Leaves being rendered to a beautiful palette of reds, oranges, and yellows, and a temperature that’s made perfectly comfortable with the inclusion of a hoodie are minor positives compared to the indescribable desire to binge-watch horror films that comes over me as autumn arrives. I know that at some point in October, this compulsion will force me to sit down and watch The Shining, The Exorcist, Dawn of the Dead, Halloween, The Thing, and a few of the other horror film classics. But, since I’ve been doing this horror-a-thon for years now, watching movies like the ones listed above over and over again can become stale. So I started delving into horror films that sometimes go relatively unnoticed or have been forgotten. Some of these have been added to that list of movies that I absolutely have to watch every time October comes around. In this article, I’m going to recommend ‘Five Films Worth Adding to Your Horror Watchlist’ that had an impact on me. Hopefully you might decide to check them out if, like me, you can’t help your compulsion to watch horror movies this time of the year. Some of these films are pretty well known, and have gone on to have their own sort of following, but they certainly deserve much more recognition for how effective and original they are.
The Five Horror Films
Over the last few years, the Canadian horror film Pontypool has served as the indicator that tells me that my horror phase is about to start. Based on the novel Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess (who also adapted the screenplay), the story is about a small group of radio announcers discovering that some kind of infection is spreading through their small town, Pontypool in Ontario as they do their morning radio show from the basement of a church. Now, in an effort to keep this spoiler-free, I’m going to have to avoid going into the plot any more than that. This movie is notable because of how effective it is, specifically the first half of the film. The film is set and stays in one location for its entirety and you get the impression that it was heavily inspired by Orson Welles’ radio broadcast War of the Worlds because from a visual perspective, we’re only seeing these three characters sitting in their chairs as the story unfolds. The audio is where it’s so tense and brilliant. The dialogue feels rich, unique, and natural. You really get a sense of the dread they start to feel as they realize that what’s happening is really happening. The film also takes unexpected turns, which is important in a genre that’s so bogged down by tropes and clichés. It takes what you’d come to expect from a movie dealing with an infection and flips it upside down. Pontypool is always the first movie I suggest to people that are looking for a new horror film to get into, and I can’t imagine a better way to start off my horror-a-thon.
2. THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL
In my opinion, there are really only two great names working in horror today. The most successful and generally well known of them is James Wan, who directed Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring. The other name is Ti West, who earned more notice after the release of The House of the Devil in 2009. He has gone on to direct The Innkeepers, The Sacrament, and a segment for the found footage anthology film V/H/S, all of which are on my list of movies to watch during October. The House of the Devil is extremely effective in its attempt to feel like a classic horror film from the ’70s or ’80s. West went as far as using similar technology and camera techniques that were used back then to make the film feel completely authentic. The story is about a poor college student who discovered that there is something dark and sinister about the babysitting job she’s agreed to take. The most appealing aspect of this film for me is how deliberately slow the pace is. It takes its time building the characters and the tone, which pays off toward the end when things go off the rails. The acting is very strong, and the dialogue between the two lead females played by Jocelin Donahue and, one of my personal favorite actresses, Greta Gerwig is astoundingly natural. You really get a sense that Ti West adores old, campy horror films. His passion is evident in every scene, which enhances the experience as a viewer for me.
3. FUNNY GAMES U.S.
Funny Games U.S. is the American remake of the 1997 Austrian film of the same name, by the same director. Initially, director Michael Haneke wanted to have the film set in America because of its content and the specific messages he was trying to convey about violence in the media, but in ’97 he had to set the film elsewhere for budgetary reasons. By 2007, Haneke was given the budget to make the film again, set in America, with what I consider to be a far better cast, and better cinematography. The story deals with a father, mother, and son struggling to survive a home invasion by two angst-ridden teenagers. It sounds like the kind of horror film you’ve seen over and over again, I know. But, this film stands out because of its pace, tone, characters, editing, and underlying message about violence and today’s viewership. For the sake of not spoiling that deeper meaning to the film, I implore you to watch it once, and then go read about what Haneke was trying to say with the film and what each character represents, and then watch it again. It works on multiple levels, and it’s really in that second viewing when you truly realize how much of a near masterpiece the film is. It’s worth pointing out that this is not an easy film to sit through. The events intentionally play out as realistically gritty as possible, but it all works in service of the story that Haneke is trying to tell. This movie isn’t just one of my favorite horror films, but one of the best films I think that has come out in the last 10 years.
Time to put on your reading glasses, because I’m about to suggest a movie with subtitles! My education with foreign horror movies is extremely limited and I need to commit myself to watching more, because they can truly be genuinely horrifying. Some examples of fantastic foreign horror films I’ve seen (besides Martyrs) that you should consider adding to your list include: REC, Let the Right One In, The Host, Ringu, Audition, The Orphanage, and to a certain extent, High Tension. What makes Martyrs the most notable of the foreign horror films I’ve seen is its ability to completely surprise me at every turn. I’ve been watching movies for a long time, and that’s sometimes unfortunate because plot twists don’t tend to shock me anymore. I’m just cynical enough to label it a gimmick aimed at explaining away plot inconsistencies. The plot twists in Martyrs aren’t just truly shocking, terrifying, and creative; they also make sense within the context of the film. This film is part home invasion, part psychological thriller, part gorefest, and part commentary on both religion and humanity. The most shocking thing is that all of these elements are balanced almost perfectly. The plot is so dense and evolving that I can’t find a suitable way to describe the film without spoiling anything. At its core, the film’s about a young girl trying to cope with her abusive childhood. Of all the horror films mentioned in this article, Martyrs is easily the most emotionally engaging. Similarly to Funny Games U.S. though, it’s not an easy watch and you will at times probably hate me for suggesting it to you. Trust me, though — it’s worth it.
5. ROSEMARY’S BABY
There’s a very probable chance that you’ve heard of, and maybe have even seen Rosemary’s Baby. Of all the films on my list, this is easily the most popular. It was a commercial success when it was released in 1968, and has continued to be considered one of the best horror films ever made. Essentially, I’m just seeking to remind those who know of the film that it exists. Maybe this will even compel those who have never heard of the film to watch it, because I feel that Rosemary’s Baby should always be mentioned alongside Halloween and The Exorcist. In recent years, Rosemary’s Baby has almost become my gold standard for what’s done well in a horror film. In my opinion, it’s just about the perfect horror film in terms of how it builds its atmosphere, tension, characters, and plot. The film tells the story of a couple who move into a new apartment, and how the female lead played expertly by Mia Farrow copes with her odd, mysterious neighbors while she also deals with her first pregnancy. Like The House of the Devil, the film takes its sweet time building up all of the elements that will eventually pay off at the end of the film, especially Rosemary’s growing paranoia. Besides my personal favorite horror film, The Exorcist, I can’t think of another horror film as compelling and emotionally engaging as this one. So, if you have seen it, watch it again. If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out.
And that’s it, five movies to consider adding to your list of horror films to watch around this time of the year. That’s a long title; I’ll have to work on that. There’s no denying that this is my favorite time of the year, and a large part of that is because of how much I adore horror films when they’re done right. So, if you feel like there is another film worth mentioning, leave a comment and I’ll gladly thank you then add it to my list. If you’ve seen the films I mentioned, let me know if you enjoyed it and found it as compelling as I do. I hope you enjoy your horror-a-thon, and thank you for reading.