Here’s horror ... Your essential guide to the best scary movies this Halloween

Halloween is the ideal time to scare yourself with a good horror movie. Happy to oblige, Declan Burke lists the best horror movies of all time and, for good measure, throws in a list of the five most cursed film sets and five best scary movies for kids.  

Here’s horror ... Your essential guide to the best scary movies this Halloween

IT’S a well-known fact that the Irish invented horror entertainment by giving the world Halloween, Dracula, the banshee and the accent Tom Cruise mangles in Far and Away.

It makes sense, then, to combine our oldest traditions with our newest — binge-watching — to suggest the best movies to watch at Halloween.

Where better to start than with Halloween (1978).

Directed by John Carpenter, Halloween is the daddy of the creepy-slasher movies as homicidal Michael Myers returns home to Haddonfield (wearing the white mask that the Scream movies paid homage to) with psychiatrist Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasance) in hot pursuit and innocent teen Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis, in her film debut) hot-footing it away.

Pair it with A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Wes Craven’s inventive and influential take on the slasher flick, in which the sadistic killer — the iconic Freddie Kruger, with razors for fingers — pursues teens in their dreams.

Halloween, of course, is rooted in the pagan festival of Samhain, the time of year when life bumps up against death.

Dracula, the creation of Irish author Bram Stoker, is the greatest incarnation of the not-quite-dead, and for many the 1958 movie Dracula, starring Christopher Lee as the blood-sucking count and Peter Cushing as his nemesis Van Helsing, is the go-to camp classic.

If it’s a particularly creepy vampire you’re in the mood for, however, then F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) is skin-crawlingly scary, despite the low-budget production being hampered by having only one camera.

For the full-on German Expressionist horror experience, pair it with Robert Weine’s The Cabinet of Dr Cagliari (1920) — the movies are placed first and second on Rotten Tomatoes’ best-reviewed horror movies of all time.

If the sensation of crawling skin is your idea of a Halloween treat, Hideo Nakata’s The Ring (1998) should fit the bill — this tale of a cursed video tape, and the herky-jerky movements of the Japanese equivalent of a banshee, will likely crawl all the way into your nightmares.

Similarly, Neil Marshall’s The Descent follows a group of women who go pot-holing, only to find themselves in complete darkness and surrounded by slimy, blind carnivores that resemble voracious giant worms. If you’re unfortunate enough to suffer from claustrophobia, you’ve hit the jackpot here.

The pagan origins of Halloween add fuel to flames of Robin Hardy’s chilling psychological thriller The Wicker Man (1973), in which Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) travels to a remote Scottish island to investigate the whereabouts of a missing girl. Not a movie fan, our Sergeant Howie, or else he’d have legged it off the island when he discovered Christopher Lee was in charge.

Pair this one with one of the great psychological horrors, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). Adapted from Stephen King’s best-selling novel, the story revolves around a frustrated author (Jack Nicholson) cooped up with his wife (Shelley Duval) and son in a remote, snowbound hotel for the winter, and offers a compelling portrait of a man’s descent into madness — or, perhaps, an actor so demented by his director’s nit-picking perfectionism that he cracks and demolishes a door with an axe.

Halloween being the Christianised celebration of the Samhain festival, you may prefer your horror with a religious flavour. William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) is arguably the greatest horror film of all time, probably because it’s also one of the fibest movies of all time. The head-spinning, crab-walking and pea-soup-spewing of the satanically possessed 12-year-old girl certainly grabs the attention, but The Exorcist, while gut-churningly scary, is also a genuinely moving tale of loss, guilt and redemption.

Twin this with Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), in which a pregnant Mia Farrow gradually discovers the horrific truth of her unborn child’s father, or The Omen (1976), in which mild-mannered diplomat Gregory Peck comes to terms (poorly) with the parentage of his adopted son, Damien, a child with the power to frighten an entire zoo full of animals.

If you prefer your horror to go mysteriously bumping in the middle of the night, two horror classics that have spawned numerous sequels and knock-offs are The Amityville Horror (1979) and Poltergeist (1982). The first is particularly frightening, given that its tale of demonic possession of an entire house is rooted in historical truth (allegedly). James Brolin and Margot Kidder are the new homeowners looking at an especially negative equity, with Rod Steiger an improbable exorcist who bites off more than he can chew.

Poltergeist doesn’t claim any historical authenticity: it just gets Tobe Hooper (of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre infamy) to direct a chilling ghost story (co-written by Steven Spielberg) about a child abducted after being mesmerised by evil spirits emanating from the TV.

The Irish fascination with horror movies is attested to by the annual Horrorthon festival at the IFI, and given the Irish claim on Halloween our round-up wouldn’t be complete without a couple of indigenous classics.

Ciaran Foy’s Citadel (2012) is a chilling tale of urban alienation, in which a man struggles to raise his child in a rundown apartment building surrounded by feral youths who may (or may not) be turning into zombies.

Or, if you’re in the mood for full-blown camp insanity, there’s Rawhead Rex (1986), adapted from a Clive Barker story, in which a British family touring Ireland are terrorised by a demon unearthed from the Irish countryside by a lightning strike, possibly in revenge for 800 years of colonial oppression, etc.

  • The Horrorthon festival takes place at Dublin’s Irish Film Centre from October 27 to 31, featuring a Peter Cushing triptych, a Friday night double-bill of Critters and The Fly, and new Irish horror movies Don’t You Recognise Me?, Crone Wood and Demon Hunter.
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