It’s Halloween folks and if you’re stuck for something to watch on the spookiest night of the year let us help you decide…
Some of the FTN crew were asked to pick their top five favourite horror movies because, knowing us lot, it would be a varied and fun list (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?!) and, with each one giving a breakdown of why each movie works for them, it should be easy for you to decide.
If you want a good scary you can always go for The Thing or Alien, but if you like your scares with a good laugh you could do worse than Tucker & Dale Vs Evil or Shaun of the Dead.
Whatever your tastes, we got it covered.
So from us all at FTN, Happy Halloween!
First up, our man Big Phil…
Gregory Peck was great as the Ambassador but for me it has to be Patrick Troughton’s performance as The Priest who is later impaled by his own demon of sorts.
A brilliant film that kinda makes you want to hear more about Captain Hoody .
The Serpent and the Rainbow
based on the memoirs of a journalist, this true story featured voodoo imagery that still makes my skin crawl.
Not strictly a Halloween film, but certainly one of the most chilling movies I have ever seen. Taken directly from the transcripts of the Wannsee Conference, human beings discussing the extermination of a culture based on their religious belief, and they even made jokes about it – truly horrifying, all the more so when it deals with the murder of 6 million people.
Dawn of the Dead – Directors Cut. (1978)
I first watched this one Sunday evening and it had a profound effect on me. Great comedic moments (zombies going up an escalator) with sheer horrific moments (children as human flesh eating zombies, or the policeman killing himself after witnessing the hotel human dumping ground). I even had the great fortune this year of listening to the original soundtrack performed live by The Goblins as the movie played in the background, and it wasn’t even Halloween!
Next up, Del tells us what makes his blood run cold…
To this day it still holds up in terms of the creepy atmosphere that the master Stanley Kubrick was able to create. Not only is it a great horror movie; it is a great movie, period. Also, it was one of the first uses of the Steadicam with the creator – Garret Brown – heavily involved in some amazing scenes including the sequences in which the camera tracks Danny with the special low-pole version of the Steadicam developed for the movie. Every scene can be paused and looks like a photograph due to the great framing, and let’s not forget the amazing performances from Jack Nicolson and Shelly Duvall.
Directed and scored by one the horror maestros themselves, John Carpenter, Halloween’s techniques and plot elements have become standard slasher movie tropes. Quite simply a creator for all slasher movies that have followed. Featuring great performances from Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence. Michael Myers is also one of the most terrifying antagonists to be put on film.
John Carpenter’s The Thing is a masterpiece in paranoia horror. Starring the great Kurt Russell, it is the isolated location and the sense of paranoia that sustains the scare factors. Oh, and also the fact that the primary antagonist is a parasitic extraterrestrial lifeform that assimilates other organisms and, in turn, is able to imitate them. A sublimely acted and directed film that absorbs the viewer into the groups’ isolated setting.
Directed by Ridley Scott and featuring a brilliant cast (Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerrit, Ian Holm and John Hurt (in perhaps one of the most memorable scene stealers of all time) and great set designs, this is another film that makes use of the isolated location and paranoia that the crew of a spaceship have to endure. Featuring designs by Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger, the extraterrestrial featured in the film – the Alien, otherwise known as the Xenomorph – is one of the most terrifying creatures created for film. One of the greatest aspects of Alien is Ridley Scott’s use of the creature – he leaves a lot for the imagination and the Xenomorph isn’t overexposed.
Evil Dead II
Sam Raimi’s parody sequel to his first feature film Evil Dead not only offers up scares, but also manages to invoke a lot of black humour into the mix. Featuring a fantastic performance from Bruce Campbell and some brilliant one-liners, Evil Dead II has accumulated a cult following and is widely considered one of the greatest horror films of all time. A must watch every Halloween.
Notable mentions that I toyed with and are also great:
A Nightmare on Elm Street, An American Werewolf in London and Demons.
Ciaran Flanagan loves his comics but it seems he has a taste for the scary movies too…
Night of The Living Dead.
Sometimes less is more. It didn’t take the pioneers of horror cinema very long to figure out that no matter what make up or special effect you used, it would never compare to the grubby recesses of the human imagination. Which was lucky for George Romero because he was working on a budget of four Dollars, 3 packets of Doritos and a sponsorship deal with a local butcher shop . What he did have though was an incredibly scary premise – the recent dead are rising and we don’t know why – and the ability to marshal his meagre resources in an effective fashion. The film itself is not that frightening (even by late 60s standards it seems to be quite tame), but after the credits roll the idea stays with you and once you start to take the zombie threat to its logical, methodical, shambling, unstopable conclusion then the real horror begins.
While more properly suited to being in a list of ‘greatest Sc- Fi movies’ or ‘ bestest things that ever existed’, Ridley Scott’s magnum opus (screw Blade Runner) has all the hallmarks of a classic slasher or haunted house movie: claustrophobic setting? Check. Mysterious antagonist? Check. Long periods of calm punctuated with short periods of pant wetting tension and about four seconds of a monster doing horrible things? Check. Alien also serves as a potent example that no matter how sophisticated CGI effects become, that practical special effect retain a timeless and authentic quality that can not be topped. Are you listening to me, Prometheus?
No less of an authority than Mrs Kermode’s baby boy has declared that The Exorcist is “The greatest movie ever made” and while I wouldn’t go quite that far, it certainly has its ducks in a row as far as genuine scares are concerned. The furore behind this movie was probably of more interest than the film itself, with national newspapers declaring it evil (and, in fact, Evangelist preacher Rev Billy Graham said that the very celluloid it was printed on was possessed by the Devil) To any rational mind however it is the very opposite : an affirmation of God’s presence in the world and a reassurance that good will triumph over evil. Just be prepared for a couple of uncomfortable hours before you get there (and avoid soup before watching).
The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project is best remembered for innovating two ideas that, while borderline infuriating today, were at the time of the film’s release, truly innovative: the viral marketing campaign and the ‘found-footage ‘ style mockumentary. The story of three film-makers that get lost in the woods, Blair Witch also uses the ‘less is more’ mentality to its most extreme. There is nothing in this movie in terms of special effects, just some scary noises in the distance and some little stick men hanging in a tree. And yet it’s so well done I can almost find it in myself to forgive that it inspired all those terrible Paranormal Activity movies. Almost.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Because the Child Catcher. That’s why.
He fancies himself as a radio star, but don’t tell him he actually does know his stuff… Andrew McCarroll
Most movies on this list will be ones you are familiar with. Timeless classics we have seen again and again. I was going to write exclusively about my love of the Halloween and Child’s Play movies. I then decided to do something a bit different. Having previously written about the lack of decent mainstream horror movies, I decided to try and answer that most difficult of movie questions “recommend a good horror movie that I have not seen”… so, without further ado
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
There are two types of reactions when people see the title above. Those who have seen it and can’t believe that it is not more popular and those who have never heard sight nor sound of this hidden gem. The movie is a mocumentary, where a bunch of grad school students are given permission by the titular character as he goes about his job. His job just happens to be a serial killer who wants to be remembered in the same vein as his heroes Micheal Myers and Freddy Kruger – in the movie reality here the Elm St and Haddonfield killings were real events. He takes the crew through his punishing cardio regime because, as he puts it, “I have to make it look like I am walking, meanwhile everyone else is running their asses off” and his process of selection his survivor girl. The film is littered with clever references that will delight any horror fans, right down to the casting of Robert Englund as a man in pursuit of the killer. The film is scary, whip smart and hilariously funny and deserves to be discovered by a much wider audience.
Having adapted some of Stephen King’s more dramatic books for the screen – Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile – Frank Darabont takes on what the Maine man is best known for and takes the plunge into horror and delivers one of the best adaptations of King’s work. Despite being made on a meagre $15 million budget, the movie is a masterclass in both supernatural and psychological horror. With the mass hysteria created by the terrifying Marcia Gay Harden every bit as frightening as the unseen forces lurking within the mist. The film also delivers one of the most gut punching endings in cinema history which is despite being often reported as the book’s ending, was actually Darabont’s idea [The book ends completely open-endedly as our heroes travel on into the mist with no idea what lies ahead – Ed’s note]. Having been offered double his budget to change his ending, Darabont stood firm and the audience is rewarded with something that will stay with them far longer than they may wish it to. It is rare to find a mainstream horror movie of real conviction and for that alone the movie should get your attention.
Trick R Treat
Directed by long time Bryan Singer collaborator Michael Dougherty, Trick R Treat is an anthology film that centres on four Halloween-related horror stories. Singer who, along with producing the film, also assisted by convincing his X-Men 2 stars Brian Cox and Anna Paquin to appear as they were shooting simultaneously. The film embraces the Halloween setting that few do and the love of the season pours from the screen. It feels like a greatest hits of horror with familiar stories slyly taken in different directions. It excites and entertains in equal measure rather than rely on shock and gore tactics that so many horror movies fall back on. Which is not to say it skips on scares and also has one of the best werewolf transformation scenes you are likely to see. Any fans of Tales From the Crypt or Creepshow will be immediately enamoured with seeing a horror anthology done right.
Remade (poorly) as Quarantine, the Spanish original is a masterpiece of suspense. Taking what even in 2007 was a tired formula of found footage and somehow manages to make it appear fresh and frightening again. The plot follows a TV reporter and her camera man following a local fire crew around for a documentary. After being attacked shortly after entering an apartment building, the military seal off the building with everyone inside. Each apartment they enter with its own unique décor and threat adds a nice haunted house feel to precedings that builds brilliantly to a terrifying final 15 minutes that left my fingers bleeding having chewed through my fingernails as the tension racked up.
Tucker and Dale Vs Evil
A witty twist on the horror-slasher genre has sweet, innocent mountain men rescue a college girl from drowning. But though a farce of misunderstanding, the rest of the girl’s group assume the titular characters are murderous hillbillies and have their friend trapped in a Deliverance meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre scenario and launch a rescue mission. Watching Dale (Tyler Labine) and Tucker (Alan Tudyk) desperately trying to make sense of the all-out assault they find themselves in the middle of is a nice reversal of the usual horror staple. All the while the duo avoid any harm with almost Mr Magoo-like timing, stepping out of danger’s path at just the right time as the wave of attacks come. Much like Bubba Ho-Tep, the film sticks to the traditional horror conventions as opposed to burying them beneath a mountain of irony. The escalating lunacy is brilliantly done and the film is peppered with quotable one liners. It’s a nice alternative horror for people who don’t like their horror movies to be scary. Ya know wimps.
One of those writers who knows what an apostrophe is and where to use it… Mr Dave bowling
Evil Dead II
Awesome beyond belief, the follow-up to the original 80s Video Nasty sees Ash’s descent into madness completed. The MIGHTY Bruce Campbell is forced to hack up his zombified girlfriend with a chainsaw; is possessed by a demonic entity that’s fortunately allergic to sunlight; fights off everything in the cabin; fights his own possessed right hand in a slapstick sequence that makes Buster Keaton look like an amateur; before fighting off Sam Raimi’s brother, playing a demonic elderly fat woman, armed with a sawn-off shotgun and a chainsaw in place of his possessed right hand.
Sam Raimi cuts loose on a truly epic scale of low-budget comedy horror. Not so much terrifying as wince-inducing, the gore is poured on in ludicrous amounts: Campbell removes his own hand with a chainsaw, a young woman swallows a flying eyeball and gets ripped apart by possessed trees. What’s not to love?
Shaun of the Dead
The first part in the Blood & Ice Cream trilogy, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright deliver both laughs and chills in spades as electrical store worker, wannabe DJ and late twentysomething Shaun finally resolves to get his shit together and win back his girlfriend. Unfortunately, this little epiphany happens to coincide with the rise of the living dead in London and the Home Counties. Hey, what better place for the zombie apocalypse to take place?
Shaun is like a love-letter to fans of Spaced, with cameos from many of the cast and frequent references in dialogue. The horror elements really only take hold in the last act, with Penelope Wilton turning into a zombie, Dylan Moran being dismembered and the three survivors being trapped underneath a burning pub. In that stereotypically English fashion the characters attempt to maintain a veneer of normalcy despite the events unfurling around them. This is the Blitz mentality with added zombies. Although we don’t use the z-word. Because it sounds ridiculous.
Now how’s that for a slice of fried gold?
Stanley Kubrick famously tried to make a definitive film in one of many genres. His take on horror was one of the few truly great Stephen King adaptations.
Any Kubrick film is always a thing of greatness and this one is no exception. Jack Nicholson’s amazing performance foreshadows his Joker by ten years, a truly dangerous psychopath wielding an axe with gay abandon. The film’s most famous scene, of Torrance battering his way through a bathroom door and screaming “Here’s Johnny!” is one of the few moments of improvisation in a Kubrick film that made it into the final cut. The director’s focus on the minutiae of filmmaking is an awesome thing, with every scene a thing of beauty. Brilliance, just brilliance.
For once, it really doesn’t matter which version of this film you watch. Both the original and English-language remake are great.
The concept of a haunted VHS cassette was refreshingly different when it first appeared and while now it has been imitated, The Ring is still the best of the lot. Filled with suspense, shocks and a truly brilliant twist ending, what more is there to say? Apart from, if you haven’t done so already, watch it.
Easily my favourite horror movie of all time. A masterpiece of suspense, filmmaking and art, the greatest haunted house movie ever made really needs no introduction. But here it is anyway, for the one numpty who’s been living on Rockall for the last 35 years: the merchant starship Nostromo investigates an unknown signal on an uncharted planet, but the ship’s first officer brings back more than he bargained for…
I love this film. From the opening titles to the awesome alien landscape, from the chestburster scene to Dallas being hunted through the air shafts, everything in this movie screams suspense. Scott keeps the creature hidden in shadows, both hiding the problems with putting a 7-foot-6 beanpole of a man in a suit and increasing the tension immeasurably. You never know what shadow the Xenomorph might be hiding in. This is still the only horror movie that chills me.