Boo! It’s Halloween again and, sadly, there isn’t even one decent horror movie on terrestrial TV tonight. I mean, Halloween: Resurrection (11:20pm, BBC2, if you must)? Really? Is that the best you can do?
Oh well, it looks like if you want the hairiest, scariest and most spine-tingling of films ever to darken the dungeon of cinema this year, you’ll have to trouble your DVD collection instead. So, if you’re spending your Samhain in front of the box and fancy a really ghoulish night in, you might want to consider seeking out one of the following horror classics…
WARNING: the following clips are scary – please do not watch if you are of a nervous disposition…
The Exorcist – The film that caused an entire generation to don bicycle clips before going to the cinema hasn’t lost anything with age. In fact, it’s testament to director William Friedkin’s skill that the movie still holds its own today, remaining every bit as disturbing as it was when it appeared in 1973. Even as recently as 1998 the BBFC said that “showings of this film have resulted in severe emotional problems… it is partly because the film is so convincing and effective that it can be so disturbing for some.” What more endorsement do you need? The story of the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and her transformation from innocent child to foul-mouthed, pea soup-vomiting dervish is a stone-cold classic that still sets teeth chattering.
The Shining – Stanley Kubrick was a master of combining sound and pictures to breathtaking effect, so his foray into the world of horror was always bound to be good. As it turned out, his adaptation of Stephen King’s novel is one of the tensest and most disturbing movies ever committed to celluloid. Who, on their first viewing, was able to watch little Danny cycling around the Overlook on his trike without their hands over their eyes? Who couldn’t feel the depths of Shelley Duvall’s fear as her husband descended into madness? And who can’t still see the infamous twins in their mind’s eye? A brilliant film, which has the power to unsettle even the most cocksure of horror fans.
Halloween – John Carpenter’s appropriately titled and much imitated 1978 movie not only invented the slasher film but perfected it too, telling the simple tale of a madman hellbent on murdering Jamie Lee Curtis and her friends. If you can ignore the fact that nearly everything in the film’s since become a horror cliché, thanks largely to its own sequels and the Friday the 13th franchise, Halloween is a really tense experience for the viewer. Indeed, to horror newcomers, it’s still as hair-raising today as it was when it was released…
Psycho – Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic made bath-time that bit more nerve-racking for an entire generation. Featuring Anthony Perkins’s note-perfect portrayal of the psychotic Norman Bates, that shower scene and some really stylish and inventive direction from Hitchcock, Psycho is both a landmark in horror history and a profoundly effective scary movie.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Tobe Hooper’s 1974 film about a group of teens getting lost in the backwoods of Texas, and their subsequent butchery at the hands of Leatherface and his twisted family of freaks, isn’t only the poster child of video nasties but a horribly effective film, too. Despite the lurid title, not a drop of blood is spilt on screen, but that doesn’t make the sight of the zombified Grandpa sucking on a trussed-up Marilyn Burns’s fingers or William Vail’s death throes any more palatable. It’s amazing that a film boasting so many disturbing images that linger in the mind could have been produced for as little as $300,000.
A Nightmare on Elm Street – People forget that Freddy Krueger was once a truly terrifying screen presence, before the one-liners and the spin-off TV series diluted the character. And the concept of the first Nightmare, in which teenagers who are killed in their dreams also die in reality, ties in to the primal feeling of dread we’ve all experienced in the midst of a nightmare, when you battle desperately to wake up and escape the terror. Cerebral and terrifying, it’s a shame Nightmare’s sequels weren’t a patch on the original.
The Evil Dead– Sam Raimi’s perhaps best known these days as the man behind the big-screen Spider-Man movies, but he got his start with this quirky cult classic about a bunch of friends being possessed by demons while holidaying in a remote cabin, which Stephen King called “the ultimate experience in gruelling terror” when it was released. Made on a shoestring, the film nevertheless contains a miasma of amazing gore effects, set-pieces and stop-motion wizardry that lend it a horrific and otherworldly feel. Also, it launched the career of Bruce Campbell. What’s not to love, eh?
The Wicker Man – New Age ideas about junking Christianity and returning to paganism were rife in the early 70s, and it was this quirky British B-movie that proved the dire consequences of these heady, hippy ideas being taken to their logical conclusion. Starring Edward Woodward in the role of his career as a concerned Christian policeman sent from the Scottish mainland to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a young girl from the fictitious and remote Summerisle, The Wicker Man boasts one of the oddest atmospheres of any film ever made. And the film’s shocking conclusion never fails to bring tears to the eyes, no matter how many times you see it.
Dawn of the Dead – George Romero’s film that launched a thousand rip-offs is a cracking hybrid of horror and action all held together by Tom Savini’s nauseating gore effects. Notorious for everything from helicopter-blade decapitations to its innovative mall setting, Dawn is still the gold standard of zombie films and a taut, riveting experience for the viewer. The plot? Well, it’s the template for every subsequent zombie film, really: the Earth has fallen prey to a zombie virus, and a group of human survivors attempt to flee their corpse-ridden cities and find safety. Sure, it might sound derivative, but it’s more of a rush than playing Doom after six coffees…
Alien – Don’t let the spaceship setting convince you it’s a sci-fi movie; Alien is pure horror through and through. A slow burner that keeps the tension mounting, Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic is still an unsettling film today, not only for John Hurt’s exploding chest, but for imbuing something as pedestrian as a radar display with pure menace. And if the tension’s not enough, HR Giger’s repulsively organic monsters make for sights you just can’t un-see.
So there you go, ten of the very best and most hair-raising horror movies of all time. Schedulers, take note, and please remember these films next October. Happy Halloween, y’all!