The parallels between 2020-2021 and the horror-genre are so obvious they can kinda be left unsaid. Plague-mask anyone? But being stuck inside a creaky, darkened room with the oncoming gloom of winter doesn't have to be all bad! Thank whatever gods or monsters created the internet (FYI - we're not calling the amazing Tim Berners-Lee either of these) because you have the world of scary films at your shivering fingertips.
Our Top 8 list does something slightly different from other listicles (which generally regurgitate the same films every year - hey Mark Kemode, we've seen The Shining 32 times thanks for asking!). We've split ours by our vibes. What are they you ask? Well, whether you're into mind-bending cerebral horror (Focus) or want a classic jump-scare film (Boost), you're looking for frightful ghost-flick (Chill) or a horror-comedy is more your bag — we've got the perfect pick for your popcorn pillow-peeping pleasure right here.
Alright, so we're playing on the word chill here. These two are top of our list for that cold, creepy feeling you get walking home alone at night.
What Keeps You Alive (2018) - Netflix
Blending elements of Get Out (2017), Stephen King's Misery (1990), and survivalist films like The Edge (1996), What Keeps You Alive takes these genres to a whole new level of weird. Much care and attention have been placed into the story (with refreshing plot twists alongside generic 'cabin in the woods' tropes) over a beautiful score that perfectly paces the film. The acting is electric and incredibly refreshing from a range of newcomers.
If you're looking for an indie-gem that'll put more shivers down your spine than standing in the freezer, this is it.
The Mist - Amazon
Okay, we know the shadow of Stephen King looms over this list, but bear with us. Imagine you've gone to get your weekend avocados and bread from Tesco, and as you step into the warmth of the store, a thick cold fog rolls in from utterly nowhere. Blood-curdling screams emanate from outside the automatic doors, and everyone who leaves through them doesn't return. We're ordering from Ocado tonight just thinking about it.
To be fair, there are some hammed-up moments from the cast, but atheist braveheart Thomas Jane carries the film. Director Frank Darabont takes his cues from the classics too. There is a slow-building of tension created by a horror only glimpsed, which has Jaws written all over it. The plot is straight out of H.P. Lovecraft, where the impending doom drives the supermarket's inhabitants to religious zealotry or madness. We'd also say, avoid the TV series adaptation like the plague (too soon?)
It's going to be a hunter's moon this Halloween, making it ideal for watching an edge-of-your-seat predator/prey, cat-and-mouse film.
Hush (2016) - Netflix
Director Mark Flanagan has made some awful movies. The narcoleptically dull sequel to The Shining's Doctor Sleep (2019) and Ouija's boring board movements (2016) stand out as lessons in poor filmmaking. Hush, however, had us all ears. Blending old-fashioned slasher elements of I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) with an original character device (a deaf protagonist), we circle the house in long sequences of odd, ambient sound in a truly terrifying game of cat-and-mouse (with a mouse that can't hear her own screams). You know it's good when the masters of horror praise it. William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, found it "truly terrifying," and Stephen King lauded it, asking, "How good is Hush? A tour-de-force in white knuckle time." We couldn't agree more.
Scream (1996) - Amazon
I mean, how could we not include it. Scream is a classic, and the only thing that gets old about this movie is the tape in the videocassette. For a film that mocks horror cliches (don't go upstairs, don't answer the phone), Scream spawned so many cultural icons and tropes. From Wu-Tang's namesake Ghostface Killa to the masks themselves - pound-shop purchases worn by anyone ill-prepared for fancy dress. Scream is tense, spooky and downright funny - perfect for popcorn and housemates. Who could forget such lines as "do you like scary movies?" and "I never thought I'd be so happy to be a virgin"?
Looking for a Halloween film that doesn't put you on the same level as a brain-dead zombie? These two choices are perfect post-film conversation starters that'll still have you checking beneath the bed.
Suspiria (2018) - Amazon/ iTunes
Usually, remakes are shaky rewrites of the original - Psycho, Total Recall, Point Break; we could go on (and on). But with Susperia, we were happily quivering in our boots. This resonant retelling of Argento's 1977 classic of a ballerina-school-turned-witchy-coven is a masterclass in horror-movie suspense and mystery.
It's weird and wacky in places (the final scenes are tsunami levels of ketchup), but with Thom Yorke hypnotic soundtrack and the dancers' bizarre choreographies, this film really gets its hooks into you.
Pulse / Kairo (2001) - YouTube Movies
No Halloween list would be complete without at least one Japanese horror film. The premise for this requires a bit of an imaginative leap, the internet, rather than a tool for watching cat vids and mean tweets, is a city teeming with hungry ghosts.
The film plays out like a mix between surrealist 60s cinema and the dizzying throb of a 15-hour Netflix binge. Usually, this would be as irritating as a film-student cornering you at a house party. But the intensity of the story, alongside cold, void-like corridors makes it thoroughly engaging. Back in a time when the internet was still pretty young, it's incredible that the message of the internet as an alienating tool still has resonance today.
Well, we couldn't leave you out. Whether you're a complete scaredy-cat or just not that into horror films, we've got a couple of picks especially for you.
Beetlejuice (1988) - YouTube Movies
To try and describe the bizarre, helter-skelter story to Beetlejuice would take roughly the length of the film. You've probably seen it too, so we're here to remind you it's well worth a repeated visit. Michael Keaton's mad-cap jackanapes placed alongside Winona Ryder's iconic goth straight-(wo)man are belly-stitching hilarious. The culmination of the film in the dinner party scene involves the well-to-guests becoming possessed, dancing to Jump in the Line (Shake, Senora) makes you feel somehow a willing participant. Not to mention the jaw-dropping makeup, props and set design - in a world of slick 3D rendering, it's incredibly refreshing to see and somehow, makes you yearn to be a teenager again.
Let the Right One In (2008) - Amazon
There's something that gives you the warm and fuzzies about this Swedish indie classic, boy-meets-girl-but-shes-a-1000-year-old-vampire tale. It's so indie; even the title is from a Morrissey song. If you're a fan of Nordic-noir crime dramas, Let the Right One In will win you over in shades with its gloomy, saturated blue colour-grading. At its (unbeating) heart, there's a simple coming-of-age story; the retelling is what brings this film to life with equal parts tender and terror, making it beyond classification - a beautiful wintry mix of dark drama and radiant love.