As much I love Hallowe’en (specifically: the seasonal treats, the fancy dress, the hour longer in bed thanks to daylight savings time), regular readers will know I’m a complete wuss when it comes to horror films. Hallowe’en tends to be the only time of year when I allow myself sleepless nights after watching scary movies during the day.
If you’d rather not have to leave the lights on after dark, why not check out my family friendly picks for the season. If, however you’re made of stronger stuff than I am; indulge in my favourite frightening flicks this October 31st.
The Silence of the Lambs
RELEASED: February 14, 1991 | DIRECTOR: Jonathan Demme | CERTIFICATE: 18 | RUN TIME: 118 minutes | CAST: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine
In the performances of their respective careers; Antony Hopkins and Jodie Foster are fantastic in the mystery horror The Silence of the Lambs. Young FBI student Clarice (Foster) is given a special assignment; to investigate a vicious murderer nicknamed Buffalo Bill who kills and skins young women. Instructed to interview Dr Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins), a brilliant psychiatrist/violent psychopath imprisoned for murder and cannibalism; Clarice’s superior believes he may have an insight into the case. When speaking to Clarice about her past, Lecter skilfully digs into her psyche; forcing her to reveal her innermost traumas, making her vulnerable when she can least afford to be weak.
One of the first horror films I remember watching, The Silence of the Lambs is classic characterisation and story telling. Hopkins is mesmerising as Lecter; a persona he succeeds in fleshing out even in the poor prequel and sequel.
28 Days Later
RELEASED: November 1, 2002 | DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle | CERTIFICATE: 18 | RUN TIME: 113 minutes | CAST: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns, Brendan Gleeson
Despite my wussy nature, I do love a good zombie film. And 28 Days Later is exactly that, as director Danny Boyle proves he’s not just a one-track pony. When bicycle courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakes in a deserted London hospital, he takes to wandering the empty streets of the capital; completely confused by what he missed whilst in his coma. It’s not long before Jim finds a group of survivors, fleeing from victims of Rage; a deadly virus that sends its victims into a furious, murderous frenzy that seems intent on destroying the human race.
A mature, if gory, zombie film; from paying homage to the classics, Boyle’s created one in 28 Days Later.
RELEASED: June 25, 1982 | DIRECTOR: John Carpenter | CERTIFICATE: 18 | RUN TIME: 109 minutes | CAST: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Donald Moffat, Charles Hallahan
Voted as the most scariest horror in countless top tens, John Carpenter’s The Thing is next up on the list. A group of American scientists out posted to the depths of the Antarctic tundra soon find themselves battling a parasitic alien organism capable of perfectly imitating its victims. Cabin fever combined with heightened paranoia and monstrous creatures results in this must-see cult classic.
Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In)
RELEASED: October 24, 2008 | DIRECTOR: Tomas Alfredson | CERTIFICATE: 15 | RUN TIME: 114 minutes | CAST: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar
The Swedish Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One in) is easily my favourite vampire film. Twelve year old Oskar, a solitary child continuously bullied by his peers at school, befriends Eli; a girl who has moved in next door. She initially states that the pair cannot be friends, however the pair quickly develop a strong bond of friendship when she encourages Oskar to stand up to the bullies and become stronger. Set in snowy Stockholm in the early 1980s, it’s a very lonely film focusing on both of the children’s isolation: Oskar in the sense that he is unpopular and subject of intimidation, and Eli with her vampiric secret that prevents her from associating with anyone other than her new friend.
Despite the bloodied nature of some scenes in Låt den rätte komma in; their relationship is genuinely endearing. This beautifully shot movie is a slow-burner, and worth sitting through for the horrific climax of the film alone. I can’t, and won’t comment on the American version as a scene-for-scene remake is utterly redundant.
El Orfanato (The Orphanage)
RELEASED: October 4, 2007 | DIRECTOR: J.A. Bayona | CERTIFICATE: 15 | RUN TIME: 105 minutes | CAST: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep, Geraldine Chaplin
Any film with Guillermo del Toro involved is automatically better than average. Often heartbreaking and always beautiful, his touch makes even ghost stories watchable. Laura returns to the orphanage where she spent the happiest years of her life. Thirty years later, she and her family reopen the institution as a facility for disabled children. Something ominous haunts the hallways of this silent stately manner, and its behaviour grows increasingly bizarre and malicious when her son, Simon, becomes involved.
Similar in many respects to El Laberinto de Fauno; El Orfanato reveals a truly saddening secret making the afterlife not so spooky after all. Have no fear horror fans; there’s still plenty of bumps in the night before the touching ghostly climax.
Don’t Look Now
RELEASED: October 16, 1973 | DIRECTOR: Nicolas Roeg | CERTIFICATE: 15 | RUN TIME: 110 minutes | CAST: Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland
Just as noteworthy as The Shining, Don’t Look Now is a massively influential, traditionally gothic, British film that revolves largely around the occult. Married couple John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura (Julie Christie) travel to Venice on business, following the traumatic death of their daughter, Christine, who drowned in the grounds of their home. At the breakfast table of their hotel they meet the Baxter sisters; one of whom is blind and claims to have a psychic connection with Christine.
Paranoia, mistaken identity and confusion collaborate to make Don’t Look Now a tense, chilling, supernatural thriller that will play on even the most stern of minds afterwards. It also features probably the most famous sex scene in the history of cinema.
RELEASED: September 25, 2009 | DIRECTOR: Oren Peli | CERTIFICATE: 15 | RUN TIME: 86 minutes | CAST: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat
Similar in many ways to The Blair Witch Project, if only in spawning a cluster of similar films featuring possession and poltergeists; Paranormal Activity shows a big budget and big names aren’t necessary to create a successful, brilliant movie. The film documents Katie and Micah: a young couple, the former of which has been haunted by a supernatural entity since childhood and fears it has followed her into their new home. For peace of mind, Micah mounts a camera at the foot of their bed to record any nighttime disturbances. When strange things start to happen, they enlist the help of a psychic who advises them that a demon is present in their home and they should seek out help from a specialist.
Paranormal Activity’s ‘found’ footage allows the tale of the couple to unfold via the cameras, showing genuinely terrifying, distressing and unnerving events that still make me tuck my feet under the duvet at night. It has since branched out into more of a franchise, sadly losing the scares overtime. Now on the fourth edition, you can see a rundown of the first three films here.
The Blair Witch Project
RELEASED: July 30, 1999 | DIRECTOR: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez | CERTIFICATE: 15 | RUN TIME: 79 minutes | CAST: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard
Arguably the founder of the popular mocukmentary horror film, a genre which has since frequented cinemas for the past decade or so, The Blair Witch Project is beyond scary. Filmed on hand-held cameras, a group of students interview a number of local residents about the Blair Witch legend; based upon a child murderer who claimed to be possessed by a witch in the 1940s. After learning more about disappearances and ritualistic murders, the group of students hike into the woods and set up camp. Odd things begin to happen: strange noises echo around them, they soon become lost and maps vanish leaving them completely stranded.
The Blair Witch Project plays on instinctive intense phobias, whether it be the dark, the unknown or be fear itself; all of them play a part in delivering the most terrifying ending to a movie I have ever seen.
RELEASED: November 23, 2007 | DIRECTOR: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza | CERTIFICATE: 18 | RUN TIME: 78 minutes | CAST: Manuela Velasco, Ferrán Terraza, Jorge-Yamam Serrano, Pablo Rosso, David Vert
Perhaps inspired by some of the other mockumentaries appearing on this list, Spanish horror [REC] stands heads and shoulders above many of its peers. When TV reporter Angela Vidal and cameraman Pablo are out filming at Barcelona’s local fire station, the firehouse receives a call out to an old lady trapped in her apartment. When the crew arrive at the building, it soon becomes clear that it’s no routine trip. Trapped in the surrounded, quarantined building; Pablo continues to document the strange events, hoping to capture evidence to ensure the truth is revealed.
[REC]‘s pacing and the fast moving nature of the events make the scares quick and constant. Continuously claustrophobic and tense, with an electric tension that rivals The Blair Witch Project; the build up of tension and dread towards the ultimate reveal of the monster was enough to make me hide behind the sofa. Breathless, unsettling and one of the most eerie uses of night vision yet; [REC] has proved that it’s much more than just another gimmicky found footage film. The sequel, [REC]2, borrows much of the same pacing and climatic terror. Whilst lacking the surprise of the first, it’s still one of the greatest horror sequels around.
RELEASED: May 23, 1980 | DIRECTOR: Stanley Kubrick | CERTIFICATE: 15 | RUN TIME: 119 minutes (International Cut) | CAST: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers
The Shining is the mother of all horror films; it’s iconic images and scenes continue to be referenced in contemporary film and television. Writer Jack (Nicholson) takes a seasonal job as a care taker for hotel over the winter months with the hope of working on his novel. Jack is accompanied by his wife and son Danny; a psychic who is plagued by terrifying visions though out. A combination of writers block and cabin fever turns Jack violent and unpredictable, resulting in his descent into madness that adds to the terror of the film.
Brilliant, claustrophobic and disturbing; Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is my go-to horror film all year around. Kubrick’s direction is beautiful yet bewitching. Released on the big screen as it’s never been seen before (the American version is being screened nationwide), I’m excited and incredibly apprehensive about how I’m going to react to that bathtub scene.