Despite the onslaught of Christmas decorations trying to muscle in and steal the limelight from the fake blood and spider webs, it’s official – Halloween is here.
And if you’re having second thoughts on whether you really want to dress like a sexy witch from Poundland, or if you can’t get your hands on a pub crawl ticket before they are all sold out, then this list is for you…
Films are never the wrong answer, particularly during Halloween. That’s why I’ve compiled my top five picks of Netflix horror films that are ready to watch!
As you will no doubt have seen, Stranger Things — seemingly everyone’s favourite TV show — is back on Netflix. And with it. the streaming website has posted a list of “Halloween Favorites”, which includes films and tv programmes, such as Scream, American Horror Story, iZombie, and Bates Motel; however, for this list, we are only considering films.
Netflix has certainly loaded up with some of my favourite horror films, both from the past and slightly more recent. Like, I Know What You Did Last Summer and The Invitation.
There are also some really cool and creepy Netflix horror films that your more casual horror fan might have missed – Here Alone, Creep, The Silenced, The Wailing, You’re Next, Under the Shadows, The Visit, and Mama — all of which I struggled to keep out of this list.
Also, there’s a great selection for if you’re looking for something good, but slightly less serious, such as Zombieland and the first Scary Movie -, and of course some bad ones – all the other Scary Movies and Tucker and Dale vs Evil. (WHAT!?!?! Sacrilege! – Ed.)
But if I had to limit it to just 5, these would be what I’d choose to watch this Halloween:
(2014, Jennifer Kent, Australia).
If you haven’t already watched The Babadook, then stop reading this and turn on your TV, you have no excuse!
The Babadook changed the landscape for Australian films, and for films directed by women. It’s an eerie film that shies away from jump scares and a safe storyline and is about a mother, Amelia, and her son, Samuel.
They are struggling to cope with everyday life due to high levels of stress, and the upcoming anniversary of the death of Oskar – Amelia’s husband and Samuel’s dad, who died on a car accident as he was driving Amelia to the hospital to give birth to Sam. All of that combined with the arrival of a monstrous figure that comes to life after Sam reads a book called Mr. Babadook.
The film has been praised by critics and audiences – Rotten Tomatoes has given a 98% rating, 3.5/4 at the Roger Ebert website, 4/5 at The Guardian and 86 at Metacritic.
The film leaves us with a feeling of doubt as we are not given proper answers nor a detailed explanation in the end, and much of it is left to the imagination. However, it doesn’t matter which explanation you choose – it is a touching story because it show’s the lengths a son is willing to go to keep his mum safe, instead of the usual tale of a mother constantly trying to save her children.
Sam is the hero as he, in a very childish way, tries to save his mum and show her he loves her despite her not loving him back – he believes Amelia hates him because he is the reason Oskar is dead.
The film gives us a fresh view of a mother-and-son relationship that is realistic and it doesn’t hold back on anger and frustration. Amelia’s actions towards Sam are very violent and raw, as she fights with the love and hate she feels towards him, and at times, we almost wish we could look away and not see the way she mistreats him. At times, we forget The Babadook is the monster in the story because we are too invested in their relationship, but the monster is there.
Psychoanalysts have a field day when it comes to analysing this film – death, anger, daddy/mummy issues, love/hate, violence, and depression analogy… Everything we neglect to say when someone asks “how are you?”.
(2005, Neil Marshall, UK)
The Descent is often praised for being a feminist horror film with its cast entirely of badass women. The story follows a group of friends who get together to explore a cave. Each member of this team seems to fit a set personality trope.
There’s the grieving mother/wife, the badass one who is always in charge, the thrill seeker with spiked hair, and of course, the ‘nerd’ who uses her medical knowledge.
However, unknown to all of them, the cave they decide to explore is not on the maps. They initially think that they are the first ones to discover it, but once they are inside the cave, they find old hiking gear that proves other groups have been there before. But if that’s the case, then why isn’t it on the maps?
They soon discover why. Inside the cave, a strange kind of human breed lives there, and of course, they’re hungry for human blood. These mutants are stronger than a normal person and these women have to fight for themselves in a dark cave they don’t know. Soon they find a way to protect themselves, but it might be too late for some of them.
This is Neil Marshall’s second feature, and it’s a definite change from his first: Dog Soldiers (2002, UK). But despite having gained cult status in the horror community and even in the gender studies community, the film had a shy release and took a while to be analysed in the way it is now.
After this film, Marshall went on to direct a couple of other features – Doomsday (2008) and Centurion (2010), which, despite its cast, flopped. But lately he has found his niche directing TV programmes, such as Game of Thrones, Hannibal and Westworld.
If you consider yourself to be a thrill seeker, but are perhaps too lazy to actually go hiking, then this is your film. It packs everything: badass women, broken bones, blood, gore, ugly mutants, ear piercing screams, some jokes and more blood.
Let The Right One In
(Tomas Alfredson, Sweden, 2008)
A few weeks back, Tomas Alfredson released his most recent film, The Snowman. Despite the buzz surrounding it and Michael Fassbender in the leading role, it didn’t go down well – 5.2 on IMDb, 23 on Metascore and only 8% on Rotten Tomatoes. Whatever he did wrong here, he certainly didn’t learn from his time directing Let The Right One In.
The 2008 film is based on a book of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist (who also wrote the screenplay), and it follows Oskar, a 12-years-old boy who is heavily bullied at school and spends his days imagining his revenge on his bullies.
Oskar meets Eli, a strange kid who moved in next door, and who, despite appearing to be a girl and being addressed to as such, is certainly an ambiguous character. Eli is a vampire who needs constant feeding, and draws blood from her neighbours with the help of an older man, Håkan, whom she lives with and whose role is uncertain – maybe her father, a protector or even someone she knew before, who has now grown old.
Eli and Oskar form a bond in which Eli gives Oskar the confidence to stand up to his bullies and take his revenge, and in turn, Oskar helps her when she is stranded in her decaying apartment, after Håkan passes away.
The film is very slow and relies on atmosphere, as it holds back on the answers it gives us. Many of the questions are answered in the book, but for those who only watched the film, some of the mysteries remain unsolved, such as the future of the two characters once the film ends and Eli’s true nature.
Let The Right One In is a vampire film that offers a different take on the vampire/human relationship, especially when considered it was released in the same year as Twilight (2008, Catherine Hardwicke, USA), that brought the popularity back to the subgenre.
Let The Right One In has more gore, more violence and it is way stranger – it has some romance but nothing that would satisfy the fans of the romantic storyline. It is an interesting take on the subgenre, mainly because it belongs to an era where the subgenre was taken from the horror lane and stripped of anything horrific! Eli and Oskar’s relationship bring all of that strangeness and gore back to the vampire storyline and in a truly magnificent way.
(2014, David Robert Mitchell, USA)
David Robert Mitchell directed his first feature film in 2011, The Myth of the American Sleepover, a coming-of-age story – very different from his following film, It Follows. His second feature would be a grown up and a much better version of his first one with an almost perfect approval score on Rotten Tomatoes.
It can be said that It Follows is about a sexual transmitted disease, where “something” is passed from person to person through sex, and this ‘thing’ follows the person affected until it kills them, unless the person passes it to someone else.
This murderous being is a shapeshifter that takes the form of different people – a kid, an old woman, a disturbingly tall man, a half naked teenage girl – and only the person affected can see it. However, since it takes the form of a person, how can you tell if you are being followed by the disease or if it’s just a person on the street? That’s what so scary in this film – everyone is a potential danger. Everywhere you turn, if there’s someone walking towards you, it can mean they are after you. And even though you can run, you can’t hide. And what happens when you can’t run forever?
The film starts with a teenage girl running away from her house and driving to a deserted beach, she is clearly in distress and she calls her father to say goodbye whilst she looks directly to the horizon, as if looking at something, but the POV shot (which we later realise it’s not her actual point of view) shows nothing. In the next shot, we see her brutally dead on the beach.
A little later in the film, we meet the protagonist, Jay, whose boyfriend starts acting weird around her. After their date, they go back to his car to have sex – it’s not loving or gentle, but rather mechanic. The boyfriend drugs her and ties her up to explain what he has given her. He explains she has to survive, otherwise it will come after him again, and she must have sex with someone else in order to pass it on. Many people have talked about this film giving Jay an easy way out – just have sex with a stranger -, but Jay has a conscience and she, and her friends, struggle to find a way to get rid of it.
It Follows is a very good piece, and surpassed all of my expectations. It is a great example of horror filmmaking too, as it doesn’t rely on jump scares, nor the ‘easy way out’. It creates an atmosphere of tension and dread that almost ,make it an homage to John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween.
From the first scene onwards, the tone of the film is set – lots of camera movements, actions are not rushed and the actors are allowed to breathe, and we get to know the characters by their pauses, rather than constant actions. Pans and zooms are used to show the universe around the characters as they exist in it, and not to show the universe as secondary to the character. It is a very good film to watch on Halloween, however not if you’re trying to umm… ‘set the mood’ with someone!
(1976, Roman Polanski, French)
The Tenant is the last film of Polanki’s “Apartment Trilogy”, following Repulsion (1965) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Much like the first two, this 1976 film is about paranoia, fear of being stalked, confusion between reality and dreams and an overall sense of dread.
Whilst Carol in Repulsion doesn’t know if men were indeed stalking and sexually abusing her inside her apartment, and Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby doesn’t know whether her husband had joined a cult to impregnate her with Satan’s child, Trelkovsky cannot discern whether he is being stalked and driven to suicide by his neighbours.
The film starts with Trelkovsky moving into a new apartment, whose previous tenant, Simone Choule, has just committed suicide. Trelkovsky is berated by his neighbours for making too much noise and no matter how much he tries he cannot fit in with the other tenants.
He starts to attend a café nearby, which Mrs. Choule used to go often, and is pressured into having the same order as she used to have, and even to smoke the same brand of cigarettes. Slowly, Trelkovsky starts feel cornered as his neighbours are constantly looking through his window, he also finds human teeth in a hole in the wall of his apartment and he starts to hallucinate from high fever, waking up one day to find his face covered in make up, not knowing what happened.
Despite all of that, he buys a wig and wears it while putting on Mrs. Choule’s dress, which he found in the wardrobe. Unable to see what’s real and what’s in his head, he believes his neighbours are trying to turn him into Mrs. Choule and drive him to suicide, just like they did to her.
We, the audience, like in Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, don’t have a clear understanding as to whether what is happening is real or if it is all in the protagonist’s head. The ending doesn’t help either, as it is just as ambiguous, and, again, similar to the previous two films of the trilogy.
Polanski relies on the fact that the spectator abdicates on trying to grasp the plot, similar to what Robert Altman does in Images (1972, UK/USA), and confuses the audience with the use of characters and motifs that he probably doesn’t even know if they are real or not. Nonetheless, confusion or not, The Tenant makes on the list as it is a great film and a great choice of film to watch this Halloween evening.
Finally, Happy Halloween! And don’t forget… “everyone is entitled to one good scare”.
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