All Hallows Eve is all but upon us, so to celebrate the day when the veil between our world and the other is at its thinnest, The Bolton News’ chief footballer writer Marc Iles shares his top ten horror films to watch this Halloween!
Psychologists say horror films tap into our primal fears, offering folk a chance to mentally rehearse how we would cope with age-old danger, such as the threat of being hunted, writes Marc.
Sigmund Freud reckoned scary movies were cathartic, allowing the viewer to release strong or repressed emotion in a controlled environment – be it the cinema, the sofa, or from behind a cushion.
My brother reckons my own love of horror films is down to the fact, and I quote, that I have “always been a weirdo” – well, touché.
Whatever the reason, I have always been hooked. Whenever given the chance to rent a video – giving away my age here – the route to The Neverending Story, Goonies or a Looney Tunes compilation would inevitably involve a slow shuffle through the horror section, and a glimpse up at those artistic VHS covers that teased a forbidden world of thrills and scares – The Howling, C.H.U.D, Class of Nuke ‘Em High or From Beyond.
Sadly, once I got older, I realised that kitsch artwork was the only redeeming feature any of those four films actually had; they were dreadful. And in my extensive research down the years, I can confirm that production and acting quality varies in this genre above all others.
But I still maintain, despite watching hundreds of terrible horror films that still trip off the tongue: Ghoulies, Jack Frost, Pumpkinhead, any of the extensive Leprechaun cannon including the original that had among its cast a young Jennifer Anniston, I have never regretted a single one. They are collected like Panini stickers to be aired proudly whenever anyone starts a conversation in the pub about the scariest movie they have ever seen. Yes, I am that insufferable, especially at this time of year.
Fuelling a bout of insomnia over the last few days, I have attempted to whittle down all the many titles into a top 10, which has proved problematic.
The genre itself spreads across others. Alien, for example, is a brilliant piece of work that could make its way into an all-time top 10. But shouldn’t it be classified as sci-fi? The same could be said about 1997’s vastly under-rated Even Horizon, Cloverfield (2008) or the re-made version of The Fly (1986). Shaun of the Dead would also probably make my top 10 if all bets were off – but, let’s face it, the film was meant to be a comedy.
Some of the very best horror comes with subtitles, and I accept that does not tick a box for some. French films Inside (2007), Martyrs (2008) and Raw (2016) are bonkers and, please, do not watch without a strong stomach, Switchblade Romance (2003) is only inches the right side of sane. It is likewise for the Japanese and K-Horror sub-genre that I loved as a teen – Ringu (1998) being the obvious example, but Audition (1999), Dark Water (2002) and for anyone who loved Squid Game, Battle Royale (2000). Spain’s Rec (2007) is also an unsettling but exciting watch.
Some of those films also lean into a very dark and graphic side of the horror genre, one that pushes the boundaries of censorship, which I think is best left out of the list, lest we prove my brother’s statement correct.
Horror is also no longer confined to the movies. Streaming titans like Stranger Things, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, The Midnight Club and – honestly – the Chucky series, based on the Child’s Play films, are all well worth a binge, if, by some unknown reason you haven’t dabbled already. The brilliant Stephen King adaptation IT (1990) also falls into this category as it was made for TV and was marginally better than the two-part movie which followed in 2017 and 2019.
And finally, I have found when scouring the long lists, rewatching some long-forgotten titles, that some horror films affect me differently now than when I first watched them. The Stephen King adaptation, Pet Sematary, chilled me as a teen because I was reading the author’s books like they were going out of fashion. Now, the Americanised spelling of the film’s title irks me more than it should, and few of the beats hit home the same way.
I still adore Gremlins and Ghostbusters – but we are dealing in grown up scares here – and while the film studies student in me can give a nod to Nosferatu (1922), M (1931), Cat People (1942), Dracula (1931 or 1958), the Bride of Frankenstein (1935) or even Psycho (1960) they are probably not what you want to settle down to watch this Halloween in 2022.
Instead, I have distilled hundreds of hours of plot holes, dodgy soundtracks, creaky CGI and overused jump scares into 10 horror films that I would happily sit down and watch this Halloween, probably with the big light on.
Before I launch into the countdown, a quick mention for some of the films that just missed out: Dog Soldiers (2002), Cabin in the Woods (2012), Jaws (1976), The Descent (2005), Wolf Creek (2015), The Burning (1981), A Nightmare on Elm Street 1 and 3 (1984, 1987) and The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2016).
10. THE SHINING (1980)
Tops many a critics’ list – and would be higher on mine if I didn’t enjoy Stephen King’s original book so much more.
That said, there has never been a better acted horror movie. Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall and Scatman Crothers are faultless, and make this cerebral descent into madness a film that can be re-watched and re-analysed time and time again.
There are few cheap scares. This is a complex film that stays with you. And as someone who often has to overcome writer’s block, the subject matter strikes a chime with me, although mercifully, my home’s bedroom doors remain intact.
9. POLTERGEIST (1982)
Tobe Hooper helmed the hugely influential Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the mid-seventies, while 1982 was also the year Stephen Spielberg brought us the saccharine sweet ET. When the two collaborated, we got this lovely mix of macabre Americana.
Heather O’Rourke – aka the family daughter Carol-Ann – makes the film. Her disappearance tears apart the perfect suburban Spielbergian family and gives way to some nightmarish set pieces.
The films rolls through three distinctive acts, the best of which is when we discover the house’s history during a terrible storm, complete with a half-finished swimming pool.
Some of Poltergeist’s effects look a little ropey now but the film is well-paced and superbly constructed.
8. SCREAM (1996)
It is hard to convey just how fresh this film felt on release – but even 26 years later it stands up on the scare-front, even if you find yourself mouthing along to some of the dialogue.
Knowledgeable and packed with in-jokes, Scream deconstructed and simultaneously rebooted the slasher horror sub-genre. It was easy on the eye, fast-paced, but also gruesome when needs be.
Subsequent sequels have been fun but the original still stands up as the ultimate testament to ironic violence. It is a film, after all, isn’t it?
7. THE ENTITY (1981)
Unflinching and unsettling, this story of a young mother who is repeatedly assaulted by an invisible demon goes to some very dark places and isn’t one for the prudish.
Supposedly based on a true account, The Entity doesn’t rely on blood and splatter, just its disturbing premise and a jarring soundtrack.
A rare case on this list of a great film I’d like to see remade, with modern sensibilities, as a lot of the ‘Invisible Man’ sub-genre has fallen flat on scares.
6. 28 DAYS LATER (2002)
George A Romero is a visionary but, let’s face it, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead had their limitations, not least the films’ clunky takes on politics and consumerism. Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later was the film that brought zombies moaning and biting into the modern era.
Shot on a modest $8million budget (it made more than $80m worldwide), the story of a man who wakes up from a coma in hospital with the world gone to hell in a handcart should seem rather familiar by now. Back then, the sight of Cillian Murphy ambling around an empty, digitally altered London was jaw-dropping.
The film has a warm heart, you care for the protagonists, loathe the villains (and the zombies), and it remains Boyle’s best work, for my money.
5. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2011)
Jump scares are horribly over-used in horror films, their set-ups becoming cliché (the mirror in the bathroom, the cat jumps on to the table, the looming figure in the doorway). But Paranormal Activity managed a decade ago – and still manages – to keep the adrenaline pumping, knowing exactly when a scare is needed, and when the story needs to move on.
Forget the largely terrible sequels, PA1 is the best found-footage horror of them all, out-scaring The Blair Witch Project by a distance, based largely on the fact we don’t get motion sickness as a viewer for watching it.
No convoluted backstory (yet), no outlandish effects, just a simple, modern ghost story that has lost none of its effectiveness.
4. THE EVIL DEAD (1983)
For one, very brief moment in early high school, I attained a degree of notoriety – even popularity – for owning a contraband copy of the Evil Dead on VHS.
Banned outright in 1988 after becoming one of the original Video Nasties, the film no longer shocks and appals in the way it once did but still has a guerrilla style about it that I find hugely satisfying.
The direct sequel is just as good, with director Sam Raimi able to take more creative control on a bigger budget. Fede Alvarez’s 2016 remake is fine but sheds any light touch completely.
Sentimental, maybe, but The Evil Dead will always be a horror touchstone of my youth.
3. HEREDITARY (2018)
Toni Collette never lets you down. Brilliant in The Babadook – another film I heartily recommend – her performance in Hereditary as a troubled artist/mother obsessed with her miniature doll creations was Oscar worthy but, somehow, was overlooked.
Put simply, I’d expected nothing when I first watched Hereditary, wife and kids away with the in-laws, lights off, sofa pulled up close to the TV. Instead, I got a weekend of broken sleep, lights on, and a deep-rooted fear of the noise a child might make when they are impersonating the clip-clop of a horse. It will make sense if you watch the film, and you should.
Emotionally taxing rather than especially gory, the film is an assault on the senses like nothing made in the last few decades.
2. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
Very nearly the perfect horror film. Genuinely funny, ground-breaking effects which have stood the test of time and surreal set pieces which will stay with you forever.
‘That’ werewolf transformation centrepiece still hits the tendon-popping, skin-stretching beats it always did but on rewatching it recently I was stuck by how well director John Landis – who to this point was known for National Lampoon’s Animal House – used the sharp moments of humour to lift what is a very melancholic mood.
You won’t go rambling on the moors again after this one, that’s for sure.
1. THE EXORCIST (1973)
Horror film makers have tried every possible trick to scare us, from sharp shocks to slow, grisly dismemberments, dark apocalyptic visions to razor-fingered bad guys inhabiting our dreams. But nobody comes close to conjuring the dark, brooding evil which sits beneath William Friedkin’s masterpiece, The Exorcist.
Nearly 50 years after it was filmed, then widely banned in the UK – and please do research the curse that affected the real-life actors and the furore that followed – The Exorcist is still able to chill your blood at a rudimentary level that is hard to explain.
This is not an especially enjoyable film, just a hugely effective piece of film-making. It leaves you asking questions about what you are witnessing, whether you should be watching it, the wider issues of suffering and faith, but it all lands just the right side of imaginary.
Yes, some of the famous moments have become horror tropes, but the imagery still stands up. And it haunts me even now.