October is finally here. Besides lengthy queues for pumpkin spice lattes and the first signs of autumn as leaves fall gently off the trees, this month means one thing: Halloween.
The most frightening day on the calendar has for years been a point of reference for cinema (mostly, but not exclusively, horror movies). There’s little better on a Halloween night than cuddling up under a blanket with a hot drink, indulging yourself in the scariest, funniest, or just plain twisted stories that your brain will let you find entertaining. From grotesque monsters to zombie comedies, there are plenty of films out there fit for Halloween viewing.
Our writers have chosen the five films they keep returning to each Halloween, and explain why each one is their favourite. Although this is far from a definitive list, all five films below offer something a little different. From classic bogeyman tales to mind-bending psychological disintegrations, Halloween is a perfect opportunity to either return to one of your grisly favourites, or to discover a whole new meaning of fear.
The Exorcist (1973)
At the tail end of the Nixon era and in the middle of a devastating oil embargo, William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty released a movie perfectly catered to America’s 1970s existential crisis: The Exorcist. This story of the graphic demonic possession of a 12-year-old child in an affluent American suburb is a deceptively unconventional Halloween classic. Audiences unfamiliar with Friedkin’s movie will likely anticipate two hours of constant gore, buckets of slime and bulging demonic faces popping out of doorways. This isn’t the case at all.
The Exorcist’s strength comes from its masterful restraint. Lengthy stretches of quiet conversations, detailed medical diagnoses and personal introspection are jarringly punctuated by screeches of inexplicably powerful body horror. The effect is that Friedkin’s film lulls you into watching it as a strangely snug autumnal family drama (not unlike a Bergman movie), before shocking your senses with the most brilliantly remorseless horror imaginable.
Words by Frank Evans
Nosferatu: A Symphony Of Horror (1922)
Halloween is the spookiest season of the year, a time when the greatest frights and ghosts emerge from the darkest shadows to haunt the living. No other film symbolises this deepest fear than the 1922 German classic Nosferatu. Created as an unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Max Schrek portrays the elusive vampire Count Orlok with an eye for a new residence and malevolent ulterior motives. With his imposing uncanny appearance and the slightest mention of Orlok’s name shaping great fear, the Count slowly creeps out of the darkness to spread a reign of terror.
Nosferatu not only serves as a quintessential horror film for Halloween, but features some sensational artistic direction to instil this frightening tale. With its distorted German-expressionist inspired architecture and unnerving atmosphere throughout, the audience is invited into a world of complete ambiguity and unease. The result cements Nosferatu as a frightening and unforgettable experience.
Words by Ethan Soffe
The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s The Thing is expertly paced so that what begins as a slow trudge through the snow, quickly precipitates into a head first slide towards mass annihilation. MacReady (Kurt Russell) is quickly established as the most competent leader in this struggle for survival, in which a team of explorers are hunted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the form of its victims.
Early on, we are led to assume that MacReady is nothing less than compulsive and short-sighted, after we witness his overreaction to losing a game of chess. How wrong we are. MacReady is the hero for the moment because of his ability to think outside the box. When the stakes are this high, failure is not an option; destroying the game is preferable to losing it. A perfectly crafted study into paranoia and isolation, as horror movies go this is a thing of beauty.
Words by Jake Abatan
Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
Edgar Wright’s ode to classic zombie cinema shines in its own right thanks to a resplendently red blend of horror and humour, ideal for Halloween. The first act derives its laughs from the ignorance of its Spaced-inspired slackers, who never quite connect with the brilliantly interrupted fragments of doomsday newscasts littering their morning.
In a brilliantly executed single take, Shaun walks from his flat to the shop. During this, he slips in a pool of blood and dismisses it, mistakes a zombified shop assistant’s grunts for typical English customer service, and is too hungover to differentiate between a rubbish-strewn street on a miserably grey London day and the tell-tale signs of an in-progress apocalypse. After a Freddie Mercury-powered round of snooker cue drubbing and a round of zombie killing, Wright delivers a contradistinctively bleak climax that’s undercut just right in the epilogue. It’s red at its best.
Words by Alex Crisp
The Shining (1980)
The Shining holds a demonic staying power in one’s mind that few movies can replicate, and even fewer can do so in such a terrifying and mysterious way. Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about the the fractured Torrance family has become a regular staple in the horror movie pantheon, and for good reason.
Visions of blood rushing out of a lift, two creepy twins, Room 237… All of these images and more have become pop culture icons. King has repeatedly criticised the film, believing it to be a far cry from his original vision. But Kubrick’s departures from the source material are cinematic masterstrokes. Swapping concrete supernatural horror for ambiguous psychological terror, The Shining has spawned waves of wild theories from fans about what it is truly about. To find that out, you will have to travel to the Overlook this Halloween and check in for yourself.
Words by Cameron Blackshaw
Introductory words by James Hanton
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