It should come as no surprise that here at Arrow, Halloween is one of our favourite times of the year. There is no better excuse to draw the curtains, light up the Jack O’Lantern and settle down in front of a great film. The dilemma is which one to pick? To help with this conundrum, we’ve asked three of our regular blog contributors to give their top 5 picks to watch this Halloween.
Shock (Mario Bava, 1977)
An old-fashioned ghost story to kick off the list. They don’t get much more classically gothic than Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961), and Mario Bava – something of a gothic maestro himself – would riff on that film on more than one occasion over the course of his directing career. Female neurosis, possessed children…it’s all here, albeit created under far less lavish circumstances than Clayton had enjoyed. By this late stage in his career, Bava’s budgets had become increasingly penurious, but one of the hallmarks of a truly great director is their ability to conjure up something out of nothing. Utilising little more than careful camera placement and his own ingenuity, Bava pulls off a number of startling coups de cinéma, making Shock a fitting cinematic swan song for the old master.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978)
The paranoia movie par excellence. The body snatchers concept is one of the most adaptable of genre metaphors, and this is perhaps the best of all the many filmed versions of Jack Finney’s 1955 novel. Kaufman’s canny adaptation is a supremely nightmarish and slyly satirical look at the narcissism of the 1970’s Me generation that now seems to have acquired fresh relevance in these selfie-obsessed times. No movie is better at capturing the creeping terror that They really are coming to get you, and it boasts one of the all-time great downer 70’s endings to boot.
The Exorcist III (William Peter Blatty, 1990)
Before he ever turned his hand to horror, William Peter Blatty was a comedy writer, and his screenplay for Exorcist III is one of the wittiest pieces of writing to be found in the genre, sharper and funnier than many a so-called horror comedy. That said, the film is also incredibly unsettling in its ambience, and contains one of the greatest jump scares in cinema – all the more effective for the careful Lewton-esque buildup that precedes the eventual payoff. Still, while there are plenty of visual frights to be found here, The Exorcist III is also a useful reminder of the power of the written word: sometimes there’s nothing scarier than two people sitting in a room talking.
The Addiction (Abel Ferrara, 1995)
For those who like their horror with a chaser of existential philosophy, The Addiction is nothing less than an inquiry into the very nature of evil. Like so many of Abel Ferrara’s movies, The Addiction follows its protagonist (Lili Taylor) as she descends into a netherworld of depravity and violence; the difference here being that she becomes a literal monster, in helpless thrall to her dreadful appetites. But can such a creature ever find spiritual redemption? Thought-provoking and bleakly harrowing in equal measure, this may not be for all tastes, but if you’re craving some strong meat for brain and belly both, The Addiction might be just the fix you need.
Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001)
Pulse is easily the best of the flood of Ring imitators that followed in the wake of Hideo Nakata’s 1998 J-horror smash; indeed, it may well be better than Ring itself. Nakata’s film is single-mindedly scary; Pulse is eerily elliptical, building to an understated apocalypse that is rendered even more unnerving by its overwhelmingly desolate quietude. Like so many great ghost stories, there is a chilly ache of melancholy at the heart of Kurosawa’s film, but that doesn’t mean that the director is neglectful of his duty to horrify us: check out the virtuosic single-take suicide scene and the ‘Forbidden Room’ set-piece for proof.
Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (Philippe Mora, 1985)
When the Hunter’s Moon is full this October, Philippe Mora’s Howling II would be an excellent choice to throw on, giving you a mix of lycanthropic thrills, werewolf orgy chills, fab goth-rock courtesy of Babel (aka the great Steve Parsons aka SNIPS aka lead singer of Sharks with guitar god Chris Spedding), the jocular man-i-tude of Reb Brown, and a climactic showdown between Sir Christopher Lee and Sybil Danning at the apex of her pulchritudinous.
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (James Signorelli, 1988)
Speaking of living goddesses owning the silver screen, you cannot say Happy Halloween without at least lighting one jack-o-lantern candle in honor of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. This campy, vampy, and slightly subversive horror-comedy stars my persona heroine, Cassandra Peterson as the titular Elvira as she shakes the foundation of small-town USA while learning about her own witchy history and powers. It’s even inspirational and perfect for all of us misfits by showing the importance of being true to yourself by standing up to the status quo. (Though the witchcraft and cleavage help. Witchcraft and cleavage always helps.)
Lifeforce (Tobe Hooper, 1985)
If your Samhain celebrations require something a little more serious, then Tobe Hooper’s underrated sci-fi vampire masterpiece Lifeforce will fit the bill like a tailored billowing cape. It’s one of the few films to accurately capture the unsettling atmosphere of chaos caused by spreading vampirism. It features a heady blend of eros and terror, all backed by a stellar cast that includes Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Patrick Stewart, Michael Gothard, and the unforgettable Mathilda May as the main alien vampiress.
The Wizard of Gore (Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1970)
For those nights when you’re just wanting to eat candy while watching practical gore effects gone so wrong that they u-turn back into being extra gross, grotty, and fantastic, then H.G. Lewis has just the potion for you with The Wizard of Gore! Meet Montag the Magician, who is a top-hat-wearing man of mystical powers that center around future lacerations, dismemberment, and disembowelment. He’s the living embodiment of everything that Criss Angel is not and Satan bless him for it!
House II: The Second Story (Ethan Wiley, 1987)
Last but not least, you need at least one film that the little goblins can enjoy without future therapy sessions, so what better time to cue up House II: The Second Story? This fantastical action film is ten-tons-of-fun with likable leads in the form of Arye Gross and Jonathan Stark, as well as enjoyable supporting turns from John Ratzenberger and Amy Yasbeck. In addition to the film’s strong thrum of whimsy, it also features character actor legend Royal Dano and the most adorable fictional animal this side of the Dorats…the one and only pug-a-pillar.
Audition (Takashi Miike, 2000)
This tale of an executive who crosses a couple of moral boundaries in the search for a new partner after his wife passes away has one of the all-time great fucked up endings, and also (accidentally) the structure of a perfect October 31st.
You’re all chill during the day, hanging out with your colleagues or significant other – you’re shooting the shit, maybe having a couple of meetings, but as soon as you clock out, all hell breaks loose – and someone’s wearing a sack.
But if your neighbor’s Halloween party starts to slightly have even the vaguest hint of an Audition vibe, just run. Don’t even stop to grab a handful of candy on your way out, just run, and keep running until you can’t run anymore. Great movie.
Climax (Gaspar Noé, 2018)
Speaking of Halloween parties, maybe hang back and wait for everyone else to drink the punch before you dip your cup in. Just trust me, okay? If you need further warning, press play on Climax (after pressing your volume button so hard it drops off), which is probably the greatest party movie of all time – it’s definitely the most harrowing.
Gaspar Noe’s woozy, wonderful and wicked movie features some of the best dancing you’ll see outside of a musical, and some of the nastiest characters outside of a, well, Gaspar Noe movie. You’ll either come away from Climax humming the soundtrack, or gibbering in trauma – there’s no middle ground here.
Kolobos (Daniel Liatowitsch and David Todd Ocvirk, 1999)
Probably the most underseen and underrated movie on my list, Kolobos sees a bunch of 90s stereotypes trapped together in a trap-filled home that makes Saw look like Big Brother. Actually, Big Brother is a pretty pertinent reference – Kolobos was released in the same year that show landed in the Netherlands, and there are some weird crossovers. Mostly the fact you want everyone in it to die a horrible death. A unique slasher with more layers than a mummy’s broken arm, Kolobos really captures that ‘hell is other people’ feeling of your local pub’s costume party.
Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975)
If you’re feeling lazy this year, watch Deep Red, whack on a pair of black leather gloves, pair it with your nan’s best sweater, and if people ask you who you’ve come as, roll your eyes and say ‘Dario Argento’ as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. But basically, I’ll take any excuse to recommend you watch Deep Red, arguably Argento’s best movie, which makes it arguably the greatest movie ever made. Actually, don’t bother with the costume, simply stay in and watch it twice. When the twist lands, you’ll be glad you planned for a double-bill.
Ring (Hideo Nakata, 1998)
But maybe you just fancy sitting in with a different movie this Halloween. If so, absolutely go for Ringu, and not that unmarked blank VHS tape you picked up from your local charity shop. Again, just trust me.
Halloween is the pinnacle of the spooky season, and the original Ring is the scariest of the spooky movies – especially if you watch it at home, alone, with big headphones on, to block out the sound of trick or treaters ringing your doorbell. Whatever you do, don’t answer the door, don’t pick up the phone, and – like we said – don’t watch that blank VHS…
…You’re going to watch that blank VHS, aren’t you?
Your choice, but don’t try to lend it to me afterwards. I’d rather drink the punch from a leather glove at the Kolobos house party while the host hammers needles into my legs.
Halloween’s weird, isn’t it?