Halloween is quickly approaching and you know what that means? Ghoulish parties, candy corn (which is delicious contrary to the nay-sayers), skimpy costumes that cost more than an entire wardrobe, and of course, dozens of lists that contain horror movies. So far this decade has produces some seriously creepy movies that have fans crawling under the covers and/or violently attacking their shower curtain in case something might be hiding behind it. Because if there’s one thing Psycho has taught generations, it’s that the shower will never be your safe place. However, these movies and shows have expanded that terror beyond the normal parameters audiences have been used to. With horror movies coming out of the woodwork like Dracula Untold, Annabelle, and Jessabelle (no relation to the doll), the genre is more active than it has been in years. Thank goodness too because we were beginning to lose hope there for a while.
Appropriately rated R, Sinister is one of the most thoroughly unnerving movies in recent years. Despite not doing well at the box office, the film has since gained a cult following for its flat out chilling scenes. Ignoring the jumble of mess that is the second half, Sinister’s main thrill lies in the videotapes that Ethan Hawke’s character watches. No, it’s not like The Ring kind of tape but instead something far more…well, sinister. The premise is simple and abides by the classic genre rules: fractured family moves into a house that is haunted and one of the parents doesn’t believe in it until something makes them change their mind. That part is a given and if it weren’t followed, the genre would shrink away until it was nothing. Anyway, Hawke’s character stumbles upon a box of film dating back years and begins to research the former owners. He finds out that his new house was a house of horrors and everyone but one member died gruesome deaths. He begins to see a pattern as he watches the 8mm films and soon things get shot to hell. What’s most notable about this film are those 8mm clips Hawke’s character finds. They show the deaths but not who is doing them or why and that is the mystery. The deaths themselves are grisly in only the way a talented director and exceptional editor can provide given that the general public is mostly desensitized to that violence. Still, the mood of the film gives off a spooky vibe and those death scenes will stay with you long after you’ve finished watching.
Insidious is interesting because in a way it feels like the new Poltergeist. There are even terrible sequels from it. A couple’s son is haunted by hundreds of ghosts ranging from “that’s not too terrible” to “HOLY MOTHER OF CHEESE, WHAT IS THAT!” and they race against time to save him from being taken over by one of these entities. What it lacks in plot and (for the most part) originality, it makes up for in execution. James Wan is the master of horror films and his direction along with the talented cast carry the weight of the movie and venture into the realm of creepy. Some of the scenes are frightening simply because they’re so subtle, like you know something isn’t quite right in the room and something is out of place but you can’t put your finger on it. It harkens back to the Hitchcock age where the lack of music mixed with the unknown of what’s behind that door made for a frightening viewing experience.
American Horror Story: Freak Show (2014)
You didn’t really think I would leave out the most terrifying clown since Pennywise did you? This particular clown is a bit of a mystery for viewers. Where did he come from? Why is he so dirty? Did he not have time for a bath? So many questions! This particular season of AHS is disturbing as it not only delves into the world of classic “freaks”, but also into the psyche of those we should really fear: the ones that look normal on the outside but hold their monstrosity at bay until they decide to let it out. Dandy is the real “freak” of the show, whose love of terror is being guided by Twisty the Clown. One thing was for certain this season: clowns are to never be trusted again. Yes, the Clown Society is in an uproar over the portrayal of an evil clown but honestly, I’m pretty sure John Wayne Gacy already smashed that happy veneer to pieces a while ago. And Pennywise from It did nothing to help that. Twisty is merely another character in that line of clowns gone wrong. The unsettling part is that we never hear a sound from him but instead are forced to look at that giant smile plastered across his face.
The Conjuring (2013)
It’s not often you get a cast full of kids in a horror movie that are both tolerable and talented but that is precisely what makes this film so watchable. Considered to be one of the best new horror flicks in a while, The Conjuring solidified itself as a film that was not be messed with from the minute it arrived at the box office. Boasting a cast littered with A-list talent, Conjuring gained notoriety by opening with an unsettling and truly creepy scene featuring the infamous Annabelle doll. It set the tone for the rest of the film and kept audiences glued to their seat. That particular scene proved so successful that it green-lit a prequel. Under James Wan’s artful eye, the tense atmosphere, the superb acting, and the old school feel of the setting combined to make a new horror classic. Then again, anything with Vera Farmiga in it is worth watching regardless of whether or not you find it scary. Fortunately for us, Farmiga chose to play Lorraine Warren and brought us a clever and suspenseful flick.
Woman in Black (2012)
Is there anything more disturbing than children being messed with? Their innocence and youth makes even the stonehearted feel protective and that was never more apparent than in this frightening horror movie. Starring a post-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe, the setting proved to be the eerie backdrop of this tale of revenge and just flat out terrifying film. The premise is cliché with an abandoned mansion falling apart, an unspeakable horror terrorizing the town, and an obstinate man who refuses to believe in the paranormal. But those are the only rules this film followed as the ending is different from what most people expect. The villain of the movie is one of the most evil phantoms ever seen on screen and the quiet Edwardian ambiance becomes unnerving the longer the movie goes on. Not one for “jump scares”, Woman in Black goes more for the psychological effect and succeeds in every way. If you want to be petrified by your own shadow and rocking chairs the rest of your life, this is the movie for you.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)
Not to be taken seriously, this little horror show is a lighter touch on the genre and filled with more action than real horror. Set after the events of the famous story, the grown up siblings are world famous witch hunters who are brought to a small town to get rid of a witch kidnapping children. Heavy stuff, yes, but that’s about as serious as it gets. While not a parody per se, it does offer a breather from the nail biting tension of the other entries on the list. Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner play the title characters and clearly have a blast doing it. It follows the same tone as Van Helsing and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in that it’s meant to be the Halloween version of a summer flick. Just sit back and recover from the psychological blows you’ve been receiving if you’ve watched something truly scary and instead let the smoking hot cast do all the work.
Most people will recognize Karen Gillan as Amy from Doctor Who but Gillan sheds that role effortlessly with a brand new American accent and a truly unique film. Oculus even starts off on a strange foot and there’s no happy family opening scene to be found here. Instead it’s about a woman who purposefully acquires a mirror with a strange history of murder, including her brother on whom the murder of her parents was pinned. The biggest question in the movie was what really happened the night of the murders? As the film goes on, that answer becomes more and more complicated as things get nothing short of chaotic and soon the viewers are just as lost as the characters. An apt comparison would be if you watched Lost while sitting in a room that is made up of fun house mirrors. By time the credits roll around, you’re as exhausted as the characters as you try desperately to make sense if what happened was real or not. It’s terrifying for two reasons: the first is that when you don’t know what’s real or not, you begin to question your own sanity and no one is ever prepared for that; and second, feeling as if you have no control over anything, not even your own actions can be a terrifying ordeal. This movie combines both and preys on the deepest fears of the general public. How can you fight something when you don’t even know what it is? That is a true horror film.