Halloween Movie Playlist: 10+ Recommendations

Posted: October 28, 2010 in Horror, Jeff Holland, October Horror, reviews, Threat Quality
Tags: , , , ,

(OR: “Stomping Around in the Dark: A 5-Year Retrospective!”)

“The Scary Things don’t seem too concerned with hiding in big shadows. They just wait for you to look at them.”)

As Halloween weekend approaches, you’re probably lining up your movie selections with your own personal playlist of great horror/suspense/sci-fi/dark-fantasy/what-have-you films.

You’ve probably got some zombie flicks lined up (Romero, 28 Days/Weeks Later, even Shaun of the Dead), maybe a good vampire movie (Let the Right One In), a classic or two (Cat People on TCM Sunday, 2 AM), and probably a couple fun schlock-fests (Re-Animator, or hey – Evil Dead 2 is on AMC Sunday at 6 AM!). All solid choices, I’m sure.

Now, these last five years, I’ve devoted each October to catching up with all the horror films I’ve missed in my lifetime, while also sussing out which new ones are worth adding to the canon.

Representing the best of the last five years of having to put up with crap like Candyman so I can occasionally stumble onto something good, I humbly submit these TQP-approved entries for a quality movie-viewing weekend: 

The Story: Told as a flashback to a child’s nightmarish upbringing with a father who believes God has tasked him with killing demons – who, for all the world, look and act like normal people.
What Makes It Scary: Truly effective horror has its roots in legitimate everyday fears, just amplified for maximum effect. The real terror here is the idea that a parent can absolutely lose his mind and endanger his children – and nobody will be able to help. And then there’s the question of what’s worse – if he’s delusional, or if he’s actually right.

The Fly (1986)
The Story: Scientist toys with the unknown, and begins a gradual, disgusting devolution for his folly.
What Makes It Scary: It amps up another very realistic fear – the body betraying itself. Degenerative illness is a personal boogie-man for me. Nothing terrifies more than the notion that my body or mind may fall apart and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. The idea of seeing (and more gruesomely) feeling yourself turn into something that you don’t recognize as human is a real nightmare.

The Signal
The Story: Three interlocking narratives track what happens when everyone in the world goes absolutely mad at the same time.
What Makes It Scary: Again the loss of mental control is unnerving, but what makes this an effective film is the care it puts into crafting three well-rounded, interesting, sympathetic leads, and shoves every possible obstacle into their way – forcing the audience to keep hoping for a happy ending when all signs point to apocalypse.

Invasion of the Body-Snatchers (1978)
The Story: You know the damn story. (It’s the best of the four versions, though.)
What Makes It Scary: Loss of self, and increasing sense of isolation. There is nothing worse than knowing you’re on your own – that no one is coming to help you, that no one sees your point of view, and that from the start, there’s nothing you can do to stop a complete takeover of everyone else’s thought process. At that point, the best possible scenario is being engulfed yourself – simply so you don’t have to bare that burden anymore.

Carnival of Souls
The Story: A woman shows up in an unfamiliar town all alone, and starts seeing people – ghosts? zombies? what ARE they? – who may or may not be there…but are most certainly waiting for her to join them.
What Makes It Scary: Hell may not want you, and Heaven may not care – but there is an afterlife, and it has a peculiar interest in terrorizing you.

The Story: Sheriff Nathan Fillion versus a horrible tentacled monster-plague from beyond the stars.
What Makes It Scary: Despite the fact that it is frequently hilarious, the monster-effects are played for maximum disgust, the elevating threat level gets pretty unnerving, and dude, Michael Rooker just grosses me out when he’s NOT attached to a symbiotic, raw-meat-consuming space-worm.

Peeping Tom
The Story: Long before “Dexter” made it okay for audiences to consider a sociopath’s point of view, there was this darkly sympathetic exploration into the troubled mind of a serial killer.
Why It’s Scary: Not ooga-booga scary, to be sure, but it’s a movie that surely sticks with you long after it’s done. It’s chilling, elegant and oddly gentle for a film with a protagonist who photographs people as he murders them.

The Strangers
The Story: One couple. One isolated cabin. Three masked psychopaths who only want to destroy them.
What Makes It Scary: As the director points out, this is less a horror movie than a “terror movie,” in that it’s deliberately simple and wants only to push every nervous button through sound effects and visual dread. But man: It works. Watch it alone, in the dark, and try not to feel at least a mild sense of creeping dread. Once it’s over, the effect wears off quickly, but the movie does exactly what it set out to do. And you’ll harbor a deep resentment of Joanna Newsom for a long time afterwards, too (if you didn’t before – that voice just digs into my SPINE).

The Story: It’s called “Diabolique.” Does it even matter? I want to name a CHILD (or, less cruelly, a cat) that. (Warning: Do not confuse this movie with Danger: Diabolik! which is the most totally awesome movie ever MST3K’d.). OK, fine: there’s a boarding school, and some murdering and cover-ups, and it’s like Hitchcock cranked up to 14. YES, three PAST 11.
Why It’s Scary: It’s a movie Hitchcock wanted to do, only to be outbid by the French. So…yeah! (I’ll admit, my memories of it are a bit dim, but it was goddamned awesome, I remember that much.)

Director Showcase: The Prestige/Shutter Island/Rope/Zodiac
OK, I’m cheating a little: Initially I started with only seven entries, then I remembered Peeping Tom late in the game, and then I figured, might as well make it an even 10. And I wanted to grab an unconventional not-quite-“horror”-per-se film, but then I remembered three movies that gave me legitimate chills as their stories went on. Look, I’M NOT ON TRIAL HERE!
The Stories: Rivalry between turn-of-the-century stage magicians leads to trickery and dark science; a missing-persons case at an insane asylum causes an investigator to question his sanity; murder becomes a cocktail party game for two elites and forces a moral crisis upon their mentor; a serial killer slowly but surely strangles the lives of the men hunting him down.
Why They’re Scary: Again, it’s all about realistic fears. All four movies deal with the dangerous lengths obsession will drive people to, and increase the level of dread for the audience by teasing them with the plot-points they don’t see coming. And hey, look at those directors: Nolan, Scorsese, Hitchcock, and Fincher. Tell me your movie playlist WOULDN’T be better with at least one flick from one of these guys.
So yeah, consider this the “wild-card” round: four great (and I wouldn’t say “overlooked,” but…I feel they don’t get talked enough at least?) films from four masters of the movie-making arts.

OK, now it’s your turn: which ones have I missed? State your case…IF YOU DAAAARE MWA-HA-HA-HA-HAA-HAAAAAA…

  1. braak says:

    I liked Candyman.

  2. Jeff Holland says:


  3. sebastian says:

    The Strangers!? I thought that movie was awful! Spoilers! I thought the knocking and what nots were good for the first few minutes, but then I just wanted them to stop cowering in fear and open the damn door. The couple was so overly terrified by what, until about halfway through the movie, could have been a teenager playing a prank on them.

    Things that were funny about The Strangers:

    1. The Strangers had a habit of scarily poking out from shadows but only so the audience could see them and then they hid before the characters could see them. Over and over. How this terrorizes the couple, I don’t know.

    2. The couple had 2 cell phones, a car, and a shotgun when the debacle begins, which is a hell of a lot more than most people have when being stalked by killers, and yet they fail to keep their hands on any of these items, sometimes even casually putting them down on tables.

    3. After much hysteria and crying the first aggressive act in the movie, aside from a car crash, is the couple accidentally killing their friend.

    4. “Hey, we’re in this house. Let me go outside and wander around looking for what is stalking us…” 5 minutes later, “Shit, let me run full speed into the dark forest to try and find you, oh crap I fell in a ditch and broke my ankle.”

    5. The Strangers was a thin-looking guy, a woman, and a young girl. The couple may have been able to take them if they tried!

  4. Jeff Holland says:

    Yeah, I probably should’ve mentioned your mileage may vary on “The Strangers.”

  5. Lolly says:

    I saw Carnival of Souls with a bunch of friends one Halloween and we were… Mostly confused as to why it was considered to be such a horror classic. But maybe we weren’t in the right mood.

    Now Shutter Island, however… I might be alone in this, but while I loved all of your other wild cards, I freakin’ HATED Shutter Island.


    I was watching it alone and, in order to alleviate the potential creep-out, I started texting with my best friend who had already seen the movie. About half-way (or possibly even a third of the way) through I texted “Oh god. I am going to be SO annoyed if this ends up being one of those ‘the main character was the mad one all along’ movies!”. Aaand it was. And I never did get scared or even mildly creeped out. So yeah. Amazing cast, great premise and first half, love Marty Scorsese, but ultimately it was a total letdown and it pissed me off. Although I did like the very last scene.

  6. Jeff Holland says:

    I think I liked Shutter Island precisely because it was a real throwback to bombastic, pulpy Sam Fuller movies like Shock Corridor.
    Do I think it was remotely logical? Nooooo, those guys had one dumb-ass plan. But I had a good time watching it.

    As for Carnival of Souls – my experience was watching it alone, in the dark, past midnight, and that’s how I recommend a lot of these movies. Watching any movie with someone else automatically alters the experience, especially a horror movie where immersion is really important to maintaining a mood.

    And with friends, Carnival of Souls does give itself over to mockery. There is a moment where a man gives extended psychiatric advice to the lead woman, and then concludes with, “Now I’m not a doctor, but…” that just about killed me.

  7. Lolly says:

    Yeah, I think Carnival of Souls is all about atmosphere and mood, so when it’s a bunch of semi-drunk friends watching it (and expecting something mind-blowing), it doesn’t really work.

    Actually, I think most classic horror films don’t really work as “scary movies”. They tend to be either campy/silly or just moody and weird to the modern sensibilities. I think we have been fairly well anesthetized by what came later to be scared by anything that was made before the seventies.

    Now THAT was a great decade for horror! There are the classics like the Exorcist, Carrie and Alien*, but even the less known films were scary as hell (Burnt Offerings! Eeek!). Plus, there were all the exploitation flicks. Awesomeness! Although I tend to lump the Shining and Poltergeist in with the 70’s horror, but both were made in the very early 80’s.

    * AND Dawn of the Dead! AND Don’t Look Now!! AND, and, and…!!! Seriously, people just need to watch horror from the 70’s for all their scary-making needs!

  8. Jeff Holland says:

    Yeah, kind of like how 80’s music remained “80’s music” well into like 1992. The cutoff is really when something new – say, grunge/alternative – comes in to take its place.

    In that context, yeah, the 70’s lasts pretty much up to Poltergeist – which is where I think the cultural mood splits into 80’s family-friendly fare, and monster-franchising (Freddy and Jason as “brands”).

  9. Lolly says:

    It’s funny: the 70’s were similar to today day in terms of disillusionment with the American Dream, the government and a pointless war, as well as being as bad (worse really) economically. Yet, that decade gave us some of the greatest films of all time and great music. Today we have Snookie and Teen Mom. God… I sound like such an Old!

  10. braak says:

    @Lolly: art is made from misery. The best movies always come when people are unhappy about shit.

  11. dagocutey says:


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