With it now being October, that means it is time to get ready for Halloween!
As everyone knows, part of the celebration for Halloween is watching horror movies. Whether it be the black and white classics of blood filled gore fests, the horror genre has been a bastion of excitement, scares, and creativity.
We all know the classics and the films that get watched year after year. With this list, I am going to make movie recommendations for this year’s Halloween and the list is made up of films that maybe you haven’t seen or heard of. We’ve all seen The Shining and the original Halloween, but I am always on the lookout for new experiences and that has led me to some interesting finds that aren’t as well celebrated.
This list isn’t in any kind of particular order and there is no ranking involved. I am simply providing my opinions on some movies you might enjoy watching this time of year that maybe you’ve overlooked for one reason or another.
1) The Mummy (1959)
No, this is not the classic version starring Boris Karloff as the mummy come to life, Amhotep, and no, this isn’t a Summer Blockbuster starring Brendan Fraser featuring an appearance from The Rock. To be perfectly honest, of all the classic movie monsters, mummy films were never among my favorites. I appreciate Egyptian settings and mythology, and the idea was always cool. The films about the subject hardly ever impressed me though. I love Boris Karloff, but the original Mummy always felt like a rehash of the Bela Lugosi Dracula. Its sequels (starring various actors as the new mummy Kharis) got stuck into a repetitive loop of simply making the same movie over and over again. In regards to the Brendan Fraser films, I was fine with the first two. However, they never left a lasting impression on me. They were fairly typical of their time period and there isn’t much to elaborate on beyond that.
For me, the definitive Mummy film is the first one produced by Hammer studios in 1959. For those of you who don’t know, Hammer Studios a UK based film studio that became known for their versions of several classic monster movies. I was already a huge fan of their takes on Dracula and Frankenstein (both starring the late great duo of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing), so when I discovered Hammer also made a Mummy movie that also starred Lee and Cushing, I overlooked my apathy towards mummies and decided to give it a watch.
I am glad I did. While the movie has the same formula you would have seen from Universal’s Kharis Mummy in the 1940s, the color and set pieces give it a more appealing look and Cushing and Lee shine once again in their roles. The film’s highlights are the flashback sequences showing how Lee’s character became the Mummy. The murderous rampage of the giant bandaged monster is also great to see, especially when you have an actor like Cushing to sell the terror. If you are looking for a good movie involving Mummies, I don’t think you’ll find one better than this.
2) Halloween III: The Season of the Witch (1982)
This movie is somewhat notorious and often gets labeled as one of the worst sequels of all time. As a sequel, yes, it does fail. It has absolutely no connection to the previous entries in the Halloween series. There is no continuation of the Michael Myers story. The goal with the third film was supposed to continue the series as an anthology, with each entry being a completely new story. To be honest, I think I would have preferred that direction for the rest of the series. We would have (hopefully) gotten more creative stories with each new entry and it would have kept the mystique of Michael Myers intact. Think about it. Wasn’t Myers so much scarier when all you knew was that he was a six year old kid that became a killer, spend almost two decades in an asylum, and then broke out on Halloween night? Most of what made Myers scary was that he couldn’t be comprehended, explained, or understood. He had no motives or reasoning. He was just a monster that lurked in the shadows waiting to strike. Once the sequels piled on motivations and explanations, it took away the mystery behind Myers and the idea of him being a shadow that stalks and destroys everything in his path had become diluted. When done right, especially in horror, ambiguity only serves to make the story scarier because the unknown will fester in the imagination and allow the audience to think the worst (look at Blair Witch Project as an example).
Basically my point is they never should have continued making sequels with Michael Myers and the original film should have been allowed to stand alone. With that, lets ignore that this film is even called Halloween III and look at it as its own movie. As a standalone horror film, I think it works quite well. There is a plot involving ancient practices of witchcraft and how it ties in to a corrupt corporation actually gives a nice mystery to the plot and some genuine scares while also providing commentary on consumer culture in America (gee, I wonder what the screenwriters of this film think now). The way they deal with the killings and the brutal fate of the victims are actually pretty shocking too. Overall, I think this is a nice solid horror film and an indicator of what the Halloween series could have been if they didn’t just keep recycling Michael Myers over and over again.
3) Rope (1948)
Alfred Hitchcock is unquestionably the master of suspense. Through a long and successful career, this director provided dramatic thrills in countless cinematic masterpieces. Around Halloween time, the tendency for most people is to revisit Psycho, and with good reason. It is every bit as good as its reputation. In addition to that one, there are many highly celebrated Hitchcock dramas from Rear Window to Vertigo. With all of those critically acclaimed showcases of film making brilliance, it makes me wonder why Rope isn’t counted among them.
Rope is not only every bit as suspenseful as Hitchcock’s more well-known pieces, but it is also one of the most unique and ambitious movies of its time. The story unfolds entirely in one room with Hitchcock opting for long continuous takes to convey the illusion of the events happening in real time without any breaks in the narrative. That is unconventional, but it pays off when you consider how the story is presented. The film is about two men (portrayed with heavy homosexual subtexts, which was considered heavily taboo back in the 1940s) who murder an acquaintance. For the fun of it, they hide the body in their apartment and then proceed to throw a dinner party with the victim’s family and friends on the guest list. The whole set up is a claustrophobic atmosphere that becomes increasingly tense the longer the story progresses and this is enhanced by the presentation that Hitchcock opted to go with and also through fine performances all around. Speaking of that, any excuse to watch a performance from the legendary James Stewart is a good one.
With a dark and macabre premise and feelings of paranoia and suspense, Rope deserves to be hailed as a classic, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend giving it a look. It might not have the praise of some of Hitchcock’s other classic films, but I would argue that it deserves to have it.
4) Watcher in the Woods (1980)
Let me start off by saying that this is a film that came from Walt Disney Studios. Yes, Walt Disney Studios produced this legitimately creepy and scary film. Sure, it is rated PG and not violent at all, but the way it is presented, I never would have guessed that this would have been associated with Walt Disney. This is especially true when you consider that most children’s films of this kind either try not to be truly scary or at the most, they try to be scary to the audience of 6 and under.
However, this movie is truly unique because of its tone, atmosphere, and overall creepy style. The movie feels like it is cut from the same cloth as the classic horror movies. There is mystery, ghostly images, a scary setting, and dark imagery, and I like that it is able to stay unsettling and scary without having to resort to violence and gore. This is all about mood, and this movie achieves it quite well. To use an example, the visual of the blindfolded apparition appearing in a mirror and chanting in unintelligible speech is still a more haunting image to me than a majority of the gore filled horror you see nowadays.
It is true that the acting from the lead actress (Ice Castle’s Lynn-Holly Johnson) isn’t very good and I felt like the ending was a cop out. However, if you are looking for something that is genuinely creepy, then I highly recommend this film. It was probably the fact that it was scary that was the film’s undoing as it bombed at the box office and sort of got hidden away by Disney, much like 1985’s The Black Cauldron. Unlike that animated disappointment, I think there is substance to Watcher in the Woods that is worth looking into and if you’re interested, the movie is available on DVD.
5) Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
Being a huge fan of the Universal Monster canon of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, it is amazing that it took me so long to find this movie. I had seen all the Frankenstein movies, the Creature from the Black Lagoon trilogy, and all of the other must see classics like The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, and the rest. In doing so, I always had the opinion that the Frankenstein films were, as a whole, a much stronger series of films than any other Universal monster franchise. For the stand alone films, Frankestein had four entries all of which told difference stories and each bringing new and unique elements to the monster. As an example of counterbalance, Dracula started off with a classic film that got the ball rolling for Universal’s Monster franchise, and not much else unfortunately. The King of Vampire’s inclusion in the monster mash films alongside The Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man were weak at best, and the lone standalone sequel I saw, Son of Dracula, left a lot to be desired.
So imagine my surprise when I got the Dracula collection on DVD and found out there was a sequel I had never heard of before. You would think a film titled “Dracula’s Daughter” would be remembered by more people. Think about it. How many of the early movie monsters were female? Not many is the answer to that question. In Universal’s main canon, the only other notable one is the Bride of Frankenstein and she doesn’t appear until the end of her movie and was never seen again after that, while the daughter of Dracula is the main focus of her film. The film stars Gloria Holden as Countess Zaleska, the eponymous daughter of Dracula, that is seeking to undo her vampirism once she hears that the Count himself has been destroyed (I should note that she is probably not the literal daughter of Dracula, but rather a victim made into a vampire by the Count). This involves her exploring supernatural and even psychological means to do away with her affliction. I guess you could say this almost works as a foreshadowing of The Wolf Man, Lawrence Talbot. Prior to this, there weren’t many instances of cinematic monsters that were motivated by trying to not be the monster. Gloria Holden has a striking presence and plays the role with self-loathing and disdain and every scene where she comes across a potential victim is dramatic because the audience isn’t sure if she’ll give in to her monstrous nature or not. The implied lesbianism in one scene (again, rare for the time) also makes this movie unique among its peers.
Unfortunately, despite the film’s merits, it often gets overlooked, most likely because it is one of the few Universal monster films to not include one of the big name stars (Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Claude Rains, or Lon Chaney Sr. and Jr.). However, I feel Gloria Holden’s performance carries this film well. Her self-loathing and overall demeanor make Countess Zaleska a memorable character and one that deserves to be remembered. If you are interested in seeing a film that isn’t brought up much and are willing to overlook some lapses in logic in continuity (the original Dracula takes place in the 1890s, but its sequel which begins immediately after the first film ended somehow takes place in the 1930s. Huh?!), then this movie is worth a viewing.
6) The Gamera Trilogy (1995-1999)
If you know me at all, you probably figured that I was going to work the kaiju genre into this list somehow. I am a Godzilla fan through and through, and I have always appreciated the Japanese made monster films with models and rubber suits. There have been many monster classics utilizing these tools including the best of the Godzilla series, the original Rodan, War of the Gargantuas, and many others. However, there was a certain flying turtle that left his mark in the kaiju world with his own long lasting series of films, and his name is Gamera!
Most western audiences that know the character remember Gamera as the cheesy super turtle of the 1960s that was heavily mocked in shows like Mystery Science Theater 3000. The original Gamera series that ran through the 60s and 70s is about as campy as campy can be. With monsters that look like they were made of styrofoam to Gamera being the friend of all children, to a corny (yet awesome) fight song, to the fact that he is a jet propelled flying turtle, to ridiculous subplots and all sorts of other wackiness, it is virtually impossible to take the monster seriously.
Fast forward to the 1990s. Godzilla has just wrapped up his second series of films in which The King of Monsters was successfully revamped for a new generation of fans. Well, if Godzilla can get a good reboot, why not Gamera? In 1995 with director Shinsuke Kaneko at the helm, Gamera returned, but this wasn’t exactly your father’s Gamera. Sure, Gamera was still a heroic character and yes he was still a flying turtle, but the movie was played off with a grim realism that, dare I say it, compared to the original 1954 Godzilla film. “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe” was a successful reboot that proved even a flying turtle could be taken seriously if presented right. Its sequel was even better as “Gamera 2: Advent of Legion” got even darker and grittier while also providing Gamera with a foe that is among the most uniquely designed in any kaiju film. However, the real highlight was the final entry “Gamera 3: Awakening of Irys”. Here, Gamera does battle with a vampire-like monstrosity that is empowered by the hatred of a young girl whose parents were accidentally killed during one of Gamera’s battles. Yikes. Not only does the film get extremely dark and violent, it also reminds audiences of what would happen if giant monsters did show up. People would die by the thousands. The film mixes fantasy elements into a dark and realistic approach to how these creatures would impact our world and as a result, it is easily one of the best kaiju films I have ever seen. It is sort of like what The Dark Knight was for superhero films.
While these films were big hits over in Japan, I feel like western audiences aren’t overly aware of them and most Americans that know of Gamera only know him as the cheesy cartoon superhero he was in the 1960s. However, there is more to the super-turtle than people realize. As far as Giant Monster movies go, you’ll always have your classics like King Kong, Godzilla, the Harryhausen films, Jurassic Park, Cloverfield, and Pacific Rim, but Gamera is not one to be overlooked and I highly recommend checking out this trilogy if you are a giant monster movie fan.
7) Cabin in the Woods (2012)
When I first saw advertisements for this film, I immediately wrote it off as an Evil Dead knockoff. The premise that was presented to us was “a bunch of teenagers are trapped in a cabin in the middle of the woods and are being tormented by some evil force”. Yeah, does that sound familiar to anybody? After seeing the film, I now realize how truly brilliant that marketing was as it hid the true uniqueness that was sleeping underneath what seemed like a tired formula.
I won’t give away anything else specific beyond that because I feel this movie is best viewed when knowing absolutely nothing about it. What I will say is that the movie is creative and works as a horror comedy with plenty of jokes and scares all the way through. Most importantly, the movie actually gives you a reason to care about whether or not the characters survive, something that is horribly lost in some modern horror films that focus more on body count rather than story.
8) Oculus (2013)
Let me start off by saying DO NOT let the WWE Films logo put you off to this one. Yes, WWE Films distributed the film and yes, most films under their banner are abysmal. However, they did not actually make this film, which is already a reason to give it a chance. To be perfectly honest, this is one of the scariest films I have seen in years. Somehow, someway, we got a film that is the perfect movie to watch at night with the lights turned off.
Sometimes it is the simplest premises that are able to get the most scares. The story is about a brother and sister whose family was torn apart by supernatural elements, believed to have been caused by the presence of a cursed antique mirror. Wisely, the movie jumps back and forth between the past and present to show the main characters as both adults actively dealing with the mirror and as children discovering the effect the mirror has. The end result is an unsettling film that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats and keeps them guessing as well. Is the mirror really a force for evil or are the characters just crazy? The real selling point of the film are the actors (both the children and the adults) who are about to convincingly sell the dread of the situations, which sells the scares effectively.
9) Exorcist III: Legion (1990)
The original Exorcist is a horror masterpiece. While it can be debated whether or not it is the scariest film ever made, its impact on the movie going public during the time of its release and its ever lasting legacy cannot be denied. Another aspect of The Exorcist that cannot be argued against is that attempts at making the Exorcist an enduring film franchise were misguided attempts that led to garbage films.
Exorcist II: The Heretic, might be the single worst sequel I have ever seen. Sure there has been Batman & Robin, and in the realm of horror, you had Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, but I have never seen a film franchise use its first sequel to go so far against its classic original to the point of being a complete insult. Thankfully, that film predated the internet and DVD/Blu-Ray so the movie died a pretty quick death. I won’t describe this movie any further outside of saying they got everything wrong. That said, the subtitle of “The Heretic” is strangely appropriate as this movie was complete heresy against the first. If you choose to seek it out and watch it, then that is your own business.
Unfortunately, things didn’t improve when a prequel. “Exorcist: The Beginning” was released decades later. The funny thing about this prequel is that the original cut was shelved, and only released after the theatrical cut was poorly received. Oddly enough, both versions are terrible and I think the original shelved version “Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist” might even be worse, so I actually have to kind of support the original decision to lock the film away and start anew. The theatrical cut was stupid horror schlock while Dominion was just dull and lifeless, and both films had endings that were completely inane. I am not sure how a studio can produce two versions of the same movie and have them both be terrible, but that is what happened here.
However, there was one other Exorcist sequel that slipped through the cracks and faded into obscurity following its release. However, unlike previous and future attempts, this movie actually managed to be a proper sequel to the original. Exorcist III: Legion, is not only the best Exorcist sequel by a country mile, but manages to be pretty good on its own. The film is directed by the author of the Exorcist novel, William Peter Blatty. I guess he wanted to do the film his way and the end result is a film that conveys mystery and terror without being a complete rehash of the original film. By focusing on a detective this time, it almost gives the movie kind of a Sherlock Holmes vibe while also keeping a foot planted in the supernatural horror of the first film.
In the years following the events of the first movie, detective Kinderman (played this time by one of my favorite actors, George C Scott) is investigating a series of murders that match the patterns of The Gemini Killer, a serial killer thought to have been dead years ago. His searching leads him to discover how the Gemini Killer ties into the fateful events of the climax of the first film. It is a creepy film with legitimately scary scenes and a terrifying performance from Brad Dourif as The Gemini Killer. It isn’t quite as good as the original, but few horror films are, and as far as Exorcist sequels go, this is as good as it gets.
10) The Babadook (2014)
Last year, this movie got some buzz on the horror scene and there were even discussions of the film’s lead actress (Essie Davis) receiving an academy award nomination. After watching the film, it is my assessment that it is a crime that she wasn’t.
This film did garner positive critical reception and seemed to be well liked by most audiences that did see it, but I do want to get the word out there and make sure horror fans are aware of this film because it might be the best horror film in decades. The tale is simple enough. Basically a single mother and her son are being haunted by an evil entity known as The Babadook. However, it is the manner in which the story is conveyed that makes it work as we see the mother and son struggle through their grief and daily issues that continuously get worse and worse they feel, the stronger the demon in the midst becomes. With discussions today about depression and how to cope with it, it is great to see a film (even a horror film) tackle the issue in a way that is believable and human. Essie Davis’ performance cannot be praised enough as through the progression of the story, she had to play both victim and tormentor, and did so perfectly. Her decent into madness and the influence of the malevolent force haunting her home is scary and tragic all at the same time.
If you are a horror fan and you haven’t seen The Babadook, do yourselves a favor and stop reading this and go check this movie out. I honestly think that in a few year,s this movie will be recognized as a true horror classic.
Hopefully I’ve steered you in the right direction and you check out and enjoy some of these recommendations.
HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!!!