October is #ScaryMovieMonth and Halloween is one of the best nights to gather and watch scary movies with friends. Whether you like classic horror films or spine-tingling suspense films, here are some of the best films for Halloween. From horror films that have become classics and suspense films that are scary in horrific ways without being horror, to Noir films that are so bad they’re scary bad, you’re sure to find something to enjoy on Halloween.
If you want horror films that have become classics in the genre, my 7 Wonders of the Horror Movie World will delight you. From Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Shining to Gary Oldman’s in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, from Nicole Kidman’s frightened widow-with-children in The Others to the super-scary children of Let Me In and The Orphan, these top films are sure to have someone hiding under the covers. Shriek away, my Lovelies.
Prefer suspense films for your scary Halloween fare? There are seven top-notch suspense films that are thought-provoking and spine-tingling. They may not have ghosts, but then again, they may, as in Guillermo del Toro’s critically acclaimed The Orphanage and The Devil’s Backbone. Want something meatier for Halloween? Try Open Grave. Don’t want anything but psychological thrills? Check out The Bad Seed or The Innocents or Identity. Shivers and shudders galore, my Lovelies.
Perhaps you’re having a party this Halloween and need some films to entertain your guests without distracting them from socializing. These 5 Noir films are just what you need playing in the background. They’re Noir, but they’re bad Noir, as in really bad Noir, as in so bad in every way imaginable that, despite their attempts at menace and horror, the films become funny. From DeForest Kelly’s film debut as the hypnotized victim who thinks he committed a murder in Fear in the Night to Anne Baxter’s scenery-chomping role as an Insane-Asylum-Inmate-Saved-By-Her-Doctor-And-Terrified-Of-Birds in Guest in the House, from the multiple marriages in The Bigamist to the identity-stealing-husband in The Man with My Face, you’ll laugh till you cry with these five unintentionally comedic Noirs.
Okay, so I was gonna go all classical on you by proving that I could name the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, but I couldn’t find any pictures of them because they’ve all been destroyed. Except for the Great Pyramids at Giza. So then I thought I’d do the 7 Wonders of the Modern World, but there are so many disagreements, it’d be like going to a family reunion and listening to great-aunts and uncles argue about what happened to you when you were three: You did not cross the Golden Gate Bridge; you went up the Empire State Building. I wanted to take you to see the Giant Statue of Jesus in Brazil, but your mother wanted you to see the Great Wall of China, while your father — God love him — wanted you to see the Panama Canal. (And, yes, those are some of the items actually considered to be Wonders of the Modern world.) Instead, I decided to do something I found a lot more interesting: the 7 Wonders of the Horror Movie World.
Hammer Horror Film Stars, L to R: Christopher Lee, John Carradine, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price
I have always loved scary movies, I grew up on all the Hammer Studio classics with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, I loved anything with Vincent Price because it was usually based on something by Edgar Allan Poe, and I didn’t even care about the special effects. Who cared if you could see the shadow of the fishing pole holding the “bat” that was flying around the room, terrorizing the beautifully made-up and costumed tourists (all with really big hair!). I was in a darkened theatre with my siblings and lots of other kids whose parents had dropped them off to get them out of the house for a while, being scared out of our wits, and I loved it.
Of course, I laugh at most of those movies now, though I appreciate what they were doing at the time. Now my horror movies have to have something different to scare me, something that could really happen, or some new twist on the paranormal. And I have to want to watch it over and over, even though I already know the story. That’s one of the reasons I love October so much: watching all the horror movies while waiting for Halloween. But I’ll watch a good horror movie any day.
And by “good,” I don’t mean a bunch of stupid teens in some isolated area screaming while running in high heels (girls) or bare feet (boys) while a killer with a dangerous implement (fill in the blank) chases them down till he finally catches them and hacks them into pieces.
Here then, from #7 to #1, are my picks for the Top 7 Wonders of the Horror Movie World.
And I’m talking Hitchcock’s original here, which was ground-breaking even if it was only because he killed off his leading lady, who happened to be a big Hollywood star, less than halfway through the film. Then again, maybe it was that atmospheric music, if you could call it “music.” It didn’t have anything to do with the fact that my little sister and I watched it on the sofa-couch when we were 6 & 7, respectively, while “babysitting” our baby brother.
Yeah, we were scared. Long before we ever found out about Norman Bates’ mother, too. I still find it fantastically creepy. And that Shower Scene. Janet Leigh claims she could never take a shower afterward and feel quite safe enough. I hear you, Janet.
To tell you the truth, I don’t even know what “the shining” in the movie (or the novel of the same name) is. And I know fans complain that the Kubrick version is nothing like the Stephen King novel on which it was based. But there’s something terrifying about the entire concept: being stuck, without rescue, in an isolated place, with a husband who’s slowly and obviously going violently insane. Now that’s horror for me, if only because it could really happen.
And I love Jack Nicholson, even before he gets to the iconic — and ad-libbed — “Here’s Johnny” scene. The typewriter tantrum is just a taste of the scary to come.
#5 Sleepy Hollow
Tim Burton makes some weird movies, I admit, but he also makes some fine ones. This is one of my favorites. It has big stars — Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson, Christina Ricci, Johnny Depp, and Christopher Walken. It has atmosphere. It has good special effects, especially since Burton doesn’t overdo it on the gadgetry stuff he likes. Depp’s performance as the fainting-under-stress detective Ichabod Crane investigating the murders in upstate New York is a funny but seriously interesting take on the original Washington Irving story. But Walken as the Headless Horseman can not be beat. Even when he has no head.
In interviews, Walken claimed the director instructed propmen to hold lights under his chin, shining them upward, to “make him look scarier.” Walken told him, “Get those d***d lights out of my face. I can make myself look scary without any help from them.” And he proved true to his word. He’s at some of his scariest in the Death of the Hessian scene.
We found this film totally by accident one night, and within a few minutes we were hooked. I could only find the trailer since the film is only a few years old, but I doubt I could show you any scenes that wouldn’t give away the frightening premise and revelation at the finale. You know the main idea: parents longing for another child and also to do good in the world — no, not Angelina and Brad — adopt an older, unwanted orphan from another country — in this case, Russia — and bring her home to the good life in America. Where, of course, things start to go wrong. But not in any way you’d ever guess.
Though the earnings at the box-office were mixed, Orphan was a prize-winner in several Independent Film Festivals, and Isabelle Fuhrman as the orphan Esther was universally acclaimed.
A great twist on the age-old vampire story, a prize-winning entry in Independent Film Festivals, based on the Swedish version of the film and directed by the same person. I can’t even tell you anything about it without doing the Spoiler Alert thing. Suffice it to say that it starts out with two lonely and outcast kids who begin a tentative friendship while scary, gruesome murders are being committed in their neighborhood.
Some viewers like the Swedish version — Let the Right One In — better, some the American. I don’t usually like to read my films, so I’m guessing I’d prefer this one. The performances by the child-actors are great, and the ending of Let Me In is completely unexpected.
Okay, so the lit-tra-chure purists complain that this isn’t really like Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw, on which it’s based, where two young children in a governess’ care claim to see ghosts. Or the governess claims that the children told her they see ghosts and that she has to protect her wards from the supernatural beings, depending on your interpretation of the governess’ reliability. Some film buffs prefer the 1956 Deborah Kerr version of The Innocents, if only because they say it’s closer to the James’ book. For my money, give me Nicole Kidman and the stunning child actors in this version. You have to watch it a second time to see all the clues you missed the first time. And you’ll probably be willing to do it right away, it’s that good.
Set in a brooding old estate right after World War II, where wife (Nicole) and children are patiently and worriedly waiting for Daddy to come home from the War, while being looked after by a trio of servants who “come with the place.” The Others is so close to #1, I had to flip a coin (not really… well, okay, only a couple times).
There is no doubt that this is one of the greatest film versions of the classic vampire story. Surrounded by a short set-story explaining Dracula’s and Mina’s psychic and emotional “connection”, the rest of the film is pretty loyal to the novel, even showing the characters writing their letters, receiving telegrams, and typing their diaries/journals, which is how the book is presented. Great performances by all, including Sir Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Cary Elwes, etc.
But no one, and I most emphatically repeat, no one can out-do Gary Oldman’s spooky, eerie, sexy (yes!), scary, totally believable turn as Count Dracula, or as he’s known to Mina, Prince Vlad. And I ain’t talking about the special effects here because director Francis Ford Coppola went old-school and refused to use computer graphics anywhere in the film (and added the author’s name to the title of the film so it wouldn’t be confused with any other Hollywood version).
I’m not talking the brilliant costumes, hairdressing, wigs, and makeup on Oldman either. I’m not talking about his accents — he claims to have used a different accent or dialect for every film he’s made, and that none has ever been his own natural dialect — which change, consistently, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula whenever he needs them to. He even learned an old dialect of Transylvanian for the set-story which begins the film and appears before the credits.
I’m talking about Gary Oldman, in what should have been an Oscar-winning performance. He rocks as Dracula (sorry, Christoper Lee: you know I loved you when I was a kid.) Oldman is so good, that I’ll even watch this one with commercials, though of course, they leave some of the coolest stuff out.
The best horror movie of all time, and included high (usually in the top 10) in the lists of most “Best Horror Movie” compilations: Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Somebody who knows me already asked why I didn’t include The Prophecy (1, 2, and 3), with Christopher Walken as a kick-ass Archangel Gabriel come down to steal someone’s soul to help with the War in Heaven. I love that movie. Seen it dozens of times. But there’s so much humor, especially with the scenes including Amanda Plummer, Adam Goldberg, and Walken, that I don’t even know if it, technically, classifies as horror. So, I left it out.
What say you, my Lovelies? Any of your favorite horror films that should have made it on this list? Let me know, in spooky comments.
New Mexico’s official state slogan is “Land of Enchantment,” adopted by the railroad industry to encourage tourism, but the Anasazi word from which that saying originated actually means “Land of the Ancient Ancestors” or, alternatively, “Land of the Enemy Ancestors,” and New Mexico is, indeed, a land filled with the spirits of ancestors and of the deceased.
I’ve been able to see spirits — some might call them “ghosts” — since I was a little girl. Of course, I never told anyone in my family about them: they would have just said I was making up stories. But I did tell a few of my friends, who also wanted to see them but never could, especially after we moved into the house that even my parents declared was “haunted.”
The first time I realized we were living in a house of spirits was when I was 11 years old. I was “babysitting” my siblings on New Year’s Eve while my mother and stepfather went out for the night. I was sitting in the living room, watching old movies, when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a little girl — about the same age as I was — sitting on the steps, holding on to the railings, her face pressed against the wood.
At first, I thought it was one of my siblings — most specifically, my younger sister, who, being only about a year and a half younger than I was, didn’t understand why she couldn’t also stay up to babysit our younger brother. When I turned toward the stairs to tell her to go back to bed, however, there was no one there. I wasn’t frightened: I simply thought she’d jumped up and run back to our bedroom.
I turned my attention back to whatever movie I was watching. I don’t remember the title, only that it was an old one, and that it was in black-and-white. The little girl reappeared. Without turning my head, I told my sister to go back to bed because she wasn’t “old enough to babysit” (like I was, at age 11, but things were different back in those days). The little girl didn’t move. Annoyed that she was “disobeying” me, I turned to her again. She wasn’t there. No one was.
Now I began to feel goosebumps on my arms, and an unsettling fluttering in my stomach. I turned away from the staircase. I could distinctly see the little girl in my peripheral vision. She was wearing a nightgown, had a blanket and doll, and had long blonde curls. She was just sitting there on the stairs, looking at me. She was most definitely not my little sister.
I didn’t tell my parents when they got home in the early morning hours, woke me from the chair where I’d fallen asleep, and shuffled me off to bed, shutting off the TV, where the off-air signal was blaring.
Soon, my mother began to complain about something unusual in the house. Actually, about lots of unusual “somethings” that were going on: the vacuum being unplugged from the wall while she was running it, the stove burner being turned off while she was cooking, the washing machine dial being pulled out (thus, turned off) in the middle of a load, hearing footsteps when she was alone in the basement, things moving around the house, footsteps.
My stepfather heard the footsteps, too, most often late at night long after we children were in bed. He’d stand at the bottom of the stairs and shout, “Get back in bed. Quit running around. Don’t make me come up there.” Except we were all in bed, usually sound asleep, and we simply didn’t know what he was talking about.
I began to see the little girl more often, all over the house. My parents experienced more disturbances around the house: the locked front door unlocked and open, the screen door from the kitchen to the back yard unlocked and propped open, flowers from the “garden” along the walk uprooted and left on the sidewalk that led from the house to the garage at the back of the property. Noises: running footsteps, giggling, crying, talking — always in the room next to the one they were in, or upstairs, or in the basement — crying, sobbing, weeping.
They had the house exorcised by a Catholic priest (and these were the days before The Exorcist, book or film). Things got worse. They talked to the neighbors, who readily admitted that previous residents had complained of the same things, mentioning a little girl who’d died in the house under mysterious circumstances, a little girl whose parents had been forced to leave the house and the neighborhood because of suspicions about their involvement in her death. No one, the neighbors told my parents, had lived in the house longer than 6-9 months. It was haunted: that, they claimed, was why my parents had gotten such a large house for so little money.
They had the house exorcised again, this time by the Monseigneur himself. I watched from the adjoining rooms as he made his way around the house. As long as I didn’t turn my head, I could see the little girl standing beside me. The second exorcism, too, worsened the “hauntings.” My mother insisted that she couldn’t live in the house any longer, especially since the “ghosts” — she always insisted there were more than one, although I never saw more than the little girl — seemed to have a special animosity toward her.
I wasn’t surprised. She was violent and abusive. I assumed the little girl didn’t like my mother any more than her own children did, myself included.
We moved after 3 years, though my parents hadn’t yet repaid my mother’s parents for the loan they borrowed from them for the downpayment. My mother tearfully insisted that she simply couldn’t take the “persecution” anymore.
Over the years, more in some places than others, I continued to see spirits, always noticing that if I turned my head to look at them straight on, I couldn’t see them. Sometimes, they seemed sad, sometimes angry. Mostly, though, they just seemed to be there. With me. Near me. I didn’t know why. When I was younger, it never occurred to me to try to communicate with them. I just accepted their presence as a part of my life experience.
After my boyfriend and I moved to New Mexico, officially “The Land of Enchantment,” but really “The Land of The Ancestors” or “The Land of the Spirits,” I saw spirits more often than I ever had before, especially after we moved to the little house on Big Rock Candy Mountain. I saw the pets we’d lost to death — even those who’d never lived in that house — and I saw lots of old Spanish women, dressed all in black, including veils, walking around the house outside. I saw them from the porch, through the windows, going down the flagstone path to the bridge over the arroyo that cuts across our entire yard, moving among the trees in the back yard.
I talked to my adopted Little Brother about it: he’s Lakhota, and I thought he’d understand. He was envious. He told me he wanted to be so “spiritually advanced” and “intuitive” that spirits appeared to him. I was confused. He told me that he’d talk to the Grandfathers (the Elders of his tribe) about the spirits I was seeing, but assured me that it was a privilege (he lived in New Mexico for a time when he was young, but apparently, never saw any spirits).
The Grandfathers were very impressed, he told me, and said that the spirits of ancestors — not necessarily personal ancestors, but of humans in general — only appeared to those around whom they felt safe. The Grandfathers told him that spirits, animal or human, always appear first in one’s peripheral vision and that if you turn your head, you will no longer be able to see them.
“Eventually, when they feel safe enough around her,” the Grandfathers told my Little Brother, “the spirits of the ancestors will appear in front of her. Just tell her not to look at them when they come to her: they’ll come around in front of her one day. Perhaps, they’ll even talk to her.”
My Little Brother was very excited. I was stunned. Seeing spirits meant that I was “spiritually advanced” and “extremely intuitive”? I could agree with the latter statement since many therapists had told me that, and I was, after all, a writer who listened to my intuition when writing my stories, novels, and poetry. The Grandfathers told me, via my Brother, that I could speak to the Ancestors and Spirits — I didn’t have to do it aloud — and that my acknowledging them would make the Spirits feel safer.
I did, sending the old women around the house, who seemed to be Spanish ancestors, welcome and blessings. Whenever I saw the spirits of our beloved pets, I told them I loved and missed them. The spirits came so regularly that I simply greeted them as a matter of fact.
The day my boyfriend first saw one of the Spanish ancestors, who simply seemed to have lived on this land at one time, he caught a glimpse of her walking down the path from the house to the bridge over the arroyo, past the barn where he was working. He thought it was me, looking for him, so he went to the bridge to see what I wanted. No one was there. Confused, he came to the house, asking me what I’d wanted. I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about: I hadn’t left the house. He was frightened.
I reassured him, telling him that, after four years in this house on Big Rock Candy Mountain, he’d finally seen the ancestors himself. I don’t think he could make up his mind whether he was pleased or upset. I assured him that the ancestors weren’t unhappy or sad: they were simply on their land. How did I know that, he asked. I just do, I told him. He decided to trust me.
He also now sees the dueñas — plural of housewife, matron, proprietess, lady — as I’ve come to call them, and also says the same thing to them that I say, something I got from my Little Brother: Blessings on your path, Ancestor. He also now sees our cats who’ve died, one of whom was his first, so it gives him great happiness. I feel the cats sometimes rubbing against my ankles, but when I look down, none of our current cats is there. He wants very much to feel them rubbing against him.
I’d like the spirits to feel safe enough to come from my peripheral vision and stand before me, or walk in front of me, or simply pass me where I can see them more clearly. I would feel honored that they felt so safe with me, which is what the Grandfather’s of my Little Brother’s tribe said it would mean.
I’d also like New Mexico to stop hiding behind the deliberate misinterpretation of the original Anasazi saying for the area, which originally also included Arizona and parts of Colorado, and change the motto from “The Land of Enchantment” to “The Land of the Ancient Ancestors” or “The Land of the Spirits.” I don’t think such a change would “scare” tourists away since most of them wouldn’t be sensitive enough to see the Ancestors anyway. It would, however, attract those who were spiritually enlightened, intuitive, and able to honor the past which the Ancestors lived in.
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Copyright and All That Jazz
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