Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.
Horror has never been my favourite genre for a number of reasons. But at this time of year, with Halloween imminent, I don’t mind dabbling in the occasional spooky film or two. There’s been a resurgence of the genre since about the turn of the millennium, and many recent titles have enjoyed big budgets and great visual effects. Gone are the days when horror was a total niche or a spin-off from fantasy and science fiction, and today titles such as It, Bird Box, and the Saw series are positively mainstream.
When I was at school and university, in the nerdy circles I moved in watching horror films was something of a rite of passage! Kids would compete to show how unperturbed they were at jump-scares and gory violence, and the topic of conversation was often “which scary film have you seen lately?” I joined in, of course, for fear of being labelled a “sissy” or a “wuss” for not participating! Nowadays, though, I seldom choose a horror title if I’m looking for something to watch. I readily admit that jump-scares almost always succeed at catching me off-guard, and while gruesomeness, violence, and gore really aren’t terribly offputting, jump-scares can be for me.
The usual caveat applies – the list is in no particular order, nor am I saying that these are the “all-time top five” horror films; instead these are five examples of horror titles that I think are pretty entertaining – in my subjective opinion!
Number 1: Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Not a blockbuster by any means, Drag Me To Hell is nevertheless a well-made film with an interesting premise and some great performances. Directed by Sam Raimi (of Spider-Man fame) it centres around a gypsy’s curse, and a woman who must find a way to escape the spell before she is – quite literally – dragged into hell by demons.
The desperation on the face of lead actress Alison Lohman as she realises what’s happening to her is pitch-perfect acting, and the film is packed with gruesome imagery and some genuinely frightening jump-scares. It’s also perhaps the “most Halloween-y” film on this list, as it deals with the supernatural, demons, and curses.
As the tale of an ordinary person forced into an unsettling and terrifying supernatural world, Drag Me To Hell manages to have a relatable protagonist, someone the audience can root for throughout her ordeal. In a genre overflowing with zombies and vampires, the curse is also something different, which I think makes Drag Me To Hell stand out.
Number 2: The Fly (1986)
David Cronenberg is considered the king of body-horror, and 1986’s The Fly shows why! Starring Jeff Goldblum in one of his most iconic roles, the film sees a scientist create a teleportation machine, only for things to go wrong when he accidentally teleports with a fly – causing their DNA to merge.
The monstrous mutations that Goldblum’s character suffers are truly grotesque, even by today’s standards, and the practical special effects still hold up more than thirty years later. His transformation into the titular fly is horrifying – but at the same time impossible to look away from! The Fly is a disturbing, weird watch, but truly one of the most interesting works of the genre.
Number 3: Alien (1979)
Though many people consider 1986’s Aliens to be superior, for my money you can’t beat the claustrophobic monster-horror feel of the first entry in the Alien saga. The film has rightly become a classic of both the horror and science-fiction genres, with sequels, spin-offs, and video game adaptations still being produced over forty years later. That’s a testament to the quality of Alien.
What makes this film great is that protagonist Ripley (played, of course, by Sigourney Weaver in what remains her best-known role) is facing down a single creature. Future films would show veritable armies of xenomorphs, but here there’s just one. That emphasises how deadly these creatures can be – as well as showing a much darker side to science-fiction than we see in many titles. Ripley is also at her best here, portrayed as much more human before her transformation in subsequent films to an invincible “badass.”
Alien also warns of the dangers of mega-corporations and of single-minded artificial intelligence in ways that other sci-fi titles are only now beginning to pick up on. And, of course, the film contains one of the most iconic scenes in the history of cinema. You know the one I mean! And if you don’t, well… you better watch Alien A.S.A.P!
Number 4: Let The Right One In/Låt den rätte komma in (2008)
This Swedish-language film was one of the most novel and interesting takes on the vampire genre that I’ve ever seen. It’s also a film which focuses primarily on two kids, making for some incredibly uncomfortable and unnerving sequences. I don’t watch a lot of foreign-language cinema, and precisely for that reason Let The Right One In feels even more otherworldly and eerie.
A few years after its 2008 release the film’s reputation led to a Hollywood remake. However, I would recommend watching the original version, as it feels more authentic and interesting.
Unlike some of the titles on this list, Let The Right One In has a slower pace, but that doesn’t make it any less tense – in fact, I’d argue it makes the tension even greater!
Number 5: Train to Busan/부산행 (2016)
The second foreign-language film on this list is a South Korean title. It wasn’t the plan to put two non-English films here, but the horror genre seems especially well-served outside of Hollywood! There are many Asian horror films that are considered among the best in the genre, and Train to Busan must surely be one of them.
I wouldn’t call it a unique or even especially different look at the zombie genre, especially in the aftermath of titles like 28 Days Later – which itself is worth a watch! But Train to Busan takes that premise and uses it expertly, with the titular train being both a sanctuary and an obstacle to the protagonists’ survival.
So that’s it. A few horror films to get you in a Halloween mood! I think we got a good mix of vampires, aliens, demons, mutants, and zombies to make for an interesting selection, though there are of course many more takes on the horror genre out there.
With only a couple of days to go, the big question is this: can I finish my playthrough of the Nintendo Switch game Luigi’s Mansion 3 in time for Halloween?! It’s not looking likely, is it?
All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective company, studio, and/or distributor. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.