Today I’ve got another great Halloween Top 5 (Movies!) today from Will Hill, author of Department 19 and The Rising!
This was the film that gave birth to the slasher genre, but don’t hold that against it – it’s far, far better than any of the movies that followed it.
Made for a tiny budget, John Carpenter co-wrote, directed and composed the music for what became one of the most successful independent films of all time, and is still one of the scariest horror movies ever made – the killer, Michael Myers (clad in a distorted Captain Kirk mask!), is the original silent, unstoppable monster, hunting down teenagers on Halloween night in a small Illinois town. The opening first-person sequence is (rightly) legendary, and Carpenter delivers shock upon shock as night falls and the body count starts to rise…
Donald Pleasance stars as the doctor trying to stop the carnage his former patient is unleashing, and then-unknown Jamie Lee Curtis is the babysitter just trying to survive. If the hair on your arms doesn’t stand up every time the piano theme starts to play, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.
THE OMEN (1976)
There’s something fundamentally scary about biblical evil, about age-old prophecies coming true in modern, supposedly rational times, and The Omen taps into the oldest and scariest of them all – the rise of the antichrist.
Diplomat Gregory Peck’s son dies shortly after being born in a Roman hospital, and he is persuaded to take the son of a woman who died in childbirth at the same time, without telling his wife (Lee Remick). They call the boy Damien, and take him to England after Peck is made a US Ambassador. Then all hell breaks loose – suicides, satanic hounds, terrible warnings from a local priest, miscarriages, ‘accidents,’ and eventually murder, as it becomes clear exactly what Damien is, and what his father must do.
Richard Donner makes full use of the ultra-creepy setup, piling eye-opening deaths on top of creeping paranoia, and never allows anything to become unambiguous, right down to the very last, famously unsettling shot. Classic.
THE EVIL DEAD II (1987)
The Omen is a subtle, slow building horror, reliant on atmosphere and implication, as is Halloween, to a certain extent. The Evil Dead II is really, really not. It is flat-out, balls-to-the-wall crazy. And it’s absolutely brilliant.
It’s not really even a sequel – it’s a reboot of Sam Raimi’s micro-budget original from six years earlier, with the gore and splatter and laughs turned up to eleven. Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend head to an abandoned cabin in the woods and play a tape of an archaeology professor reading passages from the Necronomicon, an ancient book of the dead that unleashes a monstrous evil force capable of taking over human beings. And that’s when the fun begins – decapitations, possessed hands attacking their owners, lustful tree vines, chainsaws used as body parts, and a giant swirling portal that leads to the film’s fantastic final gag, are all rendered in Raimi’s textbook hyper-kinetic style, as likely to make you cry with laughter as gag with disgust.
WOLF CREEK (2005)
Brutal. Punishing. Relentless. All words that accurately describe this Australian outback ordeal, although none are sufficient to do it justice.
Made for an estimated $1,000,000 and featuring a cast of unknowns, Greg McLean’s debut claims to be based on real life events (notably the Ivan Millat murders and the Peter Falconio case) and is all the more horrifying for it. Three teenagers drive out to a vast meteorite crater in the Australian desert, only to find their watches have stopped and their car will no longer start. A loud, friendly man called Mick appears, tows them and their car to his camp, an abandoned mine, fixes their car and gives them a drink around his campfire. When they wake up, they find themselves in the middle of a nightmare.
You won’t thank me for anything I tell you about the rest of this one, just as you probably won’t thank me for recommending it at all – it’s a hard, vicious film, and if you like a happy ending you’re in the wrong place. But if you think you can take it…
THE EXORCIST (1973)
There is very little new to say about this, William Friedkin’s classic shocker that has passed almost whole into the popular cultural consciousness. You probably know that many of the cast believed the production was cursed, that sets burned down for no reason and that priests were brought in to bless the studio several times. And you probably know most of the film’s iconic moments – the green vomit, the spinning head, the crucifix, the shocking fall down those Georgetown steps.
But if you’ve never seen the whole film, or not seen it for a while, what you may not realise is how slow and methodical it truly is, how it creates an atmosphere of such paranoia and terror that the big shocks fit perfectly into the story. Max Von Sydow, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller and Linda Blair do great work, keeping the film about a family confronting a horror they can’t believe and the men who try to come to their aid, and making it deeply frightening, and upsetting, to this day.
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About Department 19:
amie Carpenter’s life will never be the same. His father is dead, his mother is missing, and he was just rescued by an enormous man named Frankenstein. Jamie is brought to Department 19, where he is pulled into a secret organization responsible for policing the supernatural, founded more than a century ago by Abraham Van Helsing and the other survivors of Dracula. Aided by Frankenstein’s monster, a beautiful vampire girl with her own agenda, and the members of the agency, Jamie must attempt to save his mother from a terrifyingly powerful vampire.
Department 19 takes us through history, across Europe, and beyond—from the cobbled streets of Victorian London to prohibition-era New York, from the icy wastes of Arctic Russia to the treacherous mountains of Transylvania. Part modern thriller, part classic horror, it’s packed with mystery, mayhem, and a level of suspense that makes a Darren Shan novel look like a romantic comedy.
Purchase: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound
About The Rising:
James Bond meets Dracula in this epic saga of one boy and a ton of weapons versus the world’s oldest evil—vampires as you’ve never seen them before!
Sixteen-year-old Jamie Carpenter’s life was violently upended when he was brought into Department 19, a classified government agency of vampire hunters that was formed to deal with a little problem . . . known as Dracula.
But being the new recruit at the Department isn’t all weapons training and covert missions. Jamie’s own mother has been turned into a vampire—and now Jamie will stop at nothing to wreak revenge on her captors. Even if that means facing down Dracula himself.
Purchase: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound