Halloween is the prime time for terror, and few experiences are more visceral than being scared out of our wits by a great horror film. This Halloween, check out one of the following movies. You won’t be disappointed. Scared out of your wits, yes, but not disappointed.
Warning: Some of the movies are not recommended for younger viewers.
Setting Up Your Theater
Granted, there’s no trick to loading up a DVD or streaming a movie, but your viewing conditions do matter. Aside from the popcorn, in order to get the most out of a horror movie, try the following tips:
1. Lights out! Getting the room completely dark helps you concentrate on the screen and sets the mood.
2. Silence those cellphones! just like a public movie theater, turn off all those electronic devices. Horror movies are all about sustaining a mood, which you just can’t do it if you’re busy Tweeting your friends.
3. Make sure everyone’s onboard. Make sure your pals actually want to watch the movie. Wisecracks and tweets don’t add to the movie experience.
And now, our feature presentations…
Many of the best horror movies tap into our most basic fears, and one of the most frightening is being buried alive. That’s exactly the predicament that Ryan (The Green Lantern) Reynolds’ character faces in Buried, as an American contractor working in Iraq who is kidnapped and drugged. When he comes to, he’s underground, in the dark, in a big wooden box. All that’s keeping him from a slow and terrifying death by suffocation are a butane lighter and his cell phone. It’s an exercise in mounting tension, as Reynolds frantically tries to contact somebody who can scrape together the ransom money his kidnappers are demanding…before the lights go out for good. Buried is a thriller that excels because of its basic and horrible premise, proving that terror doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. It only has to be terrifying.
Proving that old horror movies really can be scary, The Body Snatcher boasts a chilling (and true) story by Robert Louis Stevenson about doctors who need cadavers (in order to further medical science) and the creepy criminals who supply them with dead bodies. But the real reason this film makes our list is the casting of Boris Karloff in the title role. Karloff may be best known now as the voice and narrator of the classic cartoon How the Grinch Stole Christmas, although he rocketed to international stardom decades earlier as the first actor to portray Frankenstein’s monster. (He also was the first actor to play the Mummy.) Karloff is horrific here: in his first scene, he’s all fake smiles and good cheer, helping a handicapped girl into a wheelchair. Scenes later, as he prepares to dig up a freshly buried corpse, the smiles are gone and he’s using a shovel to kill a dog standing watch over his dead master’s grave. Karloff’s sinister voice was an instrument of pure terror — maybe the most frightening in film history.
One longtime staple of the horror genre has been the vampire movie, which routinely gets updated for new generations of audiences. Recently, the Twilight series has leaned toward romantic themes, making for a kind of teenage, vampire soap opera. Meanwhile, the screen vampires of old (going back 80 years now) are usually not scary enough for modern audiences. So what’s a vampire fan to do? Try this curiosity from Francis Ford Coppola, which stars Gary (The Dark Knight Rises) Oldman in a more faithful retelling of the original vampire novel, which is why author Stoker is mentioned in the title. Rounding out the cast is Keanu Reeves, Anthony (Silence of the Lambs) Hopkins, Winona Ryder and others. The movie has great special effects and a rich, gorgeous look to it, thanks to Coppola, who uses some of his same Godfather tricks to make us root for a villain…whether we want to or not.
Another mainstay of horror movies are zombies, and although the undead had been featured in horror films dating back to the 1920s, the category really began with a cheaply made “drive-in” movie that contained no stars and only crude special effects. Despite these weaknesses (which may actually be strengths, given the genre), George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is among the most influential of all horror movies; it’s spawned a flood of sequels and remakes. The plot is as simple as dirt: Zombie hordes have arisen from their graves and are slowly lumbering across the landscape, desperate to feed on human flesh, while a group of survivors holed up in a farmhouse tries to remain sane and off the zombie buffet. If you’ve only seen the later versions, do yourself a favor and tune in to TCM on Halloween night (9:30 pm, EST) and see where filmdom’s zombie fest began.
5. Halloween (1978)
This one’s really a no-brainer, given the movie’s title and setting. However, be warned: There’s a hefty difference in quality between John Carpenter’s 1978 film and the many inferior slasher movies that it’s spawned over the years — both within the Halloween series and all the other popular maniac-with-a-knife franchises (i.e., Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.). And while villain Michael Meyers has legions of fans — in fact, it’s more appropriate to say that he’s the hero in the Halloween movies, considering that he’s the character that many (if not most) audience members are rooting for — the real star here is director Carpenter, who relies on traditional horror movie elements (such as expert use of spooky lighting and shadows) to get his point across. Does the original still deliver the goods? One viewing will give you the answer.
Yeah, haunted houses are great for giving us shivers, but ghost stories can happen anywhere — such as onboard a claustrophobic U.S. Navy submarine during World War II. In Below, an American sub rescues some sailors from a sinking ship. The Americans quickly learn that no good deed goes unpunished as things start getting super-strange, with all kinds of paranormal activity taking place. Before long, the sub’s crew starts to crack up. The situation becomes so haunted and intense that in one amazing scene, one of the crewmen becomes completely unhinged and runs through and out the sub’s torpedo hatch while the vessel is still submerged. The sailor is so terrified by the ghostly visions he’s just seen that he doesn’t even pause to consider the watery fate waiting for him. Below is consistently tense and delivers a powerful underwater punch…maybe because it was written by Darren (Black Swan, The Wrestler) Aronovsky, who may just be the best American director currently working.
Gotta Have Horror
Horror movies start with an idea, but require the talents and skills of many creative professionals before they hit the big screen. For aspiring film directors and editors, it’s a thrilling time to prepare for a career in the digital arts. The key is receiving expert instruction from trained professionals, with the latest technological tools and cutting-edge software, such as Final Cut Pro. At Digital Media Academy’s summer computer camps, the emphasis is on hand-on training, delivered on some of America’s greatest college campuses. If you want to be there when the cameras start rolling, start learning the industry with DMA.
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