I’m a horror junkie. Yeah, I know: I write fluffy romcoms and I don’t believe in ghosts, demons, or anything supernatural, and any serial killer trying to abduct me would need a winch and a high tolerance for whining.
But I love horror. Gorefest or fade-to-black mindfuck. Serious or satirical. Hollywood or made in someone’s garage with a £10 budget and a bit part for Dave’s mum because she made all the sandwiches for the three-person crew.
The only thing I don’t do is Generic Monsters – zombies, vampires, and werewolves can all fuck off. Notable exception 28 Days Later, which is definitely worth a watch.
So, here are my recommendations of five movies to watch for Halloween…
THE POWER OF ANNA COMPELS YOU (to watch)
1. Severance (2006)
Gore-o-meter: 4/5. Severed limbs and disembowellings but still, it’s not quite at Saw/Hostel levels of in-your-face bloodbath.
“Team building.” The phrase is enough to send shivers down any corporate monkey’s spine. But when the team building is over a whole weekend? A weekend in the tarantula-infested woods of Hungary in the arse end of nowhere? And when you don’t just need to deal with Stoner Steve tripping his face off or Gormless Gordon brown-nosing the boss, but also psychopathic killers hunting you like corporate little deer? Maybe it would still be okay if you hadn’t found a fucking human tooth in the pie you ate for dinner.
Welcome to Severance.
Boss Man Richard: “Members of the government are on the board [of our weapons company]. They’re not going to do anything immoral!”
Severance is British black humour at its finest. The wit of The Office with the terror of Hostel, and a cameo from a bear. There aren’t enough random bears in horror.
After Steve discovers the tooth in the pie they all just ate and asks Gordon where he got it…
Gordon: “I found it.”
“You found a pie?”
Gordon [defensively]: “I cooked it for the full hour!”
“You don’t cook every pie for an hour!”
“Oh. Do you think it’s undercooked?”
You’ll be pleased to know Gordon later gets caught in a bear trap.
2. Get Out (2017)
Gore-o-meter: 1/5. This is horror that gets under your skin without needing to cut it.
Being a young black man in the US is dangerous enough. When your white girlfriend is taking you to meet her rich, white parents? Wowza. It’s not hard to see why another young black man might urge you to Get (the fuck) Out of there. But maybe it isn’t for the reason you think. Maybe there’s something even more sinister than racism going on.
Get Out is sublime. It makes its audience uncomfortable right from the beginning, where a cop demands to see Chris’ license and registration and his white girlfriend is furious, challenging the cop in all her colourblind naivety while Chris desperately tries to keep things from escalating. You want to cover your face, and the fingers don’t come down when Chris arrives at Rose’s home and her parents appear to be perfectly welcoming… except they can’t stop referencing Chris’ blackness. Rose’s dad is one step away from putting on a Bob Marley track and asking Chris if he brought any weed, because he’s soo down with the ganja.
Rose’s dad, out of the blue: “I would’ve voted for Obama for a third time if I could. Best president in my lifetime, hands down.”
When the twist comes, it’s clever and horrifying. Chris is the perfect protagonist, and not once is he Too Stupid to Live – the bane of horror characters. Daniel Kaluuya is the perfect actor, too. I loved him in Johnny English, he nearly made me cry in Black Mirror, and he doesn’t put a foot wrong in Get Out.
Chris, on the phone to his friend after Rose’s mum hypnotises him without permission:
Rod: “Bro, how you not scared of this, man? Look they could have made you do all types of stupid shit. They have you fucking barking like a dog. Flying around like you a fucking pigeon, looking ridiculous. Okay? Or, I don’t know if you know this, but white people love making people sex slaves and shit.”
Chris: “Yeah, I’m pretty sure they’re not a kinky sex family, dog.”
Rod: “Look, Jeffrey Dahmer was eating the shit out of n*****s’ heads. Okay? But that was after he fucked the heads. Do you think they saw that shit coming? Hell no. Okay? They were coming over there like, “I’m just gonna suck a little dick, maybe jiggle some balls or shit.” No! They didn’t get a chance to jiggle shit because their head was off their fucking body! Yeah, they still sucked the dick, but without their heads. It was fucking weird detached heads shit. You know, that’s Jeffrey Dahmer’s business.”
Chris: “Thanks for that image.”
I love Rod. Rod does not get caught in a bear trap at any point.
3. Wolf Creek (2005)
Gore-o-meter: 3/5. A whole lot of violence, though.
I keep putting this one here and taking it out because, honestly, it could go on this list or on a 5 Movies you Shouldn’t Watch list. It’s a very effective horror, but so effective that it’s one of only two that has genuinely disturbed me. In 25 years. Can I really recommend others watch it?
I have to, mostly because of the masterful performance of John Jarratt, who plays Wolf Creek’s villain. He is terrifying.as.fuck.
I’ve read interviews with actors who say the general public think they are their characters, and I always think those people are pretty dim. But if I ever met John Jarratt? I honestly think I’d be unable to shake his hand. It would make my flesh crawl. (I’m sure this will come as quite a blow to John, who I’m confident is both an avid reader of my blog AND desperate to shake my paw.)
Wolf Creek claims to be “based on a true story” but this is really a gimmick – the only gimmicky thing about the film. It was maybe inspired by the high-profile disappearances of various backpackers in the Australian outback, maybe most significantly the murders of Ivan Milat. But the characters and specifics of Wolf Creek are entirely fictional.
Three backpackers visit a lonely Australian backwater, Wolf Creek – an ancient meteor crater where they are the only tourists to have visited that day. Probably that month. When they finish hiking the crater they find their car won’t start, their watches have stopped, and all they can see for miles around is desolate scrubland.
Just as they begin to panic… joy! A friendly local just happens to be visiting and offers them a tow back to his place, a rundown collection of outbuildings just as much in the middle of nowhere as the crater. He’s so friendly that they sit around his fire drinking and laughing with him, until suddenly he’s not so friendly anymore. And then it’s all devastating and I feel off-kilter for days.
Why does Jarratt’s villain, Mick, creep me out so much? I can’t say. He just seems, to me, sadism made incarnate. The thought of pleading with him wouldn’t even cross my mind because it is so glaringly obvious that he revels in causing pain and there is not a shred of compassion in there.
One thing I love is that the mystery of the broken car and the stopped watches is never explained. It’s just another unsettling aspect that makes it seem as though the earth itself is against the backpackers and all the rules of civilisation have gone out of the window.
Don’t watch this. But do.
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Gore-O-Meter: 4/5. Freddy doesn’t get manicures for a reason.
I often wish I didn’t need sleep. With the saved time I could read more books, pet more cats, mentally red-pen more comments on YouTube. I’d say I could write more books and do other productive stuff, but we all know that ain’t gonna happen.
The teenagers of Elm Street really, really, wish they didn’t need sleep. Because that’s when Freddy gets them.
Freddy, as we find out in one of the sickest origin stories of popular horror, is the result of a nightmare for his mother, a nurse who was accidentally locked in over a weekend with a hundred psychopathic inmates. Freddy lives up to his daddy(ies)’s legacy, taking his child victims to a boiler room, until a mob of angry parents corners him and burns him alive.
This all happens before the movie. Now Freddy is out for revenge. He might be dead, but that isn’t going to stop him – he lives on in some other plane where he can invade the dreams of his victims (the children of the mob who killed him) and they have nowhere to run. They’re tucked up in bed.
Nightmare on Elm Street was the first horror I ever watched. I was seven and sat with my older brother and his friend, who seemed a whole lot more grossed out than me. I was enthralled.
Despite what you might be thinking, I didn’t start murdering and butchering animals or drawing pictures of my teachers being disembowelled by roasted paedophile corpses. I love FICTIONAL horror, but I can’t even watch those David Attenborough documentaries where a lion fells a gammy gazelle.
Freddy is a fun villain, despite his origin story. Robert Englund plays him with a twisted, black sense of humour that’s as iconic as the bladed glove and the dirty red-and-green jumper.
NoES is also one of the few franchises where the sequels are comparable to the original.
Freddy’s coming for you
Better lock your door
Grab your crucifix
Gonna stay up late
Never sleep again
Nancy’s mum: “Nancy, you’re going to get some sleep tonight if it kills me.”
5. Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Gore-O-Meter: 2/5 but beware, this goes for the gross-out rather than the bleed-out.
Bank worker Christine is blonde, doe-eyed, sweet, and living the American dream as an ex-fatty now climbing the ladder in her respectable middle-class job in LA. She’s so sweet her boss admonishes her, saying she needs to toughen up if she wants promotion. In fact, she’s sickly sweet, and you kind of want someone to punch her in the face.
Enter Mrs. Ganush, a wrinkled old woman with stained false teeth and a piteous story. The bank is going to take her home unless Christine agrees to extend her mortgage for a third time.
You can see where this going. Christine “toughens up” and says no. And gets punched in the face. Not quite literally – Mrs. Ganush fights dirty and a plain old whack in the jaw isn’t going to appease her – but also spiritually. Because the Token Psychic Character informs Christine, after a run of bad luck, that Mrs. Ganush has cursed her and a demon will come for Christine’s soul in three days – unless Mrs. Ganush can be persuaded to remove the curse.
Mrs. Ganush: “Soon, it will be you who comes begging to me.”
One snag. Old Ma Ganush is dead, and even her corpse takes one final, disgusting, act of revenge that you can’t quite look away from whilst desperately wanting to.
One senses that Christine never quite learns her lesson. She’s never truly sorry for refusing to help Mrs. Ganush, just full of whiny self-pity and convinced she doesn’t deserve any of the things happening to her. Which, to be fair, she probably doesn’t… but she’s pretty and blonde and has a perfect life and a perfect boyfriend and honestly, I never get sick of seeing her being punched in the face.
Drag Me To Hell kind of turns me into the sadist and, not gonna lie, I like it.
The movie is directed by the same people who did Evil Dead and DMtH is just as OTT, just as hilarious as much as it is horrible (in all the right ways). And it’s visually very beautiful with crisp lighting and strong colours. And there are no zombies. Fuck zombies.
One word for this movie: entertaining.
And gross. Also gross.
What are your horror recs for Halloween? Or are you going to hug a stuffed toy and cry at Bambi?