With a plethora of horror films available at the touch of your fingertips, the real horror is actually being able to choose one (or several) to watch over All Hallows' Eve. By no means a definitive list, below are some of the best horror films that warrant your attention this Halloween.
Film night on Halloween wouldn’t be the same without… Halloween. Still the best in the franchise, John Carpenter’s 1978 original practically set a new blueprint for the slasher genre moving into the 80s. Imitated by many but never truly beaten, Halloween still has the capacity to send a shiver down your spine all these years later as we slowly watch ‘The Shape’ stalk his prey in broad daylight until the final, tense showdown.
The Evil Dead
Sam Raimi’s innovative and gory 1981 classic was infamously banned during the height of the ‘video nasty’ hysteria of the early 80s. Regarded as one of the most significant cult films ever, The Evil Dead has lost none of its potency. Short, sharp and shocking, The Evil Dead is an 85-minute adrenaline shot of pure, bloody terror, pitting five university students against demonic forces intent on devouring their souls, set against that now well-worn horror cliché – the cabin in the woods.
There are not many films that still have an impact some 47 years after its initial release. More a study on the loss of faith as opposed to a battle with the devil himself, director William Friedkin crafted a horror film with depth and nuance that sees two priests try to save the soul of a possessed girl. The interaction between the three of them is still as casually terrifying as ever.
Stephen King’s tome gets the Stanley Kubrick touch. King hated it but the general consensus is that The Shining is one of the more successful adaptations of his work. Jack Nicholson gives a powerhouse performance as Jack Torrance, the newly appointed caretaker of the haunted Overlook Hotel, who slowly succumbs to madness and murderous intent with his own wife and child fully in his sights.
An American Werewolf in London
Spawning the first-ever Academy Award for Best Makeup for Rick Baker’s stunning work on the transformation scene, An American Werewolf in London is still the definitive silver screen lycanthrope film. Gory, hilarious and terrifying, you’ll never look at the idyllic Yorkshire moors the same way again, nor the village pub for that matter – ‘Beware the moon lads’.
The Blair Witch Project
When The Blair Witch Project first arrived in 1999, there was speculation (believe it or not) that what we were witnessing was very real. With a frankly amazing marketing campaign behind it, The Blair Witch Project centres on three student filmmakers making a documentary on the film’s namesake who disappear in the woods never to be seen again. What we witness are their last moments caught on camera and popularising the ‘found-footage’ sub-genre, with a final scene that will almost certainly stay with you.
With the found-footage sub-genre spawning countless Blair Witch rip-offs it was refreshing to see one that actually felt ‘real’. Set in in a house utilising home security cameras in multiple rooms, Paranormal Activity follows a couple who believe they are being haunted. With ingenious directing by Oren Peli you will literally be watching every part of the frame… waiting for that ever-so slight, yet inevitable movement.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Taking a cue from the slasher genre and turning it on its head, A Nightmare on Elm Street plays on your subconscious fears. Director Wes Craven created a ‘boogeyman’ for a new generation in Freddy Kruger, a horrifically scarred child-killer who preys on his victims when they are at their most vulnerable – whilst sleeping.
Horror is having a modern resurgence of late with an emphasis on depth and social commentary to pray on. It Follows easily sits amongst the best of the modern-horror wave. Very much inspired by Halloween, It Follows sees a young woman pursued by an entity that stalks its victim until they pass on ‘the curse’ through sexual intercourse. Set mostly in broad daylight and subverting tropes we are accustomed to; It Follows will have you watching over your shoulder as you walk back from that Halloween party.
This is one for the parents – you think your kids are bad? Try raising the literal incarnation of the antichrist. The Omen is the original ‘creepy kid’ that sees an American diplomat uncover the diabolical circumstances that surround their adopted son Damien. When people start to get closer to the truth, that’s when death approaches in macabre and inventive ways. Be nice to your kids.
Director James Wan has a number of horror credentials under his belt, namely the Saw and Insidious films, yet The Conjuring is where he really shines as a modern horror innovator. Heavily inspired by The Amityville Horror and the ghost story films of the 70s, The Conjuring has the right mixture of slow-burn and Hollywood finesse that gives you a jumpy yet unnerving tale of a family living with a malevolent supernatural presence.
Hugely influential, Japanese horror is a smelting pot of some of your worst nightmares. But if you have to watch one this Halloween, make sure it's Ringu. Centred on a cursed videotape, this slow-burn supernatural thriller spawned what seems to be a thousand Hollywood remakes, and for those of a certain generation, a fully-fledged fear of the tube television.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Another ‘video nasty’ that had the BBFC up in arms, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a film that truly transcended its horror peers. Fierce and uncompromising in its execution, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, surprisingly, skimps on the gore in favour of sheer panic and aural assault. It's a relentless piece of cinema that will leave you breathless throughout its runtime.
Directed by Tobe Hooper (with more than a little help from Steven Spielberg) Poltergeist is one of the 80s more definitive horror films about a family living with a supernatural entity that has an unhealthy obsession with the youngest daughter. Mixing Amblin-esque sentimentality with iconic scares, Poltergeist spawned several sequels that never quite matched the original for visceral chills.
John Carpenter’s The Thing blends anxiety and paranoia with extreme gore and body horror. A rare treat in 80’s horror cinema that was lambasted by critics when it was initially released, but has since gone on to generate a huge cult following. Considered John Carpenter’s finest moment, The Thing boasts a tight plot set on in remote Antarctica outpost, amazing creature effects and some of the tensest scenes in horror.