Halloween is almost upon us once more and for a lot of movie fans that means delving into the horror genre feet first. The usual suspects get brought out; The Exorcist, The Shining, Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, A Nightmare on Elm Street and so forth. But what of the lesser known films, the more obscure, forgotten or criminally under seen gems that deserve attention too?
Below is a list of 10 such alternative Halloween movie choices that are well worth your time. A few of them can helpfully be found on Netflix (I’ve noted them as such) but even if they aren’t they’re still worth going out of your way to track down.
Note: the list is in no particular order.
Pulse (Kairo) (2001)
Hideo Nakata pretty much kicked off the trend now known as J-Horror with Ringu back in the late ‘90s which led to a raft of films trying to replicate that one’s success. Not all of them hit the mark but Pulse (AKA Kairo), by director Kyoshi Kurosawa, is one of the sub-genre’s finest hours. Centering on a spate of suicides that seem to have come as a result of people visiting a mysterious Internet webcam site, it deals with issues of modern technology and urban legends as well as just doing it’s all to creep the hell out of you. Please avoid the crappy American remake and watch the original – it contains a couple of the most masterfully unnerving sequences this side of The Shining. Available to watch on Netflix US.
Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
Whenever anyone mentions the phrase “underrated horror gem” then this is one of the first films that comes to mind for me. It embodies the spirit of Halloween, and Halloween-inspired horror movie pleasures, more than just about any other movie of the 21st century so far. In a comic book-esque style it features four different story threads taking place on the same Halloween night that are all interwoven with one another throughout the film. It’s best not to know too much about the actual plot itself going in as it contains a lot of spooky, often blood-soaked surprises.
The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)
What to say about this one? It’s directed by one of world cinema’s most unpredictable and prolific directors, the Japanese maestro that is Takashi Miike, the man behind such eclectic fare as Ichi the Killer, Audition and 13 Assassins. Katakuris might just be his most bonkers film (and that’s saying something!) as it melds together everything from body horror to family drama to farcical comedy, punctuated by musical numbers, claymation and sailors… Yeah, it’s that kind of film. It’s grotesque and funny and shocking all rolled into one.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
We all know fictional horror icons like Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. But what if they really existed and their “mastery” inspired someone to follow in their footsteps? That’s the brilliant conceit behind this film, centering on the eponymous Leslie Vernon as he trains to become a serial killer in his own right with costume, weapon and general persona included. It gleefully plays around with both audience expectation and has a wink-wink attitude when it comes to in-jokes surrounding the world of horror franchises and the icons that rule them. It also becomes a genuinely scary slasher flick in its own right once Leslie’s carefully constructed plan is set into motion.
A few years ago Vincenzo Natali made a sci-fi horror entitled Splice (a film which almost made this list) but more than a decade prior he directed this ingenious little sci-fi mystery horror about a group of strangers who wake up in a seemingly endless maze of connected cube-shaped rooms and they have to work together, despite their clashing personalities, to try and solve the giant puzzle. As well as providing some nice conflicting character drama and truly gruesome moments, it’s also a lot of fun to be in the dark, so to speak, alongside the characters trying to work out just what the hell is going on and how they’re going to get out of the situation. It’s not exactly a leave-your-brain-at-the-door sort of fun horror but the fact you have to work your brain a little bit only adds to the experience. Available on Netflix Canada.
Dead End (2003)
The great Lin Shaye was back on our screens this year in James Wan’s Insidious: Chapter 2 but a decade ago she starred in this underrated horror mystery alongside the likes of Ray Wise (who many will still remember as Laura Palmer’s father in Twin Peaks) and Alexandra Holden. It follows a family who are driving along a quiet highway on their way to visit relatives for Christmas, but the trouble is that the road never seems to end no matter how far or fast they travel. The horror gradually escalates and despite a dodgy ending that doesn’t quite hold water it has some genuinely creepy and surprising moments along the way. Available on Netflix US.
Session 9 (2001)
You may be more familiar with director Brad Anderson’s recent films like The Machinist and this year’s The Call, as well as some of his TV work on the likes of Fringe, Boardwalk Empire and The Killing, but this 2001 horror starring David Caruso and Peter Mullan is well worth watching. Its set up might seem overly familiar – a group of people working in an abandoned insane asylum start to experience spooky events – but don’t let that fool you; this is a very effective chiller that utilises its naturally scary surroundings to brilliant effect. Available on Netflix US and Canada.
Not to be confused with the 1986 film House, this Japanese head-scratcher is much like the aforementioned Happiness of the Katakuris in that it’s a very hard film to fit into any one category. It’s as much a comedy as it is a horror and might just be one of the most brilliantly bizarre films ever made. Look no further than the scenes of a woman’s head floating around the screen, terrorizing a young woman (see above) or a Japanese schoolgirl being eaten by a grand piano, to name but a couple of examples, for how crazy the film is. Apparently much of the film’s content came from ideas dreamt up by the director’s daughter – suddenly it all makes sense… kind of.This one might be best enjoyed with a group of friends.
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Made by director Georges Franju in 1960, this quietly creepy horror centres on a plastic surgeon who, after his daughter gets into a car crash that leaves her facially disfigured, kidnaps women and cuts off their faces in order to try and restore his daughter’s looks. It’s messed up by nature but it’s also oddly beautiful and dramatically engaging in its own way thanks to skilled direction and performances.
This Canadian horror based on the book by Tony Burgess and starring the great Stephen McHattie proves that sometimes less is more. It’s set almost entirely inside a radio station in the dead of winter as reports trickle in about an apparent zombie outbreak. The tension and horror is amplified by the reactions of the people stuck inside the station as we feel impending doom bearing down. It also sets itself apart from other zombie movies with the way the infection manifests itself. I won’t give too much away here but suffice it to say that it’s not all about the usual biting and eating… Available on Netflix UK and US.
What do you think of the list? Are you a planning on seeking them out? What movies would you have on your alternative Halloween list? Let your thoughts and opinions be known in the comments below!