Fright Night: 7 Movies Perfect for Halloween
It’s time to dress up like a monster, carry a bag to your neighbor’s door, and ring the bell for candy. If you’re older than a teen, and don’t have children of your own, be forewarned — you might receive a weird look or even have a frightening confrontation with a nervous property owner.
Instead of all that, you can have a horror movie marathon, a tradition held by both teens and adults for as long as the genre has existed. This list of possible choices contains features that will dig into the human mind like a scalpel, and their impact on a person’s life can be both exciting and traumatizing. Either way, they are works of art you will never forget.
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
This film ushered in ’90s horror, a time where the genre began to exhibit less comedy and more tragedy. There were still a lot of funny horror movies, but Silence of the Lambs seemed like the most serious and plausible scary movie in years. Almost every subsequent horror film tried desperately to live up to this deliciously macabre crime drama.
Only three years after the novel by Thomas Harris, screenwriter Ted Tally and director Jonathan Demme crafted a work of suspense with complex, dynamic characters. Clarice Starling is an FBI agent tasked with getting inside the mind of Hannibal Lecter, a fierce, hyper-intelligent cannibal currently incarcerated for his gruesome acts of violence. She must learn all she can from him, for he might hold the key to catching another killer currently at large: Buffalo Bill.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild Ride
Buffalo Bill’s psychosis makes him scary in his own right, especially with his treatment of victims, but the real fear is generated by Hannibal. He’s cultured, charming, and almost good-natured, weirdly blurring the line between hero and villain. That line, however, becomes fully defined upon Lecter’s gruesome escape from prison, which involves murder and biting.
The really awful thing about him, though, is his ability to manipulate Clarice’s emotions through his words. Though she is a tough agent and holds her own throughout the entire film, he meticulously digs his way through her mind to discover the innocent child she once was — a child terrified by the screaming of lambs being slaughtered on a farm.
Clarice’s strength, embodied by the always amazing Jodie Foster, coupled with Lecter’s dangerous intelligence makes for one heck of a movie. The conversations between these two characters remain some of the most tension-filled moments in the history of film. Plus, Anthony Hopkins’ performance as the cannibal is something that has to be seen to be believed.
Hopkins actually improvised some of the lines, including the mocking of Clarice’s Southern accent. The moment clearly throws Foster off, and it creates a very real sense of anger and discomfort between the two actors. Though Hopkins wasn’t the first to play Lecter (Brian Cox portrayed the character in Manhunter, 1986, based on Harris’ prequel Red Dragon), his performance is certainly the most memorable due to his haunting voice, hisses, and eyes.
Of all the films on this list, Silence of the Lambs is probably the most intelligent. It blends true crime forensics with a philosophical paradox — the betterment and degradation of the human mind both occurring at the same time.
The Ring (2002)
Gore Verbinski, an American film director who made the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Rango, and other works, has always had a knack for combining gorgeous film visuals with a heightened awareness of tension and emotion. This special talent of his made him the perfect choice to direct The Ring, a remake of the Japanese Ringu (actually, a few Ring movies had already been made, including the South Korean The Ring Virus). Based on a novel by Koji Suzuki, both the Japanese and the American versions exude a strong psychological terror that makes them seem like grittier versions of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
In The Ring, an unlucky group of minor characters stumble upon a cursed video tape. Supposedly, the tape kills you seven days after watching it. A journalist who lost a niece to the tape searches for answers amid creepy fog, lighthouses, horses, and a group of people concealing a mystery. The reporter slowly uncovers that an adopted little girl named Samara possessed very dark powers, which frightened her guardians so much that she was dumped into a well, where she slowly suffered for 7 days before passing. Now, anyone who watches the disturbing tape made by the girl’s twisted spirit is doomed to die.
The manner of death for the victims is easily the scariest aspect of the film, and it’s masterfully executed by Verbinski into a truly traumatizing event. The victims are pale and twisted, expressions contorted into a zombie-like appearance — they, like Samara, experience the full effects of being trapped in a deep well for a week before dying.
A creepy son who calls his mother by her first name, a perpetual gray dreariness covering the majority of the shots, and the disturbing imagery make The Ring a classic piece of American horror. And the original Japanese version is just as horrific, if not more so.
The Shining (1980)
The Shining is one of the scariest movies ever made, and it might even be the very best adaptation of a Stephen King book. It works especially well at haunting you if you’re around Danny’s age when you first see it. The creepy little girls, the lady in the bathtub, and the frozen face of Jack Torrance will remain with you for the rest of your life.
The film succeeds at all levels thanks to director Stanley Kubrick, a true artist of the film industry who made 2001: A Space Odyssey only 12 years earlier. Stanley knows how to direct the actors to great effect, making certain that every movement, breath, and facial twitch is as believable as possible. Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Danny Lloyd seem as if they occupy the same space as the audience, and it’s easy to forget that you’re actually looking at a screen.
Checking In to Check Out
Jack Torrance is hired as a caretaker for the Overlook Hotel, and he plans to stay there over the winter with his wife and son. Played by Jack Nicholson, Torrance is an aspiring author down on his luck, a theme common to many of Stephen King’s works. His son, Danny, possesses the ability to see into the hotel’s dark past, and this ability combined with paranormal evil briefly drives the boy insane.
It gets worse for Jack, who becomes a bloodthirsty maniac, and much worse for his wife, who becomes hopelessly terrified as she is relentlessly chased by her dangerous husband. With all the corridors, the screaming, and the claustrophobia, the viewer truly feels like the madness may never end.
Wonderful acting, dark humor (Here’s Johnny!), and crazy special effects make The Shining a horror film for the ages. Though many of the visuals are beyond terrifying, it’s impossible to look away from this beautiful masterpiece. From beginning to end, every single shot exudes character, dimension, and palpable dread.
For some people, it’s just not Halloween without the Saw movies. It all started in 2004 when director James Wan (more recently, The Conjuring) and writer/actor Leigh Whannell made a film with Danny Glover that took only 18 days to shoot. The filming schedule was grueling, and the stress and the tension shows through in every dirt-stained, grimy, bloody frame.
A serial “killer” named Jigsaw traps victims whom he thinks are undeserving of life. Once trapped, he tests them to extremes in order to better understand the human condition — forcing them either to escape or to kill themselves. Though a bit similar to David Fincher’s Se7en, the premise is a good one, and the film seems as though it’s going to snap from tension any minute.
With every successive Saw movie, the gore got more extreme and the traps more elaborate, but none of them match the novelty and ingenuity of the original. It has its haters, and the film certainly has its problems. But with seven sequels made, it’s obvious that it got something right.
Children of the Corn (1984)
Starring Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton, 1984’s Children of the Corn was a movie that had it all. The terror and anxiety associated with a long drive through no man’s land, the dark secrets of an isolated community, and killer kids are themes that make this film truly frightening. Plus, it was based on a Stephen King story.
A small town is besieged by a dark presence dubbed, “He who walks behind the rows.” This presence causes a child named Isaac to rally the kids together and kill off everyone aged 19 and older. They all believe that by doing so, they will appease their supernatural master enough for him to give them a good crop of corn. A traveling couple stumbles into the wicked town, and all hell breaks loose.
A True Cult Classic
The film has many themes. Isolation, religion, blind obedience, and loss of innocence are the most obvious ones, and the movie does a good job of cramming them into the psyche. Kids are scary almost every time they’re intended to be, but the way these ones behave as a cult is one of the most effective instances of creepy children in the history of cinema.
Although the movie was panned by critics, it’s loved by many horror fans. Nothing beats watching evil children move eerily across a cornfield, especially Isaac. This film is best enjoyed with the lights off, and of course, with some popped corn. Hopefully, it didn’t come out of that field…
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
It had a spooky atmosphere. It was visceral. It was Johnny Depp’s first movie. These aspects make A Nightmare on Elm Street the definitive horror film.
Wes Craven’s masterpiece plays out like a haunted house thriller with something much scarier than a ghost. Freddy can get you anywhere (every town has an Elm Street), and the burned villain seems to relish in the carnage he creates and the pain he inflicts.
Easily the most memorable of all the slashers, Craven’s Krueger works on a level like no other precisely because of his dual nature. On the one hand (the clawed one), he’s a monster too evil even for hell. He embodies everything humanity fears regarding the unknown, including the unconscious mind during sleep. But on the other hand, he’s really, really funny. In later additions to the franchise, you actually start to root for him due to his smartly written dialogue and charismatic (yet still disgusting) presence.
The Stuff of Nightmares
The character was inspired not only by nightmare-plagued immigrants dying in their sleep, but also by Craven’s creepy childhood experiences with strangers and bullies. This film could have easily turned out to be silly, but Craven’s ability to evoke mood and tension from lighting and pacing make it a serious piece of cinema.
Throughout the franchise, iconic imagery invaded our collective nightmares. Freddy’s arms stretched freakishly long in an alleyway, a bloody, wrapped up Tina used by the killer to terrify Nancy, and Johnny Depp’s character being sucked into a bed and turned into a tempest of gore — these are moments that horror fans will never forget. If it weren’t for Craven’s masterful directing and Robert Englund’s convincingly creepy performance as Freddy, this film might have ended up as a goofy footnote in the vein of Troll 2.
In 1978, John Carpenter directed and co-wrote a movie called Halloween, featuring a serial killer that would become the model for many future psychotic characters. Before Jason, Freddy, Chucky, and others, there was Michael Myers. A brutal, farm-bound Leatherface had terrified audiences four years earlier, but that character and its film series seems to represent a fear of the unknown — country roads, strangers, etc.
At first glance, Halloween seems like nothing more than Leatherface in an urban setting. However, an important difference can be noted upon closer inspection. Aside from the vastly unexplored human psyche, Myers doesn’t really represent the unknown — he represents a threat far closer to home, the idea that a monster can lurk behind the eyes of something as innocent as a child.
John Carpenter’s Inspired Direction
The way Carpenter directs the film makes it so that Myers is basically Jaws in human form — a mindless, soulless husk of humanity, forever calloused by bitterness and rage. He doesn’t speak, he doesn’t show his face, and he has all the patience in the world.
Spawning some less than stellar sequels and remakes, Halloween is obviously the perfect movie to watch on our favorite creepy holiday, and it will probably remain so for a very long time. Jump scares, believable characters, a tough heroine, and an old William Shatner mask make this film one of the few genuinely terrifying post-Hitchcock thrillers.
And who can forget that music? The theme was scored beautifully by none other than Carpenter himself. He constructed the story, took the shots, advised the actors, and then slapped his own music on top of it all, which resulted in a film totally under the control of its director. There aren’t a lot of directors who can make that claim, and that is perhaps why Halloween stands up so well after all these years. Carpenter had a single-minded artistic vision, and he was allowed to execute it exactly as he saw fit.
What’s your favorite scary movie? Share your thoughts with other horror fans at side.show/geekgroup, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!
There’s a chill in the air. The leaves tremble in a skeleton dance and shadows seem a shade darker. Channel the spirits and revel in Sideshow’s Spooktacular 2022 — a celebration of all things sinister, scary, and downright spooky.
Join us from October 24 – October 31 by visiting side.show/spooktacular and don’t forget — Sleep is for the weak!