Bored of watching the same scary movies every October? Not a fan of the horror genre? Then look no further! Whether you want to be terrified without the genre’s tropes and clichés, laugh at self-aware comedy takes on horror sub-genres, or want to spend the holiday in full-blown existential crisis, here are ten films to make you laugh, cry, and scream this Halloween!
2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
What better way to start than with a film frequently considered the greatest ever made, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a visually spectacular voyage through time and space. While the film explores human evolution and space exploration with beautiful imagery and a leisurely pace, it also has some chilling scenes relating to artificial intelligence and mortality. On-ship computer HAL 9000’s monotone voice and sinister motives make him a genuinely frightening antagonist, in part due to his lack of humanity and cold, unnerving appearance, while the final sequence inside an ominous white interior is nauseatingly disorientating, full of dread and wonder. 2001 may not be a traditional Halloween movie, but it certainly contains horror influences, and will keep you awake at night as much as any scary movie would.
Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974)
The late Gene Wilder stars in this hilarious spoof of Mary Shelley’s iconic monster story, with great comic director Mel Brooks at the helm. Wilder plays Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, the reluctant grandson of mad scientist Victor Frankenstein, who had previously attempted to re-animate dead flesh. Frederick ends up resuming his ancestor’s work, resurrecting a corpse successfully, but then accidentally inserting an abnormal brain, causing this frightened and misunderstood ‘monster’ to terrorize the streets of Transylvania. With both farcical and surreal comedic elements, and constant one-liners and running jokes throughout, Young Frankensteinmanages to turn a well-known tale into an outrageously funny one.
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
Mulholland Driveis a puzzle box of a film, as alluring and elusive as any of David Lynch’s works. A murky depiction of Hollywood corruption, the film follows two women through an incoherent nightmare of surreal events and perplexing tonal shifts. Betty (Naomi Watts) is an aspiring actress hoping to make it big in the movies, whilst Rita (Laura Harring) has just emerged from a car wreckage with amnesia, unsure who or where she is. Other Lynch films such as Eraserhead or Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me are more explicitly horror, but there are still multiple scenes here that chill to the bone. An indiscernible monster living down an alley by a diner, a rotting corpse laid out in an abandoned apartment, and a terrifying elderly couple makes Mulholland Drive a very suitable Halloween watch.
At first glance, The Love Witch appears to be from the 60’s, with a Technicolor aesthetic. Camp and tongue-in-cheek with melodramatic performances, Anna Biller clearly poured a lot of time into this production, acting as director, producer, writer, editor, musician, costume designer, set designer… the list goes on. Portraying gender roles and sexuality from a female perspective, white witch Elaine (Samantha Robinson) uses ‘sex magic’ to acquire love from men, but this power is too strong for most of them, leaving a trail of dead victims. Witchcraft and occult symbolism is present here, and if you’re a fan of 60’s B-movie horror, then this could be a great alternative Halloween pick from an exciting independent auteur.
The most recent entry in this list is a haunting and beautiful film about time, attachment, grief, and closure. After ‘C’ (Casey Affleck) dies in a car accident, he is resurrected as everyone’s go-to lazy Halloween costume: a white sheet with two eye holes cut out. Watching on as his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) moves on with her life, new residents move into their home, and eventually, the house is knocked down in place of an office block. The once tranquil, suburban landscape becomes congested and unrecognizable as Affleck’s ghost searches for meaning and closure, in order to pass on to the afterlife. The cinematography is simplistic and gorgeous but also has an eerie, melancholic quality, with a mesmerizing soundtrack by Daniel Hart. Not at all scary, but this is the film to watch if you’re looking to spend your Halloween questioning the meaning of life.
Don’t fancy watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with your young children this Halloween? Turn to Pixar, and their lovely story about scary-looking monsters who aren’t quite as tough as they look. Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) are employees at ‘Monsters, Incorporated’, a company that generates energy through the fear of children. The monsters sneak into children’s rooms at night, eliciting screams from them and return home through a magical doorway. But when a small girl called ‘Boo’ wanders through one of these doorways and finds herself in the monster’s world, we discover that monsters are just as scared of humans as vice versa. Developing a bond with the girl and protecting her from danger at all costs, Mike and Sully’s adventure is a great family film that may be more suitable for kids than Lynch or Kubrick tend to be.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014)
Want to watch something outside of horror, but can’t decide on a specific genre? A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an Iranian/American, black-and-white vampire spaghetti western and feminist arthouse rom-com that serves as one of the brightest debut features in years. Ana Lily Amirpour depicts crime, poverty, and drug addiction in the fictional Iranian ghost town of Bad City. Dishing out justice is the titular ‘girl’ (Sheila Vand), a chador-donning bloodsucker who stalks the streets on a skateboard, looking for guilty prey to feast upon. With cinematography to die for and an iconic central figure, A Girl Walks Home is a gothic delight that provides all of the horror genre’s style, without its scares.
What We Do in the Shadows (Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement, 2014)
Much in the vein of comedy classic Young Frankenstein, What We Do in the Shadows parodies another horror sub-genre, following a group of vampires living in modern-day New Zealand. Bringing Waititi international acclaim that led him to make Hunt for the Wilderpeople and now Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, this mockumentary details the struggle of being a vampire in the 21st century: attempting to go clubbing, avoiding street fights with groups of werewolves, and evading police detection despite having literal skeletons in the closet. Also co-directed by one half of Flight of the Conchords, the film has a similarly clever and self-deprecating sense of humor that stands up to horror-comedy contemporaries such as Shaun of the Dead and the aforementioned Young Frankenstein.
Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)
Despite this being the director’s only well-known picture, Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko is a masterful mystery-drama that developed a cult following soon after its muted theatrical release. Featuring a career-launching lead performance from Jake Gyllenhaal as the titular character, the film is already regarded as a classic and it’s easy to see why. Donnie is a teenage boy disturbed by bizarre visions and unruly sleepwalking habits, and things get even stranger when part of an airplane crashes into the roof of his home. A stunningly clever and ambiguous sci-fi plot develops, but the film’s source of fear comes with its haunting bunny-like figure, a demon-voiced stalker that communicates with Donnie for better or worse. It also serves as a great Halloween costume idea.
Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2014)
Without having made a film for almost a decade, Jonathan Glazer returns with this instant classic about an extra-terrestrial outsider wandering Glasgow and the Scottish countryside. Glazer has been compared to Kubrick by many, and the strange, hallucinatory tone of 2001: A Space Odyssey is shared here, with many lengthy sequences that will make you forget to blink. Scarlett Johansson is this alien being, who hunts down and seduces men, bringing them back to her run-down house. But inside her home is nothing but darkness, and the arousal of her victims is cut short as they begin to sink into a mysterious black void. This viewing experience is difficult to describe and has to be seen to be believed, but these sequences are jaw-dropping and hair-raising, accompanied by an equally traumatic soundtrack from Mica Levi.