I would guess that I have my mother’s enthusiasm for all things spooky to thank for my love of my dad’s birthday (happy birthday my favourite old[er] dude!), or, more accurately, the celebration he shares his birthday with: Halloween. Whilst the meaning of this day has changed with cultural beliefs and religious practices, I am glad we have retained the “dressing up as scary stuff” aspect of Samhain, even if (most of us) are no longer trying to scare off ghosts and other malevolent spirits. Growing up I used to look forward to my mum’s halloween parties more than any other annual celebration, and still love decorating the house and opening the door to young trick or treaters out in pursuit of whatever goodies they can get their hands on. But there is another reason I love this date, and it is that All Hallow’s Eve inspires so many who normally stay well clear of anything of the sort to dip their feet into the world of scary movies (which I am usually otherwise forced to watch alone).
Of course, there are a billion lists already available online covering “the scariest films of all time”, “best horror/insert-horror-subgenre-here films of all time”, “best new horror movies”, etc., so you’ll be happy to learn that this is going to be something at least a little different. Below you will find a list of films (of no specific genre) to watch on Halloween, but offer something more than just being scary. I back this approach for a few reasons:
- Not everyone is scared by the same things, and so if a film’s only strength is its “scariness” and little else, the impact of the film will vary by the degree to which you possess a certain phobia. What’s more, much like can happen when someone describes a food as “spicy”, you may accidentally invite a pissing-contest in which people begin to joke around and make light of a film (in an attempt to show how unfazed they are or something), which whilst sometimes a good laugh (particularly with “so-bad-they’re-good” gems, although that’s kind of the point I suppose) can ruin the experience for everyone else. After all, most fictional works are more enjoyable when one can suspend disbelief and lose themselves in the story.
- I believe at least most of the core facets of what makes a film “good” to be universally applicable rather than genre specific: having an interesting or engaging plot or concept, the strength of the acting, possessing a strong art style/cinematography, and many more.
- There’s something for everyone, or at least a better response to the person at your halloween gathering who won’t join in watching something because they “just don’t see the point of scaring yourself” (and frankly more reason to watch a film altogether).
- I save myself some grief at the hands of the Genre-Police (ever notice those comments something along the lines of “Actually, x or y movie isn’t horror, but psychological thriller”?). More to the point, many films outside the conventional genres of horror/thriller (and their infinite sub-genres) can also match the definition of “horror” (a thing causing an intense feeling of fear, shock, dismay, disgust, anxiety, or nervousness).
So, without further ado, my list of Halloween recommendations:
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Nominated for 7 and winning no less than all “big five” Academy Awards (including Best Actor for Hopkins’s 16 minutes of screen time), this one really needs no introduction. Hannibal Lecter has become one of cinema’s most iconic – and chilling – characters for very good reason. (A good one to reach for in the company of film snobs).
I Saw the Devil (2010)
This Korean masterpiece is as beautifully filmed as it is unflinchingly savage. A cruel, tense, and violent, yet incredibly human and emotional (if you can see beyond the blood), game of cat and mouse.
Goodnight Mommy (2015)
This Austrian film plays with some real (and terrifying) psychological conditions (such as Capgras syndrome), and is a triumph in artistic style, concept, and storyline, which through a series of twists and turns will make you question what you accept to be real.
The Invitation (2016)
Slow and steady wins the race. Another beautifully shot movie that plays wonderfully with human psychology, this time in the context of a dinner party between old friends. This film controls both pace and tension levels throughout to create a complex emotional rollercoaster, tackling many difficult themes from relationships to death along the way.
This film takes a familiar horror movie setting – an isolated house in the woods – and ramps up the tension by excluding an entire sense: the protagonist is deaf. I love that this movie has a leading character whose disability is not the crux of the film but is rather an aspect of her character used to change one’s perspective of an otherwise clichéd concept, which I see as both ingenious (from a storyline perspective) and empowering . What’s more the film stays engaging despite the scarcity of dialogue and being filmed at a single location, which speaks volumes of not only the storyline itself, but also the movie’s direction and cinematography.