Five horror films to watch this Halloween

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.

With Halloween fast approaching, it seems like a good time to once again dabble in the spookier side of cinema! Horror has never been my favourite genre, but at this time of year I’m not averse to the occasional spooky film.

This short list is a follow-up to a similar list I wrote last Halloween, so if you’d like to see five more horror films that I recommend, you can do so by clicking or tapping here.

It’s about to get spooky!

Horror as a genre can be incredibly varied. From jump-scares to the psychological terror of something unseen, and with such diversity of monsters, ghouls, and creepy critters, there are a lot of different titles that put their own spin on the horror concept. Whether you’re looking for serial killers, vampires, zombies, or demons, chances are you can find an excellent horror film that successfully brings them to screen!

I confess that I’m particularly sensitive to jump-scares, and now that I don’t feel the same kind of pressure to join in with horror titles as I did in my younger years (when watching horror films was almost a rite of passage!) I tend to favour films that don’t go for that style. Despite that, I hope you’ll find a varied mix of titles on this list!

Number 1: The Birds (1963)

Those birds are up to something…

Alfred Hitchcock is still considered one of the greatest directors of the horror and thriller genres, and for good reason. His pioneering style put viewers right at the centre of his stories, and every shot and every sequence was meticulously planned and crafted to maximise suspense and fear. The Birds is one of Hitchcock’s later films, coming toward the end of his career and following on from the likes of Vertigo and, of course, Psycho.

As a kid, I can remember being terrified by The Birds. The slow, tense build-up that Hitchcock’s films are known for is on full display in the title, with every scene and sequence gradually ramping up the threat to a terrifying climax. But more than that, the sheer randomness of birds as the “villain” of the piece is genuinely unsettling.

Birds are generally harmless. The worst a bird might do is steal your chips at the beach, but The Birds asks a question no one ever thought to ask before: what if they were working together to a menacing and aggressive end? It’s this premise – taking something harmless that we generally pay little attention to and making it scary – that makes the film succeed.

Number 2: Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow.

Johnny Depp stars in this adaptation of the famous Washington Irving story, and the film brings the Headless Horseman to life in genuinely frightening fashion! The story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman is an old one, dating back to the early 1800s, and Washington Irving is considered one of the first great American authors.

Unlike the earlier Disney adaptation, Sleepy Hollow takes a distinctly adult horror tone. Director Tim Burton makes a number of changes to the source material, making the film an unpredictable ride even for those familiar with the original short story. Johnny Depp puts in a wonderful dramatic performance as Ichabod, too.

There’s something inherently frightening about the undead, and the first time the Headless Horseman is seen on screen manages to capture that feeling pitch-perfectly. Johnny Depp manages to perfectly convey Ichabod’s fear as well, ramping up the tension and making Sleepy Hollow a truly scary and spooky watch!

Number 3: The Omen (1976)

Gregory Peck as Robert Thorn in The Omen.

The Omen is an outstanding example of how to build up fear and tension without resorting to too many jump-scares or a lot of gore! It’s also a deeply disturbing film because of the implications of shadowy cults and conspiracies – and that’s before we even get to the birth of the literal anti-Christ!

When I first watched The Omen I was left unsettled for days afterwards. There’s a specific scene that I won’t spoil for you, but the build-up to a particularly shocking reveal in an Italian graveyard – and the implications it had for the film’s protagonist – left me stunned and disturbed! That particular memory is still vivid for me now, decades later.

As a film about demons, Satan, and the anti-Christ, The Omen was designed to be shocking and unsettling, especially to folks with any kind of religious convictions. And it succeeded beyond its wildest ambitions, becoming an absolute classic of the horror genre and spawning a franchise that still gets periodic updates and instalments today. Oh, and if you’re looking for a Star Trek connection, the film’s lead, Gregory Peck, was the grandfather of Ethan Peck – star of Discovery Season 2 and soon to be appearing in Strange New Worlds!

Number 4: 28 Days Later (2002)

The infected are coming!

With 28 Days Later, director Danny Boyle reinvigorated the zombie genre in a new and truly terrifying way! Prior to the film’s 2002 release, most zombies in cinema followed a pattern first popularised by George A. Romero in Night of the Living Dead – slow, shuffling, mindless creatures that were scary en masse but could be outrun by anyone fit enough. 28 Days Later introduced us to the infected – humans who were still alive but infected with a virus that turned them into killing machines… killing machines that could sprint!

Seeing the zombie horde running after the film’s protagonists was a new and incredibly shocking experience in 2002. Though a number of titles have used this more aggressive style of zombie in the years since, for me the portrayal in 28 Days Later remains one of the best and most frightening.

Technically not a “zombie” film as the infected aren’t undead, 28 Days Later nevertheless has a post-apocalyptic feel that is present in a lot of zombie fiction. Anyone who’s seen The Walking Dead (or read the original comic books) should note an eerie similarity in the way 28 Days Later opens… and remember that the film was released before the first issue of the comics!

Number 5: The Shining (1980)

Here’s… a classic horror film!

The Shining is an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, and as such it’s an unpredictable and very disturbing ride. Stanley Kubrick directed one of his last films, and adapted the book in truly inspired style. Some of the best-known moments in The Shining, including the famous line referenced above, weren’t present in the original book, and the film adaptation is arguably a rare example of a film surpassing its source material.

The film features some truly outstanding special effects. The “blood flood” scene has gone on to become iconic, and was shot in miniaturised form using detailed scale models. The practical special effects give the film a unique charm that today’s CGI can’t match, and in some cases the use of incredibly realistic practical effects ramps up the fear factor.

Jack Nicholson gave the world one of cinema’s most iconic scenes. But The Shining is so much more than that, and his character’s slow descent into madness is what makes the film so tense, exciting, and frightening.

So that’s it! Five horror films to get you into the Halloween spirit.

Don’t have nightmares…

Remember to check out last year’s list for five more horror titles you might enjoy – you can find it by clicking or tapping here. And if you’re interested to see my review of last year’s television adaptation of another Stephen King work, The Stand, you can find that by clicking or tapping here.

I tried to put together a collection of films with different themes, styles, and subjects! Horror is an incredibly varied genre, and just in the five films above we have the natural world turned against us, an undead horseman, Satanism, technically-not-zombies, and finally a film with ghosts and a mad man. And we’ve barely scratched the surface!

Halloween is almost upon us, so stay tuned over the next few days – I have a couple more spooky ideas before the main event rolls around!

All titles included on the list above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, production company, broadcaster, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Voyager re-watch – The Haunting of Deck Twelve

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Picard, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

Happy Halloween! With the scariest day of the year upon us, I thought it could be fun to delve into Star Trek’s spooky side for a change! The Haunting of Deck Twelve was the penultimate episode of Voyager’s sixth season, and premiered in the United States on the 17th of May 2000. It’s framed as a campfire ghost story, with Neelix recounting the supposedly-true story of spooky goings-on aboard the ship to the Borg children: Icheb, Mezoti, Azan, and Rebi. Naomi Wildman, the USS Voyager’s other child, is conspicuously absent.

When it was announced earlier this month that Kate Mulgrew will reprise her role as Captain Janeway in the upcoming animated series Star Trek: Prodigy, I wanted to write up a Voyager episode here on the website. Despite being up and running for almost a year now I haven’t done so, though I did pick out ten great episodes from the series. Voyager is, to many fans, a less-favoured series than The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine, and can sometimes feel like an also-ran among Star Trek’s canon. However, I definitely feel that the show got a lot of things right, had some excellent characters, and told some unique and interesting stories. Many of Voyager’s alien races were different from what we’d seen before (due to the Delta Quadrant setting) and have yet to be revisited in any detail.

The episode’s title card.

Voyager is certainly a series I enjoy. I find ranking the different Star Trek shows very difficult, because each one really brings something different to the table. Voyager is comparable in many ways to The Original Series and The Next Generation in that it’s set aboard a moving starship and the crew routinely conduct missions of exploration. However, its overarching story of the ship being stranded a long way from home makes it something different. Not every aspect of Voyager was perfect – the “one ship, two crews” storyline never really took off, and in later seasons especially, I found Seven of Nine to be a pretty boring, flat character – but as a series it tried to do some different things and succeeded in telling some excellent stories.

Is The Haunting of Deck Twelve one of them? Well, that’s an interesting question!

The episode begins with a beautiful shot of the ship in flight. The usual inspiring musical score immediately sours, however, and we get a horror-style minor chord sting as the camera fades in to Neelix in an empty mess hall. Neelix walks around looking concerned – an expression that can’t be easy to convey under such heavy prosthetic makeup – and nervously straightens a chair before turning out the lights. He’s then startled by Seven of Nine as he turns to leave, and tells her he’s feeling jumpy “after what happened last time.” A suitably mysterious line!

A nervous Neelix prepares to leave the mess hall.

Seven explains that main power will soon be shut down, interrupting the Borg children’s regeneration (remember that Borg don’t “sleep,” but rather regenerate in alcoves) and she wants Neelix to keep them company. This is the setup for the frame narrative that much of the rest of the episode would use.

On the bridge we get a comparatively rare example of a starship powering down its engines and using inertia to continue moving. In Star Trek, ships at warp don’t seem able to do this (presumably for reasons related to subspace) but there’s no reason why a ship traveling at sublight speeds shouldn’t be able to fire its engines and then coast! Yet for some reason it isn’t mentioned very often. As Voyager drifts toward a nebula, Tom Paris and Harry Kim comment on its spooky appearance; the nebula is depicted in shades of brown, orange, purple, and blueish-grey, but I wouldn’t have said it looks any more frightening than any of the other nebulae the ship has visited. Perhaps the officers’ overactive imaginations (which Tuvok is happy to point out) stem from the fact that they know what’s coming. As the audience, we still don’t!

The nebula on Voyager’s viewscreen.

Harry confirms that the ship is ready – and we soon see what for. Main power is deactivated ship-wide; the bridge goes dark, a corridor soon follows, and the Doctor deactivates himself in sickbay. The shot of two background crew members in the hallway was particularly well put together. Filmed from a low angle, the lights in the hallway went out in sequence, and the pair of officers then activated their wrist-mounted torches. Seven of Nine’s astrometrics lab goes dark too, save for a single computer panel on the wall. Seven was oftentimes a rule-breaker, and on first viewing I wondered if she had unilaterally decided her work was too important to stop!

In the cargo bay, Neelix greets the Borg children as they’re shocked awake by the shutting down of their Borg alcoves. And it was my first time seeing Icheb since his reappearance in the episode Stardust City Rag from Star Trek: Picard Season 1 earlier in the year. In main engineering, Torres and the crew shut down the warp core, presumably completing the process of turning off everything aboard the ship, which is now illuminated only by wrist-mounted torches and lanterns. Spooky stuff.

B’Elanna Torres and her team switch off the warp core.

There are many things we can consider iconic within Star Trek, and for my money the warp core is absolutely one of them. The concept of the warp core as an upright glowing column first appeared in Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 and has carried through the franchise in some form ever since, even reappearing in Lower Decks and Short Treks. Though the way this vital piece of technology functions has always been deliberately ambiguous, its design and aesthetic are emblematic of Star Trek, and when you see a warp core you know you’re aboard a Federation starship.

Back on the bridge, Harry confirms every deck is without power. Janeway signals Seven of Nine with the cryptic message “we’re ready.” And after a neat shot of the unpowered ship coasting into the nebula – which suddenly appears a much brighter shade of purple than it had on the viewscreen – the opening titles roll.

Is this the same nebula we saw a minute ago?

Voyager followed on from Deep Space Nine in having a slower-tempo, softer theme. The themes for The Original Series and The Next Generation were upbeat, representing the excitement of adventure and exploration. Voyager’s stands in contrast to that, but is nevertheless a beautiful piece of music in its own right. The title sequence itself is a representation of the long journey the ship and crew will take; no one scene lingers, and Voyager moves past different planets and nebulae before going to warp.

When the action resumes we’re back in the cargo bay with Neelix and the kids. Icheb immediately demands to know about the loss of main power, and seems dissatisfied with Neelix’s explanation. Neelix tries to distract the kids with various campfire supplies, but they aren’t buying it. The way this scene was set up and shot was clever; there’s only one light source (a lantern) which serves as the “campfire” analogue, leaving the rest of the cargo bay in darkness. There’s just enough light to illuminate Neelix and the kids, but that’s all.

Neelix in the cargo bay.

Icheb insists that Neelix be more forthright about what’s happening, and Mezoti asks if what’s going on is related to deck 12, which she has heard is haunted. It’s clear that, with part of the deck under lockdown and inaccessible without a high security clearance, something is going on!

After very little persuasion, Neelix relents and agrees to tell the kids about what’s happening and how it connects to deck 12. In a way, this is just as cathartic for him as it is for them, as he’s nervous about Voyager’s mission to the nebula. And I think we get a showcase in how great a character Neelix can be in episodes like this. Though the “one ship, two crews” concept never really worked in Voyager, as the Maquis had been wholly assimilated into the Starfleet crew even as early as the first season, Neelix always stood apart. At times he would bend the rules because he isn’t from a Starfleet background, and here, with the kids, he’s quite happy to go against what he was asked to do and tell them a story about what’s going on.

Sitting around the “campfire.”

We get a “Borg take things too literally” joke when Neelix tells the kids that the story isn’t suitable for “the faint of heart,” which was funny. Contrary to what some folks wanted to tell you in the run-up to the release of Star Trek: Lower Decks earlier in the year, the franchise has always had these moments of humour. And this one was on point – even if the “Borg takes things too literally” joke was generally overdone on Voyager thanks to Seven of Nine!

As the children insist Neelix tell them everything, he gives them a final warning that it’s a spooky story! It all began with a routine deuterium-collecting mission to a nebula several months ago… and thus begins the bulk of the episode, told in flashbacks with occasional narration from Neelix, who seems more than happy at the chance to tell a story!

Neelix and Tuvok in a flashback.

Neelix tells Tuvok that he’s concerned about “crew morale,” despite Tuvok noting that the crew in the mess hall seem perfectly fine. Neelix wants to know how long the ship will be in the nebula – so he can reassure everyone else, of course. Tuvok, very perceptively, realises that it’s Neelix who’s on edge, and his suspicions are confirmed when Neelix seems to snap at him in the middle of the mess hall. Clearly the stress of the nebula has been getting to him.

It will take days before the deuterium collection work is finished, though, and all Tuvok can suggest is that Neelix put up some curtains. A truly helpful and empathetic response from Voyager’s resident Vulcan! Neelix seems happy with this, however, and dashes off to find some material with which to make curtains.

Tuvok speaks with Neelix in the mess hall.

Meanwhile on the bridge, the turbulence is getting worse. Harry suggests to the captain a technobabble explanation for why the nebula is “destabilising,” and then we get a jump-cut back to Neelix and the kids in the cargo bay. Icheb accuses Neelix of misleading them on the specifics, noting that “bussard collectors do not emit nadeon emissions.” Neelix tells him that the specifics aren’t important to the story – and we have another part of the setup, the “unreliable narrator.”

Using this term might be a bit of a stretch, but it’s important for the remainder of the story. Neelix’s recollections are imperfect, and while the main thrust of the episode’s narrative is ultimately revealed to be true, it’s not unfair to think that Neelix has embellished certain other elements for the sake of storytelling! I liked the way this was set up, and for a story with a frame narrative like this one, it works really well.

Neelix’s recollection of what Harry Kim said was not accurate – according to Icheb, at least.

Neelix wasn’t on the bridge during this moment, so how could he have known everything that was said? Again, this is something we’ll keep in mind during any scene where Neelix isn’t physically present! As Neelix prepares to hand out a plate of snacks to the kids in the cargo bay, we jump back to the action on the bridge.

A minor inconsistency, perhaps, as Janeway contacts Torres to tell her they’re going to stop the “dilithium” collection – not deuterium, which is what everyone else had been talking about – but this could simply be another of Neelix’s misremembrances. Before the ship can successfully leave the nebula, however, it’s struck by some kind of electrical discharge! The kids pipe up, asking if this was the ghost.

Voyager is zapped!

On the bridge, the crew report minor damage and some power outages, but nothing serious and no injuries. Voyager resumes its course having harvested as much dilithium/deuterium as it could, and everyone seems to think that they got away with it. However, as Neelix explains, the ship had picked up a “mysterious stowaway.” At the same time, we see a CGI rendition of the ship leaving the nebula, complete with a glowing ball of lightning that slips through the hull – just like a ghost would!

The late 1990s and early 2000s weren’t a great time for CGI. However, on the small screen it looks a lot better – or at least less bad – than it does in some big-screen productions made around the same time. I’m looking at you, Star Wars prequels. Star Trek had been experimenting with CGI since The Next Generation was on the air, and while I’d absolutely love nothing more than for Voyager to be properly remastered, which would include redoing almost all of these CGI effects, I have to admit that it doesn’t look too bad here.

The stowaway.

The kids ask a bunch of questions about the stowaway, and Neelix confirms that it was a space-dwelling creature. However, they keep trying to press him to tell what exactly the life-form was, but when offered the choice between debating what the creature was and resuming the story, the kids ultimately choose – after exchanging glances – to continue with the story. Thank goodness, I want to know how it ends!

After leaving the nebula, Voyager begins to suffer some unusual malfunctions. Chakotay reports to Captain Janeway some of the damage done by the “zap” as the ship escaped the nebula, including the loss of artificial gravity on one deck. That would’ve been fun to see! We so rarely see a loss of gravity on Star Trek – due, of course, to the practical difficulties in filming such a sequence. The artificial gravity systems aboard a starship are invariably the last things to fail even when every other system is compromised, so for it to have been damaged here is, I would argue, a major issue.

Chakotay in the captain’s ready-room.

As Chakotay explains his findings, the captain’s replicator malfunctions, and I just love Janeway’s nonchalant response as she tells Chakotay he can “add replicators to [his] list.” Even when annoyed she manages to be in control, and I have no doubt she’ll make a great captain in the upcoming series Star Trek: Prodigy.

As Janeway speaks to the ship, Chakotay tells her that he used to have similar chats with his Maquis vessel – something I think we saw him do in Caretaker, the series premiere. Either way, it was a fun acknowledgement of Chakotay’s Maquis past. Chakotay didn’t get many scenes, let alone stories of his own, during the latter part of Voyager’s run, so it was nice to see him here alongside Captain Janeway. Though he lost his Maquis side pretty quickly as the show got going, he found a role as Janeway’s older and more seasoned advisor, as well as her moral compass. Those roles suited him. Looking out the ready-room window Janeway spots a meteorite cluster – and thinks it’s the same one Voyager has already been past. Is the ship now flying in circles?

Chakotay and Janeway spot the meteorites.

Not to nitpick, but technically a “meteorite” is something that falls to Earth, not something in space! On the bridge, Tom Paris insists the ship hasn’t been traveling backwards or in circles, yet the presence of the meteors suggests otherwise. Tuvok runs a (very fast) diagnostic that reveals a problem – Voyager is heading back the way it came.

As the captain orders an all-stop, Paris begins to launch into a speech about how the ship relies too much on sensors and technology. Before he can say too much, however, the warp engines activate by themselves and can’t be shut down. The malfunctions suddenly get a lot worse. The communications system goes down. The computer, when asked to locate B’Elanna, lists the locations of every officer aboard the ship, and Chakotay’s turbolift to engineering takes him to the mess hall instead.

Tom Paris at his post – just before the warp engines malfunction.

As Chakotay steps back into the turbolift and, once again, asks it to go to engineering, we get a rare look inside the turbolift shaft. As Neelix explains in a voiceover that the turbolift was falling, we see a neat CGI sequence of the turbolift itself, including the inside of the turboshaft, complete with horizontal tubes. This is a rarity, and for us nerds, a bit of a treat to catch a glimpse of the inner mechanisms of one of the franchise’s staple technologies.

Chakotay’s turbolift inside the turboshaft.

Another jump-cut back to the cargo bay sees Neelix teasing the kids by pausing his story, offering them snacks. Mezoti informs him that “snacks are irrelevant!” and insists he continue the story. I loved this line, it was very “Borg,” but also a typical reaction from a little girl who wants her story. Not to mention that it was funny.

Here I think we see the frame narrative working well. The story of the malfunctions is interesting, as is the idea of a nebula-dwelling life-form, but Neelix and the kids give the episode a kind of light-hearted brevity that stands in contrast to the serious goings-on, yet somehow works really well.

“Snacks are irrelevant!”

The frame narrative also allows The Haunting of Deck Twelve to still tell us as the audience about some dramatic events – like Chakotay being pinned to the ceiling of the turbolift as it fell – but without having to go to the expense of filming them! Chakotay storms into engineering, but B’Elanna says she’s pinpointed the problem and is on her way to fix it.

Crewman Celes – who appeared in Good Shepherd a few episodes previously – makes a welcome return. One thing Voyager lacked was a Deep Space Nine-style secondary cast, yet its “lost in space” narrative would have allowed for that. Some background officers like Vorik, Chell, and Carey got to make repeated appearances, but none had a major impact on the story in the same way as Deep Space Nine’s secondary characters did.

Crewman Celes with Seven of Nine.

Seven of Nine accuses Crewman Celes of causing a power failure, despite her having only just opened a panel. It was clear, despite Seven’s rush to judgement, that this was connected to the ongoing malfunctions aboard the ship. Seven of Nine presses a few buttons on the exposed panel, and the lights in the hallway begin to flicker.

Chakotay and B’Elanna have arrived at their destination – some damaged gel-packs. Voyager uses “bio-neural circuitry” in its systems, something that was set up way back in Season 1. These systems are supposedly faster and more reliable, but more difficult to replace. The aesthetic used for the gel-packs – which are a neon blue colour – was pretty neat, and I think still holds up today as a fun and suitably futuristic piece of technology.

The gel-packs.

The problem has “jumped” from one set of gel-packs to another, this time near Seven of Nine’s cargo bay 2. With no communications, Neelix explains in voiceover, B’Elanna and Chakotay couldn’t contact her to warn her something was going on! As the camera focuses in on Seven, who is working at her console in the cargo bay, the mysterious stowaway appears to materialise behind her…

Seven of Nine and the nebula life-form.

The Borg kids are shocked and alarmed – this was happening in this very cargo bay! Mezoti once again insists on Neelix telling the rest of the story, and shuts down Icheb when he tries to interrupt! The life-form jumped into the Borg alcoves near to Seven of Nine, and then released a strange gas into the cargo bay; gas that looked a lot like the nebulae we’ve seen!

Unable to escape the cargo bay – as forcefields have been set up outside the main doorway – Seven is trapped and begins to choke on the gas. The lantern in the cargo bay suddenly goes out, just as the kids are beginning to get excited and anxious about the story and what happened to Seven of Nine. Neelix is able to fix it easily – I wonder if he did that on purpose!

Seven of Nine chokes on the gas.

Chakotay and B’Elanna arrive just in the nick of time, and after phasering the forcefield control panel manage to get Seven of Nine to sickbay. Malfunctions increase across the ship, including in the mess hall where Neelix is cooking and Harry Kim is having a meal.

Kim – despite being just an ensign – orders everyone to report to their stations. The lights continue to flicker, and Neelix nervously asks if he can tag along with Harry. However, Kim reminds him that the mess hall is his post before departing, leaving a nervous Neelix alone in the mess hall – as the lights go out.

Neelix and Harry.

Neelix says to the kids that Voyager was “dead in space,” though gravity and life-support still seem to be working! The bridge is overheating, and we got a cute moment with Paris and Tuvok as the latter explains the Vulcans don’t sweat unless the temperature reaches a staggering 350°K – about 77°C or 170°F.

Following the earlier scene with Chakotay in the ready-room, Captain Janeway once again tries talking to the ship. This time, she offers to make a deal, a maintenance overhaul in exchange for no more malfunctions! I like this side to her character; it took a serious story but gave it another light-hearted aspect that I think worked well in conjunction with Neelix’s frame narrative.

Janeway tries to bargain with Voyager.

Her bargaining seems to have worked – helm control has been restored! But as soon as Paris steps up to the console to plot a course he’s zapped by an energy discharge – leaving him with some nasty-looking burns. As Janeway and another bridge officer try to help Paris, the bridge is suddenly deprived of oxygen and they must all evacuate. The practical makeup effects for Paris’ burns were gruesome – and come as quite a shock.

Paris is brought to sickbay – where it seems that injuries are becoming a problem across the ship. The Doctor immediately diagnoses Paris as the victim of an EM surge, similar to the electrical discharge that struck Seven of Nine when she was trapped with the nebula gas. Standing around Tom’s bio-bed, Seven, Chakotay, B’Elanna, the Doctor, and Captain Janeway come to a typical Star Trek realisation – there’s an alien intelligence at work.

The group in sickbay.

The alien is trying to use Voyager’s systems to make an environment for itself – just like the nebula. And it’s attacking anyone who tries to interfere or undo its work, as all of the crew it’s hit have been doing precisely that. I called this a “typical Star Trek revelation” because it’s not uncommon in the franchise when something unusual or unexplained happens for the reason to ultimately be “life, Jim, but not as we know it!” That line, by the way, was used in the song Star Trekkin’.

The Doctor suddenly goes off-line (though no one seemed to move when Janeway ordered his programme to be transferred to the mobile emitter) and power fails in sickbay. In voiceover, Neelix explains how power was failing across the ship, deck by deck. In a dark hallway, lit only by the intermittent red alert/emergency lights, Harry Kim gets a scare – and so do we! It turns out he’s just bumped into Crewman Celes, and neither of them know what’s happening. This sequence was very atmospheric, with the intermittent red lights and Harry’s wrist-mounted torch being the only sources of illumination. It felt very eerie, and meant that when Celes appears, it’s hard not to jump even if you know what’s coming!

Harry in the dark hallway.

Celes starts rambling about Borg and Hirogen and the ship being under attack, and Harry tries his best to calm her down. The two set off for engineering, where Kim assumes the captain will have set up a command post due to the environmental failure on the bridge.

Neelix, meanwhile, has been stuck at his post in the mess hall. He’s lit a fire under one of the pans which provides some additional light alongside his torch, and we hear the doors hiss open. This music across the episode has been fantastic, horror-inspired and very atmospheric. Here it reaches another high, adding tension to an already-tense moment as Neelix looks around the deserted mess hall.

The Haunting of Deck Twelve uses light in imaginative ways to build tension.

As Neelix exits the mess hall, with no one answering his calls, he sees the source of the noise: a malfunctioning door opens and closes repeatedly at the end of a hallway. This shot was another that builds up that sense of fear; Neelix is all alone, and I think many ghost stories have some kind of door opening or closing of its own volition, meaning the episode plays off that trope. It was very spooky indeed!

When Tuvok wordlessly appears behind Neelix as he investigates the door, all of the tension from the mess hall through the hallway scene boils over, and we get the second of two jumpy moments! Tuvok has come to the mess hall to evacuate Neelix, and is wearing some kind of portable oxygen mask. Neelix admits to the kids that he was very frightened as he and Tuvok must crawl through the jeffries’ tubes and descend eight decks to make it to the captain’s command post.

Tuvok in his mask.

In a break from the flashbacks, Neelix gives the kids a lesson in fear. Icheb tells him he shouldn’t be afraid, but Neelix retorts that fear can be good thing – keeping people safe. For kids especially, I think this is a very important message. Not only because it shows that it really is okay to be scared and that everybody gets scared sometimes, but that there’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about with showing fear. Fear, as Neelix rightly says, can be useful, and it’s an important emotion. The Borg kids need to know this as they rediscover their emotions, but many of Star Trek’s younger viewers would do well to remember this too!

After Mezoti elaborates on her first experience with being afraid, Neelix gets back to the story. Aside from Collective, the episode which introduced us to the Borg kids, I’d argue that The Haunting of Deck Twelve is one of the most important for their development, particularly as they wrangle with the feelings and emotions they have after being disconnected from the Borg collective. This is precisely for the reasons we discussed – learning to show and handle emotions is vital. In the flashback, Neelix tells the kids that he was stuck with only Tuvok for company.

Tuvok and Neelix on their journey.

Neelix attempts to make small-talk, but Tuvok isn’t having it. While crawling through the tubes, Neelix begins to tell a story-within-a-story: that of a Talaxian ship that similarly underwent a systems failure, leading to the crew drawing lots to see who would survive. Mezoti and Icheb pipe up, wondering what the bodies of the dead Talaxians looked like, and whether they resorted to cannibalism, before Neelix resumes his story. This moment definitely felt like “ghost stories around the campfire” in the way the episode was going for!

Neelix and Tuvok encounter a jeffries’ tube slowly filling with nebula gas and can’t progress any further. Tuvok opens a panel and plans to vent the gas – but we know that anyone doing so has been attacked! There is an alternate route, but Tuvok says it will take hours to reach engineering that way. I was still nervous for Tuvok as Neelix jumps the story to engineering…

Tuvok attempts to use environmental controls to vent the gas.

In main engineering, Harry expresses regret at leaving Neelix in the mess hall. The nebula life-form has gotten into the main computer, and is now unable to be contained. However, the life-form uses the communications network to contact the captain. She responds to its attempts to communicate, assuming the life-form has learned how to use the systems to communicate.

Using the ship’s computer, the life-form summons the captain to astrometrics, and it’s worth taking a moment to remember Majel Barret-Roddenberry, who was the voice of Starfleet’s computers from The Original Series all the way through The Next Generation era and even up to 2009’s Star Trek. She was the wife of Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek’s creator, and has almost certainly appeared – in voiceover form – in more Star Trek episodes than anyone else. Here, as the life-form attempts to communicate, it’s her voice it uses.

Janeway decides to go to astrometrics.

Despite Chakotay’s concern about a trap, Janeway proceeds to astrometrics. There isn’t much of a choice, as the alternative appears to be letting the life-form take over the ship. Back in the jeffries’ tube, Tuvok works on the panel while attempting to calm Neelix down. We get a flashback-within-a-flashback, as Neelix remembers with fondness his birthday party.

However, the memory turns sour as Neelix imagines himself attacked by the nebula gas! This was another well-executed deception, taking what should have been a safe moment for Neelix, and for us as the audience, and turning it into something scary. I loved the visual before that moment as Neelix sat down with the crew all around him. He clearly has great fondness for all of them – and they for him.

Neelix’s birthday dinner.

Tuvok jumps as Neelix yells out, and the kids ask what happened. In astrometrics, the life-form points Janeway to the nebula and restores helm control. Seven of Nine objects, thinking it may be a precursor to an invasion. However, Janeway believes the life-form just wants to return to its home and agrees. The malfunctions are not as random as they appeared; all were designed to push Voyager back to the nebula.

Janeway can empathise strongly with the desire to return home – after all, that’s what she and the crew are doing too. Perhaps with that in mind she agrees to return the ship to the nebula. It allows her access to the bridge as Neelix tells us in voiceover that the relationship between them was “fragile.”

Captain Janeway makes a breakthrough in communicating with the life-form.

Upon returning to the nebula, however, there’s a problem: there is no longer a nebula! Whatever happened to destabilise it earlier has caused it to dissipate entirely, leading to the life-form throwing a major tantrum! It tries to turn off life support and tells the crew to abandon ship, but luckily Captain Janeway is able to talk it down.

This is classic Janeway – she’s an explorer and a scientist, but also a diplomat. When the life-form threatens her crew, she steps up and shows her diplomatic abilities, saving the ship and crew. This is the climax of the storyline, as Janeway must act to save the ship, and it shows why she’s such an amazing captain.

Janeway on the bridge trying to talk to the life-form.

Neelix explains to the kids that this was Voyager’s only chance, but it doesn’t go well at first. The life-form refuses to communicate or unlock any more systems, and Janeway appears to be out of options.

Back in the tube, Tuvok is – perhaps predictably – shocked by a discharge from the panel he was working on. Neelix describes this as one of his worst fears. Again we see great makeup work to represent Tuvok’s grisly plasma/EM burns. Neelix uses the story of the Talaxian ship from earlier as a bad example, saying that he won’t leave the injured Tuvok to his fate despite nebula gases pouring into the tube. Tuvok attempts to order Neelix, but in an uncharacteristic moment of bravery, Neelix disobeys and lifts Tuvok to his feet. Neelix can certainly be a scaredy-cat, and at times Voyager derived humour from that. But here he, like the captain, steps up and does what’s needed. Fear may be important, as we discussed earlier, but so is overcoming it.

Neelix carries Tuvok away from the nebula gas.

The two share the single oxygen mask as they make their way through the gas. Why Tuvok didn’t bring a second mask with him on his mission to retrieve Neelix is, well… unknown. But it makes the story more exciting, so perhaps it’s best not to nitpick!

Janeway is making her way back through the deserted ship, continuing to reason with the life-form. She tells the life-form to run a diagnostic, confirming that systems will fail aboard the ship. This means that the life-form cannot survive aboard Voyager without the crew, and it’s this revelation which turns the tide.

Janeway continues to negotiate.

Neelix and Tuvok reach main engineering just as the captain has given the order to abandon ship. The crew race to the escape pods, though B’Elanna’s warning that the pods may not be able to be ejected felt ominous. The reply that “we’ll push them out if we have to” feels unhelpful here too, and little more than hyperbole!

Chakotay is the second-to-last to reach a shuttlebay/escape pod, but before Capain Janeway can join him the door is sealed. The life-form seems to think it can keep the captain as its slave to maintain the ship’s systems, but she refuses, telling the life-form that they will die together. The life-form, however, was bluffing, and realising it cannot survive aboard Voyager without the crew, relents. Kate Mulgrew’s performance as the pained and asphyxiating captain was riveting, and I couldn’t look away from the horrifying scene.

Janeway suffocates in the nebula gas.

As Neelix explains, the creature’s bluff had been called. The crew were able to return and all systems were restored. However, one section of deck 12 was set aside for the creature to live, and the captain pledged to return it to a suitable nebula as soon as the ship detected one. Mezoti turns to Icheb to gloat; she told him there was a monster on deck 12!

It was no monster, of course, just a lost creature that wanted to return home. Moments later, main power is restored and the lights are back on. As the kids head back to their alcoves, Neelix says he made the whole thing up, and had this been the end it would have been a disappointment on par with “it was all just a dream.” Icheb in particular seems content to believe Neelix made it up, and the kids step back into their alcoves and begin regenerating.

The kids get into their alcoves.

However, this wasn’t the end of the episode! In the final scenes, Neelix returns to the bridge. The whole trip to the nebula took three hours, and he reassures the captain that the kids weren’t frightened. He told them a story, he says, to pass the time.

Neelix then asks if everything is alright. Harry activates the viewscreen, showing the nebula from the beginning of the episode. It now seems to crackle with lightning or some kind of electrical energy – the life-form is home. Neelix says he hopes it “lives happily ever after” in its new nebula.

Neelix delivers the final line of the episode.

So there we go. Star Trek: Voyager’s campfire ghost story! The life-form, despite Neelix’s claim at the end, was indeed real. But how much of his story was, and how much did he embellish or exaggerate for the sake of making it engrossing for the kids? I suppose we’ll never know, but I choose to believe that it was largely accurate.

It was a truly fun piece of television, something different from Star Trek’s usual output while, at the same time, being very familiar. The “it wants to communicate” trope is something we see a lot, particularly in older Star Trek shows, and it’s a trademark of the franchise at this point! But the manner in which The Haunting of Deck Twelve uses this familiar theme makes it stand out. We could have just had the story from the flashbacks, but instead it was chosen to use Neelix and the kids around their “campfire” as a frame, and I really think that worked. It made the episode something different from Star Trek’s past offerings, and I like that.

The campfire frame narrative made The Haunting of Deck Twelve something different.

So I hope this was a bit of fun for Halloween! Whatever you’re doing today or tonight, I hope you have a great time and some spooky fun. I will be writing up this week’s episode of Discovery, so don’t worry. But I didn’t want to let Halloween pass unmarked, and The Haunting of Deck Twelve ticked a lot of boxes for being a fun Star Trek story to re-watch at this time of year.

Star Trek: Voyager is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The series is also available on DVD. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Voyager – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Five horror films to watch this Halloween

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.