It’s that time of year again…midterms are underway, the weather is killing us all, and Christmas music is playing everywhere even though it’s two months away. OH YEAH and it’s Halloween! This is probably my favourite holiday because I get to eat significantly more candy than doctor’s recommend AND watch some bloody terrifying horror movies. There’s really nothing better to distract yourself from the stresses of those one or eight papers you have to write than to scare yourself silly with the lights out, some fuzzy peaches, and possibly a cuddle buddy (or two…or three…).
But with so many of the classics being watched over and over again every year (usually with good reason, I’ll admit) it’s hard to find that new, exciting, special movie that really gets under your skin (as the tagline of one of the following films promises to do). To save you guys some trouble, I’ve selected ten horror films—outside of the 80s slashers, 90s self-referential pastiche, and 2000s CGI remakes—that you may have missed, but definitely need to see. If you have more suggestions, leave them in the comments! Just don’t speak the name Michael Bay…
Don’t Look Now (1973)
This film is not quite a horror, but is so unnerving that I had to add it to the list. Nicholas Roeg does a beautiful job telling the story of a grieving couple (brilliantly portrayed by the talented Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) as they move to Venice, and meet a psychic who gives them a warning from the beyond. Visually, the film is stunning; it truly gives you the feeling like you’re with the Baxter’s in Venice. Such is the case with the brilliant soundtrack; the echoes in the canals are absolutely haunting, and add to the terrifying thrill of the chase scene in the films climax. Don’t put this movie on after your tenth Halloween drink though; paying close attention to the film is essential, as pretty much every single shot is a fountain of meaning. Film students or really anyone who appreciates carefully crafted cinema will really enjoy this, and in fact I discovered it in a film course last year (shout out to Professor Cahill for this brilliant addition to the curriculum). This is visual storytelling at its finest, and leaves you haunted for days after viewing.
Pause, Rewind: The whole thing. Seriously. The more you watch this film, the more you realize how thoughtfully put together it is, the more you spot little things that you hadn’t noticed before. Definitely worth reviewing.
The Descent (2005)
I always love a movie centered on a group of women, but especially so when the characters are complex, interesting, and engaged in a fight for their lives. This film follows Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) as she and five of her friends go on vacation together, one year after her tragic accident. They go on a caving expedition, but while underground become trapped, and are running low on supplies. Soon they realize that’s the least of their worries, as they find something down there wants them dead…is it creatures? Is it each other? Is it both? Well, you’ll have to watch to find out, and you’ll have a good time doing so. The death scenes are gruesome, but they’re not the only thing good about this movie. The claustrophobic atmosphere in the caves is what really gets you, and keeps you on the edge of your seat as you scream at the girls “CRAWL FASTER!” Some of the acting is weak, but given that many modern horror films have this issue (in my opinion), it’s great by comparison. Be warned, if you’ve ever been stuck in a locker like I have, you may have some flashbacks. But it’ll be fun, I promise.
Pause, Rewind: The last five minutes, with the dramatic, yet silent confrontation, followed by the uphill climb up a mountain of…you’ll see.
If you’re going to skip just one movie on this list, perhaps this is the one to pick, because it’s pretty much the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched a lot of David Lynch and John Waters. However, if you’re into something COMPLETELY different, give it a try, because I certainly loved it. The film follows a young girl (Kimiko Ikegami) who doesn’t like her dads new girlfriend, and so decides to stay with her auntie for the summer, bringing a few of her colourful friends along. When they get there, bizarre things start happening in the house, and her auntie turns out to have a dark (and ludicrous) secret. As for the visuals, you could call them “bad” but I prefer the term “crafty and dreamlike”, because indeed the entire film feels like a scrapbook of a dream sequence. If you’re into something strange this Halloween, this film is right up your alley.
Pause, Rewind: The piano scene. That is all.
Yep, this is the one that will “get under your skin”, and the tagline doesn’t lie. It’s a pretty fun, simple horror film, not so scary as to keep you up and make you turn your night light on, but definitely enough to make your skin crawl. I really like the concept of the...bad thing…it’s hard to say what it is exactly but it’s pretty gnarly, and almost like a pointy version of the creature from The Thing crossed with a zombie. Anyway it’s very cool and if you have an inexplicable crush on Paulo Costanzo like I do, then you will definitely enjoy this.
Pause, Rewind: Lacey’s run in with the gas station attendant, and the mayhem that follows.
If you’ve seen The Woman by Lucky McKee and were into it, you’ve got to check out this flick. If you have an inexplicable crush on Angela Bettis like I do, then you’ve got to check out this flick. If you want to see Anna Faris in a horror movie, please, check out this flick. The movie follows May (Angela Bettis), a lonely, traumatized, and unusual girl as she tries to forge connections with others in spite of her oddities. She may be creepy, deranged, and guilty of some pretty appalling animal cruelty, but she’s also fascinating, brilliantly acted, and sometimes kind of funny. It’s the story of a truly disturbed girl in search of a real friend, which makes the horror in this film that much more uncomfortable to watch. Without giving too much away, it has a happy ending…but not for everyone. Watch this and take joy in the fact that you probably don’t have to go to the same lengths as May to make a friend.
Pause Rewind: The scene where May brings her best friend to meet the blind children she volunteers with. Though she has already probably creeped you out to the next level at this point, and clearly shouldn’t be caring for any children, you can’t help but feel for her in this scene. Really makes you question your own sanity…
Session 9 (2001)
This film is criminally underrated, and one of the best asylum horror's I've ever seen. The set is terrifying as is, but is made even more so with an audio track that will echo in your nightmares. The plot centres around an asbestos cleaning crew hired to clear out an old, abandoned asylum within a very short deadline. While we watch tensions arise between members of the crew, one of them finds a set of recorded interview sessions with a former patient with multiple personality disorder. Instead of doing his job, he decides to listen to them, one by one, while the rest of the story carries on. Finally, he gets to Session 9, where a new personality emerges. Meanwhile, this same personality emerges in one of the crew members, and things take a gruesome turn. The recorded sessions are chilling, and the sounds of voices from nowhere, the creaks and echoes in the empty asylum, make for a chilling experience. Also, who doesn't want to see David Caruso in a role where you can actually take him seriously?
Pause, Rewind: The nail-biter of a climax (literally, I bite my nails, and I bit them just now while watching this scene to review for this list), where the truth behind the mysterious goings on in the asylum are revealed, all while the Session 9 tape plays in the background. CHILLING. Your heart will be racing up to the final line. Which is also scary. Yeah. Scary movie guys.
I am truly shocked at how virtually unknown this film is to Western audiences; it’s a knockout piece of cinema. It’s beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and the storyline is just fantastic. In the film, a young woman (Jitsuko Yoshimura) and her mother in law (Noboku Otowa) are living in the swamps of 14th century war-stricken Japan, waiting for husband/son to return from combat. They are in extremely dire straits, committing some pretty heinous acts in order to provide for themselves. When a soldier from war returns to tell them their loved one is dead, they try to move on, and have to deal with this man prying into their lives. However, he ends up getting in between them, and jealousy drives the mother to taking brutal action. The consequences, for her, are pretty terrifying. Fans of classic Asian horror cinema will love this film.
Pause, Rewind: The last 10 minutes or so. It looks absolutely gorgeous, terrifying, and the confrontation between mother and daughter-in-law is gruelling, all the more so because of the unfortunate—but deserved—circumstances.
If you’re a good friend of mine, you’ve probably heard me go on and on about how much I love this movie, and frankly, I do so with good reason. It’s just the whole package; Canadian, low budget, and screwing with the line between science fiction and horror. The film centers on a group of strangers who wake up in a bizarre place, a cube with many cubic rooms connected by doors. The rooms are empty, and the strangers have no idea how they got there. Oh, and some of the rooms have traps. The performances are a little over the top, but this actually makes it even more fun to experience, after all, how hysterical would you be stuck in a room with a bunch of people you’ve never met before? Top that with the fact that you have to avoid acid sprays, high speed metal wires that can slice through you like gouda, and the wrath of your fellow inmates, and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty tense situation—and a great horror movie. The characters are fantastic, and watching them navigate the brilliant set (all filmed using only one room!) is terrifyingly delightful. If you liked Saw you’ll probably love this, especially since it’s clearly an inspiration. Oh, and did I mention it’s Canadian?
Pause, Rewind: The scene in the quiet room. I have never witnessed such a tense scene in my entire life; it’s absolutely brilliant.
This comedy-horror film has enjoyed some cult popularity in recent years, but in case you haven’t jumped on that bandwagon yet, I suggest you do. If the fact that it’s directed by Peter Jackson pre-Lord of the Rings fame doesn’t convince you, perhaps the fact that it’s considered by many to be the goriest film of all time. The film focuses on Lionel (Timothy Balme), a sweet chap who’s a bit of a mama’s boy, trying to get his mum (Elizabeth Moody…moody indeed) away long enough so he can pursue the adorable Paquita (Diana Peñalver). When he finally gets a date with Paquita, they spend it at the zoo, with mum closely watching. A “sumatran monkey rat” bites her, and this is where the fun starts. His mum gets a bit aggressive after this, consuming everything and everyone in her presence. Some truly disgusting moments feature in this film, but it’s also absolutely hilarious, cheesy in the best way possible, and lots of gory fun. Fan’s of the Evil Dead franchise should check this one out, but really all of you should, because it’s comic/horrific gold.
Pause Rewind: There are SO many fantastic scenes, and to be honest I’ll be shocked if you don’t immediately watch it again after seeing it for the first time, but I will go ahead and narrow it down to three: 1) the scene where Lionel goes for a walk in the park with his new adopted son. 2) The graveyard fight scene between the dead-alive and the priest who makes them dead again. And of course, 3) the scene where the party at Lionel’s house gets crashed by some uninvited guests, up to and including their encounter with a lawnmower. This is definitely where the film get’s it’s bloody reputation from. Enjoy.
Peeping Tom (1960)
This list was in no particular order, but I purposely left this one for last, as a little nod to all you cinema lovers; the male gaze has never been quite this explicit. I'm always surprised as how disturbing films from the 1960s can be, but here you have it; a film following Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) who has a job at a film studio but vastly prefers his sadistic side project--a documentary on fear, with very real subjects. The film does a great job playing with it's key subjects; sight, film, and fear. Though murderous and sexually disturbed, Carl Boehm does an excellent job getting sympathy from the audience, leading to a rather complex killer we don't often see in horror films. My interest in this movie, I think, stems from a similar place to my interest in May. They are both films that take as their protagonist a strongly disturbed killer, whom the director's try to attain sympathy for. This tactic makes both of the films deliciously fascinating to watch, and make you really think about just how you can allow yourself to sympathize with such demented psychopaths, even it that's the filmmakers intention. I wouldn't worry about it too much, until you start filming your friends as they contort their faces in fear of their lives…yeah then i'd be worried. Don't do that.
Pause, Rewind: Scene's between Mark and his downstair's neighbours mother, Mrs. Stephens, are especially interesting. The blind being able to "see" beyond their capabilities is an overused trope, but it is used quite effectively here.
Whew, that was much longer than I anticipated, but I hope you found something new to watch this Halloween! Time for me to get some school work done. Or watch some horror movies. Yeah, probably that.