And it’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas. It’s Halloween. The end of October is here – and it’s the best holiday of the year. Although, as a Jew, I’m pretty partial to Passover as well. (Would anyone be interested in a Top 10 Passover movies?) But what is Halloween? Children muck about in goofy costumes eating candy and throwing toilet paper on the house belonging to the nice old lady down the street who neglected to buy enough KitKat’s for the whole gaggle of kids suddenly hammering on her door.
At least, that’s what Halloween looks like in movies, and I’ve heard from friends that it’s kind of a big deal in the US of A. Here however, in Sweden, the land where it’s Autumn from March to November, we’re not as enthusiastic about it. Which is a shame. There’s nothing I’d like more than to go trick or treating with all my friends wearing my best Leatherface costume. Except… yes there is something. Watching horror movies.
Recently, while browsing Letterboxd, I came across this list. It’s one of the sites most popular, and is called Top 1000 horror movies. Now, with a name like that, you get exactly what you think you’re going to get. The list works similarly to a survey, and the answers are aggregated from thousands of Letterboxd users leaving comments and voting on the best horror films ever made. There’s bound to be something on here to watch, right?
If you’re like, you’ve been neck-deep in horror for years, which means you’ve seen all the movies at the top of this Letterboxd list, stuff like: The Shining, The Thing, Alien, and The Exorcist. You want some weird shit to spice up the final stretch of the sPoOkiEsT month of the year.
However, even if you’re not like me, and you just want a good place to start, or a cozy time wrapped in blankets on your couch, or whatever else, I put together a list of 10 films, all from different sub-genres. No matter who you are, how much experience you have, or what kind of horror you’re craving, there’s bound to be something on this list for you. Without further ado (that rhymed), this is it, all entries taken from the Letterboxd list:
#1: The Classic – Silence of the Lambs
There’s no better place to start than with an absolute classic like Silence of the Lambs. Yes, I get that most people have probably seen this movie, and you people are free to keep scrolling, but for those that haven’t I’ll give you a quick pitch.
Silence of the Lambs is about a committed rookie FBI agent who seeks assistance from an imprisoned serial killer, to help her catch another killer – the uncontrollable madman known as Buffalo Bill.
This, ladies, gents and non-binary friends, is the only horror film to ever take home the Best Picture Academy Award. The Oscars have always had a known bias against horror films. They don’t like them these days, they didn’t in the past, and they probably never will. So it had to take one hell of a movie to convince them to give away their top prize. Silence of the Lambs is that movie.
This is truly a film that has it all. It features some of the most fascinating performances ever recorded, especially from the cold and calculating Anthony Hopkins and from Jodie Foster in her star-making role as Clarice Starling. It’s got a story that’s equally engaging and unsettling at every turn. I could talk about this movie for the rest of this article. If you’re on the fence about horror movies and this doesn’t make you a fan, I don’t know what will.
#2 The tried and true – Sinister
This Scott Derrickson-directed film about a father who finds some strange tapes in the attic of his new home is quite formulaic. Once you’ve started watching a few horror movies, especially modern day movies about hauntings, you’ll start to notice a certain blueprint emerge in terms of the writing and structuring of the movies.
It’s hard to describe, but it’s there. And Sinister, starring one of my personal favourite actors, Ethan Hawke, goes along with that formula quite snuggly. But in this case, that’s not really a bad thing, because every step of the way, even though it might be easy to figure out if a scary scene is coming up – it’s fantastically well executed. This was one of the first horror movies that properly scared me.
My friends left me alone to go sleep in another room directly after we finished watching it. And I did my best to close my eyes and drift off but I couldn’t. I laid there, staring into the darkness for minutes on end until the coat hanging on my door started to resemble something else. That’s when I ran up out of my bed, turned all the lights on, and put on a playlist of some YouTubers playing Card Against Humanity. I woke up seven hours later and the playlist still wasn’t over, but I was finally soothed. That’s how scary this was.
To be fair, I was thirteen. I think it proves my point, nonetheless, though. Sinister may be formulaic, but it’s a formula that works in its favour, and a formula they use to scare the bejeezus out of the audience.
#3: The Braaaains – 28 Days Later
Zombies are more popular these days than ever before. The Walking Dead is coming to a close on TV, The Last of Us Part 2 is just around the corner for video game fans. Everyone likes a good zombie movie. Or, at least most people do. And that’s why I thought we’d head back a couple years to take a look at Danny Boyle’s influential apocalypse-flick 28 Days Later.
If you watched the first couple seasons of The Walking Dead and thought, “Dang, I wish they’d go back to the scary, depressing atmosphere of traveling along deserted landscapes they had in season 1 instead of treading water at a farm or a prison”, well congratulations, this is the movie for you.
Filled with eerie atmosphere punctuated by break-neck chases, 28 Days Later is like an anxiety attack come to life. The visuals are raw, the editing is fast and so are the zombies. That’s right, these aren’t your classic Romero-types. These aren’t your grandaddy’s zombies. These are some high speed undead. Few things have tensed me up as much as the high-octane, run-for-your-fucking-life chases in this film.
Plus, if you liked the first episode of The Walking Dead, basically half of that was ripped straight from this movie. So that’s… something.
#4 The (Feel) Good – Coraline (2009)
Of course, you’ll need something to watch with younger members of the family. Or just something more cozy than horrifying in general. It’s cold outside, and you just want to wrap yourself up in several blankets, have a small fire crackling by the hearth, drinking a cup of hot chocolate and watch something suitably creepy in that nice sort of way.
Coraline is the movie that’ll send shivers up your spine, but it feels good. Makes you smile. And what really brings it all home is the fact that the movie is stop-motion animated. It is simply impossible to watch something in stop-motion and not feel all cozy and snuggly inside.
I’m not going to tell you anything more about the movie. Trust me, it’s good, it’s creepy and it has exactly the feeling you’re looking for if what I just described sounds up your alley.
#5 The Bad – Anaconda (1997)
For me, there are few things as fun as a terrible horror movie. Inviting a few friends over and laughing at a film intended to frighten just feels good. It makes your soul bound and leap. And sure, it’s great fun to giggle at the lack of budget in things like Manos: The Hands of Fate or Jack Frost, but the best possible scenario is when the movie had no reason to fail. When the cast is big, the budget is high, and the laughs are plenty.
Such is the case with Anaconda, a 1997 abomination starring (and brace yourself for this one) Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Owen Wilson, Danny Trejo and Eric Stoltz. It had a $45 million dollar budget and nothing stopping it from being the Hollywood horror hit of the summer. Except somewhere along the line, if it was the script, director or gigantic, stupidly expensive entirely CGI snake, I don’t know, but somewhere along the line something went wrong.
My money’s on the huge CGi snake. Just look at that screenshot. This movie is one of the funniest around, so gather some friends and throw this on and you’ll have a blast.
#6 The Ugly – Saló: or 120 Days of Sodom (1972)
On literally the other end of the universe, we have Saló.
“What could be so bad about this nondescript picture of a man looking through a very small pair of binoculars?”, you might say if you’ve never heard of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final film. Well, let me tell you, that picture of man looking through a very small pair of binoculars was just about the only Safe For Work screenshot I could find.
It is the story of a group of Italian fascist elites who kidnap a bunch of young boys and girls, take them to a mansion in the middle of nowhere and torture them in increasingly horrific ways, and that’s the whole movie. Kind of.
Saló: or 120 Days of Sodom is a miserable, depressing, disgusting, off-putting and confrontational film. It’s up there with the Cannibal Holocaust’s and Human Centipede’s of the world in terms of infamy. Most every film buff has heard of this movie, but few have watched it. Because when paired with titles like those I mentioned just now, one would be forgiven for thinking this was simply a garish, tasteless film whose only purpose is to shock.
However, that is not the case. Soon, you’ll notice this movie has quite a bit to say. Unlike Human Centipede and the others in that camp, Saló feels urgent. It was made for a reason. The director had something important to say and said it in the most blunt way he possibly could.
Doesn’t make it easy to watch, though, that’s for sure.
#7 The “Wait, what did you say this was called?” – ThanksKilling (2009)
This is a movie about an evil demonic turkey that kills people and says dumb one-liners and it’s called ThanksKilling. What the hell else do you need?
#8 The Hide Your Face In a Pillow – Audition (1999)
In 1999, Takashi Miike put together one of the scariest movies ever made, a favourite of many horror fans, myself, Eli Roth, the Soska sisters and Quentin Tarantino included. It is about a man whose wife has lived alone with his son for a long time since his wife passed away. Together with his friend, they come up with a scheme to audition for the leading role in a romantic comedy, while truly auditioning a series of girls to be the protagonist’s bride to be.
I’d advise against Googling this movie and staying as blind as you possibly can before watching it. It takes you on the trip of your life and throws you head first into one of the single most disturbing endings in cinema history.
Audition is brilliant in every way and is, in my opinion, required viewing for any and all film enthusiasts, whether you are into horror or not. This is a spectacular film, so if you think you can handle it, you have to do yourself the favour of seeing it. Although, be warned, if you’re squeamish, keep a finger on the off-button.
#9 The One Your Great Grandma Saw in the Theatre – Vampyr (1932)
A few years back, there was a genius Danish director named Carl Theodor Dreyer. He is most famous for The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), but this underappreciated horror gem is almost as great.
This is a silent film, shot for pretty cheap, and every single aspect of it makes it creepier. The cinematography is amazing, utilizing shadows in ways no one had ever done, at a time in film when utilizing scary shadows was all the rage.
Despite being silent, it also has an incredibly intense climax. If there was any director who could successfully stress you out without any sound of music, it was Dreyer, and he makes full use of every tool in the book to creep you out.
All in all, for this Halloween season, go out there and watch something new. For those of you just starting out, I hope I’ve convinced you to check out a couple cool movies. For you film buffs, well, I hope I brought up at least a few you haven’t seen before.