Tuesday, October 14, 2014

My Ultimate 13 Unique and Scary Horror Flicks Recommendations for Halloween: Retro, Kitsch and More

As I've shared many times before, horror is my favorite movie genre. Horror is my comfort (and my tormentor) in the night, my security blanket, my love. I watch it throughout the year so you don't have to! Horror films are the endurance test of movie watching, they are easily made on a low budget and it's a genre in desperate need of more good directors and originality. I sludge through worst of it for the same reasons I'll dig through a grimy box at the flea market- to find the hidden treasures. The following 13 picks are more-recently watched flicks that I recommend for your Halloween viewing, listed in order of their quality and given a * to **** star rating. (* worst, **** best) I scored on watchability, originality, and of course, scariness!

1) Paranormal Activity


I spiked my heart rate looking for a photo to represent the film. So...traumatized. Didn't want to see stills from the movie. Ow, my eyes. My heart.

Rating: ***
Scariness: ****
Originality: ***

This is a polarizing film. People find it terrifying or tame. Whether the film will affect you will depend on what scares you; is it the in-your-face terror or the subtle and sinister ? Furthermore, it's all the more frightening if you have even an inkling of belief in the paranormal or have had a paranormal encounter of your own- which I have- dubious or not. The keys to Paranormal Activity's success are the unknown, unpolished actors and cinematography that make it feel like you're watching a real snuff flick. The static camera scenes are uncomfortably tense and I love the old-fashioned way your imagination is left to fill in the rest, it's scarier than what they ever could put on screen. I was so stiff and terrified in bed the night I watched this movie movie that I worried my boyfriend. Fun fact: The director had a lifelong fear of ghosts and demons and used the film to work through it. It shows in the final product; it spoke to this fellow traumatized former-catholic (not-so) secretly still afraid of the same.

2) Sinister



Rating: ***
Scariness: ****
Originality: ****

It's rare for a modern horror film to make me turn away from the screen or cover my eyes, but sinister got me. This is a beautifully shot, original horror flick with an intriguingly "unlikeable" protagonist. My favorite element of this film, other than genuine scares and tension, is the originality of the score made to pair perfectly with the stunning cinematography. The sound design is perfection, I would not feel secure listening to any of the soundtrack on long car ride through a deserted road; a testament to its brilliance. A theme of old vs. new technology makes it a fun watch for the vintage lover, too. Sinister was critically acclaimed for a reason!

3) Trick 'R Treat


Rating: ****
Scariness: *
Originality: ****

This isn't a scary film, but it epitomizes Halloween. It's like a feature-length, moving, Hallmark Halloween greeting card. It is pure Halloween Americana, as beautiful as anything hanging in a fine art gallery. Every, single, shot is a masterpiece and clearly lovingly staged. It makes my heart ache, it's as wonderfully nostalgic as the Halloween Little Golden Books you used to read or the paper Halloween decorations and colored leaves you decorated your elementary school classroom with:

Take these movie stills in and there's no denying this is the most striking movie dedicated to Halloween. Full. Stop. Magnificent! 

It's a rare, modern anthology horror flick with three clever interweaving tales. The moon is full, the costumes are classics, scattered leaves fill the landscape and hundreds of lit jack o lanterns fill the frame. It's outstanding! Watch it for those fuzzy Halloween feelings. But don't watch it with the kiddies, you've been warned! Cute nostalgia for me is a slightly sex-tinged (a flash of boob) gore fest to others! (But as far as horror goes, honestly, somewhat PG/chaste. It's designed to look like a comic-book come to life, after all.)

4) Coraline


Rating: ****
Scariness: *
Originality: ****

The Nightmare Before Christmas is an obvious Halloween classic. It's one of my favorite movies of all time (Right now it might be a Transformers the Movie/Nightmare tie), I've read two books on it, its obvious beauty and genius needs little explanation from me. Coraline is another stop-motion film directed by Henry Selick. Most don't know that Henry Selick is the actual director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Tim Burton wrote the original story and designed the characters, but was directing Batman Returns when the veteran stop motion director worked his magic on the detailed sets in Nightmare; which is still the most ambitious stop-motion movie to date. Caroline is rendered in his trademark dark, quirky highly-detailed style and could possibly even measure up as an equal to Nightmare in terms of technical detail and incredible creativity. The animation, sets, and character design is outstanding, the plot unique. There are so many incredible details to catch with re-watches. For instance, all the gorgeous sweaters worn by the characters were hand-knit with tiny knitting needles the size of hand-sewing needles! An animator spent a year animating the basement scenes! The movie's just as gorgeous as Nightmare without any re-treading. Stunning! Watch it! Bonus: Strong female protagonist and sophisticated storytelling. Rare in any genre.

5) Wake Wood



Rating: ****
Scariness: ***
Originality: ***

This Irish movie owes a lot of the amazing Pet Semetary but still holds its own. It's strength, like its inspiration, is the gripping story telling. You're tense because the family bond feels so real. Beautifully shot and spooky, I was surprised by how enjoyable this offering was. It had me more engaged that a lot of the other entries on this list, I was completely sucked in and shocked at the twists and turns. The small Irish town gives it a unique, spooky, old-world folklore feel that I really appreciated.


6) House Hunting



Rating: ***
Scariness: **
Originality: ****

This movie makes the list for its original premise. It's a psychological horror that's tense and mysterious. You're hooked trying 'til the end trying to solve the strange plot. For me, it captures the essence of horror; a genre rife with allegories for the real-life things that haunt us; our regrets, secrets, and the skeletons we all have in our closets.

7) The Innkeepers 

*You will notice all of Ti West's movie posters are as delightfully retro, artistic, and well-composed as his movies.

Rating: ****
Scariness: ***
Originality: ***

Director Ti West is a student of the classic horror film, where suspense and subtlety is king. A good scare is like a good joke; reliant on timing. And West's timing is perfection. It has expert build-up, a beautiful/creepy settling and excellent acting. More plot, substance, and character development could have elevated this one for me, and it's not a horror film that stuck with me long after watching like Paranormal Activity and Sinister, but it's solid entry in the genre from a creative director that clearly adores horror films as much as his fans do.

8) Grave Encounters



Rating: ***
Scariness: ***
Originality: ***

Paranormal Activity was a renaissance for the found-footage horror film genre, and the best entry I've seen in this new wave was Grave Encounters. It has a unique approach, plenty of twists, and great scares. Even some laughs. My roomie and I jumped and screamed a couple of times. It wasn't so scary that I couldn't sleep at night, but I certainly wouldn't watch it alone. Ever. But I dare you to do it!

9) American Mary


Rating: ***
Scariness: *
Originality: ****

Points for originality! American Mary is an artistic, weird, unique horror flick and a love letter to fans of rockabilly, vintage, Betty Page (the protagonist's cute bangs and pin-up style), and body modification. Worth a watch just for how unique it is. Double rare: it's directed by twin sisters the Soska twins. Warning: with the surgery/body mod theme this one's gorier than I usually recommend.

10) You're Next


Rating: ***
Scariness: *
Originality: ***

Yet another throw-back horror flick by Ti West, this is an intriguing slasher. Freddy Cougar meets The Strangers meets...Home Alone. Yes. A fun watch with some gorey goodness and a tribute to retro horror that doesn't take itself too seriously. Boasts a groovy soundtrack to boot. Bonus points for re-invigorating the "survival girl" trope and giving it steroids, movie. I see what you did, there.

11) House of the Devil


Rating: ***
Scariness: **
Originality: ****

Ti West, you've done it again! When I first watched this I was completely convinced I was watching a b-horror film from the 1980s, an oddly good one. Which was strange because I was sure I'd seen all of them. Turns out this is not an 80s film at all but a modern one filmed with an old camera and staged to early 1980s perfect. The affect is uncanny. It's a classic spooky-house film with the same slow, brilliant build-up of The Innkeepers. Again, not too scary to watch alone. This isn't a bad thing, sometimes you need a break from deeply traumatizing yourself!

12) Never Sleep Again


Rating: ***
Scariness: *
Originality: ****

This is a special Valentine for the hardcore Nightmare of Elm Street Fans. Every, single Freddy Cougar movie is reviewed in great detail. Even the short-lived television show is featured. You're treated to interviews with nearly every cast member, the directors and behind-the-scenes crew and of course, Freddy Cougar himself, Robert England. (It is so fun to see the articulate, erudite, almost Mr. Rogers persona behind free-swearing, blood-thirsty Freddy.) Bonus, the gorgeous stop-motion bits to illustrate each film. It's over twice the length of the average movie to capture many details. I've watched it twice. Freddy movies were my bedtime stories, I adore this horror icon and the haunting score of the flicks. A treat for the non-Freddy fans too, the behind-the-scenes on these films are fascinating and inspirational.

13) Splice



Splice has major flaws. The characters fall into a trope often called "because-the-plot-says-so" where otherwise rational people do unforgivable, stupid things for no reason other than advancing the story. I watched it with three people and there were lots of "whats!" and "whys!" shouted at the TV. Yet viewed as a symbolic movie it had several interesting messages to ponder and I would have been remiss not to include such a unique thought-provoker on this list. I love the protagonists staged as ultra-millennial trendy-tv scientists and the design of the monster they create is beautiful. They are lots of practical special affects (real puppets and such versus all computer generated imagery) that made this delightfully Old School to watch. Nostalgic, even. Splice has its issues, but it left an impression.

Bonus) Lights Out Award Winning Horror Short




Do you hate feeling secure? Do you want to lose sleep tonight? Watch Lights Out alone at night in your living room and see how safe you feel going back to your bedroom in the dark. Like the Innkeepers this short exemplifies the power of good timing in horror. It's brilliant, I get tense with every viewing. Watch it...I dare you!

Horror Flick Recommendations: October 2012 // Vintage Picks/Amazing Set Design | October 2013 // Classics on Netflix

I have many more Halloween picks to recommend...next time! Got any favorites to recommend me? I've heard the Oculus is a good recent one to investigate. I'm always excited to get more horror flicks under my belt!
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15 comments:

  1. The movie posters alone have me scared. My number one Halloween movie has always been Ichanod Crane (the Disney cartoon). That is about as scary as I get!

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    1. I remember you were writing that, aw :) That -is- a good cartoon. I like the Tim Burton Sleepy Hollow, too.

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  2. im so old that my favourite has Vincent Price..Masque of the Red death , still kitsch and chilling after all these years

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    1. Oh I have to see that one, I think I started on that one but didn't finish. Vincent Price is brilliant, adore him.

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  3. Definitely a scary page you've put together here, LOL. I used to love horror movies. I'd honestly rather have old-fashioned suspense without the gore now.

    Sharing your post on our Halloween Facebook page, Halloween Every Day and on my Halloween Pinterest Board, the Best Halloween Board Ever.

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    1. Aw, thanks for sharing! I was so scared writing this on a dark, rainy night alone in the dark having to google each movie to find the poster. Even typing in "Innkeeper movie poster" was perilous because the stills on google image search were always from the scariest parts of the movie! Gah!

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  4. I wrote a long comment last night, hit the wrong button...poof. Hate that, lol! Anyway, thanks for the reviews. Sinister is on my list. Hubby and I watched Paranormal Activity & the 2nd one this week. Had a troubled nights sleep because like you I've had my own experiences, but fortunately not for about 10 years now.

    I'll be watching your movie in the light of day for sure. :) Thanks Van! Not a fan of the slasher type, but will check out the others. Pam

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    1. I hate it when that happens, Pam! Would have loved to read the long comment. Glad I'm not the only one scared stuff from Paranormal Activity. That's not a movie you'd watch home alone in the dark and feel safe after! I probably wouldn't leave the couch.

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  5. Ohh I just love horror films! After sci-fi/fanasty its my favorite genre. My husband hates them. I watch them all year too but I have an ever growing list of must views for October. I watch the movies on Saturday nights and now I must start the vewathon in September and still cant tick of all my favorties. My number one favorites are the not very scary 1930s Universal classics and the Hammer Horror films of the 50s and 60s, but I love the 80s ones too. I am so excited to have some new films to check off as Ive only seen one on your list, paranormal activity
    retro rover

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    1. It's a fun hobby, I have dozens of films to watch, too. Do share any recs if you have them.

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  6. So many fun titles on this list! Obviously you have good taste so the titles I haven't seen yet are immediately being put on my must watch list. Horror is a beloved genre for me and my husband... when we met, I thought I was so hardcore and un-scareable and could watch all the horror movies he could throw at me without batting an eye, but... it turns out that I was wrong, and now we have a tradition to see who can dig up the scariest horror movie.

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    1. My new guy has no fear in his heart, boo! But at least he'll watch and enjoy with me & wants to do some supernatural sluething. I'm pretty tough but a couple of the ones on the list got me. Do share any favs you have I'd love to watch em!

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  7. Never seen any of these movies, wondering why... ah ok im a chicken and seldom watch horror lol I just can do it with someine else and not at night, im pretty creative and after watching horror I start seeing the movie faces everywhere. You are brave girl!

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  8. Same here. I have a way overavtive imagination and see the movie madness all around after the movie stops. Still love it though!

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I love reading your comments. Thank you for adding to the discussion! I always reply to any and all questions.

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