The best holiday of the year is rapidly approaching and you may want to huddle up in front of the TV and watch something that’s going to make you feel unsafe in your own home. After all, it is tradition. So here for you are some of my picks to watch this Halloween. Now, I could easily say go and watch the classics like The Shining, Halloween or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and if you haven’t seen them yet then you definitely should do this you shameful human being, but I want to highlight some lesser known but hugely worthy films for you to check out instead.
Asia has always made very good ghost stories. You will have seen or at least heard of The Ring or The Grudge but you probably haven’t heard of Shutter, from Thailand, and in my opinion it’s the best of the lot. After being involved in a hit and run accident a young photographer starts to notice strange images appearing in his photographs. Though Shutter doesn’t particularly bring anything new to the ghost story genre, it features a lank haired ghost girl that you find in all these films, it does what they do very well. Easily one of the scariest films I’ve seen, it will make you jump as well as scare you to your core and at one point is shocking and genuinely heart breaking. It’s a really good idea not to watch it in bed. Or just before bed. Trust me. And make sure it’s the original and not the American version with Pacey from Dawson’s Creek.
The House of the Devil (2009)
Ti West has been making a name for himself in horror for a while now having directed a segment in the first V/H/S film and the very good The Sacrament from a couple of years ago. The House of the Devil was the film that really started to get him noticed. Set in 1983 a broke college student takes a babysitting job. When she gets to the house the job seems a lot more unusual than it first appeared. Ti West knows his horror and The House of the Devil is steeped in 80’s horror nostalgia and is a pleasure for horror fans with a knowledge and appreciation of 80’s horror films, but it also has a lot for those uninitiated. Like all really great horror movies, The House of the Devil takes its time and creates a foreboding atmosphere. Not a lot happens for the first half of the film, except one shocking act of violence. This may put off the casual viewer but those who are willing to be sucked in have their patience greatly rewarded once the film hits its second half and everything starts going crazy. A confidently handled and well-crafted film, The House of the Devil knows how to scare you.
The Borderlands (2013)
Sound design can be a horror director’s best tool and yet a lot of them neglect to use it to its full potential, instead they’re happy to just make you jump with a loud noise. Director Elliot Goldner uses it perfectly in The Borderlands, currently his only directed feature film. Vatican investigators are sent to a rural village where there has apparently been miraculous happenings. When they get there they find they aren’t welcome and the miracles may not be sent from God. The Borderlands is a film which does a lot with very little. It doesn’t throw around CGI monsters and ghouls to shout in your face. Like The House of the Devil it takes its time and slowly ratchets up the tension, slowly letting things escalate at the church night after night. The Borderlands also focuses on its characters, letting you get to know them and enjoy spending time with them before plunging them in to the horror which actually invests you in their lives, unlike a lot of horror films. The ending is also probably one of the craziest you’ll have seen in a long time. Watch it with the best sound system or headphones you can to get the full experience. I can’t wait for Goldner to direct his next feature.
The Conspiracy (2012)
The Conspiracy is a faux documentary that manages to make its pretend documentary sections as interesting and entertaining as its horror elements. Two documentary filmmakers start making a film about a conspiracy theorist. When he mysteriously goes missing it turns out that they might have stumbled upon something much bigger and much more dangerous. Mixing genres is a difficult thing to do. Your film can come out as a mish mash of things rather than a unified whole. How do you create a documentary but still make it scary? Somehow director and writer Christopher McBride achieved this with his first feature. Starting off as a slightly funny and irreverent documentary, The Conspiracy draws you in and then starts to mount the dread. Playing on real conspiracies, the film allows you to get wrapped up in the story and, though you know it’s not real, part of you can’t always help but wonder. The film builds towards its big set piece in the final third that cranks up the tension and dread resulting in a quite distressing and scary finale that will get your adrenaline pumping.
Banshee Chapter (2013)
This recommendation does come with a caveat. Banshee Chapter does have some story problems. Its plot is confusing and wayward and has a pointless final twist. So why have I included it? Because it really knows how to scare you. Journalist Anne Roland investigates her friend’s sudden disappearance and uncovers the disturbing truth behind some governmental experimentation. Banshee Chapter is the only film by director Blair Erickson (starting to notice a trend?) and it could easily just be forgotten in the hundreds of direct to DVD horror films that get released every year but I’m bringing it to your attention because this is one of the genuinely scary films I’ve seen in a while. From its very first scene, Banshee Chapter knows how to stage an effective scare and how to keep scaring you. It’s a shame about its plot but put Banshee Chapter on, turn off the lights and prepare to be genuinely frightened.
The Canal (2014)
Psychological horror always deserves a place in your Halloween viewing. This low budget, home grown horror is cleverly handled and plotted with a healthy dose of the weird to stick in your mind. Film archivist David is stressed and tired from work and moving house. After he catches his wife cheating he passes out in a public toilet. When he wakes up his wife has disappeared and strange things start happening in their new home. After some investigation he finds that the house has a troubled past. Starring The Man in the High Castle’s Rupert Evans and Steve Oram, The Canal is an atmospheric ghost story and psychological thriller that plays with our perceptions as to whether what we are seeing is real or whether it’s because of David’s fracturing psyche. It has an atmosphere of creeping dread, a few chilling scares and a genuinely distressing finale.
Session 9 (2001)
Peter Mullan is one of our greatest actors and he’s brilliant in this psychological horror. It was completely passed over on its release but has slowly been gaining a strong cult following in the years since. An asbestos cleaning crew win the contract to clean up an old insane asylum. Tensions and old history rise between the crew as the stress of the job starts to get to them. Things take a turn for the worse when one of them disappears. Director Brad Anderson is probably better known for The Machinist and he has directed a lot of episodes of TV shows including The Wire, Boardwalk Empire and Fringe, but he has never bettered a feature than with Sessions 9. Another film that plays with the sanity and viewpoint of its main character, Session 9 delves into human horror and creates effective and claustrophobic scenes and is probably the best film set in the old horror staple setting of the insane asylum.
The Taking (2014)
Called The Taking of Deborah Logan in the US, The Taking is a film a lot more interesting and memorable than its title. Like The Conspiracy it is part found footage and part documentary horror. An elderly woman fighting Alzheimer’s disease agrees to be filmed as part of a documentary. As her disease goes on it seems that it is not just Alzheimer’s that is affecting her behaviour and body. Criticism could be levelled against this film for taking a tragic and distressing disease such as Alzheimer’s, which effects people and families very badly, and making a piece of horror entertainment about it. However, this is a criticism that could be levelled at any piece of media that uses real world inspiration for its entertainment. The first third of the film is handled quite well with the Alzheimer’s treated as the horrible disease it is and The Taking shows the hard effects that it has on Deborah Logan’s family. From there it splinters off into something much more firmly in the horror genre as otherworldly occurrences start to happen. The film cleverly uses flash frame shots to unsettle you and uses its set up to make you care for the characters. The film goes full blown weird by its final third and features some memorable moments and images, one of which you may have seen on the internet already, while keeping the scares and tense atmosphere.