Getting ready for Halloween is one of my cherished times of the year. I start hoarding skull travel cups from the drug stores, I blueprint what costumes I can make for my kitties, and finally, it’s considered “normal” to binge watch a lot of my favorite films. Instead of making a list of the best horror films to watch this season (I hope we all have seen the Shining, Halloween, and the Exorcist by now), I ruminated over a different kind of list… Most of these could be considered sci-fi or psychological thrillers, and even “tame” in the eyes of many horror cinephiles, but I prefer creepier— more imaginative— horror plots. Here are my own recommendations for everyone who’s in the mood for something spine-tingling, sinister, disturbing, shocking, but nonetheless— human (even when they are monsters).
8. Altered States (1980), directed by Ken Russell.
This one is for the sci-fi lovers out there— A doctor who experiments on himself with hallucinatory drugs and isolation chambers, this movie comments on creation and the power of the human ego. It’s packed with visceral visuals, accompanied by bits of pseudo-intellectual gab.
7. The Hunger (1983), directed by Tony Scott.
Not your usual vampire movie, starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon. This film is packed with glamorous and stylish shots, but the love story boils down to immortality, companionship, sensuality, and of course— blood. It’s been criticized for being a “bad vampire movie,” but I found it more interesting than many others, especially when it comes to gender roles in horror.
6. Peeping Tom (1960), directed by Michael Powell.
The first “slasher” film, this one really paved the way for other movies about a deranged citizen with a taste for (filmmaking, and) murder. With revolutionary voyeuristic cinematography for its time, it is in my bank of historic horror that everyone should watch. It has brilliant direction, and turns the audience to become real voyeurs as we watch the main character cross the line and break the rules.
Opening scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9ss1W4IeGc
5. Scanners (1981), directed by David Cronenberg
A classic Cronenberg experience, this movie also teeters the line of sci-fi thriller— A scientist hires a man with telepathic and telekinetic powers to hunt others like him. This futuristic stage is ripe with special effects, action, and fantasy— although I wish the viewer could connect with the characters a bit more, it remains a film with iconic imagery and intrigue.
4. Funny Games (1997, 2007), directed by Michael Haneke.
An amazing deconstruction of the Slasher movie and societal structures, here’s a disturbing film about two young men coming over to visit and end up holding a family hostage in their vacation home. There are two versions— the original Austrian version and the American remake, done by the same director ten years later. Overall, I prefer the original, but the two young men in the American version really did a fantastic job pinpointing a certain apathy that hits home.
Trailers: (Austrian) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkbG1uSH0to
3. Let the Right One In (2008), directed by Tomas Alfredson
My favorite vampire movie to date, this Swedish film is more about the innocent budding friendship of two kids, than about massacre. Cinematically, the shots are magnificent. The young actors shock me with their deep understanding of the characters, and how gently they tell the story. This one will not disappoint. In 2010, Hollywood made an American version called, Let Me In.
2. The Brood (1979), directed by David Cronenberg
For those who want a bit more of the weird and grotesque, this movie is psychological as well as downright creepy. Typically Cronenberg, the story encompasses a psychotherapist and one of his patients, while a series of murders are committed by, seemingly, a group of children. One of my most esteemed movies of all time— imaginative and horrifying.
1. Sleepaway Camp (1983), directed by Robert Hiltzik
And lastly, my absolute favorite underrated horror film. Definitely an 80s Slasher about a summer camp massacre, paired with the genre’s cheesy formulaic murder sequences, this movie is tailored to those who enjoy campy (no pun intended) horror. It has dark twists I’ve never seen in any other horror movie— derangement surrounding family, gender, intimacy, and more— not to mention, the last scene of the movie has never left my memory.