It’s close. It’s so very close. Halloween, people, is days away, and no matter who you are and what you’re doing, you have not yet watched enough scary movies. You really, really need to get on that. What’s that, you say? You can’t think of anything to watch? You came to this website specifically for recommendations? Convenient for you, eh? I just happen to have a few, catered for a variety of viewing preferences.
For the Uninitiated: The Haunting (1963)
Let’s say you took my advice last week and just watched, say, every Universal Studios Monster Movie, in which case, good on you. Now you’re ready to move up a peg to check out a classic ghost/haunted house movie. And you’re ready for something scary. Well then, how about The Haunting? Based on The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, this movie is nice and subtle in its scares. There’s no immediate danger, no killer, no monster, no real threat. It’s a character-centered psychological horror film. The House does not attack on physical terms, but it does play gloriously sinister mind tricks. Read the book. Watch the movie.
If you decide you like ghost/haunting movies, check out The Others (2001), The Orphanage (2007), and The Uninvited (1944).
For Children: ParaNorman (2012)
ParaNorman is an awesome Claymation kids’ movie. Norman is a weird kid who sees ghosts, mostly of deceased relations who just want someone to talk to. The ghosts don’t really bother Norman. What bothers him are all the bullies at school that pick on him for seeing ghosts. Well, Norman and his bullies are going to have learn some important life lessons in order to survive an onslaught of zombies. You know, these things do happen.
Zombies and ghosts aside, this isn’t going to be too scary for most children. I mean, it’s not Coraline. In fact, I think this is one of the most child-appropriate movies out there, in that all kids age 9-13 who bully or have been bullied should see ParaNorman. I’ve never seen a movie deal with issues of bullying so incredibly well. It carefully balances both sides, offers solutions, and avoids being kitschy. Also zombies and ghosts and witches. Forgot the witches. Awesome Halloween movie.
For Pretentious Film Students: Onibaba (1964)
Ah yes, a black and white Japanese samurai horror movie from the ‘60s. It’s not Kurosawa, but people will still look at you and guffaw in startled confusion when you explain to them that yes, you did indeed watch a movie with subtitles. How about that art direction? The wind blowing through the tall grass is a neat effect and is pretty creepy. How about that pit with all those bones? Spooky stuff. My favorite part is probably the mask though. Break down all of those images on symbolic terms and discuss the director’s mise en scene. People will beg you to stop impressing them so much.
For the Strong of Stomach: The Evil Dead (1981)
Now, I have to admit that while I appreciate The Evil Dead for its cultural significance, I personally don’t like it all that much. It’s not really my cup of tea. That having been said, if you like atrociously violent, endearingly campy horror movies from the early ‘80s, The Evil Dead is for you. The plot is your basic “cabin in the woods” scenario, wherein a group of stupid kids decides to spend the weekend in a remote, sinister looking cabin in the middle of nowhere. This is shamelessly parodied in The Cabin in the Woods. Of course, they find an evil book that conjures forth demonic spirits that possess them and violence ensues. Copious violence. Like, a whole lot of it. Just great big bunches, though I gather not quite as much as the 2013 remake. It’s gross-out horror, rated NC-17 upon its release, and it has not aged well. Ironically, though, the fact that it is dated is pretty much the only thing that makes it likable. Well, that and Bruce Campbell. Evil Dead 2 is better.
For Tricksters: Scream (1996)
Scream’s a good time. It verges on spoof, because it is quite tongue-in-cheek, but ultimately is still horror. The violence and terror are pretty serious, but the twist is that it takes place in a universe wherein people have actually seen horror movies. The characters make frequent references to movies like Halloween and the ass-bad Friday the 13th, which I truly, truly hate. Do not watch Friday the 13th; never watch Friday the 13th. Watch Scream. It’s funny, suspenseful, scary, bloody, and clever. Also, Henry Winkler is in it. Henry Winkler.
For Treaters: Much Ado About Murder (1973)
I know I’ve talked about this one before and recently, but I seriously cannot stop recommending it to people. Vincent Price plays a panned stage actor who gets revenge on his critics by murdering them in ways that mirror Shakespeare plays. It is a truly fabulous piece of work. As my roommate just said, “It is to the horror genre what The Man with the Golden Gun is to Bond films.” If you don’t like it you’re wrong, and you’re probably taking the genre too seriously.
For Those Looking for Fear: Halloween (1978)
Ah, Halloween, the disappointed father of the slasher genre. The film is pretty straight-forward. A murderous psychopath escapes from custody and picks off a few horny teenagers on Halloween night. Spooky. Meanwhile Donald Pleasence (Donald Pleasence) stands in a bush waiting for something to happen.
The thing that makes this film so great—and so creepy—is John Carpenter, who directs the ever-loving snot out of this movie. There are no cheap scares in Halloween, no cats popping out of closets, no shock-spatter, just a menacing dude in a mask. Actually, what really makes the movie is the killer, Michael Meyers. His design is perfect. He wears a featureless white mask, specifically picked because it’s a blank slate. This movie doesn’t hide anything. It sticks the killer out in the open. You get a good look at him, and project your own fears onto his empty face. It’s awesome.
For Those Who Really Don’t Like Halloween: Zoolander (2001)
Story of my life.