Halloween and horror movies go together like Will Smith and the Fourth of July: it just feels wrong to have one without the other. There’s nothing to send the chills down your spine like turning out all the lights and curling up with your favorite frightful flick in anticipation of a sleepless night (and you will not be able to blame that midterm this time). Some movies have become part of the established Halloween canon: classics like “Frankenstein” or “Dracula,” slashers like “Nightmare on Elm Street” or (the uncreatively-titled) “Halloween,” and snobby preferences like “Psycho,” “The Shining” or “The Exorcist.”
But maybe you’re looking for something different this year for your All Hallow’s Eve creep-out. So I offer to you, dear readers, this list of 10 possible alternative horror/scary movies for this upcoming Halloween weekend. These are not my 10 favorite horror films of all time, nor the 10 most frightening; these are merely just 10 movies you might have overlooked when considering your candy coma entertainment. Sweet dreams.
Considering that later installments in the franchise took a strong turn toward action and explosions (not to mention suckitude), most people think of this Ridley Scott masterpiece as a sci-fi thriller rather than the horror classic that it is. The barren, gloomy spaceship here is far more “Amityville Horror” than “Star Wars,” and before Sigourney Weaver’s character Ellen Ripley turned into one of the greatest cinematic bad-asses of all time in James Cameron’s sequel “Aliens,” she was making horrendously stupid decisions while getting stalked by a ravenous monster, just like any good scream queen would. Is saving the cat really that important, Ripley?
“Black Swan” (2010)
Critics tried to make “Black Swan” out to be all artsy and deep so that it could get the official Oscar stamp of approval, but the real reason people loved Darren Aronofsky’s latest mind-bender was that it was freaky as what. Natalie Portman’s gradual psychotic breakdown and squeamish hallucinations are depicted with an appropriately balletic visual flair that makes the ride discomforting, yet beautiful and unforgettable.
Tod Browning, who directed the original Bela Lugosi “Dracula,” shocked the movie-going public (and effectively killed his career) with this unsettling film about a trapeze artist trying to deceive some of her fellow carnival sideshow performers. Browning controversially casted real people with physical deformities as the sideshow “freaks,” making the scenes where the carnies turn murderous (albeit justifiably) all the more disturbing.
“The Haunting” (1963)
I was watching “The Haunting” at my home alone in Cleveland this past August when the Virginia earthquake hit. Let’s just say that while watching a suspenseful haunted house tale is not the best time for your furniture to shake and the bobble-heads next to your TV to start rattling in sinister fashion. I may or may not have grabbed our cat and huddled in a corner waiting to die (okay, so maybe the cat is that important).
“The Host” (2006)
Bong Joon-ho’s film is a surprisingly poignant family drama, wrapped up in one of the best monster movie made in decades. The film’s antagonistic creature is wonderfully designed, leaps and bounds ahead of the usual ho-hum chimeras. I’ll be up front and say that it won’t offer the same kind of per-minute shocks of most other genre entries, but a brilliant opening rampage scene combined with a healthy dose of political paranoia make “The Host” an unexpected gem.
The original vampire film is probably still the best (shut up, “Twilight” fans). The brooding, exaggerated shadows and harsh angles of German Expressionism create one of the most haunting atmospheres ever captured on film – this is not a completely supernatural world, but a familiar reality in which supernatural events can occur. The enigmatic Max Schreck gives a legendary, unnerving portrayal of the vampire Count Orlok – for a fun double feature, also check out the recent film “Shadow of the Vampire,” a witty fictionalization of the filming of “Nosferatu.”
“The Orphanage” (2007)
This Spanish-Mexican horror film operates under the assumption that there is pretty much nothing creepier than a small, silent child wearing a terrifying burlap sack mask. I for one am not going to argue. “The Orphanage” lingers in its suspenseful scenes, refusing to give in to cheap scares. Our sympathy always lies with the protagonist Laura, who pretty much looks permanently freaked out of her mind; wouldn’t you be too, if you were living in a haunted orphanage and your son went missing?
“Rosemary’s Baby” (1968)
Cults. Devil worship. Mysterious murders. A pregnancy in danger. Meddlesome old people. There’s plenty to get disturbed by in Roman Polanski’s nightmarish film, not the least of which is an extended rape fantasy sequence that can’t help but eerily remind the viewer of Polanski’s personal history. In any case, “Rosemary’s Baby” is certainly one of the most chilling films ever made.
“Shaun of the Dead” (2004)
Just for a change of pace, here’s the best example of a surprisingly rare genre: the zombie comedy. “Shaun of the Dead” gives George A. Romero and his peers the satiric skewering they deserve, yet ends up being just about as distressing as the real thing; once the film’s climax arrives, you’ll wonder just when it was exactly that you stopped laughing and started crying.
“The Thing” (1982)
I am specifically recommending the John Carpenter version of this parasitic alien tale, starring Kurt Russell, not the 1951 original (which I have not seen) or the 2011 prequel that was just released a few weeks back (which I have also not seen, mostly because it was confusingly also titled “The Thing”; really creative marketing there, guys). Anyway, Carpenter’s remake is gripping, bloodcurdling and at times straight-up disgusting – sure to please the gross-out crowd. Dog lovers beware.