Carl explores the best Halloween movies to make all hallows eve the ultimate fright night!
‘Tis the season!
October is upon us and that means only one thing. Its almost Halloween. Kids will be out trick or treating, houses will be decorated in cobwebs and ghastly things, horror-themed parties will be organised and movie theatres will be putting on marathon horror movie seasons. Being English, I could never understand the attraction of trick or treating growing up. I can honestly say I’ve never even attempted it (I won’t do it now as I’m far too old!) but our American cousins revel in it and good for them. The tradition has crossed the pond now and every year, you can bank on seeing kids dressed up as skeletons, witches etc. Myself, personally, I’d rather curl up in a darkened living room with a batch of my favourite horror movies and allow myself to drift away into a night of delightful frights. Who knows why people enjoy being scared, it just seems to be so much fun. Maybe it is because of our deep-down fears being shown to us, dragged from the shadows and thrust unrelentingly into the light. Maybe it’s the adrenaline rush that comes with watching a scary movie and jumping out of our seats. Who knows? Who cares? It just is so much fun.
With this in mind, allow me to take you on a journey into five of what I consider to be some of the best horror films to watch on October 31st. You will notice one director gets a couple of mentions on my list, mainly because he made two of the best scarers that I enjoy. You will and should disagree with some of my first five choices. But take my hand, hold tight and let us enter the wonderful world of the horror movie. Don’t look back now though and don’t try to run. It may mean the end for you.
The granddaddy of them all. The film that spawned a thousand (and more) imitations. John Carpenter‘s sublime classic. Why does the film scare us? Because it’s a slow build. A film that builds up the tension to an unbearable level and then unleashes it full bore. From that haunting piano melody of the main theme, we can tell we are in for a film that will make us jump somewhere down the line. And what’s best about it is what it DOESN’T show. There are a few jump scares in there but at least half of the film is subliminal. It’s what we don’t see that scares us. It’s what we think is going to happen that has us clinging onto our loved one’s arm or gouging scratches into the arm of our seat. A tale of an escaped mental patient returning home 15 years after he murdered his older sister to wreak more violence on the unsuspecting in his home town of Haddonfield, the film knows how to scare its audience. And it is almost bloodless. There are a few bloody scenes but hardly anything compared to today’s standards. And it genuinely works. A classic in every sense of the word.
A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
You can dismiss MOST of the sequels (With the exception of part 3 and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) and completely ignore the absurd, pointless, uninspired 2010 remake. This is the real deal. A story that will send you to sleep after viewing it in fear of what may happen. That we may just be murdered in our dreams by a burned, disfigured bastard son of 100 maniacs. Yes, I know later in the series it was 1000 maniacs but we are discussing the original here. And that is exactly what the film is. An original. I knew of Robert Englund only from his lovable turn as ‘Willie’ on the ‘V‘ television series. I loved him in that role. Here, he is to be feared, giving the world a movie monster that terrifies us to this day. A simple premise deftly delivered by a master of the genre. Wes Craven got the idea for the film after reading a magazine article regarding the death of a young child who died from suffering nightmares. This sad and traumatic event gave rise to one of cinemas greatest fearmongers. Freddy Krueger has gone down in history as a character that inhibits our worst fears and uses them against us. Again, there are a few jump scares contained within but it’s the visuals that scare us, seeing a creature chase us down an alley, ourselves falling asleep only to be attacked in our dreams and butchered. And, as the film says near the end, it’s our fears that feed the monster, that give him life, that drag him into our subconscious. A terrific, original horror classic.
The Omen (1976)
Forget the lame remake and the worthless third entry into the series (most people have), sit back and enjoy the first film instead. The story of a charming young boy who just happens to be the Antichrist. Adopted by the American Ambassador to Great Britain after the death of his son at birth, the story follows the family as they make their new life in England. And that’s where the fun starts. Unknowingly having been passed off the spawn of satan after his own newborn son was murdered at the hospital where he was born by Satan’s followers, Robert Thorn and his wife start to suffer terrible things happening to them. Their child’s nanny hangs herself publicly at a birthday party in full view of everyone including children. A priest who tries to warn him about the impending danger he is in is impaled by a lightning rod outside a church (the irony is not lost on us), his wife suffering a miscarriage after a tragic accident that will destroy the adopted child’s birthright if the baby is ever born. All these events add to the story of the Antichrists rise to power, events we shall follow during the second film (Good but can’t match the original) and the third (A sad waste of talent and an unfitting end to the saga). Richard Donner directs what is truly a scary masterpiece. We fear for all the characters in the film but we sigh with a feeling of knowledge and foreboding that the film won’t end well for any of them. Actor David Warner’s demise in the film still shocks to this day. And that end shot still sends shivers down the spine 43 years after the release of the film.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
One of the most controversial films ever made..apparently. To be honest, I’m not being fair to the film. When it was released back in 1974, Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece was viewed more subjectively than it is today. Nowadays, the film is pretty tame by the standards Hollywood has now set but back in the day, it was considered to be shocking in its unrelenting depiction of a cannibalistic family. The film was seen as so shocking that in England and more specifically, The London council of Camden, banned the film outright, only reversing its decision in 1999. The film isn’t that graphic to be fair but it’s sheer uncompromising power still has the ability to shock today. Again, this is a slow burn of a film with bouts of graphic violence spattered liberally throughout. When the violence does hit the screen, it shocks us to the very core. When humans are treated as no more than farm animals and are killed and hung up like an abattoir, it scares us. The death of a wheelchair confined victim and the removal of his face to be used later in the film as a mask by the main protagonist, Leatherface is perhaps the frightening visual impact of them all. However, the main horror is psychological. It comes in the form of a dinner scene almost at the film’s climax. The screams and sheer panic and mental anguish of the final girl is what gives the film its raw power. Actress Marilyn Burns really did suffer for her art in this famous scene, so much so that she had to receive councilling after filming ended. Rumours abound that her maniacal laughter at the end of the film wasn’t acting on her part, that she really did undergo an emotional breakdown. What makes the film all the more curious is the fact that Hooper actually believed he was delivering a PG-rated film to the censors, keeping the gore to a minimum to achieve this. Of course, no one in the correct mindset would ever rate the film a PG. Considering the film is loosely based on the true-life story of serial killer Ed Gein, one can only wonder how Hooper could ever imagine the film getting a family rating. A horrifying and shocking film.
The Fog (1980)
John Carpenter makes another appearance in this list as his horror followup to Halloween deserves to be added on merit alone. A frightening tale of ghostly revenge, The Fog is exactly what is needed on Halloween night. It is chock full of scares, violence and unexpected endings. Carpenter once again delivers a classic horror film, a ghost story for the ages. Adding in his fantastic score to the mix and you’ve got a concoction that will thrill and chill the horror fan in us all. Bringing in Jamis Lee Curtis once again after her star-making turn in the directors Halloween and starring Carpenter’s then-wife, Adrienne Barbeau, the film is yet another slow burn, again with bouts of horror and violence along the way. Carpenter opens the film brilliantly. A monologue on a beach, around a campfire with a group of children is such a perfect way to start a movie. It feels right and sets the tone magnificently. When the monologue is delivered by such an esteemed and respected actor like the late, great John Houseman and its a masterstroke. Houseman appears in this pre-credits sequence only, a storyteller recounting a tale told to him by his father and grandfather of an event 100 years ago. A tale of greed and deception that led to the deaths of all aboard the clipper ship, The Elizabeth Dane. A tale that lays the groundwork for what’s to come. It is said that when the fog returns, the crew of the ship will rise from their icy grave and wreak revenge against all whose ancestors caused their doom. As the opening credits roll, supernatural events start to plague the town of Antonio Bay. The town has been built by the proceeds of the stolen gold from the Elizabeth Dane. Across the sea, a mysterious fog is rolling across the waves heading directly for the town. A fishing vessel is encompassed by the swirling mist and all three of its crew encounter an old clipper ship that has appeared from nowhere. All three fishermen are brutally murdered by strange human-type creatures with large hooks, knives and cutlasses. As quick as it moved in, the fog moves quickly out again, leaving the fishing boat to be discovered. And as the town is preparing to celebrate its centenary, the fog appears once again, this time sweeping through the entire town. What we have in reality is the old classic ghost story but one that chills us to the bone. It is simple in its conception and mastery but leaves us fearful. Carpenter’s visual style, brilliant writing and classic score alongside great performances and timing make the film a must-watch movie on a cold October night.
Wait, I hear you cry. That can’t be it? Surely there are more movies that could be or should be on this list? And you would be right. This is only the start of my Halloween movie recommendations. Many more are to come yet, almost all of the classic horror movies from many years ago. I haven’t even scratched the surface yet! Classic horrors like Dracula, The Wolfman and Psycho are yet to come alongside a few forgotten gems.
Until we meet again, don’t forget to lock all the doors, bolt all the windows, don’t answer the phone and stay away from the shadows. You will never know what awaits us outside our own front doors or is hiding behind the sofa in our own living rooms. The witching hour is fast approaching us. Hang on tight and wait for the morning, if you dare!
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Staff Writer and Books and Literature Correspondent for Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Indiana Jones and Horror movies. Follow him on Twitter @CarlRoberts2 where he uses the force frequently!