Fincher’s future career as a director was left in question. But then came Se7en, a film that truly demonstrated his strengths as a director. A well-structured plot, harrowing horrors that carry a weight of genuine realism and a script that heightens the efforts of some seriously strong acting power.
Where I believe Se7en separates itself from the rest of this list is that it isn’t a film that necessarily needs to be viewed around this time of year in order to get the most out of it. It’s a gloomy, miserable affair that can be enjoyed (well, experienced) all year round.
Whilst we’re on the subject of the Alien franchise now seems like the best time to bring up the movie that booted it all. The introduction to the xenomorph – one of cinemas greatest antagonists – from Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi/horror Alien. Now, it will forever be argued which is better from this one and what is considered to be one of the greatest sequels of all time, Aliens (1986) directed by James Cameron. For me the claustrophobic chaos that confines Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her team to a spaceship that is being stalked by an unidentified predator, makes for a more intimate and intimidating watch. Don’t get me wrong the run and gun, bigger is better approach that Cameron took does make for great viewing, but Scott’s take on the character does more for the horror genre.
Perhaps one of the biggest strengths of Alien is its pacing. Much like the xenomorph itself, it takes its time with everything. The antagonist isn’t introduced right away, and it isn’t until much later that it’s revealed in its full menacing form. Much of the film builds on its tension with haunting silence and clever camera techniques, that you’re not sure when and which character will perish to the stalking predator.
The crew are a likeable bunch that are given the right amount of character development to make you actually care whether they make it to the end or not, but it’s not overly expositional as to draw away from what’s really important. Ripley is the real hero and Sigourney’s performance wasn’t only one that kicked off her career but one that proved women can be seen as badasses too.
1979’s Alien is one that has stood the test of time. It’s never felt outdated or lost its cinematic value. Scott’s use of practical effects led to some truly breath-taking results that even today still receive high levels of audible amazement, and that is just one of the many reasons why Alien is the complete package when it comes to the genre.
My only modern selection on this list, Jordan Peele’s freshman flick was quite the surprise when it hit theatres in 2017. In many ways Get Out felt like something of a passion project for Peele. It was a film that put social and more importantly racial commentary at the forefront, in a Trump presidential society. What timing eh.
When Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is invited to meet the parents of his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), everything would appear to be relationship routine. But during his stay, growing wariness and bizarre circumstances leaves Chris questioning what animosities the Armitage household may be hiding.
Even from its trailer you kind of had a sense of where this film would be going and what themes it would be exploring. But when and how was always going to be where Get Out was going to get you. It establishes early what it wants to say and what level of horror it will be bringing to the table.
The last half hour is a nerve-jangling affair that makes you believe that no outcome is likely to be a good one. Get Out has kept its lasting impression on me that it even made my best films of the last decade list, so it’s easy slotting when it comes to mentioning my favourite horror flicks.
A film so complex and narratively nonsensical that there was even a documentary released decades later that explored its many themes, plot points and ambiguous ending and still failed to really answer what exactly this was trying to say. It seems only Kubrick knows what Stephen King’s The Shining meant to him and watching it time and time again only exasperates the experience of trying to piece the puzzle together.
Much of The Shining’s horror is suggestive. It’s not that there’s no visual horror present at all (that, there still is plenty of), but Kubrick’s take on the Overlook hotel is a puzzle within itself. A maze of intrigue that poses more questions than it’s prepared to answer. At face value it is a story of one man’s descent into madness, but to leave it at just that would be downplaying the multi-layered complexities interwoven within its story.
Jack Torrance – played intensely by Jack Nicholson – takes the job as temporary caretaker of the Overlook hotel during the winter months. But the sense of isolation and entrapment leaves him, his wife Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) succumbing to the strange goings on within the hotel. The hotel is housing the horrors of generations, and it has continued to scare and bemuse generations of audience members with its timeless cinematic craziness and deep reaching story and themes.
It’s such a departure from the book that even Stephen King himself resents its existence and the direction Kubrick took with his material. But time has remained on its side and fans of The Shining continue to sing its praises, and still to this day is a symbol of excellence for the horror genre.
That’s my list. What films would be on yours, which do you strongly believe I missed out? Feel free to comment below.