This year, The National picks the good, the bad and the ugly from the horror genre.
The good features family-friendly, yet lightly spooky, films that are unlikely to send any family members to bed with nightmares.
The bad features some of the most terrifying film offerings, which should definitely be watched after the children have gone to bed. And the ugly is a place for ground-breaking and unusual offerings from the horror genre.
The good – family-friendly spooky films
There are few creatures in cinema history as cute and loveable as Gremlins’ star Gizmo. Just don’t feed him after midnight. Oh, and be careful with sunlight and water, too. The film was considered so borderline scary for 1980s kids that executive producer Steven Spielberg successfully lobbied for an all-new censor rating that we now know as PG-13.
Were space and variety not an issue, any list of family-friendly Halloween fare would probably feature Tim Burton films in roughly 19 of the top 20 spots. This tale, of a wholesome family seeking help from an obnoxious ghost, was Burton’s first attempt at transplanting his loveable goth-next-door vision onto the big screen. It was also his first collaboration with long-term muse Winona Ryder (who joined the likes of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Eva Green as his go-to lead stars).
Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
What should fundamentally be a silly Scooby-Doo-like film turns into a brilliant tongue-in-cheek pastiche of classic British horror, and specifically Hammer horror films from the '50s and '60s. It's made by Nick Park and the Aardman Animation team, who were also behind Chicken Run and Sean the Sheep. You could be forgiven for thinking, particularly with the aforementioned Bonham Carter voicing the film’s female lead, that Park had simply jumped on the Burton bandwagon of creepy Halloween animation, but the film holds its own as an eccentric adventure featuring the lovable animated duo Wallace and Gromit.
The bad – a genre firmly for adults
The Exorcist (1973)
You’ve probably noticed there’s a reboot of The Exorcist haunting cinemas as Halloween approaches. The film critic's choice, however, would be revisiting recently deceased William Friedkin’s 1973 original. It might be 50 years old now, but Friedkin's tale of a possessed young girl and her family’s attempts to cure her remains the yardstick for horror, and having rewatched it for this article on the basis of “research", it is safe to say it remains as terrifying as it was 50 years ago.
It Follows (2014)
David Robert Mitchell’s underrated 2014 spine-tingler gives us cause for hope, in a genre littered with remakes and sequels for Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. The film takes all the best bits of classic 1970s horror – not least its John Carpenter-by-numbers soundtrack – mixes them up with a decidedly 21st-century viral monster straight out of Japanese classic The Ring, and quite simply scares its audience silly.
The ugly – horror's more experimental movies
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
It’s easy to forget how ground-breaking The Blair Witch Project was in a world where Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity have happened, and where we all spend hours every day on the internet. But that wasn’t the case in 1999. Through a viral marketing and news campaign, before viral marketing campaigns were the norm, and using cheap home camera footage that had no place in a respectable cinema, this film redefined horror for the social media age.
Speaking of the social media age, David Cronenberg’s 1983 masterpiece of body horror successfully predicted a world in which real life was replaced by screen interactions. He even pre-empted the age of "happy slapping" with his dystopian vision of a world, in which shadowy actors control the minds of the masses through a constant stream of torture and violence on screen. The film stars Debbie Harry and James Woods.
Yes, there have been far too many sequels delivering the very epitome of diminishing returns, but James Wan’s initial 2004 film was an exhilarating new addition to the genre. Two strangers wake up locked in an unknown room with no recollection of how they got there. To make matters worse, they're chained in and a mysterious killer tasks them with escaping before the time runs out – or they die. The horror is real, but entirely self-inflicted, making it all the more terrifying.