The Hallowe'en Playlist Part 2: Somewhat Scary!
Around this time last year, I published Part One of my Hallowe'en Watchlist - a list of films for people (like me) who love the atmosphere of Hallowe'en, but don't like scary films! Well, it's that time of year again, and as people are searching for more suitable films to watch, I've finally written Part Two of my list. This time, I'm looking at films which are a bit scary (sometimes more than a bit!), but which are worth it because of the spooky vibes, gothic production design or generally Halloweeny settings.
But before we do that, a quick shout out to everyone who commented on Part One, or who sent me messages about it. You suggested some great spooky-not-scary films (and TV shows) I hadn't thought to include, such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Coraline, Netflix's Sabrina, the Hallowe'en and 'Hush' episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the 'Blink' episode of Doctor Who. They all should've been included in my last list, you're completely right, and I admit to my mistakes there!
So, now it's time for a slightly scarier list of films, all of which are the perfect accompaniment to a bowlful of chocolate eyeballs...
One of my first entries on the last list was Universal's 'Classic Monsters' series of films (1923 - 1960), and I originally wanted to add F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu alongside them, as another black and white Vampire film from the same era - but then I remembered how I felt the first time I saw it. The silence of the sound track adds so much to the atmosphere, and although the plot is palatably simple, the sight of Max Schrek's angular face asleep in the coffin is genuinely unsettling. Universal's Monster films are for the timid audience: this one is for the slightly braver. Follow it with The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Another one which nearly made it to my first list, as the majority of Tim Burton's films are family friendly (depending on your family's tastes), but Sleepy Horror ramped up the gore and the jump scares beyond most of his other works. Sleepy Hollow is the perfect Hallowe'en film in my eyes, because it's full of misty, wintery atmosphere, set in a quiet town filled with shallow-eyed gothic characters.
Evil Dead II (1987)
I confess, I haven't seen the first Evil Dead film - or even the 2013 remake (I didn't dare!) - but Evil Dead II and III were favourites of my fellow students in my film school days, so they encouraged me to watch them. Evil Dead II has a very similar premise to the first film, with the same creepy 'cabin in the woods' setting, and it's filled with monsters and demons (mostly achieved with satisfyingly creative stop motion effects). However, the comedy levels were raised way beyond Evil Dead I, making this more of a silly and enjoyable watch than a full-on horror film.
The Others was very much advertised as a horror film, and it is very creepy due to its classic 'haunted house' premise. However, beyond one particularly freaky moment with a child (or is it a child...?) in a wedding dress, there's not too many obvious scares in this film, so it can still be enjoyed by the more cautious among you. A remake of The Others has just been announced, which seems somewhat unnecessary.
Crimson Peak (2015)
The third film on this list which nearly made it onto Part One, but Guillermo del Toro is the modern master of monsters, and his designs for the ghosts in this film really enhanced its creepiness levels. Beyond their unsightly appearance, the ghosts themselves are sad rather than threatening - and, as with the classic gothic literature that inspired it, Crimson Peak is more of a love story than a horror film, so it isn't really that scary to watch. The period Victorian setting and sumptuous design elements make it a real joy to watch on a cold day.
While we're on the subject of del Toro, here is a film that he produced! I remember being so unnerved by the Mama poster when I saw it (the design looks like a child clinging onto a curtain, but the more you look at it, the more you realise the child is actually holding onto a long, rotten arm!), so I expected to be terrified by the film itself. However, once you get past the initial scares of seeing Mama, her story is so sad - and similar to The Woman In Black, another film on this list - that you sympathise with her, making her less terrifying as a result. It's also worth watching the bonus features on the blu-ray to see how Mama was achieved using a contortionist in a costume, instead of purely relying on VFX.
Let me say up front, The VVitch is not for the faint-hearted - however, beyond a couple of 'jumping out of the dark' scares, it's a film that's all about the atmosphere. As with all the best horror films, it features a bleak, isolated setting and a wintery season, with plenty of folklore elements for fans of fantasy to enjoy. The VVitch was released by A24, who have an increasingly solid reputation for releasing low-budget but high-quality independent films. Director Robert Eggers' second feature film The Lighthouse, released earlier this year, is also worth a watch.
The Conjuring (2013)
I caught The Conjuring around this time last year, when a local pub hosted an outdoor screening. It was a cold night, and my partner Edward Harvey and I had to warm ourselves with blankets and mulled wine, but it resulted in the perfect setting to experience this film. In terms of 'fear factor', I would say that The Conjuring is quite scary, but it's also a wonderfully traditional period ghost story with some engaging characters to root for. Shortly after seeing (and enjoying) The Conjuring, Edward persuaded me to watch The Conjuring II - but that film relies much more heavily on jump scares, and the nun character is so intimidating that I didn't sleep for about two nights!
The Woman in Black (2012)
I was first introduced to the story of The Woman In Black on a school trip around 2006, when I saw the stage play. I subsequently hid in a bathroom when I got back to the hotel, and didn't sleep for a long time; it is one of the scariest things I've ever seen, across any genre, and I remember hearing people screaming in the audience! In spite of that fear, I later read the source novella by Susan Hill, and absolutely loved it. So when Hammer Horror briefly rebooted itself in 2011, and announced their filmic adaptation of The Woman In Black, it seemed like the perfect partnership, and I was very excited; but as the film was also a vehicle for Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, the scares had to be toned down so that his young fan base could see the film in cinemas. The result is a film which is less scary than its source material, but still creepy and atmospheric with some genuinely jumpy moments - and some of its lingering imagery (like what Arthur Cripps retrieves from a tar pit, and the opening shot of the antique dolls) are even more unsettling than the obvious scares.
We cannot have a Hallowe'en playlist without including Halloween! I actually hadn't seen it until last year, when Edward insisted on showing it to me (he loves John Carpenter), and I was surprised by how little it scared me. Perhaps it was because the film is mostly set in daylight, in bland suburbia, or perhaps it was the fact that Michael Myers is such a big part of pop culture now, but I found it to be a comfortable watch. The atmosphere is still unnerving throughout - mostly due to the stalker imagery - and it's a very elegant, well-crafted film with plenty of seasonal references to enjoy.
The perfect Hallowe'en film for anyone who prefers drama and thrillers to horror. Black Swan is nightmarish in a psychological way, and there's a couple of jump scares which always get me, but the visuals are stunning and kind of magical at the same time. Furthermore, the image of Natalie Portman in Rodarte's black swan tutu resulted in some serious Hallowe'en '#CostumeGoals' for hundreds of women around the world. I'm still yet to finish mine...
The Shining (1980)
In spite of its critical acclaim, I almost didn't include The Shining on this list. It's a great film, and definitely classed as a horror, but I've based all my choices on chilling atmosphere and gothic settings over their fear levels. But on reflection, what is more perfect for Hallowe'en than a ghost-filled hotel and snowy mazes? Some people may find this film more scary than I did; I unfortunately had most of the plot points and jump scares spoiled for me by watching the Simpson's Treehouse of Horror series beforehand!
If you fancy a double bill, combine The Shining with its recent sequel Doctor Sleep; the second film is much less scary than the first, but really ramps up the gothic visuals and cool villains, in a way that almost reminded me of The Lost Boys.
The Ophanage (2007)
And now we move on to the scariest film on my list - and one that really pushed me to the edges of my limit. If I was planning on doing a Part 3 to this watch list, I'd probably move it onto there... but as I'm not doing that, let me say that The Orphanage is a beautifully crafted film, with another classic haunted house setting and plenty of costume inspiration from one character in particular. Just don't expect to sleep after seeing a certain scene involving a child's game...
The Babadook (2014)
If you're looking for a film with a modern (but already iconic) gothic villain to watch on Hallowe'en, then The Babadook is for you. Jennifer Kent's debut presented a dark twist on a children's story in a way that would make Tim Burton proud, and although the scares are there, it's another one of those films which shows that monsters aren't really frightening when you compare them to the depths of a troubled human mind.
Special Mention: The Haunting of Hill House (2018) - and everything that inspired it!
As a film lover, I was surprised that the best thing I saw in 2018 was actually a television show - but The Haunting of Hill House was so jam-packed with classic gothic inspirations and expert filmmaking techniques, I couldn't help but love it. The setting and scares (some of which are a bit intense!) make it perfect Hallowe'en viewing, but there's also plenty of family drama and tragic characters to give the series some emotional weight. The recent follow-up series, The Haunting of Bly Manor, was less scary - and therefore ideal viewing for the less-brave among you - but it perfectly captured the sense of melancholy that comes with all traditional ghost stories.
But of course, if I'm going to recommend The Haunting of Hill House, then I should recommend all the things which inspired it (as well as many of the other films on this list). You can either read the source materials, or watch The Legend of Hell House (1973), The Haunting (1963) or House on Haunted Hill (1959). The Changeling (1980) is also a brilliant haunted house story, and I would recommend The Innocents (1961) too, except that I haven't seen that one personally.
|[Above: American Horror Story: Asylum, one of my honourable mentions]|
So, that's my list. Are there any more films you think I should've included? As before, it was hard to narrow it down, so here's a few honourable mentions: American Horror Story (any series apart from Cult - the election series - is appropriate Hallowe'en viewing), Byzantium, Interview With The Vampire, The Awakening, Let The Right One In, Ghost Ship (for its opening scene alone!), A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Only Lovers Left Alive, Sweeney Todd, Braindead, A Nightmare on Elm Street and all the short films by Superfreak Media, the production company of my friend Liam Banks. They have a new short out this Hallowe'en, so don't miss it!
|[Above: this time last year, I braved |
The Conjuring at a chilly outdoor screening]
Right, time for me to crack on with some work. My schedule is manic for the next few weeks, so I don't plan on releasing any more blog posts until the end of November (at the earliest) - but I am so, so grateful to have work coming in again, so I'm certainly not complaining! I'll close this blog post by saying that, whatever you're doing this Hallowe'en, I hope you enjoy it. As with everything this year, it won't be the same as usual; we cannot trick-or-treat or throw parties, but we will always have spooky films and candles to curl up with.