Five Hidden Halloween Gems
We’re all familiar with the classic great horror movies to watch around Halloween. From thrillers like The Shining, Psycho, to slashers like Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween. But what about the less famous movies, the new classics of the Halloween season that are just as effective as the greatest of Hitchcock, Craven, Carpenter, etc. Here are five great films worth checking out this Halloween that have slipped under the radar over the years:
In the Mouth of Madness is a pretty flawed movie, but one that certainly sticks with you. Locked up in an asylum, a former insurance investigator (Sam Neill), relates the story of how he went mad while searching for a horror writer (Jürgen Prochnow) in the town that’s the basis for many of his books. This film is pretty weird which is what you’d expect from John Carpenter, featuring hallucinations, gruesome imagery, and quick cutting. But I appreciate it for the particular style of horror it is. This film is one big tribute to H.P. Lovecraft, bearing many of his signature clichés like the unreliable storyteller, and themes like the inevitability of ancient evils being our destruction. Neill is pretty great as the lead whose lines of reality as well as our own are being blurred, while around him Julie Carman, Prochnow, Charlton Heston, and David Warner are fine. Sure the writing’s a little convoluted, but if you want to see a pessimistic yet fascinating film about madness and unknown horrors, this is definitely worth a watch.
Cabin in the Woods is about a group of teenagers who decide to spend a weekend in an abandoned cabin in the woods where they begin to be murdered one by one. It sounds incredibly standard and boring with a plot almost directly ripped off of Evil Dead, but this is a movie written by Joss Whedon, meaning there’s much more than meets the eye. That doesn’t only apply to the great writing, but the fact that the synopsis I described is only a small part of the full story. However to say anything else would be to spoil insane twist after insane twist. Though it’s sharp and funny, it’s also got a number of good scares, and both comments on and pays homage to dozens of directors and styles of horror. This admittedly isn’t much to go on, but you just need to see it for yourself.
The Babadook has one of the goofiest titles for a horror film. But if ever there was a case of “don’t judge a book by its cover”, this Australian film from debut director Jennifer Kent, is it. Amelia (Essie Davis) is forced to raise her young difficult son alone due to her husband having perished in a car crash while she was in labour. When she reads a pop-up book to him one night, he becomes obsessed with its monster the Babadook, who has his sights on using Amelia’s continuing grief to entrap both her and her son. The film’s pace is slow and steady allowing you to get to know the characters as the horrors gradually become apparent. This is important because The Babadook is also a character drama exploring the effects of loss, and Davis is terrific. Not a lot of the Babadook is shown, but his design is very distinctive. And the implication of his presence is just as frightening as the creature himself. Maybe the creepiest scene is just when Amelia’s looking through the pop-up book at a foreboding message. It’s not gory, or reliant on conventional cheap scare tactics, instead soaks up an atmosphere with a monster who’s going to haunt your memory for some time after seeing the film.
Exorcist III (which ought to be titled Legion after the book it’s based on) is the one good sequel in the Exorcist franchise. Directed by William Peter Blatty, the book’s author, it’s less a sequel and more of a spin-off following Lt. Bill Kinderman (George C. Scott) trying to solve a series of gruesome murders that bear a resemblance to those of the Gemini Killer who was executed fifteen years ago. The build is slow, but the film makes up for that in both a great eerie mood and the disturbing nature of the murders. As usual, George C. Scott is fantastic, accompanied by Brad Dourif, Ed Flanders, and Jason Miller in great supporting roles. Dourif in particular is over-the-top but at the same time legitimately scary. And there are other corny moments for sure, as well as an exorcism that’s so clearly tacked on; but it has some great performances, a great script, and though only a few, a couple of the most perfectly executed jump scares I’ve ever encountered.
Coraline is proof for any naysayers that animated movies can be genuinely scary. Based on the book by Neil Gaiman and directed by Henry Selick of The Nightmare Before Christmas, the story is about a disgruntled girl who moves into a new home where she discovers a gateway to another reality where her home life seems to be perfect. But as the layers are peeled back, Coraline discovers something very sinister is afoot . Not only is this movie’s plot incredibly creative, but the tone is unnerving, and the imagery downright terrifying! This is a Laika film and one of the things that sets Laika above other animation studios is how it’s not afraid to scare kids. We seen this in ParaNorman (which is arguably for its subject matter an even more appropriate Halloween movie), and most recently in Kubo and the Two Strings. This, their first film, has a very particular visual sense favouring thin, sharp designs, melancholy to vibrant lighting, and great attention to detail. And because the story keeps you on edge with such a suspenseful build and a foreboding atmosphere, you appreciate these touches all the more. It’s an instant Halloween classic!