Halloween 2020 is approaching, and we’ve got you covered. From Alien to Scream, here are 10+ films to watch on the scariest night of the year, picked by our writers.
Halloween 2020 is just around the corner: the time has come to showcase your pumpkin carving abilities, get creative with the decorations, blow the dust off your Pennywise costume from last year and pick a spooky movie to watch. If you’re all out of ideas, we’ve got you covered. We asked our writers to share their favourite films to watch on the scariest night of the year. From Tim Burton classics to recent releases, here are 10+ films to watch this Halloween.
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt
Related article: All Alien Films Ranked From Worst to Best
All too often, horror films tend to lose their edge with age: either the effects don’t hold up or restrictions of the time period prevented the story from going as far as it needed to go. Thankfully, this isn’t the case for Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Alien, which is still just as terrifying as it was when it debuted over forty years ago. Following the crew of the spaceship Nostromo, Alien cleverly subverted expectations by doing what so few horror films do and making the characters intelligent. All crew members (with one notable and shocking exception) continually make the right choice when given the opportunity, which makes the iconic xenomorph all the scarier as it picks them off one by one. When you add this in with the stellar production design that ushed in the age of dirty sci-fi (which Scott would return to three years later with Blade Runner) and Jerry Goldsmith’s unsettling dissonant score, Alien becomes not only one of the greatest horror or sci-fi films, but one of the best movies of all time, period.
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton
Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Be…fore we continue, let’s set the scene. Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara (Geena Davis) are a recently deceased suburban couple who hire an eccentric bio-exorcist, Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton), to rid their home of some unwanted living inhabitants. Often overlooked as a Halloween film, Tim Burton’s bonkers 80s cult classic is a haunted house story told from the point of view of the ghosts.
It’s funny, acerbic and absolutely mad in the best of ways. From an amazing soundtrack, to deliberately bad B-movie style special effects, it’s an assault on the senses and a whole lot of fun. Michael Keaton improvised the majority of his lines, and it’s palpable through the screen that he’s having an absolute blast with this character. Rude, crass, snarky and chomping at the scenery, his is such an over-the-top performance that if the rest of the cast hadn’t been committed to Burton’s now-signature brand of off-kilter, it would have eclipsed everything else on screen. Luckily, it seems everyone involved was in on the joke and the end result is pulpy, bizarre, and whilst lacking in spooks and tricks, certainly delivers a treat. It might not be one everyone has seen, but it’s one everyone should see. If only for one of the best dinner party scenes ever committed to celluloid. Altogether now: “Day-o…”
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Helena Bonham-Carter, Michelle Pfeiffer
Dark Shadows marks the latest collaboration between with Tim Burton and
Johnny Depp, whose interest for quirky roles has never been expressed better than this
since his role of Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a vampire escaping 200 years of entombment who wakes up to get revenge on sultry witch Angelique (played by an histrionic Eva Green), who turned him into a blood-sucking creature out of her unrequited love for him, burying him for two centuries.
The perfectly assembled cast also includes Burton’s former muse Helena Bonham-
Carter, as extraordinary as always in the role of the eccentric live-in psychiatric,
Michelle Pfeiffer and Jonny Lee Miller as the Collins family’s matriarch
and patriarch, Bella Heathcote as Barnaba’s love interest, Gully McGrath and an
unusual Chloë Grace Moretz as the family teenagers.
Dark Shadows is perhaps Burton’s oddest feature, as his usual gothic tone is mixed
with a very generous amount of humour, which is exactly where its real enjoyment
lies. Freaky characters, sassy, quick dialogues (Barnaba’s remark to Carolyn, “15 and no
husband! You must put those birthing hips to good use at once!”, is hysterically funny),
bright costumes and a perfectly kitsch 70s setting serve as the main conduit for
most of Barnaba’s unintentional humour. Burton’s signature flair for the peculiar and bizarre makes Dark Shadows a brilliant spooky watch with a surprisingly fun flavour.
Director: Neil Marshall
Cast: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid
It’s Halloween, and Halloween is a time for scares. I still recall the grown man who shrieked in horror in the midst of The Descent’s climax. In most horror films that sort of outburst would usually result in nervous laughter, a crack in the tension, here is seemed appropriate. I had taken my then 12-year-old sister with me to see the film, when we left the theater she was quietly shaking. She still seems perturbed if the film is mentioned nearly a decade and a half later. And this was a rainy day screening in a theater at the beach.
Director Neil Marshall managed to tap into something very visceral in his story of a half dozen women who choose to go spelunking in some Appalachian caverns. As the women are forced off the beaten path, through more and more narrow crevices certain to turn the stomach of anyone with even the faintest bit of claustrophobia, they crawl unbeknownst deeper and deeper into the lair of some genuinely unsettling blind cave creatures. Played gamely by professional dancers, the film’s creatures evince a profoundly unsettling, otherworldly feel in their movements. While the characters are broadly archetypical and tend to blend together, that does not undercut Marshall’s mastery of the concept’s tension one bit. Turn off the light, shut the blinds, put away your phone, and get ready to never be able to look at a cave the same way again.
I SEE YOU
Director: Adam Randall
Cast: Helen Hunt, Jon Tenney, Judah Lewis
Full review: here
What is it that makes a film truly scary? While gory, graphic horror movies with plenty of bloodshed and violence and a supernatural creature on the loose are bound to provide with enough thrills to make your Halloween night memorable, it’s not the zombies, ghosts, werewolves, clowns and other otherwordly creatures that really get to me. To me, the most terrifying, nightmare-inducing horror films are those that provide us with a logical explanation for all the unexplicable, terrible events affecting the lives of our helpless protagonists.
Adam Randall’s I See You is one of those movies, as what would initially seem to be the story of the Harpers, a small-town family dealing with the aftermath of an affair, soon turns into a tense crime drama when a 12-year-old boy goes missing, and later evolves into a haunting psychological thriller when objects begin to disappear inside the Harpers’ house. As a series of bizarre, chilling events occur and new, mysterious characters are introduced, we soon realise that the puzzle to solve is more complex and uncomfortable that we could ever have imagined, with a bigger picture that only becomes clear at the very end. Both cleverly executed and exceptionally well-written, I See You is as suspenseful as it is meaningful. It will keep you guessing till the very end, and you’ll want to watch it all over again when the credits roll.
Director: Kaneto Shindo
Cast: Kichiemon Nakamura, Nobuko Otowa, Kiwako Taichi
Kaneto Shindo’s proto-feminist historical fable is more concerned with atmosphere and social commentary than typical horror thrills, but is nonetheless a haunting, provocative experience. Kuroneko follows a mother and daughter who come back from the dead in cat-like apparitions in order to kill all samurai. However, they meet their match in the form of a young war-hero tasked with eliminating them. What occurs is a heart-wrenching, ethereal look at how the State discounts the testimonies of the traumatized as well as providing a critique on oppressive, traditional, masculinist institutions (here in the form of samurai, but can easily be applied to patriarchy as a whole or other protectors of the powerful, such as police).
What makes Kuroneko such a riveting watch is not only its relevance, but also its inspired visual style. Shindo and cinematographer Kiyomi Kuroda revel in unnerving chiaroscuro lighting, and with the help of editor Hisao Enoki, utilize slow-motion and other surreal flourishes to heighten the unearthly feel of the film. Mysterious light often emanates from nowhere, the slow-motion emphasizing the fantastic beauty of the spirits. The incredible filmmaking techniques used throughout Kuroneko help make it one of the most gorgeous, haunting horror films of all time, and its insightful political commentary continues to resonate decades later.
Director: Julia Ducournau
Cast: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella
Anyone can admit it: growing up can be pretty terrifying. There’s something so special about films that mix the genres of coming of age and horror: something about them captures the hysterical essence of finding yourself so well. Of course, Raw isn’t the first film to tackle ideas of budding womanhood melding with something frantic and unknown, but there is something so unique about its wit and way that it goes about these ideas. Justine is an average teenager on her way to vet school per her long family line of vegetarian-vets, and everything appears to be just fine… until hazing begins and Justine is forced to eat raw meat for the first time. She is soon met with a hunger she just can’t shake, for human flesh. This is, of course, a metaphorical link to the struggles that come with being a teenage girl, breaking free from your childhood into full on adulthood.
Raw manages to be visceral in the best way, balancing grotesque gore with humor. The direction is razor sharp, laying dreadful terrain where the audience doesn’t know what to expect, and exploring it beautifully. The more and more Justine comes out of her shell, the more she begins to lose her innocence, the more heavy the atmosphere becomes, almost to the point where it feels suffocating. It’s a film that balances being petrifying and relatable/realistic so well, making it almost unbelievable that it’s a debut.
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Drew Barrymore, David Arquette
After the likes of Jason, Freddy, and Michael had worn out their welcome throughout the 80s and into the early 90s, it was up to Wes Craven’s seminal classic Scream to singlehandedly revive the slasher genre. While audiences had mostly tired of the tawdry tropes of the horror genre – Don’t have sex! Don’t drink or do drugs! Don’t you dare say “I’ll be back!” – and the painfully predictable plots, Scream’s subversive and satirical screenplay (courtesy of wordsmith Kevin Williamson, of Dawson’s Creek fame) confronted these clichés head on, populating the picture with protagonists (including standout Sidney Prescott, played by the captivating Neve Campbell) who were savvy to the story beats of “scary movies” and actively attempted to avoid these tricks as they were stalked by their own serial killer.
Craven, who had previously contributed a gem to the genre with 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, filmed Scream with equal ferocity and fervor, injecting it with an almost unbearable intensity that kept both his characters and crowds on their toes thanks to state of the art suspense that only a master of horror could manifest. From that petrifying prologue where star Drew Barrymore is shockingly slaughtered to the film’s consuming conclusion full of twists, turns, and terror, Scream was an anxiety-inducing adventure that captured creative lightning in a bottle. Many would try to replicate Scream’s success, including some similarly spooky sensations (Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, I Know What You Did Last Summer) and some shameful stinkers (Halloween: Resurrection, Urban Legend), but no copycat could ever compare to the cunning and clever chiller that started it all.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
Every year, when Halloween comes around and it’s time to start revisiting some of my favorites, Stanley Kubrick’s classic is always one of the first I turn on. As far as horror movies to watch around this time of year, you might not get as many jump scares as you do with some other options, but the haunting tale of what happened to the Torrance family after they made their trip to the Overlook Hotel is a perfect way to set the mood for the holiday. It’s hard to say something about The Shining that hasn’t already been said by everyone else. It’s a masterpiece made by one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time, led by an iconic performance from one of the greatest movie stars in Hollywood history.
There are so many moments in this that we’ve seen other movies or shows pay tribute to since the film was released in 1980, so many times where we’re on the edge of our seats filled with dread — even if we’ve seen this movie dozens of times and know exactly where things are going next. Through Kubrick’s mastery with the atmosphere and colors and every other technical aspect of this movie, you get sucked into this world as you watch Nicholson and Shelley Duvall unravel. It’s arguably the best horror movie of all-time, and, if you haven’t seen it yet, this Halloween might be the perfect time to do so.
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: James Woods, Deborah Harry, Sonja Smits, Peter Dvorsky, Les Carlson
On the hunt for titillating new programming for CIVIC TV, sleazy television producer Max Renn discovers Videodrome, a rogue channel broadcasting shockingly graphic torture and murder footage. Desperate to show this newly discovered programming on his network and believing it to be the future of televised entertainment, Renn travels down a deep and dark rabbit hole in search of Videodrome’s origins, uncovering a twisty and convoluted underground world of brainwashing, subversive conspiracy theories, and the dark side of television.
Videodrome is Cronenberg at the height of his cinematic mastery, crafting a film that shocks and compels on both a visceral and cerebral level, exploring ideas about the sinister dimension of the transmitted image and the power of technology to transform minds and bodies that feel eerily relevant in today’s world. Scenes like a VHS tape disappearing into a stomach and fleshy lips bulging from a television screen feature impressive and grotesque biomechanical practical effects work, courtesy of iconic effects and makeup artist Rick Baker, while Howard Shore’s brooding electronic score adds a haunting musical atmosphere to the chilling images witnessed onscreen. Best watched late at night in a darkened room, Videodrome is the ultimate celluloid nightmare: a twisted and unsettling vision of technological terror, outré body horror, and hallucinatory surrealism. Long live the new flesh.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
Directors: Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi
Cast: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer
Horror-comedy has always been my favourite way to delve into horror as a whole – there’s something just inherently very, very funny about the hushed tones in which we speak of demons, zombies and witches, and the deconstruction of these legends has long bore excellent results on film. What We Do In The Shadows is not scary. In many cases, it actively minimises any tension it might create. It is, however, exceptionally entertaining; you would think there’s only so much fun to be had from the premise “The Office if Jim was 400 years old, vaguely Eastern European and slept in a coffin”, but it is stylistically interesting enough to not come close to overstaying its welcome. It’s just so charming – it’s a film that screams New Zealand even through the bad accents – and so consistently well-written and perfectly delivered that it holds up under every kind of scrutiny. I’ve watched this film 5 times; I will likely watch it many more.
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