What’s our favourite scary movies?
It’s that time of year once more. Halloween is nearly upon us and with it comes the release of this calendar years horror films at the cinema.
But what makes a good horror film? Let’s face it, the genre has been done a thousand times. From slasher movies to zombie films, from monster movies to paranormal flicks. We have it covered in our Five Best Movies to watch on Halloween.
Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960)
Our list of movies to watch on Halloween begins with an all-time classic directed by the late, great Alfred Hitchcock. The master of suspense builds us into a frenzy when Janet Leigh (Mother of Jamie Lee Curtis, the actress from the Halloween movies franchise) steals money from her employer in order to start a life with her already married boyfriend. Problem is, she doesn’t get far due to fatigue and a hellish rainstorm. Tired and in need of some rest she stops by the deserted Bates Motel.
You’ve heard of that motel before haven’t you?
Well, it’s more famous than the characters and the actors who played them which is testament to Hitchcock. The director was so meticulous in his planning, every inch of the set adds to the mystery of Norman Bates (played by Anthony Perkins) and his mother. A special mention must go to Perkins for making Norman Bates arguably the creepiest motel owner Hollywood has seen.
It Follows (Mitchell, 2014)
Now for a modern classic with It Follows. I saw this film at the cinema when it was released in February 2015. This is so significant because you do not often see horror films released at that time of year. After all, that tends to be the peak Oscar nominated film time period and here is this independent horror film with an unknown cast just popping up in the middle of an awards fiasco.
It Follows wasn’t nominated for an Oscar but it sure does carry the might of an instant classic, hence making our Halloween movies list. What tends to be scarier than obvious gimmicks and monsters crawling out from under the sink is the feeling of the unknown. Something is lurking round every corner but you don’t know what it is or where it is.
Something is exactly what follows our main protagonist Jay around for exactly 100 minutes of an eerie backdrop and the unspeakable unknown. This isn’t your average throwaway college horror flick.
The Shining (Kubrick, 1980)
One of the only Stephen King novels that I believe has translated well to the silver screen is The Shining. I cannot think of a better director to take the reins on a project like this than Stanley Kubrick. Then you add Jack Nicholson to the role of male lead and you are cooking up a proverbial storm.
The Shining kicks off with a typically masterful establishing shot of a lone car travelling through the mountainous peaks towards a hotel at the very top of the hill. Why is something so obviously boring, brilliant? If you know Kubrick then you know that every shot of every scene in every movie he’s made has hidden meaning and it’s no different here.
This film has coined a million and one catchphrases and even people who have never seen the film will know references to parts of it. This gives you a sign of the scale of horror film I’m talking about here, what’s more Nicholson and Duvall turn in some good performances.
Rumour has it that Kubrick worked his cast so hard on the set of The Shining that many of them had breakdowns during and after the film was made. Kubrick was aware of this but said that the authenticity of performances had to be channelled from real emotions and this couldn’t be obtained from plain acting (or words to that effect).
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Wiene, 1920)
Back when film didn’t have sound it relied almost solely on the actors performance and of course visuals. During the early days of cinema around the world, new movements began demonstrating the artistic visions of pioneers and leading filmmakers of the time. One of the early movements to come out of european cinema was German Expressionism and it’s this movement which gave horror it’s backbone in cinema.
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is almost dreamlike in its appearance and plot. Cesare played by Conrad Veidt is hypnotised by Dr Caligari and wanders round the carnivalesque streets of Germany in somnambulist state. Almost like a quip on the Frankenstein story Cesare is the doctor’s experiment, he can see into the future. Or can he?
This film is to cinema, what the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is to art. That is, it’s the quintessential artistic visionary of a movement that has been the influence and inspiration to many. The acute-angled lighting and shadows from roofs and windows of buildings, unlock the magic of this 1920s gem. This work can been seen as a direct influence for the style of many Tim Burton movies.
An early performance from Conrad Veidt paved the way for a successful career for the actor who would eventually star in Hollywood movies of the 1940s. I have to add this freaky picture of Veidt in the another of his films The Man Who Laughs (Leni, 1928)
Keeping in touch with the halloween/horror theme this picture of Veidt as Gwynplaine used to give me nightmares. The Joker from Batman, anyone?
Dead of Night (Cavalcanti, Crichton, Dearden & Hamer, 1945)
I really do save the best until last. This British film from Ealing Studios in 1945 will add a spook on your Halloween night. The narrative of Dead of Night is made up of four unconnected stories told in a country cottage by friends at a dinner party. The stories become connected.
I want to draw attention to one of those four stories in particular. It gives me chills thinking about it now and I first saw it when I was about nine years old when my dad (who is something of a film connoisseur) was watching it and warned me that it was an eerie film. This film is not the jump in the night scary film that others appearing on the Halloween movies list are.
The last chapter of this film is entitled “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” and was directed by Alberto Cavalcanti. The story is simple, a successful ventriloquist begins to imagine his dummy (Hugo) is alive. It sounds corny, doesn’t it? Well in parts it is but Michael Redgrave who plays ventriloquist Maxwell Frere is able to counter any feelings you might have towards how dated this film appears, with a truly gripping and terrifying performance. Purely psychological and simply mesmerising.
We hope you sleep well on October 31st and have yourselves a safe and fun Halloween night.
Trick or Treat? Vote below on whether you agree with our Five of the Best – Movies to watch on Halloween.
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Why not check our History of Horror Movies infographic for a walk-through time with the scariest films to reach our cinema’s.