Top 5 horror films for Halloween

Welcome to Halloween.

Welcome, also, to too much sugar, pumpkins everywhere, and endless debates about whether or not it constitutes the Americanisation of British culture (answer: nobody cares).

But all of that misses the point. Halloween is not about any of that. Halloween is about horror films. The TV listings are jammed with them, Netflix have a “Halloween film” section, and HMV have been doing a roaring trade (I imagine) in the classics since about mid-October.

So here’s my contribution to the mix. My top five horror films, for your enjoyment. Enjoy.

Before we get started, the honourable mentions. The Wicker Man (1973), Poltergeist, Event Horizon (yes, it is horror) and The Shining were all considered for this list, and missed out only barely. You should still watch all of them, if you haven’t already. You should also watch this excellent collection of ten scary short films gathered by the folks at io9.

5. Mama

This one met divided opinion when it was released earlier this year. Some didn’t care for it. I did.

As you’d expect from a Guillermo del Toro film, the visuals are unendingly stunning, with the distorted and misshapen design of Mama herself being the crowning glory. It’s also a very beautiful story, with the two little girls left alone in the forest being raised by the “monster”, who as all good monsters are is simply a bit misunderstood.

Which doesn’t stop it from being utterly creepy. Incidentally, it was adapted from the below short film. (Watch in full-screen, with the volume turned up, and try not to scream)

4. Martyrs

The film that Saw wishes it was. I’m not joking, this French horror takes the gore-factor of the Saw franchise to the extreme. Unlike Saw, however, it doesn’t stop there.

A girl who escaped physical abuse and neglect as a child never manages to escape the mental scars of her experiences, and hunts down the people she thinks were responsible. The truth, when it emerges, is actually far more horrifying.

Gore by itself can be nauseating, but it isn’t scary. Where Martyrs wins out is by pairing it with a philosophical tinge, a beautifully bleak nihilism as well as a justification for the unremitting cruelty. It leaves you feeling dirty after having watched it, but opens up whole new lines of thought.

Apparently an American remake is in the offing, courtesy of the people responsible for Twilight. In this, I wish them only failure.

3. [Rec]

Another foreign film, [Rec] is one of the few times that I can say the found-footage format has undeniably worked. It gets around the Blair Witch Project problem of nauseating shaky-cam by being filmed by a professional camera crew. A reporter filming a documentary piece with a fire crew ends up trapped in a tower block with an unknown infection. Not a breathtakingly original premise, but such care has been taken in the making that the product ends up truly terrifying.

I remember the first time I watched this with Ashleigh. It was late, it was dark, and we were alone in the house. Do not emulate this if you want a restful night’s sleep.

2. Jacob’s Ladder

For a film which is owed a great debt by much of modern horror (including one of my favourite video games, Silent Hill) Jacob’s Ladder is surprisingly little known. Ashleigh actually introduced me to it, and it almost immediately climbed to the peak of my esteem.

Vietnam vet Jacob Singer (in a fantastic performance by Tim Robbins) finds his life unravelling in an orgy of hallucinations, paranoia, and damned creepy special effects. The scene where he is wheeled through a grotesque and nightmarish hospital is a particular favourite. It aches with the kind visceral otherness which I love. Jacob’s Ladder also has one of the best symbolic endings I’ve ever seen in a film, and really it deserves it’s place on this list just for that pathos-tinged culmination.

1. Alien

It probably says something about me that my favourite horror film is (also) a science-fiction film. Or maybe not. Whatever, Alien is the film which for me pushes all the right buttons. The atmosphere throughout Alien is perfect, a creeping sense of “this is not right” and the claustrophobia of being trapped in a confined space with something which wants to kill you.

The influence of H.R. Giger on the visuals is deliciously twisted, and the standout moment is the infamous “chestbuster” scene, where the cast weren’t told beforehand what was going to happen. The fear on their faces is genuine. As far as space-horror goes, I think it is still unmatched nearly thirty five years later.

Feel free to suggest your own favourites in the comments.

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