I love Halloween. I love it for the way people throw costumes on. I love it for kids running all over the neighborhood trick or treating. I love it for adults acting like kids – even if it’s college-aged, inebriated, sexually-desperate kids. I love it because it allows people and communities to behave in ways different than their norm. Compare it to most other national holidays which are often about one thing. Halloween can be about family. It can be about friends. But so are Thanksgiving and Christmas. Only Halloween can also be about slutty nurses and parties and scaring people and candy and death and fear and fun. It’s a wonderful time.
Part of the fun are the horror movie marathons that dot the TV landscape. For someone who was raised outside the US, movies tend to be a weird way of learning about American culture and customs and Halloween is one of those ideas that has only slowly made its way around the globe – even as it’s getting pushed back in very religious nations where the idea of celebrating a spooky holiday is anathema. Never mind that those places often have plenty of horror stories of their own. And with Halloween nearly upon us, waves of costumes and candy can be seen everywhere on the streets and horror movie marathons fill our TV screens. (All the while H2 hits us with the scariest thing possible: marathons of Ancient Aliens. Run from George Tsoukalos’s hair!!)
This means we get endless repeats of the classics. If you haven’t bumped into Halloween, The Exorcist, Dracula — whether Bela Lugosi’s or Gary Oldman’s or Christopher Lee’s — Friday the 13th or Alien yet, don’t worry. There’s still time as they will be on an endless loop through Friday, October 31st. It’s like Christmas with A Christmas Story or It’s A Wonderful Life. Markers that the season is upon you.
But what if you’ve seen Alien and The Exorcist? What if you want to see some other horror movie instead this Halloween? Hey, I can help with that. So here are six lesser-known but just as scary horror movie recommendations for your Halloween viewing pleasure. Some are gory, some are more cerebral, but they’re all scary fun time. And really, isn’t that what Halloween is all about?
Audition (1999): I’m surprised that this Japanese horror movie by Takashi Miike didn’t get an American adaptation back when The Ring and The Grudge were getting theirs. (One is reportedly in the works though). It’s a simple enough concept. Aoyama, a middle-aged widower, lets his movie producer friend set up fake auditions for a fake movie role in the hopes that one of the girls will attract him out of his doldrums. When he falls for petite, demure Asami, it seems the plan has worked. Only, there’s something not quite right with Asami. And when Aoyama finds out, he’ll wish he hadn’t. A warning: when this movie gets bloody, it gets bloody. If you’ve ever had misgivings of online dating, being set up by friends or who really is the stranger you’re out with, this movie might not be for you.
The Descent (2005): A quick shoutout to director Neil Marshall’s debut, Dog Soldiers. If you want a funny, fun, horror movie, that’s a good choice. But this is a far better movie. Six girl friends have gotten together after a tragedy a year earlier robbed one of them of her husband and daughter. Their plan is to go cave-diving in the Appalachian Mountains and reconnect. Only things don’t go as they intended and they become trapped in an unknown cave system with something hunting them in the darkness. As they fight for their lives, secrets bubble to the surface that may cost them all their lives. Visceral and gory at times, it’s the claustrophobia and the paranoia that end up getting to you.
Silver Bullet (1985): This one features Corey Haim (as a kid) and Gary Busey (as not crazy). Based on a Stephen King story set it in the 1960s, the small town of Tarker’s Mills, Maine is having a rash of strange and grisly murders. As more people are found mutilated, the mood turns dangerous. When teenager Jane and her paraplegic brother Marty get involved in it, they become the targets of a strange and dangerous killer and find they cannot turn to anyone but their drunk, immature uncle, Red. Traditional 80s horror fare and, while there are moments of gore, this is one I wouldn’t be against showing the PG-13 crowd. It’s also one of the better werewolf movies out there.
Session 9 (2001): It’s David Caruso pre-CSI: Miami and that may take you out of the movie at first, but power on and you’ll find one dark and scary tale. In this movie, a team of asbestos removers goes to work in cleaning up abandoned Danvers State Hospital. But as you’d expect, the former mental institution harbors the kind of secrets that should be left alone, like the recordings of a patient with several personalities that are all afraid of “Simon.” Unable to walk away from the contract and disturbed by everything they find, the team begins to fray at the edges against themselves and one another. Extremely atmospheric and with several moments of sheer panic, it has one of those endings that swerves around on you.
Frailty (2001): The directorial debut of Bill Paxton, he also stars in this tale of a widowed father who comes to believe he’s been chosen by God to take out demons — demons in human form that is. He conscripts his two young sons, Fenton and Adam into his cause — creating a wedge between himself and his elder son, who fears his father has lost it. Years later, an adult Fenton (Matthew McCounaghey) walks into the FBI’s office to tell the tale of his adult brother Adam as the notorious “God’s Hand Killer” to the man leading the chase. A small tale that’s frightening because the monster here is a nice, decent dad who loves his sons and just wants them to accept that they’ve been chosen by God to kill ordinary-looking people and this destroys the small, quaint family.
TrollHunter (2010): The only “found footage” film on this list, this small Norwegian film follows three documentary students who are trying to get an interview with a notorious bear poacher. Only, the man they’re after doesn’t kill bears, he hunts trolls for the government. That’s right, trolls. The massive monstrous creatures who live in forests and under bridges and know the smell of a Christian’s blood.
The hunter, Hans, is a tired government worker who just wants to quit, but cannot. And as the students go deeper and deeper into the wild with Hans, they find themselves in danger both from the trolls and from Hans’ government boss, who has threatened that they’ll never keep their film. At times funny and at times frightening, it’s amazing how much the filmmakers got out of a very limited budget.
So there you go kids. Six tales to put the fear into your heart and keep your peepers peeled wide open in the dead of night. Sweet dreams and Happy Halloween!