The weather is growing colder, the days are growing shorter, and the leaves have begun to fall; October is here. While the month marks the perfect beginning for picking up a pumpkin spice latte from your favorite coffee stand and treading through pumpkin patch fields in search of a prized carving canvas, it also has spookier implications with many cultures believing October is the time of year where spirits are the most active.
All Hallows Evening, commonly referred to as Halloween, falls at the end of the month encouraging many people to celebrate with costume parties, themed treats, honoring the dead, and of course…scary movies. And what better time of year than the first full month of Fall to throw on a pot of chili, crack open a pumpkin beer, turn off the lights, and dive head first in the cinematic world of ghouls, ghosts, and goblins for jump scares and nightmares?
A lot can be said about the horror genre of films. Some teach us important lessons about ourselves, the horrific nature of man if left unconfined by moral compass, or simply for the adrenaline rush or feeling of security when reminding ourselves how fortunate we are to not be the victims of the stories we indulge in?
Whatever attracts an audience to horror in the first place, the Lynnwood Times has prepared the following list of films for your perfect, Halloween horror movie-thon this season.
Hereditary (2018) is a psychological horror film about a family haunted by a mysterious entity after the death of their grandmother. It is widely regarded as one of the best horror films ever made and rightfully so. It’s creepy, it’s haunting, it’s innovative and carried by powerful performances by Toni Collette and Alex Wolff.
Director Ari Aster knocked it out of the park, in this directorial debut, going on to direct Midsommer in 2019 which also deserves an honorable mention here for being just as good for many of the same reasons. Aster’s work follows the trajectory of creating its own lore, exploring the grimoire Pseudomonarchia Daemonum and its 69 demons, when a majority of movies about demons often focus on the fallen angel himself. It is without a doubt that this unique exploration of demonology, paired with the unsuspecting characters existing in a relatable suburban setting, that really separates Aster’s work from the grain.
2. The Witch
Whether you believe in actual occultist magicians or that witches were an ecclesiastical invention, Robert Eggers 2015 film, The Witch, is surprisingly historically accurate. It follows the story of an exiled puritan family in the 1600’s experiencing an evil living in the woods beyond their New England farmhouse. The period piece accurately portrays the time period, language, and explores actual beliefs that so-called “witches” engaged in during the times, albeit represented literally in the film. Though no scientific evidence exists of women making pacts with the devil in exchange for magical powers during the 17th century, the belief has been widely preserved in recorded trials (such as Temeple Anneke) with the film representing many of these rituals somewhat faithfully.
Aside from the film being well-paced and well-written with disturbing imagery sprinkled throughout, Eggers attention to detail and loyalty to the historical witch scares of the time make this film worth watching, horror fan or not.
3. His House
His House (2020) is a story about a South Sudan couple immigrating from their war-torn country to a London ghetto where they must acclimate to English culture in a dilapidated house or risk deportation. The caveat, however, is the house may or may not have an evil secret. The couple then is presented a difficult choice of staying in a house possessed by paranormal demons or returning to a country infiltrated by real ones. His House is an excellent story that brings to light important social commentary without being too preachy, utilizes a suspenseful risk-reward system for its character’s arc, and leaves the audience with important questions of racism, the effects of trauma, and the subjective existence of superstitious entities. The film has gained critical praise since premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020 and has held a firm, 100% rating, on Rotten Tomatoes from over 100 movie critics since.
4. The Innkeepers
Director Ti West has the philosophy that, in real life, horrible things happen when you least suspect it. You’re living a fairly normal life, going about your day-to-day, then horror strikes and everything changes. He takes this approach when writing his own horror stories with many of his films using the bulk of their runtime developing characters – a technique that makes his stories stand out in a genre that often rushes to the next jump scare or bloody murder. For that reason, really anything West has done is worth a watch (The Sacrament, House of the Devil, In a Valley of Violence, to name a few) but the Innkeepers (2011) has a specific charm to it reminiscent of 1980’s classics that deserves a special spotlight.
It follows the story of two innkeepers, Clair and Luke, who decide to document some of the alleged supernatural activity in the building during its final weeks of operation. Unique from many movies in the genre, the story is somewhat charming and campy which in many ways intensified the scenes of horror when they do occur. Probably one of the greatest reasons why the Innkeepers is such a great retelling of the classic haunted house story is, at the end, we’re left with the question of whether there really were ghosts in the first place or it was all in the characters’ imagination. Similar to West’s filmmaking approach, mirroring reality with horror abruptly interrupting our normal lives, he banks on what makes the idea of ghosts so scary in the first place – not knowing if they exist in, our outside, our own heads.
Martyrs (2008) is a French psychological horror film about a girl named Lucie, accompanied by her best friend and lover Anna, who seek revenge for being the victim of unspeakable childhood abuse. While the two girls exact this plan, while Lucie is constantly tormented by an imaginary demonic figure, they quickly learn that there is something much more sinister afoot.
Martyrs is definitely not a film for the weak of stomach, or weak of heart. It’s violent, it’s gory, it’s unsettling to watch. But something about it sits with you after watching, keeps you thinking about it, and keeps you talking about it with your friends. An American remake of the same name was released in 2015 with much of the intensity toned down from the original. The remake may be better suited for those on the fence but, fair-warning, it still remains pretty tough to bear.
6. The Shining
We’ve all heard of it, we’ve all probably seen it (or read it). The Shining was only written by one of the most prolific horror writers of our time, Stephen King, and directed by one of the most prolific filmmakers in film history, Stanley Kubrick, so it’s hard to believe most people haven’t at least heard of it. However, 42 years later film buffs are still dissecting it, movie fans are still enjoying it, and college classes are even still teaching it. For that reason alone, it deserves to be repeated on any horror film list and merits a good rewatch or two from time to time.
The Shining (1980) is about a writer, Jack Torrence, who accepts a job as an off-season caretaker for a hotel in the Colorado Rockies. Upon being snowed in, Jack’s sanity deteriorates as he succumbs to the supernatural forces of the hotel’s dark history.
King’s novel, in which Kubrick loosely based his film on, is famously quite different than the film but the two mediums work in tandem with each other. While Kubrick’s obsession with creative freedom and control steered the story toward a more metaphorical commentary on the horrific genocides of Native Americans, King’s novel manages to instill true terror in its readers from its expert pacing, ominous descriptions, and withholding just enough information to keep us page turning.
7. The Beyond
This 1981 Southern Gothic supernatural horror film by Italian director Lucio Fulci deserves a place among other horror classics of its time such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Poltergeist, and the Evil Dead. The fact that the others on this list have successfully stapled themselves as horror classics throughout the years and The Beyond has not is the very reason why it belongs to be mentioned on this list.
The story follows a woman named Liza who inherits a Louisiana hotel and moves from New York City to refurbish and reopen it. Problem is, the hotel protects one of the seventh portals to hell and, if opened, it will bring upon the end of the world and the death of mankind.
A lot of The Beyond’s effects are outdated, the acting is campy, and Fulci’s reputation for drawing out scenes of gore far longer than they need to be may elicit an eye roll or two, but despite this The Beyond still stands as a deserving horror classic that is often brushed under the rug. For that reason alone it deserves a spot on this list and is worth a watch by any hardcore horror fan.
8. Goodnight Mommy
Goodnight Mommy (2014) is an Austrian psychological horror film about two twin boys who question the identity of their mother (or imposter mother) after she returns from surgery. The film received an American remake this year starring Naomi Watts and released to Amazon Prime Video.
While equally disturbing and engaging, the story is unlike any other and keeps its audience on the edge of their seat as they’re left guessing just what in the world is going on.
9. The Conjuring
While a horror film doesn’t necessarily have to be based on real life events in order to be effective, it definitely helps. The Amytiville Horror, Annabel, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are just a few well-known titles allegedly (if anything loosely) based on real events and the Conjuring (2013) takes a place on this list as well.
Based on a real-life paranormal investigation conducted by the Warrens on a “haunted” Rhode Island home, the story follows the experiences of the Perron family and their supposed run-ins with malevolent spirits. Though exaggerated for the screen, James Wan’s film was still an instant classic borrowing from many classic ghost movies from the 1980’s. The real house is still standing today and has been the subject of many vandalisms since Wan’s film released, resulting in the owners filing a lawsuit against Wan and his film studio. However the strange occurrences have apparently ceased without the aid of an exorcism – as depicted in the film.
10. The Cabin in the Woods
Unlike the other titles on this list, Drew Goddard’s 2011 film The Cabin in the Woods has one leg in horror and the other in comedy. While most comedic horror films wouldn’t necessarily fall into some of the best horror films of all time, The Cabin in the Woods’ ability to break the fourth wall, poke fun at the genre’s tropes, and reinvent the category in a way that would forever change the way we look at it.
The story begins as nothing we haven’t seen before: five college students spending a weekend at a cabin in the woods when zombies attack. You have the jock, the stoner, the virgin, the geek, and the promiscuous one fulfilling the roles of hundreds of films before them leading the audience to believe the story is a repacking of its predecessors. However, the plot is eventually revealed to be much more multi-layered (pun included) than originally suspected. Equal parts fun, horrific, and hilarious, The Cabin in the Woods is a nice break from the uncomfortable, terrifying entries listed previously while poking fun at the very medium it utilizes.
11. A Haunting in Ravenwood
Lynnwood-based actor Jon Meggison has only been acting for two years but has already experienced many successes in his career with no plans of slowing down. His first lead role feature film is the film “A Haunting in Ravenwood,” which is on DVD and streaming platforms.
The film stars Eileen Dietz (“Halloween II,” “Exorcism,” “Constantine”) and tells the story of a newlywed couple staying in the house of the husband’s (Meggison) deceased wife. Soon paranormal events lead his wife (played by Chynna Rae Shurts) to believe she may be losing her mind.