Halloween is right around the corner, so obviously that means the time has come once again to recommend a single list of horror films in a varying pool of lists of horror films.
Horror, to me, is like a rollercoaster. I am not fond of them, but having been on a few, I’m sure those of you who enjoy them will attest to this.
Much like a rollercoaster, horror is not always exactly what’s in the shadows, but the build-up to that scare.
It starts slow, but calculated. It puts you in a state of alert so you are aware of your surroundings.
Just when you think it’s safe to catch your breath or blink, something horrific reveals itself.
You can either scream or you can laugh.
That rush of adrenaline is so much fun that going through all that again is enticing.
This list is not about the greatest horror films of all time (there’s plenty of those on the internet). This is about the more recent outputs in the genre.
Horror today is thriving at a much better rate than it has in previous years, so I thought it would be a good time to look at some of them.
Here are five recent horror films you should check out this October, if you dare.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
This one comes to us from director/co-writer Drew Goddard (“The Martian”) and co-writer/producer/god of geeks Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Firefly”, and “The Avengers”).
This film is about a group of stereotypical college kids who head up to a cabin deep in the wilderness for a weekend of fun.
And that’s about all you should know.
It seems weird to recommend a film without going too much into detail, but “The Cabin in the Woods” is a film that is best enjoyed knowing as little as possible going in.
Just when you think you have it figured out, the film subverts your expectations again and again.
It may not be quite so scary, but it makes up for that by being incredibly funny in how it deconstructs horror film tropes and clichés.
Again, without giving too much away, the third act is absolutely bonkers and its payoffs are just an absolute delight.
I wish I could say more, but if a meta-textual horror film is what you seek this Halloween, then “The Cabin in the Woods” is for you.
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
After spending almost a decade making a series of films about a certain wall-crawling superhero, director Sam Raimi finally made his triumphant return to horror that is so gleefully spooky, it feels like he never left at all.
Much like his “Evil Dead” trilogy, “Drag Me to Hell” strikes a perfect balance between horror and comedy that very few filmmakers can pull off.
This is a film where a scary old woman pops from the shadows in a frightening manner, and then an anvil falls on her head and her eyes cartoonishly pop out of her skull and fly into the mouth of the main character.
It’s so terrifying, absurd, and gross that it is hard to resist it. “Drag Me to Hell” is a pure delight, which is a rare thing to say about a horror film.
It’s a film I’m eager to watch every Halloween because I have so much fun with it every time.
It may not have done well at the box office, but its place in the genre has been cemented. “Drag Me to Hell” will either make you scream or make you laugh. It will probably do both.
The Conjuring (2013)
At this point in his career, it’s safe to call director James Wan the modern day master of horror, what with creating the “Saw” franchise, Insidious, and now “The Conjuring”.
This success has even allowed him to venture outside horror with films like “Furious 7” and the upcoming “Aquaman” film. But “The Conjuring” feels like a culmination of all the skills and tricks he honed up to this point.
It’s not a revolutionary film nor does it take many unexpected twists or turns.
However, it knows how to effectively utilize old-school techniques to conjure (no pun intended) up thrills. It’s not flashy and it’s not gory.
It so thoughtfully restrained and crafted that it feels like a horror film from the 70’s or 80’s, but without standing on the shoulders of those films.
But the real revelations here are Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren, respectively.
Horror films, particularly slasher films, are remembered for their villains. “The Conjuring” will be remembered for its heroes.
Not only are the Warrens rational and effective at what they do, they are also portrayed with such warm intelligence and humanity.
Not to mention that Wilson and Farmiga have great chemistry together. You believe these two care deeply about each other and would do anything to help others in need.
Seeing as how this film was a huge hit at release, I’m sure a lot of you know how good this one is, but in case you forgot or have never seen it, now is the time to check it out.
The Babadook (2014)
These last two films are more obscure than the others.
This one in particular is from Australia.
However, I will say that if you go in expecting an all-out horror film, then you will most likely walk away disappointed.
This one is more in vain of a psychological thriller with a boogeyman thrown in for good measure.
This film is ultimately about a single mother struggling to process her grief over her dead husband while also desperately trying to take care of her ill-tempered son.
The monster of this film, Mr. Babadook (an anagram for “a bad book”) is a manifestation of this woman’s pain, suffering, and resentment towards her son.
He may not appear in the film much, but his presence is clearly felt.
In the end, this is a brilliant character study about how we deal with our grief and how much we let it define us.
This is writer/director Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut and I’m eager to see what she does next.
The Witch (2016)
This is the most recent release on this list.
Unlike the other films here that has comedic flashes or happy endings.
“The Witch” is relentlessly dark. It is not a fun or crowd-pleasing film.
For starters, it takes place in puritanical times, the one era of history absolutely nobody wants to revisit.
It’s about a family that is exiled from their community due to the patriarch’s conflicting views of the New Testament. Now located in a secluded forest, their troubles are made worse when the newborn mysteriously vanishes.
What happens immediately after is ghastly. Over the course of the film, this family is slowly turned against each other while dark forces threaten to destroy them.
The one thing I took away from “The Witch” is how it makes the case for why religious fundamentalism is bad.
The family’s strict adherence to the Bible’s teachings is what ultimately leads to their undoing.
For the record, the film is not anti-religion. Rather it shows how following the literal interpretations of dogma is a fruitless endeavor.
This film was a victim of its own marketing. It was sold as a pure horror film rather than as the horror/drama it is, which is probably why many people were displeased with it at my screening.
If you go in mind knowing the film’s intent, you will probably walk away more fulfilled.
As a horror fan, I loved “The Witch”. So much so that it is guaranteed a spot on my top 10 list at the end of the year.
On a final note, its final shot has stuck with me more than any other film this year.