Difficult to make new lists every October and not tread across the same titles every now and then. For those who’ve been reading Father Son Holy Gore since 2014, you may well recognise a couple of these titles as being recommended before. Ole C.H. Newell’s tried his best! I’ve dug deep to look for films I haven’t yet included in any previous Halloween recommendation lists. I’ve also included recommendations that are newly released and available via VOD/streaming services, so you can easily find some of these to rent or buy for your Halloween movie marathon.
Although the titles are numbered from 25 down to 1, it’s only for the sake of a pretty list. We’re playing no favourites here. Just offering up a seasonal gift in no particular order to the Halloween spirits— and, of course, to you, dear readers.
So, dig in… if you dare.
25) Frankenstein’s Army (2013)
If Mary Shelley’s influence on horror and creation of science fiction weren’t evident enough by Frankenstein as a novel alone, her lasting impression on the genres can be seen in how Victor Frankenstein’s horrific legacy has stretched far beyond the 19th century.
Frankenstein’s Army is one of my favourite found footage films because it uses Shelley’s story in a new context, giving the found footage aspect much more depth than we often see. Not everyone’s cup of tea, especially if you don’t dig found footage in general. A lot of horror lovers will be thrilled by how the Frankenstein legacy merges with WWII, and they’ll get a proper scary ride when a bunch of Soviet soldiers run into terrifying Nazi creations in a hidden bunker.
24) Night of the Seagulls (1975)
If you’ve never seen any of the Blind Dead series from Amando de Ossorio it won’t matter. You can come into this series at any point and won’t be lacking any knowledge you can’t suss out in the first five minutes of any given film out of the four. Night of the Seagulls is the last of them by Ossorio and probably not even the best. There’s just something about the atmosphere and the zombies I love here most out of any of the films. If you dig the premise of ancient Knights Templar coming back as nasty, vengeful zombie-like skeletons, you’ll be into the series, regardless which you find best of them all. If you’re into atmospheric horror that doesn’t thrive on plot, then Ossorio will quench that thirst.
23) Let’s Scare Julie (2020)
This is another film I know will divide people because the online response seems to indicate horror fans either love or hate it. Let’s Scare Julie is about a bunch of girls who pull a prank but come to quickly regret it, and one girl who tries not to get involved, unfortunately facing the same terror as the others. It’s shot and edited in a way that the whole film feels like it’s a single take. We’re also embedded in one girl’s perspective, so a large degree of the horror is off-screen. The aspect of things occurring off-screen is what haunts me most. And the ending is eerily ambiguous, but we’re also left knowing that something bad’s likely about to happen right as the film cuts to back and the credits roll. Turn off the lights and let this one pull you in; you just might get a spooky reward.
22) The Shout (1978)
Jerzy Skolimowski isn’t known for being a horror filmmaker; his film Moonlighting is one of my favourites, far from horror though unsettling in its own unique ways. That’s part of what makes The Shout such an incredible experience. Skolimowski brings a totally different attitude to the genre. The film’s based on a short story by Robert Graves, adapted into a screenplay by Michael Austin, and it boasts an extraordinary cast: Susannah York, Alan Bates, and John Hurt.
The story involves a drifter (Bates) who comes into the lives and home of a young couple (York & Hurt). He seems eccentric, but soon proves he has sinister designs on his hosts. Tons of interesting stuff going on, as well as an old trope I find never gets truly old, especially today: white people fucking around with things they shouldn’t and paying the price. The drifter’s use of Aboriginal magic provides a compelling postcolonial aspect to this horror. Apart from themes, The Shout has a score composed by Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks of Genesis.
One hell of a cool film. It’ll dig right under your skin.
21) And Soon the Darkness (1970)
And Soon the Darkness is usually classified as a thriller. We all know the crossover between horror and thriller is huge, so I’d argue this is easily classifiable as a horror film. The plot concerns two young English nurses bicycling through rural France. They keep seeing a man on their way as if he’s following them, they hear of an unsolved rape and murder in the area, and they even get separated. Of course things get much, much worse.
The whole film has an unnerving atmosphere and a very dark tone, contrasted against beautiful locations and sunny weather. One of those stories where people are on holiday and run into horrible situations, but one where the horror isn’t xenophobic. It’s universally scary, particularly because the plot is so real. This may not be an enjoyable film, really. It’s more so one you want for a dark night, one that’ll genuinely upset you.
20) Island of Lost Souls (1932)
There’s many reasons I adore Island of Lost Souls. It features Bela Lugosi and Charles Laughton. It’s adapted from the H.G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau and, in my mind, the best film adaptation of the material to this day. Best of all, it’s legitimately a creepfest. I’m a lover of the great black-and-white horrors, classic or contemporary. Island of Lost Souls is such a stunning mix of adventure, horror, and science fiction, boasting practical effects that hold up in 2020.
Now, go learn of the Law— and the House of Pain!
19) The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974)
It’s no secret to readers of the site that I’m a fan of horror films tackling relevant social and political issues. Zombie stories have been no stranger to politics, and long before George Romero stepped into the fray; Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and White Zombie (1932) are early, decidedly sociopolitical zombie films. All that to say, you must watch The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue a.k.a Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. Just might be my personal favourite zombie flick; yes, yes, ten lashes from the horror gatekeepers for not picking something by King George! There’s so much potency to the screenplay, depicting conservative pushback against environmental protection and supposed ‘hippies’ (a.k.a people who had bushy hair and cared about pesticides), alongside a zombie invasion of the English countryside outside Manchester. Quite the story for this day and age when right-wingers continue to treat climate change as a political debate, rather than a scientific reality. Ah, how times change and stay the same!
18) Vampires vs. The Bronx (2020)
This new horror is available on Netflix, and it’s one that captures so much relevant in 2020 while simultaneously harking back to the classic age of horror, bringing one of the genre’s greatest figures— the vampire— into the modern day. Vampires vs. The Bronx, like the greatest stories of undead bloodsuckers, uses the vampire as a metaphor. Here, the vamp becomes a real estate company run by white people moving in on the Bronx to buy it up and gentrify the neighbourhood so more bourgeois whites can move in, too. Except a bunch of young Black kids from the neighbourhood refuse to let this happen without a fight.
There’s SO MUCH to love!
The cast are fantastic. The horror’s fun, and the screenplay is really funny. The way the history of vampire horror, as well as folklore, gets woven into the story is so refreshing. Vampires vs. The Bronx is a new and powerful tale, just as much as it is a love letter to vampire horror as a sub-genre.
17) Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)
I’d kill a kid if they were trying to chop me up, no questions asked, but I guess in 1976 these things were up for debate! Who Can Kill a Child? has an opening sequence that I’m still not sure is in good taste. Then again, others will say the same about the film’s entire premise.
Tom (Lewis Fiander) and Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) are English tourists on a Spanish island seeking picturesque holiday. Instead they find all the children have gone mad, murdering every adult they find. This leaves the couple to protect themselves by any violent means necessary.
Pure ’70s cinema, from the look and feel to the screenplay’s daring plot. I’ve seen some call this an unpleasant film, and I can’t really argue, though the same reviewers have said it’s likewise a film not to be missed. It’s become slightly obscure over the years, and the highly inferior remake did it no favours. Hopefully more will dig this out of the dusty bin. A proper fright for a spooky October. Especially during a year when you won’t have any trick or treaters showing up at the door— nobody will be around to hear the screams.
16) The Watcher in the Woods (1980)
Every year I try to recommend at least a couple horrors for people who are easily scared, or film lovers who want to have a Halloween movie marathon but don’t like anything too intense. The Watcher in the Woods is creepy, just not so creepy you’ll have to keep the lights on later; or, perhaps I’m wrong. The story follows an American family moving into an old English home in the woods where they experience strange, supernatural events. It’s a basic tale as old as time. But the way this Disney movie strays from the company’s usual path is something you have to see for yourself. It’s based on a novel by Florence Engel Randall, and contains enough occultism to freak out viewers who aren’t hardened horror fans. Not only that, Bette Davis graces the screen with her presence, adding something genuinely special.
15) 12 Hour Shift (2020)
Brea Grant’s 12 Hour Shift is an acquired taste. You have to be able to take its mean-spirited feel to get through to the end. If you do, though, you’ll find Grant’s film has a lot to say about women struggling against a patriarchal workplace, as well as debates within the action of the story about the death penalty and euthanasia. The cast is phenomenal, led by the severely underrated Angela Bettis as a nurse whose morality is the centrepiece of the story. A lot of blood, a lot of laughs, and a lot of moral quandaries. Mick Foley and David Arquette turn up briefly, injecting the film with a little hardcore pro wrestling spirit.
If you want a spoiler-y essay, I recently wrote one on 12 Hour Shift here.
14) Alligator (1980)
Never a proper Halloween movie marathon without a heaping helping of cheese. Well, 1980’s Alligator has that covered! Robert Forster, rest his beautiful soul, plays a cop working with a reptile specialist to track a giant alligator carving a path of gruesome horror across Chicago. The whole thing’s ridiculous, and only HALF because of the alligator’s look. My favorite part is that the screenplay draws off the urban legend of people flushing baby alligators down the toilet; yeah, people actually believed this shit, but don’t get on your high horse because we have people in 2020 who believe in the Q conspiracy theories. This film isn’t one of my favourite creature features. Alligator is just too much foolish fun not to include on this list.
13) The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
My favourite adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1890 Gothic novel. There’s a handful of reasons, and the four colour inserts in 3-strip Technicolor for Dorian’s portrait is one of them! There’s also young Angela Landsbury and the prolific George Sanders among the cast.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a Gothic classic, and though this 1945 version doesn’t dig into every Wilde nuance in the book, it’s a gorgeous looking picture, it’s well acted, and the plot remains a horrifying spectacle. Hurd Hatfield is excellently cast in the role of Dorian Gray, giving strange life to the character in this Victorian Era Faustian tale of a young man driven by vanity and greed. A true classic for Halloween season. May not frighten you too much, but the plot will settle in your brain, burrowing deep to nest.
12) Two Evil Eyes (1990)
Similar to the divine meeting of peanut butter and chocolate, Dario Argento and George Romero come together in Two Evil Eyes, two horror maestros delivering their takes on stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Romero’s half is “The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar” and Argento’s is “The Black Cat.” Not only are two major horror filmmakers involved, the cast is padded out with eternal cinematic babes Adrienne Barbeau, Harvey Keitel, Tom Atkins, and an uncredited Tom Savini.
Romero’s half of the film is the best written story and Argento’s half is the most gorgeous and stylish. That’s not to bash either half as bad. They’re both good stories, well-directed, too. And the point of the film is each filmmaker has their own style. That’s the entire purpose of two films in one; they compliment each other as works by Poe, and they’re excellently contrasted by how they interpret the great author’s stories differently.
11) Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)
John Carpenter doesn’t get near enough love for the work he did on his first studio film, Eyes of Laura Mars. Carpenter wrote the spec script, simply titled Eyes, which was then adapted by David Zelag Goodman. The film even got a big song called “Prisoners” performed by Barbra Streisand, a relative hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
The story centres on Faye Dunaway’s fashion photographer protagonist, whose work is all about violence. She eventually starts to supernaturally see through the eyes of a killer being hunted by a police lieutenant, played by Tommy Lee Jones. An eerie story with a big twist, also featuring the always interesting character actors René Auberjonois and Brad Dourif. Definitely a spooky film you’ll find lingering in your thoughts. The ending is stellar. Dunaway sells every last moment she’s onscreen, as does Jones. There have been many horrors with similar premises to Eyes of Laura Mars, but I’m not so sure any of them do it better.
10) Altered (2006)
Eduardo Sánchez will forever be known for The Blair Witch Project, and rightfully so, though his other work is worthy of notice, too. Altered is Sánchez’s first solo project as director, and one hell of a shocking ride. The story’s reverse alien abduction: a group of men kidnap an alien creature as retaliation for their being abducted years ago— that previous abduction led to the death of one of their friends. Unfortunately, the plan doesn’t go quite as the men would’ve hoped, and the fallout is brutal.
For those, like myself, who love aliens crossed with horror, Altered is definitely a film you want to see if you haven’t already. The plot gets going quickly from the beginning, and we remain in a state of tense agitation for the film’s entire running time. The practical effects make everything more believable, plus for the horror hounds there’s a nice slathering of gore throughout to enjoy. I think that, for me, it’s the performances that sell the story. These men seem genuinely terrified, and when the characters feel that terror it translates right to the audience. An awesome film to throw on with friends. Also a scary one to watch by yourself, in the dark, where aliens could easily find and abduct you.
9) Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror (1981)
Zombie movies are a dime a dozen. Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror is one that stands far out from the others. Most will shit all over this film, or some will says it’s ‘so bad it’s good’ (whatever the hell that really means). I say this is a classic zombie horror, and it’s ridiculous. Where else will one witness a zombie breastfeeding scene? Where, I ask you? Nowhere but Burial Ground. Sure, there’s barely a plot. Sure, it’s zombies for zombies’ sake. Isn’t that good enough at times? It is for me! Each October, I bust this one out; I love every single goddamn awful second.
8) Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999)
If you’ve seen Wishmaster you’ll know what to expect with its sequel, Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies. Nobody’s reinventing the wheel here! It’s still pretty cool to watch a Jinn in the physical form of a man (Andrew Divoff) going to prison and using his powers there to collect followers. People say it’s the same as the first, yet the prison premise makes the Jinn’s mischief an exciting new addition to the sequel’s plot. Divoff might never have been better than as this sinister Jinn. He chews up every scene he’s in, plus the film has a few wonderfully gruesome effects. Good for any day in October.
7) The Outing (1987)
You could make any Wishmaster film a double feature alongside The Outing a.k.a The Lamp. Both use the ideas of genie-like spirits terrorising people. The Outing is yet another horror with postcolonial ideas, it’s also just senseless 1980s horror fun. The story starts out with an old woman’s house being robbed, resulting in death after the thieves encounter her ancient lamp. The old woman’s lamp is moved to a museum in the aftermath. Later, a group of people spending their night in the museum come across the malevolent genie living inside the lamp.
Sometimes there are films with an appeal I can’t really explain. A few are on this list. The Outing‘s one I can watch monthly, though I’ll be damned if I can explain why. This is made for Halloween because it’s got the ’80s cheese, fun effects, and some crazy kill scenes. The kind of film you can watch with friends and have a blast. If you don’t need to take your horror too seriously, you need this in your life.
6) The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw (2020)
Folk horror is one of my favourite sub-genres. The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is an outstanding new folk horror story, using the historical intersection of misogyny and witchcraft to create a chilling tale. The story’s use of witchcraft by a young woman, clueless of her real powers due to being repressed by her mother and community alike, becomes pure terror for the small town in which she lives. A lot of Christianity v. witchcraft going on, a theme that never gets tired, especially in an age where we’re continuing to grapple with a society that thrives off misogyny and sexism in the name of religious freedom. This film would be great for a dark, windy night with the lights dimmed. Can’t promise it won’t induce nightmares.
5) The Cleaning Lady (2018)
Easily one of the nastier horrors I’ve seen in the past couple years. The Cleaning Lady pulls no punches, using a mix of Gothic and stalker horror to tell the tragic story of a disfigured cleaning woman befriended by a bored bourgeois bachelorette. The results are pure terror, and the revelation of the eponymous cleaning lady’s backstory is unbelievably devastating. There’s a building dread that never lets up throughout, even after the finale. This has stuck in my mind ever since I saw it recently, and it’s a horror film that will have you feeling unsettled just in time for Halloween.
4) Trash Fire (2016)
Richard Bates, Jr. isn’t making easy films, he’s making great ones. Trash Fire is my favourite because Bates uses the Gothic in modern ways, explores queer identity briefly, and refuses to let shitty characters off the hook for their awfulness. The plot involves a man-child about to potentially have a baby with his girlfriend, despite their relationship being total garbage. He has to confront his past first, so they go to stay with his grandmother and sister. His family’s past is dark: his parents died in a fire that consumed their home, which also burned his sister badly. What happens when he stays with grandma is nothing short of dark and at times comedic tragedy.
Fionnula Flanagan is the absolute star of the show, playing a despicably Christian woman with a smart mouth. Adrian Grenier, Angela Trimbur, and AnnaLynne McCord are each great in their roles, too. A shocking finale will definitely make you remember the film. Won’t give you nightmares. It’ll make you wonder what kind of horrors are going on in your neighbourhood, in the homes of those who claim to be religious but are actually monstrous human beings underneath a fake, thin exterior.
3) Amulet (2020)
Amulet is a film I’d rather not write too much about because giving away the plot will spoil this weird and wonderfully horrible experience. The story centres on a man with a troubled past who ends up at a home run by the Roman Catholic Church, where the place’s Gothic secrets gradually reveal themselves to him. There are albino vampire bats and rooms you’re not supposed to look in and the protagonist has a dark history that comes to bear deeply on the plot. A queer Gothic treat! Yes, you heard me! Imelda Staunton turns up briefly at the right times as a spooky nun, and though she’s only onscreen for a little bit she leaves a lasting impression.
This will haunt you long after Halloween’s over, forever and ever, Amen.
2) Psycho II (1983)
Norman Bates, just like Joey Janela, is a bad, bad boy!
But has he changed?
Psycho II follows up with Mr. Bates after he’s released from the psychiatric institution where he’s been since the events of Hitchcock’s Psycho. Although Robert Bloch wrote a Psycho II novel it isn’t related to this sequel. The film finds Norman trying to live a normal life following his release, yet the world around him and the people in it refuse to let that happen. Anthony Perkins does such amazing work as Norman— particularly interesting to see him confronted with revelations about his past. The Gothic of Psycho continues in this sequel; one the best horror sequels in existence, period.
1) Kill List (2011)
Ben Wheatley is a marvel. He can move between genres more easily than most filmmakers. He goes from crime and comedy to horror and surrealism. Kill List is one of the most horrific films I’ve ever seen, and by far one of the best horrors in the 21st century thus far.
The plot involves a pair of contract killers, former soldiers of the U.K., who have been adjusting to life at home, and it’s not going so well for them. They soon take a series of jobs for a mysterious man that ought to help them financially. Straight forward jobs transform into true evil when the soldiers-cum-hitmen realise they’re involved in something far more existentially terrifying than murder for hire. Some finales psychologically alter you. Kill List‘s finale fifteen minutes spiral further into such a horrifying space that once it’s over you want to breathe a heavy sigh of relief. Wheatley’s film is folk horror for a new century, and, lord, is it ever scary.
A full spoiler-y essay on Kill List as a nationalist Gothic horror here.