There is a tradition of watching the classics around Halloween.
There isn’t anything wrong with that, but there are other films that deserve some love. So to celebrate Halloween, here is my list of eleven horror films to watch:
Cold Prey (2006)
I will be the first to say that Roar Uthaug’s Norwegian slasher film about a skiing trip gone wrong is not the most original film I have seen. It does follow the usual tropes of a slasher film (it reminded me a lot of I Know What You Did Last Summer and the countless Friday the 13th films). With that being said, Uthaug’s film does make up for its familiar premise in its visual style. The cinematography does present an effective eeriness that is mostly absent in other modern slasher films, and this does work to the film’s advantage, such as in the suspenseful and scary scenes. In fact, even though the film may feature some well known cliches (mainly a few jump scares), Uthaug does actually make them work. I think the key to these scenes working is that Uthaug makes good use of the film’s setting (a small hotel in the middle of snowy mountains) in terms of presenting great claustrophobia and isolationism (I have a strong feeling that Uthaug film was heavily inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining). Having these elements does make the film have a few good genuinely scary moments. While the characters in the film may not be the most interesting, the actors themselves are actually pretty great by slasher movie standards. They do have believable chemistry and you feel their dynamic in their friendship. So when someone gets attacked by the killer you really feel the others’ emotion, fear, and helplessness in the scenes that call for it. Plus, all the actors manage to get the fear of the situation off pretty well. Definitely not the best horror film I have seen, but one of the better slasher films in recent years.
The Curse (2005)
The found footage genre can be quite hit and miss, but director Koji Shirashi does manage to utilize it to a great advantage. The film is a bit complicated that requires great attention in its first half as Shirashi cuts between the camera of the main character Kobayashi and footage from variety TV shows. While it might be easy to get a bit lost with the intercutting between the two mediums, it only occurs early in the film. But its purpose is appropriate since this is the film’s attempt to show just how much we may exploit what we may deem as unnatural, odd, or weird. The whole “found-footage” structure actually does make sense this time around. Most “found footage” films deal with people who still to continue filming for now real purpose then to perhaps extend the running time. Since the main character is supposed to a documentary filmmaker the reason why he would be filming almost everything does make sense and the film makes it feel like every thing he films is important and almost of it is engrossing as there is a pretty good mystery surrounding the film. What is even more impressive is that the film does not go for straight up scares and instead relies mostly on its atmosphere and setting. The film creates an enormous amount eery dreadfulness that never lets up as the film goes along. The only real time the film goes for scares in the traditional sense is a scene that takes place in the woods. It feels like it come out of the Blair Witch Project, but this sequence is just as suspenseful and scary and does lead to one of the most frightening images in the film. There are a lot of quiet moments in the film, but each moment is filled with such great unsettling tension than most other horror films that it warrants a watch
Dog Soldiers (2002)
Before director Neil Marshall made one of the best horror films of the 21st Century with The Descent, he directed an efficiently made werewolf film. This is a werewolf film that is bloody and violent, and suspenseful. Taking place in the Scottish Highlands, it tells of soldiers that are attacked by werewolves and board themselves up in a house until sunrise. Much like The Descent, Marshall utilizes his setting to great effect. The seclusion and dark forests in the Highlands create a good atmosphere of dread. Plus, the scenes taking place in the house, which borrows a lot of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, is filled with a lot suspense as the characters try to hide as much as possible. There are even scenes where they make holes in the wall to just run and escape. The werewolves are used well, in that they, just like the alien in Alien and the shark in Jaws, are gradually presented throughout the film. Plus, these beasts rip some of the characters to shreds and are intimidatingly scary as a result. Though you can easily see some of the twists in the film coming, you could also make the argument that the characters are aware of the twists given some of their body language. If you want a good modern werewolf film, this one is for you.
The Killing Gene (2007)
At first glance, The Killing Gene may not seem all that original as it takes elements from Silence of The Lambs, Seven, Saw, and it even reminded me a bit of Zodiac (which is weird considering that film came out the same year). Plus the characters may seem too familiar. Tell me if you’ve heard this before: the idealistic rookie is partnered with a hard veteran. Plus, the film does take its time and is a little slow paced. All of these things would doom a film and yet the reason why I am putting it on the list is because of its style. I loved the way this film looks. The film takes place almost entirely at night in authentically decrepit building. This and the way the tremendous lighting reflects off of these buildings and the characters gives the film hauntingly underworld feeling. There is a deep sense of bleakness that carries throughout the film and it does make the film rather horrific in its tone. The final act itself is also pretty gruesome and it is hard to watch at times. The scene looks and feels as though it came out of a Saw movie, but it does present something that is quite emotionally effective and does leave a lasting impression even after the film is over. It may not be the most original film nor the best detective film, but it is a film that is appropriate for Halloween.
Lord Of Tears (2013)
I will say right now that this is one of the best horror films of the decade so far and it is a shame that no one has scene it. It a horror that mostly relies on atmosphere and images to really create scares and it succeeds to great effect. The film mostly takes place in a secluded mansion where the sun never really shines. The setting of it already creates a chilling atmosphere that feels as though it came straight out of a nightmare. The costume for the Owl Man may seem a bit silly at first, but the way it is used it effective. The way he just watches the main character through the trees does get under my skin. There are a lot of images in this film that do that and it is impressive how the film manages to portray its scares without doing a whole lot. This is also due in part to the performance of Euan Douglas, who manages to get across fear and sadness so well when the scene calls for it. The film is a bit slow moving, but that is the point. The pace allows the atmosphere and images to really linger in memory and it does produce some good scares.
Mr. Brooks (2007)
The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is perhaps the most frequently adapted stories in the history of the cinema. Whether it be straight up adaptions, modern reimaginings, or loosely inspired (as well as being featured in variety of genres such as horror, comedy, and action), the story of Jekyll and Hyde is one that has intrigued and entertained audiences for years. Though it is not a direct adaption, Bruce A. Evans’ Mr. Brooks is one of the few films that gets the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde absolutely right. Most of the films that I have seen deal directly with the dual personality, in that the evil Mr. Hyde is created by taking a potion or a drug, as if it was science experiment gone wrong. These kinds of film do not really focus on what Stevenson’s story was originally saying cause there is a lot more depth to it. The main idea that Stevenson is suggesting is we may all have some sort of evil (our own Mr. Hyde) in our personality that we may try to repress. It is a constant fight between good and evil with ourselves, which also suggests that good and evil may not be as objectively simple. The can perhaps co-exist within all of us. The character of Mr. Hyde is basically a visual metaphor for what Dr. Jekyll is really feeling on the inside and it is the potion that allows Jekyll to free his inner desires. Yet, the good Dr. Jekyll and the evil Mr. Hyde come from the same body, which shows that Jekyll and Hyde aren’t two separate people. The story shows that good and evil can be within all of us.
Mr. Brooks is the only one that gets that role of duality right, in that they exist in the same person and we see that to great effect here. Kevin Costner is brilliantly cast as a successful business man, Earl Brooks, because Costner usually does play the everyman type and he does manage to make the title character likable in the scenes that call for it. However, he is a serial killer who is madly addicted to killing and Costner also manages to be unnervingly calculating and somewhat ruthlessly terrifying when he kills. His inner evil and sinister thoughts (his Mr. Hyde) are visually and metaphorically represented by Marshall (William Hurt). His thoughts of evil (Marshall) try to overpower Earl into giving in to his evil ways to kill, while Earl desires to stop and be good. This sort of internal conflict and how good and evil can coexist is what I feel is missing from most Jekyll and Hyde adaptations. We see that Earl and Marshall (Jekyll and Hyde) are one in the same and the film does devote some time in which we see Earl try to fight his demons (such as having inner verbal thoughts and going to AA meetings for his “addiction”). No, there is no potion that changes his physical look, but the closets the film comes to that is in the clothes that Mr. Brooks wears. Costner’s performance is one of the best in his career as he does a great balancing act between the good and evil personalities, and brings a lot that depth from Stevenson’s story to the screen.
What is also impressive is that Mr. Brooks does not diverge into a action movie territory in its third act. There is cat and mouse chase throughout the movie as a Detective (Demi Moore) tries to hunt down the serial killer (Earl), and it would be tempting to have some sort of action scene that culminates between the two. However, the film keeps the main conflict, the inner good and evil, as its main focus. The film is actually a rather quiet film that is mostly character driven that focuses on personality, emotion, and relationships. There are hardly any action scenes at all. The film uses its performances and ideas to really drive home its thrills. Costner, as mentioned earlier, is pretty compelling, Moore makes is memorable, and Hurt as Earl’s thoughts are some of the best parts of film. He and Costner have great chemistry together as they visually show the conflict Earl is going through. Comedian Dane Cook, in a surprisingly great dramatic turn, also provides some admirable scenes with Costner. His character is particularly dark that shows the darker side of humanity. His scenes with Costner really do bring up an interesting idea of why serial killers do what they do and erotic nature associated with killing people. One scene that disturbingly represents this is when Cook’s character talks about a potential person they are going to kill and how the person won’t know what’s coming from him. That is a pretty messed up mentality, but it is something that excites Cook’s character. It is quietly frightening look into the darker side of humanity and Cook does a good job at presenting that mentality.
My only complaint with the film is that there are too many subplots for its own good. Some scenes, particularly associated with Moore’s character, could have been cut entirely. But that is really a minor complaint as the film does focus on what it needs to focus on, which is the inner conflict. While it may not be a straight up horror film, Costner is great and does provide some effectively quiet moments. While it may be an extremely loose adaptation of Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it is one of the best because it is one of the few that actually gets it right.
The Skin I Live In (2011)
While it may not be considered a straight up horror film by today’s standards, this film is certainly a disturbing film at times that is one of Spanish director Pedro Almodovar’s best. Almodovar does not go for straight up scares, but instead he presents the feeling of dread and scary moments in a very subtle manner. Some of it comes from the imagery and the emotions. This film isn’t entirely that violent (with a few exceptions), but instead Almodovar presents the dread in very simple ways and it works. The way the film is structured adds to the scares. I don’t want to reveal too much, but let’s just when the film starts to make sense and pieces start to fit into place, let’s just say that the film becomes very disturbing. The film does present some interesting ideas and themes in these scenes such as the morality when it comes to revenge, victim of circumstance, the dark sides of humanity, and gender identity. The acting is quite good, but it is Antonio Banderas who manages to shine above the rest. This is his best performance to date as he has such a commanding force whenever he is on screen. He is quietly unnerving and terrifying when the scenes call for it. What’s it is all the more impressive is the way Banderas manages to make a character that is both sympathetic and evil. You can see where the character’s motivations come from, but how far is too far? Plus, are his motivations entirely justified when we remember how this whole thing transpired? Call it an art-house horror film if you want, but this a film that manages to get across uneasy feelings with its imagery and actions, and Banderas manages to get under your skin with his acting. This is one of those horror films that will stick with you long after the film is over.
Trick r Treat (2007)
I surprisingly did not see Trick r Treat until just this past year, but now I am going to make it mission to watch it every Halloween in the same way I watch Independence Day around July 4th and Mickey’s Christmas Carol around Christmas. This is a film that embraces the spirit and mythos of Halloween from its traditions, rules, and legend while also offering some pretty good and scary stories in which the mythos that I just mentioned is present. The film’s structure is also pretty unique in that some storylines and characters intertwine with some shifts of back in forth in time, but it is easy to follow and the way the characters intertwine are done in such clever ways. What makes it even better is that all the storylines are engrossingly interesting, scary, and quite funny at times as well. I would say that this is easily one of the most original horror movies of the 21st Century that should be watched by anyone who loves horror movies and/or Halloween. It is shame that this film did not get a full theatrical release because it would have gotten more exposure instead of being hidden in obscurity that it is right now. Don’t get me wrong, this film does have a legion of followers and has achieved high cult status as result, but I think more people would consider it among the all time great Halloween movies. Seek it out if you can.
The Tunnel (2011)
This Australian film is basically a hybrid of The Descent and REC. as it takes elements in terms of setting and style. The film tells the story of a news crew going underneath a dark tunnel to get a story, but they discover they are not alone in this tunnel. The setting is somewhat similar to The Descent, in that the characters are stuck in the dark with little light and are basically in a maze with narrow hallways. The setting does lead to the chase scenes to be quite suspenseful and scary. Much like how REC. made a found-footage film feel scary because it actually felt like you were there, The Tunnel also has that same feeling. The found footage genre is one that has gotten tiring, but The Tunnel actually utilizes it to good use and makes it feel fresh. My only complaint is that the film also features interviews some time later after the main events of the film take place. While it is effectively somber, it does take away from the suspense a little bit. Plus, there are some scenes where the action and scares start to happen, but then the film cuts away to one of the interviews. Though the interviews may be brief and the film does goes right back to it, I can’t help, but feel that doing this takes away some of the tension that the film is trying to build up. That being said, there is plenty of good in The Tunnel to make it worth seeing. It is terrifyingly suspenseful and utilizes its setting to great use.
Wake In Fright (1971)
I just want to say straight up that this may be one of the most chilling and unsettling horror films I have ever seen. No, it is not scary (especially by today’s standards), but watching it left me feeling a bit empty and unnerved, which is precisely the point. This is a film from Australia which tells the story of a school teacher named John (Gary Bond) who is on his way to Sydney to be with girlfriend on school break. He stops into a town for one night, but he begins to slowly, but surely indulge himself with hard drinking and gambling. This is just the start because as John begins to hang out with the locals for several days, John begins to slip down a dark path. This film, directed by Ted Kotcheff, shows that not all horror films have to be about serial killers, the supernatural, or monsters. The horror can come from inside of us (the most recent film I can think of that follows that idea is Black Swan). It is unsettling because of the way John, what we consider the morally right civilized man, begin to slowly lose morals with each passing scene. Yes, it starts out rather harmless with drinking, but the film shows some pretty disturbing scenes where John looks like he attempting to rape a girl and him killing a kangaroo during a merciless hunt with his new found friends. It is disturbing to see someone lose those what we consider morally right so quickly. This film does bring up the old aged debate of the civilized man vs the man from nature. This film, however, shows that we may not be all that different. The people of the town are not entirely bad people and do have good hospitality. It is just that people from “civilized” worlds may see it as barbaric. Is it just part of human nature to indulge in such bad acts no matter where you come from or what you have been taught? Then again these “barbaric” people seem pretty well adapted. It is these questions and thoughts that bring out the film’s great allusions and allegories from Christianity and Dante to Shakespeare and Stanley Kubrick.
Gary Bond gives perhaps one of the best performances in any horror film I have seen. His boyish charm makes his civilized man likable. He convincingly shows his uneasiness in the town he is staying in. In fact, one of the biggest strengths that the film possesses is just how Kotcheff brilliantly manages to keep a feeling of tense dread throughout the film. Though no one in the film is particularly threatening, there is always this sense that something bad is going to happen, but there really is no reason to be afraid. Bond does look visibly uncomfortable, but the way he shows his descent is one that is quietly chilling. What makes the film so “scary” is that even the most morally civilized man into something dark. Yet, at the same time, he still manages to remain sympathetic as the film goes on. Another great performance in this film belongs to Donald Pleasance (known for his role in the Halloween films) as one of the people that John hangs out with.
This film was actually lost for years until the last known copy was found just before it was about to be destroyed. It would have been a travesty if this masterpiece ceased to exist because I think it is great. It may not be what we consider “scary” today, but when you really think about it, it scares and horror can be some entirely unsettling and universal.
Note: If love animals then you probably shouldn’t watch this movie.
When Animals Dream (2015)
I will be the first to say that this Danish film requires a lot of patience. It isn’t really like most werewolf films as the action seems mostly absent and we really do not get a lot in terms of transformation. The film slowly builds to the transformation scene as we see the main character, sixteen-year-old Marie (Sonia Suhl), get rashes and hair. While this perhaps can be seen as a metaphor of the transition from teenager to young adult, the way Suhl reacts to the confusion of these changes is convincing. Not only that, she is frequently bullied at her job and the way that Suhl presents her sympathy is heartbreaking. But she can also be scary in the scenes that call for it. The ending is entirely satisfying. It takes a lot to get there, but the ending makes the earlier parts of the film much better in retrospect.