Horror and Halloween got together like pumpkins and, er, Halloween? We’ve scratched our heads, looked back into the vaults and picked out 100 screen gems to watch to make you laugh, scream and generally spook you. Here are our London film editor Cassam Looch’s picks for nightmare-inducing movies and TV shows.
It’s a testament to how well this remake is regarded that the 1951 original (The Thing From Another World) is now almost entirely forgotten. John Carpenter focussed on the inherent paranoia of the location, with Kurt Russell playing the principal hero, yet it’s the special effects that still terrify audiences.
With the franchise floundering, and the concept of Death seeking revenge wearing thin, not much was expected of the fifth film in the Final Destination series. Two things make this entry standout; a series of inventive kills that ramp up the tension from a terrific opening sequence and the dramatic reveal that links the film to the original.
Zombie Nazis marauding through Norway are inherently going to cause alarm, but what this sequel does with great skill is add in some much needed humour into proceedings. The set pieces are witty, frightening and full of gore.
The “meta” slasher franchise went even further in 2011 as Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette return to be tormented by Ghostface once again. The series has always thrown knowing glances at the viewer, yet this time around the audience actively participates in the action by virtue of growing up with the main characters.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest Hollywood sequels of all time, James Cameron took Ridley Scott’s original ‘haunted house in space’ concept and turned his follow-up to Alien into a ball out action extravaganza. Sigourney Weaver stands out as one of the greatest heroes of all time.
Serving as both a remake and sequel, Dawn of the Dead has somehow perfected the zombie terror formula to great effect. The highlight is the second half of the story, which ends up seeing a group of bickering survivors trying to avoid death in a shopping mall. Brainless shoppers and zombified humans become impossible to tell apart.
This little seen 2010 horror sees a virus infect the unsuspecting residents of small town in Iowa. As the madness descends, turning everyone who drinks from the water supply into “crazies”, the battle for survival throws up some tense stand-offs.
Does anyone actually remember the Nicole Kidman/Daniel Craig version from 2007 titled The Invasion? If we discount that loose remake, then the 1978 film starring Donald Sutherland is a chilling update that subtly plays up the political issues of the time. The final shot still sends shivers down our spines.
Weddings are a nightmarish prospect at the best of times, with guests often taking leave of their senses and turning into the worst versions of themselves. Oh look, here’s the third film in the zombie series REC to catch the bouquet and run wild with that very idea. One of the best things about this Spanish zombie horror is its wise decision to dump the tired ‘found-footage’ gimmick in favour of some actual camera work.
Colin Farrell as a charismatic vampire and the dearly missed Anton Yelchin as a panic-stricken neighbour are the perfect combination in this comedy horror that leaves the 80s original in its wake. Farrell sinks his teeth into the role and its also a reminder of how good he was as Bullseye in Ben Affleck’s otherwise dreadful take on Daredevil.
Unfairly labelled as “chav-horror”, Eden Lake boasts an early appearance by Michael Fassbender and sees the actor tormented by a group of youngsters intent on ruining a quiet getaway. The chilling tone, and uncompromising denouement makes the viewer question where society is heading, and it doesn’t make for comfortable viewing.
It’s not just about the admittedly superb twist ending. Sixth Sense saw a young boy (Haley Joel Osment) trying to solve his problems with ghosts with the help of a therapist (Bruce Willis). Both characters seem disconnected from society, but it’s a traumatic incident from the past that haunts Willis and stuns the audience.
Entering an unmapped cave system is already a pretty terrifying prospect, but when you add in flesh-eating “crawlers” into the mix you have the recipe for the ultimate nightmare. Claustrophobic, tense and action-led, Neil Marshall’s British horror is a polished example of things going very wrong, very quickly.
James Wan and Leigh Whannell have cornered the market in modern American horror, and the first half of this 2010 hit is flawlessly played out. Sure, the latter portion of the movie isn’t quite live up to the opening moments, but with Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson adding a touch of class to an already breathless script, the jump scares come thick and fast.
There’s so much going on in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, that there have been entire documentaries made about the conspiracy theories surrounding the film itself. You have to consider every character pretty unlucky, but spare a special thought for crusading chef Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers) who spends the whole film trying to get back to the remote Overlook hotel to save the day, only to meet a grisly end at the hands of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson).
The kicker at the end of this Stephen King story is so grim, that it’s hard to just label it merely ‘unlucky’. A violent storm is followed by an eery mist that has all manner on unspeakably hideous creatures hiding within it. David Drayton (Thomas Jane) is faced with the impossible choice of seeing his young son suffer a gruesome death, or take matters into his own hands. As the end credits are about to roll, the mist begins to clear and the true horror of his situation is revealed.
This shocking French production delves into transcendental philosophy by way of unspeakable acts of torture. The unfortunate victim is only guilty of trying to help the wrong person, and the punishment for this supposed crime has been the source of much debate since the film’s release in 2008.
You’re backpacking across Europe with you best mate and next thing you know you have your mouth surgically attached to someone else’s rear end. That’s the basic setup of Dutch filmmaker Tom Six’s body-horror cult classic. At least the person at the head of the centipede is luckier than the other two people involved…
When Laura (Belén Rueda) returns to her childhood home, an orphanage, her plans to renovate the residence are thrown into disarray when her young son Simon disappears. Forced to confront her own past, Laura is convinced there are dark forces at play, but no one believes her. The heartbreaking revelation of what happened on the fateful night Simon disappeared lingers in the air for a long time.
Kate and John Coleman (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) adopt a 9-year-old girl after they suffer a miscarriage. Things start off wonderfully for the family, but problems soon surface when the girl starts behaving oddly. When the Coleman’s discover that they have actually invited a 30-something woman posing as a child into their home they realise that their luck is well and truly out.
Sex. It Follows acts as a cautionary tale about the dangers of copulation where a curse is transferred from one person to the next after doing the deed. You can look at the film as a metaphor for sexually transmitted diseases, and the setting hints at the AIDS epidemic during the 80s, with the unseen force that “follow” the unlucky individuals in this movie putting you off sex for a long time after viewing.
It’s been a poor year for horror. Sequels haven’t lived up to the hype and originality seems to be an afterthought for most studios. Korean zombie thriller Train To Busan, however, arrives just in time to save an otherwise drab halloween at cinemas. Already a massive hit on its domestic release, the story of a group of survivors trying to outrun fast moving zombies who have boarded their train is eye-poppingly realised.
In a quick poll around Culture Trip Towers, this Roald Dahl adaptation came out top of the pile when we asked “which films traumatised us when we were kids”. Dahl’s books are pretty grotesque anyway, but the film caught out unsuspecting youngsters due to some horrible special effects.
Almost denied a release, having sat on the shelves for a number of years once it was completed, The Cabin in The Woods takes every cliche about the genre and turns it on its head. Equally loathed as it is loved, the film does have a humorous central premise that is steadfastly maintained by regular collaborators Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost seem to have stumbled across a winning formula with this subversive comedy/horror. The zombie apocalypse, when it inevitably arrives will unfold in one of two ways. Either it will consume us all turning humanity into a macabre circus act or it will leave us all facing the prospect of defending ourselves with our most prized LPs as weapons. A no-win situation.
A Cuban take on the zombie apocalypse, the Juan of the title is a lazy, forty-something deadbeat who is forced into action when the undead rise and threaten his daughter… but not before making financial gain out of the situation. There’s some great political subtext here, apparently, but we were too busy having fun to notice.
Yes, the Bill Murray cameo is outstanding, but so is the rest of the film. Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone instantly spark off one another, and the deliciously satirical script will have you rolling in the aisles as much as it has you on the edge of your seat. And speaking of cameos, the Amber Heard “turn” is a hilariously crafted comedy set-piece.
Making the most of the passing fad for 3D movies in the wake of Avatar, this remake of Joe Dante’s 1978 original took pesky flesh-eating fish and turned them into characters of their own. Featuring acting heavyweights like Richard Dreyfuss and Christopher Lloyd alongside TV personality Kelly Brook, there were certainly plenty of (severed) tongue-in-cheek moments to be had.
The Scream franchise reinvigorated the teen slasher genre, and so its only fitting that the Scary Movie series did the same for parody films. Taking its from the original working title of Wes Craven’s film, the gags might not all hit the bullseye, but they sure come thick and fast.
Two hillbillies versus a group of good-looking teenagers, you know how this story will end. Right? Wrong! Showing us the perspective of the much-maligned dungaree-wearing community, the movie wickedly subverts a tired genre and depicts a side of the story we rarely see.
The film about a killer tyre from the man behind a memorable Levi’s advert. That’s pretty much all you need to know, as Mr. Oizo gives life to the marauding rubber menace. You can’t help but laugh at the concept itself.
We always knew John Landis knew how to do comedy, but horror too? Make no mistake, there are laughs aplenty to be had in this lycan story but don’t overlook the expertly handled transformation sequences either. The title is also one of the most concise plot summaries you could wish for… a ready made hashtag for the twitter generation before the advent of the Internet!
Take your pick from the stomach-churning depiction of gluttony, the sickening portrayal of lust or the heart-stopping moment we realise just what has happened to the poor sloth victim, David Fincher’s Se7en is a dark descent into a hellish world. Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt form an unlikely investigative duo, but the real star is the special effects wizard who made us regurgitate our lunch on first viewing.
One of the most celebrated scenes in cinema history, also happens to be one of the grisliest. For the most part, Ridley Scott opts for muted atmospherics to freak out his audience, and his cast, but then comes the chest-burster and all hell breaks loose.
Sam Raimi went old school before that was even a thing by using stop-motion effects to convey his vision for body horror. The demonic possession sequences are frightening, the exploding innards are vomit-inducing.
Before Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson delivered a sickening slapstick-zombie movie that has gone on to achieve cult status. If you’re expect twee hobbits, then you’ve come to the wrong place as this Kiwi shocker takes glee in grossing out the audience with a series of increasingly preposterous set-pieces. It’s great!
From the disturbing mind of Takashi Miike, Ichi the Killer takes an already graphic manga series and turns it into a hideous, yet irresistible film. Banned in several countries for its cruelty and violence, the blood-letting never ends as Ichi (Nao Omari) embarks on a vengeful killing spree across Japan.
There is a melancholy tone that permeates through Park Chan-Wook’s manga adaptation. There’s also a healthy dose of bone-crunching action as well a sickening feeling induced by the family trauma we learn at the end of the film… but then there’s this scene. Yep, it’s all real.
When a far-right presidential candidate is elected into office in France, a street gang try to capitalise on the chaos by pulling of a robbery. Things don’t go to plan, however, when the group end up in the clutches of a Nazi sympathiser. The bloody finale has won many plaudits, and earned a fair few critics, for its unremitting gore.
The secret to ever-lasting youth, it turns out in this Hong Kong horror, are dumplings served by the mysterious chef Aunt Mei. An ageing actress sees the amazing regenerative qualities first hand, and only momentarily pauses when she learns that she is consuming aborted foetuses. The horrifying conclusion comes soon after the reveal that the most potent recipe comes via incest.
A government agent is hellbent on revenge after his fiancé is brutally murdered by psychopathic serial killer. He soon tracks down the prime suspect, and the pair are locked in a violent game of cat and mouse. Make sure you don’t watch this movie before going on a car journey with strangers.
If you ever wondered how far Takashi Miike is willing to go with his films, the Visitor Q seriously suggests that there are no limits to his output. Framed using a family who abuse one another in various ways, a visitor acts as a conduit the the darkest perversions imaginable. Even fans of the director’s other work question the merit of this controversial film.
The second series of American Horror Story is easily the best. The setting allowed the producers to run amok with several ideas concurrently, and they even managed to throw in multiple timelines into the mix. What made this particular outing creepy was the unsettling tone that went from grisly murder one minute, a memorable song and dance number the next.
There are two episodes that everyone references when they talk about this show. The musical Once More With Feeling is a heartbreaking delight, but it’s Hush that is the real ace in the pack when it comes to horror. Buffy (Sarah Michelle-Gellar) and her friends are forced to communicate without the use of speech when a seriously scary group known as ‘The Gentlemen’ turn up and steal their voices. Interestingly, series creator Joss Whedon said it was earlier praise for the dialogue in the series that made him want to create an episode devoid of words.
If you happened to be watching BBC television on Halloween in 1992, you would have stumbled across this bizarre drama that was presented as a reality tv experiment hosted by the venerable Michael Parkinson. The air of authenticity was so immaculate that millions were fooled into thinking that the participants were possessed by a demon called “pipes”. Loosely based on the infamous Enfield Hauntings, this is as chilling now as when it was first broadcast.
The popular American fantasy serial first introduced a number of sci-fi tropes to audiences in the 1950s and 60s. Many ideas have since been developed into films, but the short, punchy nature of episodes like Mirror Image and The Dummy have stood the test of time in their own right. The highlight is obviously seeing William Shatner lose it in Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.
When The X-Files first broadcast, it went for a ‘monster of the week’ format over the tedious alien conspiracy arcs that bogged down the show after the first few seasons. Tooms was the most memorable villain of the first series, and his ability to squeeze into small spaces to attack his victims had us blocking the cat-flaps at home for weeks after watching the show.
“Oh boy!” Halloween specials of long-running TV shows usually signal a desperate attempt to remain topical and tend to work as stand-alone episodes taking place in their own bubble. There are a number of theories about this instalment of Sam Beckett’s time-travelling adventures, with the kicker being that he gives a young Stevie (Stephen?) King a number of ideas for his later novels.
Ostensibly a kids show from Australia, Round The Twist was what all the cool kids were watching while everyone else was raving about Goosebumps. Three children and their widowed father experience a number of supernatural events when they move into a haunted house. Most of the escapades were amusing but there were a handful of episodes that creeped us out, for we were the cool kids. Obviously.
Culture Trip’s New York film editor Graham Fuller curated the other 50 Halloween films on this list. You can find them here.