10 Ultimate Halloween Movies
Fancy a scream, some gore or bloodbaths? We've got you covered.
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In this article, I shall endeavour to provide a well encompassed collective of films to get you psyched for the spookiest night of the year. Indeed, the final day of autumn may not be as popular as a certain December holiday, certainly in terms of material gain. But it is one of the key points on the calendar, as the countdown to cold begins. Thus, I think it is necessary to mark such an event and change in the best possible manner; by viewing a selection of classic horrors and timely flicks. Whilst this list will be predominantly made up of horror movies, I have thrown in the odd surprise for those who may not be as fond of the cinematic staple.
Those of you who have read my previous articles will have picked up on the fact that I like to include a film, which may have fallen by the wayside in terms of modern mainstream popularity. Albeit, I don’t make a conscious effort to nip into my hipster bag of tricks, this one certainly would be there if said container existed. An absolute classic from the German Expressionist era, and probably painfully familiar to Film Studies students, both past and present (myself included)! Whilst it is a silent movie, this vampire piece is excellently paced with stunning visuals and is genuinely creepy. Present day cinema owes a great deal to early filmmakers like F.W Murnau and Fritz Lang, for whom without, the emo endearing style of Tim Burton may never have been born.
The Beetlejuice (1988) director pays homage to the famous era in the equally dark Batman Returns (1992), naming one of the main villains, Max Shreck played by Christopher Walken, after the actor who portrayed Count Orlok in 1922. It is crazy now, looking back at how much a seemingly primitive style of visual art had such a major effect on how we see cinema today. Had it been without Conrad Veidt playing Gwynplaine in The Man Who Laughs (1928), Bob Kane would have never been inspired to create the Joker or we may never have even gotten Tim Burton. If you enjoy watching this silent hit, or if you need a little extra insight for studying, I recommend checking out semi-fictitious metafilm Shadow of the Vampire (2000), chronicling some of the events surrounding the filming of Nosferatu, starring John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe and Cary Elwes.
As the saying goes, ‘Like a fine wine, things only get better with age’. I would gladly lobby for that adage to be altered to “like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, it got better with age”. The Englishman is, without doubt, my favourite director of all time. The master of suspense carefully crafted his stories wonderfully, justifiably attaining the complimentary nickname. This movie is definitely the best of the bunch. One of his few out and out horror films, this picture does everything right. From playing with audience expectation to flawlessly creepy tension building, this classic is both thrilling and occasionally frightening. Like W.B Yeats professed, not all things from the past can be bettered; this case was certainly proven in 1998 with Gus Van Sant’s shot for shot colour remake. Also, it is worth consulting the second instalment, despite not being directed by Hitchcock, Psycho 2 (1983) is a reasonably solid sequel, especially when one considers the quality of its predecessor.
Certainly, not included due to its name, this film is probably the ultimate October 31st choice. I have watched this on the previous three Halloween nights and this year probably won’t be any different. Unlike, the latter entry, admittedly this picture hasn’t quite stood the test of time, at least not to the same degree. Its visuals are quite dated and I can understand how some people may not be able to take it so seriously. But, if you can get past the bellbottoms and trendy hairdos, you will see that there are few who argue that this is John Carpenter’s greatest work. It is overflowing with atmospheric tension and an irresistible charm, which is wonderfully engaging. Plus, there is a reason its timeless score is so iconic, it is the purest sound of Autumn and fear combined.
The Shining (1980)
Whether you refer to it as psychological thriller or horror, auteur Stanley Kubrick’s flirtation with the horrific is a masterpiece. From the opening, with the aerial shots emphasising the isolation of the Overlook Hotel to the closing credits, the audience is met with sophistication, which one doesn’t often expect nor receive with this kind of movie. Jack Nicholson doesn’t even have to open his mouth to be creepy, one simple elevation of his eyebrows and we’re hooked. Some may complain that the film is so slow to really get moving, but in my opinion it is necessary to truly build the foundational tension for this slow burner. Also, the legendary “here’s Johnny” line was totally improvised, further cemented the worth of Jack Nicholson to any film. Like Hitchcock, I would truly implore all readers to check out the filmography of Kubrick, especially The Killing (1956), A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Full Metal Jacket (1987).
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Truly my favourite horror movie ever, for so many reasons, I can’t nor won’t include them all. There are very few films of any genre, where every aspect and detail is thoroughly thought out. For instance, I love how blockbuster powerhouse James Cameron conjured the idea of the terminator cyborg in a feverish nightmare whilst isolated in a hotel abroad. Wes Craven’s envisioning of dream monster Freddy is no different. For starters, he was bullied in school by a peer called Fred Krueger. The famous green and red sweater adorned by said bogeyman, was fashioned based on a concept the filmmaker had discovered in regards the human retina’s inability to differentiate between the two colours when placed side by side. The setting for the suburban terrorising was to take place on Elm Street; the name of the street where Craven used to teach and also the street name on which JFK was assassinated. Finally, the core hypothesis behind Kruger’s reign of evil, came to Craven via a series of uncorrelated articles presented by American media in regards Asian adolescents who were afraid to sleep for fear of inevitable death combined with a childhood memory of a stranger staring into his bedroom window during the night. Alas, it is clear that I find this film and its many quirks highly fascinating. Audiences need films such as this to restore faith in horror; not remakes or reimaginings but rather original ideas executed well, not lousy cheap scares like Annabelle (2014).
I dare you to say his name five times! Despite the fact that it isn’t real, is just a movie and a mere hackneyed urban legend, I still have my apprehensions. This movie is a great deal more sophisticated than the general critical consensus would have one believe. Probably somewhat overshadowed by writer Clive Barker’s earlier cult favourite Hellraiser (1987), I definitely feel this feature offers up a great deal more depth than Pinhead and company. First off, the casting of Tony Todd as the title character is perfect, his demeanour, stature and distinctive deep voice are all mesmerising. Yet, a key part of my fondness for this film is an aspect, which probably isn’t, mentioned enough. The racial themes and overtones, add a dimension of substance, which lifts the film from the category of ‘forgettable’ to classic status. The ending, I feel let’s it slightly down, but I think that overall it is but a mere stitch on the tapestry of an overall highly commendable watch.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
The first of the non-horrors to show up on this list, but dissimilar to the majority of children orientated films of the day, this movie can have equal appeal to adults. It is unique in its simplicity, bringing together a host of likeable antagonists and protagonists all combined with wit and fun. Its level of humour is perfectly measured, never allowing it to overturn the essential dark elements of a Halloween flick. The three witches played by respective stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy are incredible. Their malevolence is endearing yet not overburdening to the point that we forget that they are essentially the villains. Hocus Pocus is a cinematic embodiment of Halloween for kids both young and old. You will laugh, sing and may even be frightened but one thing is for sure, you shall be entertained - I put a spell on you!
Growing up, whilst out trick or treating in our vast housing estate, my friends and I would debate which holiday was better, Halloween or Christmas. I think this film embodies such an argument, thus making it ideal viewing for both holiday occasions. An emo favourite, what has always fascinated me is its ability to retain a level of simplicity while portraying a depth, which is also enticing to adult audiences. The eclectic cast of characters is nothing short of wonderful, truly epitomising imagination. Whilst Tim Burton was not in the directorial hot seat for this dark outing, his stamp is all over it. 1993 marked a significant year for children’s horror cinema, with the cartoon network movie The Halloween Tree, also gaining critical acclaim thanks to its admirable universal appeal. Every time I think of this Burton project, I can’t help but make comparison with Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges (2008). A startling comparison indeed, but how McDonagh created his two lead characters based on his own conflicting opinions of the Medieval Belgian city and those previously mentioned childhood debates in regards Christmas and Halloween is a contrast which shall always captivate. I think it’s most refreshing when films uses maximise imagination and creativity in a bid to make something truly original. Also, I shall always be enthralled by legitimate comparisons made between films, which may appear to be totally unrelated at first, but upon further analysis contain similarities, which are covertly present.
The tonal inconsistencies of this film actually work in its favour. Usually, if said balance is imperfect, it can have a devastating impact on the overall product. Such was my feeling towards recent thriller Gone Girl (2014). However, in a rare turn of events, Scream’s mix of traditional slasher horror with black comedy and satire, reinvigorated the horror genre in its weakest period ever. Following a string of critical stinkers, director Wes Craven was also in need of a lift. Also, throughout the Scream series, one can really notice how Craven uses its scripts to highlight the clichés in the genre and his frustration with the seemingly unwavering trend. I love how Craven blended elements from past films such as When a Stranger Calls (1979) and Friday the 13th, with altering trends from the then, present day.
If it’s Halloween, it must be Saw. I am truly fed up with people who have begun doubting the credibility of the James Wan original, due to the ridiculous number of inferior sequels that the financially successful franchise spawned. Often, relegated to mere ‘torture porn’, this film was a trendsetter, which brought scary movies into the 21st century. Made on a shoestring budget, it still managed to attract legitimate stars Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon, 1987) and Cary Elwes (Kiss the Girls, 1997). Of course, with each annual sequel the budgets went up and quality in the opposite direction, but I don’t think that fact should be allowed overshadow what set the ball in motion. A really innovative concept teamed with mystery and suspense made for an original hit which will be sure to stand the test of time. Admittedly, not for the faint hearted, but this movie is definitely worth it. Game over!