28 Oct 2023

Screamtime: 10 spooky flicks for Halloween

10:37 am on 28 October 2023

The world of horror movies is a broad church - and often a satanic one for that matter. Narrowing a list down to 10 is obviously going to be unsatisfactory but I've tried to do it anyway. In this list, I've tried to include an example of most kinds of horror: psychological horror, folk horror, slashers, zombies, vampires, monsters, ghosts, demonic possession, Indian burial grounds - you know, all the good stuff. There's even something for the kids.

No one will ever agree on a list of the 10 best horror films, but I think the following ones should be on your watch list. Just make sure you're not alone when you press 'play'.

A mother and son sit at opposite ends of a dining table, in a dingy kitchen

Photo: The Babadook

The Babadook (2014)

In the scariest 'mum trying to protect her kids' movie of this century so far, widow Essie Davis has to deal with the imaginary monster that lives under the bed, in the closet, on the ceiling, tormenting both her and her six-year-old-son (Noah Wiseman).

Sometimes these films can stand or fall on the creature design but thanks to the editing and the direction, this would have been traumatic even if the Babadook itself hadn't been soil-yourself scary.

Netflix and Prime Video

Raw (2016)

Next up - body horror! Teenage vego Justine is under pressure by family tradition to go to vet school but when she gets there she finds the O week hazing to be a disgusting combination of fresh blood and rabbit kidneys. Against her will and judgement she discovers a taste for meat, taking the filthy craving an unfortunate step forward when she realises that humans taste even better - but only if they are alive while you eat them. This film is sweet and nasty at the same time. Director Julia Ducornau went even further with the follow-up, Titane, which won the Palme d'Or in 2021.

Digital Rental Google Play ($5.99)

Donald Pleasance is unpleasant in Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright

Donald Pleasance is unpleasant in Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright Photo: Madman

Wake in Fright (1971)

Directed by Canadian Ted Kotcheff, Wake in Fright is a great example of psychological horror and of using the Australian outback as a location. The monsters here don't even know they're monsters, they think they are just dinky-di Aussie larrikins, good jokers just having a laugh, mate, you're takin' it too seriously!

In the forbidding and foreboding outback, a bonded teacher just wants to go home to Bondi for the holidays but instead meets crazy Donald Pleasance and feral Jack Thompson and his mates. He ends up broke and suicidal by the side of the road, traumatised by alcohol abuse and a brutal kangaroo hunt. This portrayal of Australian culture did not go down well in the lucky country but the film has since had something of an international renaissance.

Digital Rental AroVision ($4.99)

No caption

Photo: Universal

Us (2019)

Many people will tell you that Jordan Peele's Get Out is the finest political horror of recent years, and they may be right. The story of a young black man visiting his girlfriend's liberal parents only to discover that they are essentially farming young black people so they can steal their bodies and trap their souls in a void known as "the sunken place" was tight and shocking.

The 2019 follow-up, Us, was even more brutal and disturbing. The scale is bigger and the range of horror much broader, containing creepy doppelgängers, silent unrelenting zombie-like antagonists, a shockingly violent home invasion, and a deep state conspiracy going back to Hands Across America in 1986.

In Us the horror is us, but it is also - literally - U.S.

Digital Rental Apple $5.99

No caption

Photo: Supplied

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Evil children are a staple of great horror. There's The Omen (1976), of course, and The Bad Seed (1956). I described Orphan in 2009 as "simply repulsive". Macaulay Culkin played a bad boy in The Good Son (1993). And then there's The Exorcist (1973) and its ilk, if you count demonic possession.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is scary for parents on a different level entirely. Kevin (Rocky Duer, Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller) is a bad child. He has done something appalling. As I wrote in 2012: "Tilda Swinton plays a mother trapped in a nightmare. Her son has done something appalling and she doesn't know whether she is responsible or not. After all, she may not have raised him to be a killer but she did bring this bad seed into the world. Challenging, argument-provoking, and chilling."

Digital Rental Apple $5.99

No caption

Photo: Supplied

The Host (2006)

Monsters are ten-a-penny these days. Computers can generate almost anything your ugly heart desires. But it's what you do with them that counts.

Oscar-winner Bong Joon-Ho came up trumps with his weird amphibian-atomic-mutation, described as "sort of like a giant tadpole with teeth and legs, which is way more awesome in practice than it sounds". A combination of political satire, family drama and decent scares elevates this film, along with the lead performance from the genius Song Kang-ho (Parasite).

Digital Rental Apple $5.99

No caption

Photo: Screenshot

The Wicker Man (1973)

"Go and visit the country, it'll relax you." Well, no. Not if your trip is to a Hebridean island where the locals are indulging in some dodgy pagan rituals and don't take kindly to strangers.

Long known by its reputation rather than being able to actually see it, Robin Hardy's film has been restored and is even playing at the Wellington Film Society on the night before Halloween.

Christopher Lee was already a horror icon for his Hammer roles as Dracula (and Frankenstein's monster). His Lord Summerisle cemented that reputation, even though by all accounts he was one of the nicest men in the business. So often the way, isn't it? Even Tobin Bell who plays the demented inventor John Kramer in the Saw films is apparently a complete sweetheart.


no caption

Photo: supplied

Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Teenagers being picked off one by one at summer camp or such like is a regular - and delightfully gory - trope but Drew Goddard's film consciously uses those tropes and then takes them to delirious levels with the help of collaborator Joss Whedon (who we don't talk about much anymore).

The horny students staying at a remote cabin don't know that they are being manipulated by scientists in a bunker beneath them. Everything is going according to plan, until it doesn't, and the film becomes a combination of monster, zombie, slasher, and workplace satire. Like The Office (which was a kind of horror itself, if you think about it.)

Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) and Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) are the scientists and are never less than hilarious - even though their work means the end of the world.

Prime Video

No caption

Photo: Supplied

[REC] (2008)

The most famous found footage horror is still The Blair Witch Project but this Spanish gem deserves to be right up there.

From memory, it's all one take as a TV crew arrives at an apartment building along with emergency services. Going inside with the fire fighters they are shadowing, the crew discovers that there's some awful bitey stuff going on and that the building is about to be sealed off to the outside world - trapping them inside.

In 2008, I wrote that it "… at one point managed to make me jump three times in less than a second - that's not easy."

Digital Rental AroVision ($4.99).

No caption

Photo: Supplied

Hellraiser (1987)

Ignore the many sequels and the new reboot, Clive Barker's original Hellraiser is one of the great British horror films of the '80s and a testament to the makeup design skills of the UK film industry. So much so that the Cenobite Pinhead has become an absolute horror icon.

Prime Video

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes