When it comes to deciding what horror movie I am going to watch next (and even when I’m looking for book choices), Paul is my go-to guy. And he has been spot-on every single time. He has given us quite a few below… and I can’t wait to watch the ones I have not seen yet.
Halloween Horror Gems
Halloween is, of course, the spookiest of days and the month of October the spookiest of ‘seasons’ (though there is a valid argument for the Christmas period as an appropriate time for ghost stories, but this is a Halloween article, so…), and as such, it’s absolutely appropriate for the horror fan – or, indeed, anyone – to sit down to any number of horror films (and books) and give themselves a delightful fright. Now, it’s a known fact to those who know it that the horror fan will watch scary and horrific films all year round. But there’s just something extra special about viewing them around Halloween. An added frisson, a more delicious atmosphere.
What I want to do here, is highlight a few films that might have slipped under some people’s radar. They’re not specifically Halloween, and they won’t be completely unknown – especially to the hardened scare seeker – but I think, perhaps, they maybe don’t pop up on other people’s lists as much as I think they should. I also want to look at films that are wholly appropriate for the ‘season’, not just horror films but ones with that Halloween atmosphere; again, not specific to the holiday, just ones that have that certain shiver-inducing tone.
So, let’s dive in…
The Stylist – 2020, Dir: Jill Gevargizian.
I watched this recently – and it’s a recent film – and absolutely loved it. Claire, a talented and highly regarded hair stylist is socially awkward, insecure, alone and lonely, and unsure of her place in the world. She’s also a killer, taking the scalps of her victims to try on whilst quoting them as though trying to take on their personalities, too. When Olivia, a client she’s dealt with many times before asks for an emergency wedding hairdo, Claire reluctantly agrees.
What starts a tentative, budding friendship, inspiring Claire to try and give up her murderous ways, devolves into obsession, rage, and more killings. This film oozes atmosphere and class. Despite showing some rather brutal murders, it’s deeply sympathetic towards Claire’s plight. The horror here is mainly of the human variety, showing how painful and difficult it can be for some to move through spaces others do with ease. It’s sensuous, shocking, and an absolute delight of tension and dread.
Ghost Stories – 2017, Dir: Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson.
Despite being lauded on its release, this British anthology frightener seems to have largely passed many by. A shame because it’s utterly chilling. A debunker of mediums and spiritualists meets his childhood hero, a man who’s been missing, presumed dead, for many years. He challenges Phillip to examine three cases he himself couldn’t explain, cases which made him come to believe in the existence of the supernatural…
With a framing story that becomes more relevant as it goes on, the three tales here are all, in their own ways, completely terrifying. Even if some of the trappings of the original stage play are still evident, it doesn’t matter because this film is dripping with chills, infused with terror. The opening story detailing a night watchman’s last shift in an old, abandoned mental asylum is a masterclass in ratcheting tension and expectation. It’s worth the price alone. But don’t worry – the other two tales are just as affecting. A truly skin-crawling experience for those cosy, dark nights.
The Changeling – 1980, Dir: Peter Mendak.
Now to a classic from 1980, one which many younger horror fans may not be aware of. George C. Scott plays a man grieving the tragic loss of his wife and daughter. He moves to a secluded mansion hoping to find inspiration to compose again and process his bereavement at the same time. Whilst there, he comes to believe the house is haunted, and his investigations open up long buried, dark secrets.
Though made over 40 years ago, this movie is easily the equal of modern chillers such as The Conjuring or Sinister. It oozes dread and atmosphere, and some of the set-pieces are years ahead of their time in execution, creating tension and foreboding. It looks beautiful, makes full use of its setting, and adds an element of the occult detective through Scott’s determination to find the truth. A deserved classic and one that should be perfect for Halloween.
Come True – 2020, Dir: Anthony Scott Burns.
Another recent film and another that seems to have gone mostly unnoticed. Sarah, a teenager – an incredible performance by Julia Sarah Stone – prefers to sleep in local parks, on the street, or on rare occasions at a friend’s, rather than at home. She suffers from awful dreams, and her disturbed rest prompts her to take part in a sleep study that should give her weeks of uninterrupted slumber. But she and the other participants begin to share nightmares of a similar architecture, and of the same figure.
This is a fantastic, low-budget effort from Canada. It manages to make excellent use of its small-scale production, looking like a far more expensive picture. The designs are pleasingly retro at times, recalling some of the interiors of the spaceship from Alien, and both David Cronenberg and George A. Romero are referenced, the former through thematic elements, the latter with names. The dream imagery is stunning, monochrome and darkly beautiful, like an Andrei Tarkovsky SF feature, and the whole thing mounts steady dread till the nerve-shredding end. Slow-burning, artistic, experimental, with no easy answers, but absolutely worth your time.
Kairo (Pulse) – 2001, Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa.
Ah, now for something truly dread inducing. Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira) takes on the then booming, so-called ‘J-Horror’ phenomenon and both deconstructs and enhances that loose ‘genre’. Various people are dying in strange circumstances, apparent suicides, mysterious disappearances, and these deaths seem to be connected to strange phenomena on the internet or on recorded devices. A theory arises that spirits are returning to the world to be with the living and bringing with them unparalleled despair.
Like much of Kurosawa’s work, this film is baffling on first viewing. It doesn’t follow traditional or established narrative structure, it doesn’t spell out its plot; instead it unfolds in various seemingly unconnected scenes. The tone is also one of almost passivity, much like the characters themselves. Yet this serves to add to the atmosphere rather than distract. From the opening moments to the very end, Kairo is infused with dread, both existential and supernatural. It permeates every moment, making the viewer believe the events unfolding might actually manifest through their own screens, like Sadako in Ringu. No-one does this kind of thing quite like Kurosawa, and the sheer terror of this confounding film is something to behold. Check out Cure and Creepy by the same director for more mind-bending chills.
El Cuerpo (The Body) – 2012, Dir: Oriol Paulo.
Something a little bit different now, and here we have a horror/thriller from Spain, a country which has produced many an exceptional horror film over the years. A police inspector investigates the disappearance of a woman’s body from a morgue after the nightwatchman is found unconscious. Through the course of the investigation, many strange events occur at the morgue that suggest the possible supernatural, but the inspector is bound to pursue his all-too human investigation despite the mounting dread.
This was another film that seemed to fly under the radar for many. Moody, atmospheric, and full of twists and turns, this is a movie worthy of Hitchcock. Though it’s very much in the vein of a police thriller/procedural, there’s more than enough creepiness to push it into the realms of the supernatural – strange noises, unexplained goings-on, the missing corpse giving rise to some thinking the dead woman has come back from the dead or is a ghost. And when it resolves itself at the end, it does so in the most satisfying way. Definitely up there with the best of Spanish horror, such as The Orphanage, Julia’s Eyes, or Sleep Tight.
So there you have it. A bunch of spooky, dread-filled horror films to watch over a few nights in October, or binge on All Saint’s Eve itself. These movies are more about atmosphere and tone rather than out and out blood-fests, though a couple do have their violent moments. They are diverse, original, and dedicated in their intent, which is to unsettle, to scare, to terrify. But one thing binds them together – they are perfect Halloween fodder. Happy watching.
Paul M. Feeney was born in Scotland, has moved all around the UK, and currently lies in Aberdeen. An avid and passionate fiction reader – his first love being horror and all things dark – he started writing in 2011, was first published in 2014, and has a number of short stories in publications or forthcoming. He has also released two novellas so far – The Last Bus (Crowded Quarantine Publications, 2015) and Kids (Dark Minds Press, 2016). In 2020, his novelette, Cursed, was released by Demain Publishing, the second published story featuring his shape-shifting PI Garrison Wake. Under the name Paul Michaels, he writes the occasional review or horror website This Is Horror, as well as writing less genre-oriented stories. He is currently working on his first novel, as well as numerous other short stories and novellas.
The Last Bus —
We’ve all been there – the dreaded early morning commute.
The surly driver; the obnoxious teenagers; the guy who just has to invade your personal space; the awkwardness as everyone avoids any kind of social interaction with anyone else; the frustrations of snarled-up traffic and tail-backs.
For most of us, the trip on public transport is about as bad as it gets.
For these passengers, it’s about to get a lot worse.
Jonathon, Justine and Hanna don’t know each other but they’re about to be thrown together as a simple journey to work turns into a race for survival when a mysterious object falls from the sky, initiating an alien invasion. Mutated monsters, trigger-happy soldiers and personality clashes abound on:
The Last Bus.
Matt and Julie head to her parents’ big, remote house in the country, with their children Kayleigh, Carol and Robert, for a day out with friends and family. They intend spending the warm, summer’s day doing nothing more strenuous than engaging in light, casual conversation, eating lunch and drinking tea, while the kids play in the background.
At least, that’s the plan…
The kids disappear, only to return utterly, fundamentally changed. Something bad has happened to them, something very bad.
The day becomes a pitched battle between the adults and the violent psychopaths their children have become. How can the adults survive against such an enemy, how can they even fight back, when the very thing they have to fight against is their own flesh and blood?
Garrison Wake, a shape-shifting PI, exists in a world where all the supernatural and paranormal stuff is real, albeit mostly hidden from humanity. He investigates a case where a woman believes she’s been cursed through a DVD (a la The Ring), but not all is as it seems…
Writing about Garrison Wake, author Paul M. Feeney said: “He lives and works in Detroit, with feet in the worlds of the supernatural, the criminal, and the human, but swearing loyalty to none. He’s kind of an anti-hero, vigilante, who hates injustice but operates outside the law most of the time. He believes himself to be ‘lost’, to be already damned, so doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty…I like his cynical, sardonic approach to things, but also share his sense of justice (though perhaps not the methods, something I touch on in this story and want to explore more in further tales). He’s big, six-and-a-half-foot tall, and looks like a cross between Keanu Reeves and Brandon Lee in The Crow; he also tends to dress like the latter character, though without the clown makeup. He’s older than he looks by a few decades, and has a shady, petty-criminal past (though I’ve yet to fully investigate that myself). And he’s a loner, though people have become almost friends with him over the years, and he has a good circle of close acquaintances…”