So I’ve already done several lists for October and the anticipation of Halloween. Up until now it’s been for those who really love horror, or at least the initiated. This list is a little different.
Knowing many friends of mine aren’t exactly huge horror-ites, and also realizing tons of people out there like a little spook around the fall when Halloween approaches, I decided to put together a nice list for those types.
Here’s a list of movies for a decent scare at the right time of year. Hope you’ll enjoy!
Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)
This 1978 thriller, written by David Zelag Goodman and John Carpenter whose Halloween came out the same year, is a nice spooky treat for Halloween. Especially if you want something creepy but would rather not spend the rest of the night wondering if someone is going to kill you.
Chic photographer Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) begins to see through the eyes of a murderer – transported to the scene of the crimes, during the crime itself, she sees visions of death. When she goes to the police and tries to get their help, she becomes further involved in a series of killings that she is powerless to help and forced to watch.
Eyes of Laura Mars definitely has power, it isn’t not scary. However, there’s not a ton of slasher killings or any kind of super graphic horror. Plain and simple: this is a solid thriller film with a supernatural element. You can watch this to get a decent chill and actually get to sleep. Good one for a nice October evening.
The Innocents (1961)/ The Haunting (1963)
Here’s a solid double feature full of ghosts, spirits, or the otherwise disembodied. Plus, they’re both based on wonderful literary sources.
First up, based on Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw, 1961’s The Innocents follows a young governess in Victorian England whose charge of caring for two children becomes a battle of wits against the supernatural, as she comes to believe they are being possessed, the house itself – in her mind (or is it?) – a haunted tomb of ghosts.
There are plenty of reasons to love this film. One: Truman Capote was one half of the screenwriting duo alongside William Archibald. Two: The Turn of the Screw is not lost in this adaptation, as so many great sources come to find themselves in more modern adaptations of classic novels/stories. Three: Martin Scorsese always lists this as one of the scariest movies of all-time and though I don’t care about celebrity opinions, I consider Scorsese an artists first and foremost, as well as a a film lover and fan, so his opinion carries weight for me. Four? The movie is fucking scary. Honestly, you don’t need a bunch of new, modern looking sets or special effects, none of that, when the story and the atmosphere of the film are crafted so well together. This is one of those ghost stories that may honestly stick in your mind, but there’s nothing nasty here: just pure haunted goodness.
That leads me to the second feature on the bill – 1963’s Robert Wise-directed classic, The Haunting. Again, this is based on a piece of literature which is most certainly on a scale of greatness: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. There’s something truly haunting about this movie. Before Wes Craven and his brand of horror, long before Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, and other modern horror filmmakers I dig, legendary director Robert Wise gave us this atmospheric, moody and completely unsettling ghost story. The plot itself is deceptively simple yet amazing: Dr. Markaway, whose research involves that of the afterlife, the supernatural, conducts experiments in Hill House; two women and a young man are a part of the events. The way Wise creates a palpable air of dread, not unlike The Innocents, it creeps up under your skin and really takes hold for every last bit of its 112-minute runtime. There’s nothing disturbing, so to speak, but you will find yourself spooked afterwards.
No two ghost stories put onto film have ever gone so well together on a double bill as these classic movies. I’d recommend them for a couple partners or solo viewing, as they’re films you really want to listen to, pay attention and let their aesthetic draw you in. Nice scare for two people sitting in a dark room!
* For my full review of The Haunting – click here
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Honestly, if you don’t like Tim Burton’s latest stuff over the past few years, fine. But please don’t try and tell me he’s never done anything good. That’s bullshit. From Beetlejuice to Edward Scissorhands to the 1999 adaptation of a classic creepy tale into Sleepy Hollow, there’s no Halloween done proper if you don’t at least toss on SOMETHING by Burton. Even his Batman films were gothic and very dark.
Here, you’ll get a dose of awesome actors, riotous wit, spooky Halloween-like imagery, and even a tiny dose of nastiness with decapitated heads rolling around like it’s nobody’s business! Burton brings his beautifully macabre cartoon-ish style to this timeless, classic story, and Johnny Depp puts in a solid performance as the clueless yet somehow knowledgeable Ichabod Crane. Pop this on for a nice treat near Halloween, or better yet on the very night. Real good one for a group, too.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Many will probably vote that the best adaptation of this Jack Finney novel is the original from 1956. Me, I like this 1970s version, as it came about after McCarthyism, all the Black Listing in Hollywood, along with all the new paranoias and fears of new generations, as well as the growing fears of the older generation slipping into the twilight.
In San Francisco, several people begin to discover humans are being replaced by clones, which are really an alien life form inhabiting humanity from the inside out. As they start to take over more rapidly, the group bands together in order to try and survive.
A bunch of solid actors (one of my favourites included – fellow Canadian Donald Sutherland), a tight and tense script jam packed with paranoid madness, and everything executed so well in terms of the look and feel of the movie, you couldn’t ask for better. This will give you enough of a scare to satisfy those spooky needs this October. And you may never forget the final frame, I certainly haven’t yet.
House of Wax (1953)/ The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
The next double feature is all about that Vincent Price, baby!
To start: House of Wax from 1953. Anybody ever says “Whann remakes whann I hate them”, say “Shut the fuck up!” and remind them even in the ’50s remakes were a thing. Starring Price as a disfigured wax sculptor, this was a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum from two decades previous. There’s a definitely creepy aspect to the entire movie and not just that, it looks fantastic. Some people nowadays, mostly young, young people, say they can’t “get into” certain old movies. To that, I don’t know what I’ll say… sad, really. Because some films from the 1940s and 1950s are better to look at than any modern movies. Not that I prefer old films over newer ones; honestly, a lot of what I love comes from the ’70s, ’80s, and post-2000, so really I’m not trying to be hip here. I honestly generally feel there was a beauty to the look of pure film, everything shot on stock back then, as opposed to so much digital in this era. Don’t mean to bash digital either, it’s great and has advantages. Just throw this in and let it take you away. The horror will come at you through the dark and beautiful imagery of the film.
After a bit of ’50s era Vincent Price, get a load of The Abominable Dr. Phibes from 1971.
Over three decades before Jigsaw reared his terrifying head, the operatic and horrible Dr. Phibes was exacting revenge on the nine doctors whom he deemed responsible for his wife dying. With lots of candy campiness, an on-point Price, and some of the most extravagant art design/set decoration you’ll ever see in a horror movie, The Abominable Dr. Phibes is absolutely a good, creepy little horror movie that’s not full of unsettling slashing. Rather, it comes off very much like a horror musical of sorts, without the musical numbers, but in the sense it takes on that grand artistic form, like a massive stage play.
These two Vincent Price movies go well together, displaying two very different sides to the same incredible actor. As well as the fact you’ll find a few scares throughout this double bill while having fun.
Taste of Fear a.k.a Scream of Fear (1961)
This 1961 Hammer horror film, best known as Scream of Fear, is – according to co-star Christopher Lee, legend, gentleman – the best the studio ever put out. I’d probably agree with that sentiment, honestly. As much as I love a bunch of the Hammer horrors which came out years and years now, there’s something terribly dreadful about this one. It’s made out of pure suspense, streaming out of every scene.
I’ll give you only this: a young woman in a wheelchair goes back to her father’s estate after a long time away, continually seeing his dead body on the property though told he is on a trip. From there, the terror builds.
Perfect for a couple people or just a solitary watch. Let this one creep on you and it’ll be a rewarding bit of horror without scarring you for life.
Nightwatch (1997)/ Zodiac (2007)
Another double feature – each about a killer, though, one happens to be based on a real life case.
Beginning with Nightwatch, the director’s English-language remake of his own 1994 film Nattevagten, this is the story of a young man named Martin Bells (played by Ewan McGregor) who gets the job as nightwatchman at a morgue. Unfortunately, at the same time, the city is under threat of a serial killer taking the lives of various women. When Martin becomes a suspect in the murders, things get tricky.
This is a slow burn and it’s full of red herring material, which makes a fun horror with tons of excellently executed thrills full of suspense and taut tension. Also, there’s McGregor, Patricia Arquette, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte, even ole Brad Dourif comes out to play. Nice, creepy flick.
From 1997, let’s jump a decade to David Fincher’s Zodiac, based on a book by Robert Graysmith (played here by Jake Gyllenhaal) about the real life case of the Zodiac Killer who to this day has never been caught, nor identified concretely.
Fincher is one hell of a filmmaker, as a director he is another person I’d easily classify as an auteur. No matter the subject, you can tell you’re watching a Fincher film almost soon as the first frame has faded or cut. With Zodiac, the complex look of Fincher comes to the darkness shrouding everything over the 1970s when the Zodiac terrorized the San Francisco area. He gives even more depth to all the fear and chaos surrounding the hunt for this madman, along with a great script and amazing actors like Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and more. This one is chilling and it sticks to you like smoke after the finale. You almost want to turn around after it finishes, just to make sure the Zodiac hasn’t wandered up behind you.
These are two looks at the process of a murder case – one fictional, the other all too real – each film with their own aesthetic, this is an interesting double feature to go for closing in on Halloween.
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Starring the excellent Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters, The Night of the Hunter was the first film to give knuckle tattoos a bad name (coming from a man with tattoos on his knuckles). Most wouldn’t call this horror, they’d say it’s mystery and film-noir wrapped up into one maybe. To me, this has the markings of a good psychological horror-thriller. With Mitchum playing a man after a huge sum of money, and willing to go through anyone – even some kids – to get it, there’s plenty of room for terrifying moments, suspense ratcheted to the max, and actor-turned-director Charles Laughton uses every chance he gets to execute all of the tension built up throughout the film. Also, apparently Mitchum did some uncredited directorial work alongside Laughton, which is pretty neat. Either way, this is an intense little movie which I’d definitely call spooky, creepy at the very least. And it came out 60 years ago! Still has a lasting effect.
The Changeling (1980)
Directed by Peter Medak (The Krays/Romeo Is Bleeding) and starring one of the greatest actors ever, George C. Scott, this 1980 horror is a haunted house film with a great plot and wonderful story.
The Changeling sees Scott’s character move into a large, old mansion after a tragic accident takes his wife and child from him. Within the walls of the new place, he begins to experience strange, supernatural events all around. Soon, he figures out the house’s secrets.
While there are a couple disturbing plot elements, I do feel like Medak’s haunted house horror movie is scary while not being too outrageously unsettling. So for the people who want a nice little spooky movie for Halloween season, The Changeling makes for a solid pick – especially if it’s the haunted house sub-genre you’re craving.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Guillermo del Toro is a consistently, constantly interesting and evolving artist. There’s something utterly magical about his 2006 dark fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth, which is just about indescribable.
Taking place in Spain during 1944, del Toro’s story follows a young girl whose life around her crumbles while the eye inside her mind comes alive, sometimes in the most terrifying ways imaginable.
Not saying there isn’t anything at all disturbing here; most certainly, there is. However, I think it’s somehow presented in a digestible way. Doesn’t lose any of its impact in that del Toro gives us everything wrapped in fantasy. Just makes the terror more palatable, in a way I can’t describe any better than I’ve already done. Mostly, it’s the incredible and fascinating visual architecture of this movie that will draw you in: whether it’s simply beautifully captured exterior shots or the dark realm of the fantastical imagination at work, this fantasy horror film has teeth and yet still I would recommend it to anyone who isn’t strictly into horror. This is mostly fantasy with little horror edges.
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh (2012)
I’d heard the name of this movie announced a long while before it ever got released, and knew of the premise, so altogether I was pretty pumped to finally get a look at this one. The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is extremely interesting in that it’s centred around a single character while an entire world almost is built around him through the story and its plot.
A young man who collects antiques inherits his mother’s house after she dies, and goes on to discover it’s a place devoted to a strange cult; believing his mother to somehow, some way still be present in the house, she may or may not be trying to send him a message, possibly even a warning.
There’s no way to describe this film any further without ruining things. You’ll find yourself surprised if you go in knowing only the basic premise. Even what I said there is probably more than you need to know beforehand. Still, this will slowly grow on you. There’s a dark and sombre aesthetic all around about this film and the lead actor, Aaron Poole, does great stuff with a plot he basically has to carry almost entirely on his own. Featuring excellent narration/voice-over by the massively talented Vanessa Redgrave, I can’t think of a creepier yet fitting movie for the non-horror initiated. It’s a Halloween season film, deserving of your time. Scary, but won’t wreck you. Some fun, spooky storytelling.
Nosferatu (1922) /Vampyr (1932)
The last two titles, one more double feature, are fittingly along similar lines.
First, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu – perhaps the first unofficial adaptation ever? I’m no film historian, though, I don’t think I’m far off. That’s no matter. This is basically Bram Stoker’s Dracula adapted to screen in the silent era, without proper authorization from the Stoker estate; Murnau was promptly sued, I believe.
Doesn’t change a thing. The origin of creepiness in the horror genre comes out of Murnau and his German Expressionist take on famous Count Dracula and his visit from Jonathan Harker. Of course here it’s Count Orlock and Hutter. What a haunting classic. Isn’t the FIRST horror movie, though, it’s one of the first – if not the first – with such a heavy impact. Not overrated in the slightest; the only people who say those types of things are the ones who have no idea about what good movies are, anyways. The individual shots are almost all tableaus of expressionism, especially once Orlock begins to creep among the shadows in the night throughout his castle.
That brings me to the other half of the bill – Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 horror Vampyr based on a book by Sheridan Le Fanu.
Talk about method and technique when it comes to horror, here Dreyer piles on the surrealist, dreamy imagery until there’s absolutely nothing left to us but brain and bone. It’s not one of those floor you, devastate you, terrifying your dreams into nightmares sort of horrors, but Vampyr came far before its time. It is one of the most wonderfully eccentric and gorgeous to look at black-and-white films I’ve ever seen with my own two eyes, personally. I’ve owned the Criterion Collection DVD for years now and it’s a movie I can watch over and over. Perfect to get your spook on during October.
This double feature will have you in a dream-like state of imagery, where you won’t find terror in blood or gore or jump scares. Instead, you’ll find the horrifying aspects of these movies build up in your brain and the lingering shadows of these movies together will have you remembering scenes for weeks to come. Great duo of classics from the early half of the 20th century, like a lesson in horror history.
Another list has come to an end. As I’ve said before, I’m hoping there’s at least one or two titles on here you’ll come across, enjoy the sound of, and then indulge over the month of October. So many of these are perfect for Halloween. These are great movies in general, though, I really feel they’re right for movie lovers who aren’t exactly into the horror genre but don’t like the stuff us other horror hounds are lapping up regularly. Find a scare or two in here, ripe for Halloween. And please, let me know what you think or if you’ve enjoyed (or hated) any of them before now.
Cheers and #HappyHalloween!