Time for October 22 through 31, a mix of psychologically scarring scares and some fun scares to lighten the mood!
Remember: They aren’t ranked and it’s not a countdown, but a list of suggestions I think will scare your face off—or make you laugh, or both! The list is drawn from all types of horror—monster movies, ghost stories, slashers, etc.—basically everything that ever scared me or was just fun to watch because sometimes, I like being scared. Everything’s broken down by the type of horror to expect, a quick plot synopsis, why the film is scary, what my favorite scene was (as non-spoilery as I can make them), why you should see the movie and suggestions for further viewing. Watch one film a night for a 31-day Halloween horrorfest. Enjoy and Happy Halloween!
Directed by John McNaughton
Starring Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, and Tracy Arnold
Rated NC-17; Running time 1 hour, 30 minutes
Type of horror: Psychological
Synopsis: Character study of a man compelled to commit murder
Why it’s scary: Because it’s a character study, we don’t get scenes of the police trying to find Henry. It’s like the cops don’t know he’s out there at all…
My favorite scene: It’s less my favorite than the most stomach-churning: When Otis is reviewing a video of a home invasion he and Henry commit. The imagery is realistic, intense, and frightening.
Why you should see it: Filmed in the style of cinéma vérité, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer follows Henry (Rooker) around as he stalks victims or spends awkward time with his roommates, Otis (Towles) and Otis’ sister, Becky (Arnold), or commits a series of increasingly violent murders. McNaughton implicates the viewer in Henry’s crimes by focusing so tightly on Henry’s activities; there are no good guys to identify with, no safety net of police coming to the rescue. The film is loosely based on the life of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas and shows how someone can murder so many people before—or without ever—being caught.
If you like this film, you might like: Man Bites Dog (1992), a black comedy wherein a group of filmmakers document the daily like of a killer, only to become more and more implicated in his crimes.
The House of The Devil (2009)
Directed by Ti West
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Greta Gerwig, Mary Woronov, Dee Wallace, and Tom Noonan
Rated R; Running time 1 hour, 33 minutes
Type of horror: Satanic
Synopsis: College student in need of rent money agrees to babysit for creepy couple
Why it’s scary: A slowly building sense of dread which becomes unbearable and finally explodes in hysteria
My favorite scene: The final reveal
Why you should see it: West’s stylized and stylish throwback to 1980’s horror. His control of the slow pace of the film is masterful; you know something bad is coming, but not what, and West plays with that fear until finally exposing it in all its bloody glory.
If you like this film, you might like: Rosemary’s Baby (1968): Young couple moves into an apartment in New York, finds out their overbearing old neighbors are devil worshippers
Directed by Bernard Rose
Starring Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons, and Vanessa A. Williams
Rated R; Running time 1 hour, 39 minutes
Type of horror: Urban legend
Synopsis: College student writing about urban legends inadvertently brings one to life
Why it’s scary: You try standing in a dark bathroom saying “Candyman” five times into the bathroom mirror without freaking out
My favorite scene: Helen’s (Madsen) discovery of the murals inside Cabrini-Green
Why you should see it: Candyman has several important themes, particularly race and gender, which resonate long after the film ends. It’s also scary and occasionally, intoxicating (Tony Todd’s voice when he calls out Helen’s name is hypnotic). Candyman is based on a Clive Barker’s short story, “The Forbidden,” which you should also read this Halloween, and is one of the better Barker adaptations committed to film.
If you like this film, you might like: When A Stranger Calls (1979). Have you checked the children lately? HAVE YOU!?
Directed by Wes Craven
Starring Neve Campbell, Skeet Ulrich, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Rose McGowan, and Drew Barrymore
Rated R; Running time 1 hour, 51 minutes
Type of horror: Horror/Comedy/Slasher
Synopsis: High school students are stalked by a killer dubbed Ghostface
Why it’s scary: Scream is self-aware, allowing ample room for comic relief between the kills, but the kills themselves remain chilling
My favorite scene: Pretty much every scene where a horror film trope is violated
Why you should see it: Scream’s characters being aware they are in a slasher film scenario opened up new avenues of achieving scares while still providing the pleasures of fear of a traditional horror film.
If you like this film, you might like: The sequels, Scream 2 (1997) and Scream 3 (2000), which complete a successful horror film trilogy. Skip Scream 4 (2011), though; it’s sub-par.
Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Directed by Sam Raimi
Starring Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, David Paymer, and Dileep Rao
Rated PG-13; Running time 1 hour, 39 minutes
Type of horror: Revenge
Synopsis: Christine (Lohman), a loan officer who fears her boss sees her as weak, tries to get a promotion by refusing to help an old Gypsy woman (Raver) save her home. The woman puts a curse on Christine, and demonic mayhem ensues
Why it’s scary: Raimi’s mastery of atmosphere keeps the audience on edge even when something as goofy-looking as a possessed goat steals the show at a séance
My favorite scene: The goat at the séance, of course
Why you should see it: Raimi proved with Drag Me To Hell that he still has his horror chops, and moreover, that he still loves making horror films. A sense of joy in his work permeates every frame of the film, from eerie shadows to that darn goat. Raimi never waves from the promise of the film’s title, something Hollywood could use more of.
If you like this film, you might like: A Simple Plan (1998); it’s a crime-drama, but it brims with Raimi’s love of filmmaking in a way similar to Drag Me To Hell (not to mention that it’s a damn good movie).
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Starring Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Anthony Heald, Brooke Smith, and Ted Levine
Rated R; Running time 1 hour, 58 minutes
Type of horror: Horror/Thriller
Synopsis: Based on the novel by Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs features Foster as FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Foster), who is aided in her search for a killer dubbed “Buffalo Bill” (Levine) by the notorious cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins).
Why it’s scary: Buffalo Bill is freaky as it is, but then you add the utterly lethal Lecter and things really get out of hand
My favorite scene: Buffalo Bill dancing in the mirror. It’s a scene that could easily generate laughs in the hands of the wrong director and actor, but Demme and Levine sell it
Why you should see it: It’s intellectual, it’s chilling, and it features Academy Award-winning acting, writing, and directing (the film took home the five biggest Oscars that year). The film’s so good that, despite the fact I’d read the book and knew what was going to happen, it had me tensed into a ball during the final act.
If you like this film, you might like: The TV show, “Hannibal”—it’s stylishly atmospheric, boasts Emmy-worthy performances, and has the best Lecter imaginable in Mads Mikkelsen. It’s also pretty damn gory for TV.
The Cabin In The Woods (2012)
Directed by Drew Goddard
Starring Kristin Connelly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and Sigourney Weaver
Rated R; Running time 1 hour, 35 minutes
Type of horror: Satire
Synopsis: A group of friends go to a cabin in the woods on vacation and encounter a family of undead murderers, except everything that happens to them is being orchestrated by outside forces
Why it’s scary: This is a “fun scare” film in the same vein as the original Scream
My favorite scene: The ending. It’s spectacular in its gore, comedy, and finality.
Why you should see it: Like Scream before it, The Cabin In The Woods deconstructs what makes for a scary movie, though this time, it’s not restricted to the slasher genre. It’s loads of fun and it’s a darn shame it was left on the shelf for so long because the movie company didn’t know how to market it. It’ll also change how you look at unicorns forever.
If you like this film, you might like: Cabin Fever (2002), Eli Roth’s tale of a group of friends vacationing in a cabin the woods who encounter misery, this time in the form of a flesh-eating virus. It’s gleefully vicious in its nihilism, a trait unfortunately not carried over to Roth’s most well-known film, the dreadful Hostel.
Directed by Robert Mulligan
Starring Uta Hagen, Diana Muldaur, Norma Connolly, Victor French, and Chris and Martin Udvarnoky (with John Ritter in a small role)
Rated PG or R, depending on which site you read; Running time 1 hour, 48 minutes
Type of horror: Psychological
Synopsis: Adapted by Thomas Tryon from his novel of the same name, The Other is about a series of tragic events befalling the Perry family during the 1930’s. Which one of twin boys Niles and Holland Perry is to blame for the mayhem?
Why it’s scary: The potential cause of the tragedies is a little boy. Ack! Kids are creepy!
My favorite scene: The pitchfork in the hay (“I’m king of the mountain!”)
Why you should see it: Idyllic setting? Check. Twins where you don’t know which one is good and which one is evil? Check. Ultimately heartbreaking answer to the twin good/evil question? Check.
If you like this film, you might like: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane (1976), another film with a creepy kid (played by Jodie Foster) doing creepy things. Why does the tea taste like almonds? You don’t want to know.
Dead Ringers (1988)
Directed by David Cronenberg
Starring Jeremy Irons, Geneviève Bujold
Rated R; Running time 1 hour, 55 minutes
Type of horror: Psychological
Synopsis: Successful twin gynecologists, assured Elliot and shy Beverly (both played by Irons), begin an affair with the same woman (Bujold); when she gets Beverly into drugs, the twins’ close ties start to unravel
Why it’s scary: Drug addiction is terrible; in the hands of the master of body horror, Cronenberg, it’s downright terrifying
My favorite scene: “Instruments for Operating on Mutant Women”
Why you should see it: Irons stars in an acting tour de force. He makes Elliot and Beverly such distinct characters that you’ll swear they are played by two separate people. Add in some very interesting gender politics (why is it, again, that some male doctors think they know a female patient’s body better than the patient does?), Cronenberg’s clinical sensibilities, and those hideous gynecological instruments, and you’re in for a very uncomfortable experience.
If you like this film, you might like: A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), about two sisters who, upon returning from a stint in psychiatric care, begin to suspect their step-mother is up to no good (it’s a little more complicated than that, but I don’t want to give anything away).
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, and Kate Winslet
Rated R; Running Time 1 hour, 47 minutes
Type of horror: Well, this isn’t technically a horror film (it’s more of a thriller), but it’s pretty damn scary when you think about it
Synopsis: Contagion follows several characters as a deadly disease sweeps the planet.
Why it’s scary: Because it could actually happen. You’ll be freaking out every time someone near you sneezes after you see this film.
My favorite scene: The reveal of how the first patient was infected.
Why you should see it: With cases of Ebola rising, not to mention past outbreaks such as SARS and West Nile virus, Contagion could not be a better fit for Halloween 2014. Boasting stellar acting, directing, and cinematography, not to mention the freaky thought that one person catching a new disease could spread it globally, Contagion will both involve you in its characters’ plight while making your entire skinsuit itch.
If you like this film, you might like: The Andromeda Strain (1971), directed by Robert Wise, follows the efforts of a group of scientists trying to contain and destroy an alien virus that’s killed all but two people in a small Arizona town before it spreads to the rest of the world.
Check out the 1st 2 parts of the 31 days of Halloween movie list I wrote here:
Video from YouTube; pictures from Rotten Tomatoes and Wikipedia