I wasn’t always all that into horror movies. I can’t say that I ever got a particular rush out of being scared when I was younger. I was a timid-ish child. But I’m a convert, and I now see the appeal of horror. I don’t tend to see scary movies on the big screen, but now catch a fair few at home, and I’ve grown to appreciate the plethora of scares on offer. Here’s a selection of what I watched during the lead-up to Halloween this year, some for the first time, some tried and tested favourites.
THE EXORCIST (1973)
I know, I really should have made the time to see William Friedkin’s classic possession chiller long before my 24th year. The exceptional level of craftsmanship in evidence here is staggering. This isn’t just frightening (often more for what you don’t see than what you actually do), but it’s also a perfectly paced slow-burner that brings with it a steadily rising sense of dread, rich textures and awards-worthy performances from Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, and especially Linda Blair. Even the archaic special effects manage to remain striking and sinister, and the imagery will cling to your mind for a very long time. The scariest film of all time? Not for me, but it’s certainly up there.
DOG SOLDIERS (2002)
DOG SOLDIERS, as well as being the first real showcase for Neil Marshall’s talents as a twisty genre director, also works really well on its own terms. It has an appealing group of broad-stroke characters that you actually want to see make it through the carnage (well, you want Kevin McKidd and Sean Pertwee to survive, but can’t wait for Liam Cunningham to cop it), and appealingly tactile but slightly shonky (in a charming way) horror effects achieved with a combination of puppetry/animatronics and big rubber monster suits. It’s part siege movie, part slasher, part monster hunt, and it’s all a hell of a lot of fun. There’s a great gag during the end credits too.
MURDER PARTY (2007)
The IMDb page for MURDER PARTY contains only one item of trivia: “Filmed in February 2006 with no money”. That certainly comes across, but it’s also witty and creative, developing from a horror-tinged NAPOLEON DYNAMITE to a full-on gore fest of a finale. Mild-mannered loner Christopher (Chris Sharp) comes across an invitation to a “Murder Party” for Halloween, and after making himself a knight costume out of cardboard and tape, finds his way to a backstreet warehouse, where he is imprisoned by some substance-added failed artists (dressed as a vampire, werewolf, undead cheerleader and Pris from BLADE RUNNER) who plan to record their collective masterpiece – the murder of Christopher as the ultimate artistic expression. Luckily for Christopher, his captors are inept, squabbling hacks, and his escape doesn’t seem all that impossible. It’s unexpected, satirical and makes the absolute most of its next-to-nothing budget.
THE LOVED ONES (2009)
It’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE meets MISERY, set the Australian outback and with a wicked and depraved sense of humour – what’s not to like? The way director Sean Byrne juggles and balances the disparate elements, and the distinctive way he has with constructing shots, marks him out as one to watch in the future. It’s also by-far the funniest of my Halloween selection, with laughs coming from the blackest-of-black gags and the increasing extremity of the nightmarish situation Brent (Xavier Samuel) finds himself in after he turns down Lola’s (Robin McLeavy) request to accompany her to the school dance. Lola, or “Princess” as she’s known for most of the movie, and her over-protective Daddy (John Brumpton) have one of the most disturbing implied relationships in film, both in and out of horror, and boy do they put Brent through a living hell, making his eventual retaliation all the more satisfying.
Happy Halloween! SSP