It’s time to pop some popcorn, sneak a few early pieces of candy from the bags meant for trick or treaters, turn out the lights, and throw on a scary movie. Here’s a collection of off-the-beaten-path recommendations for those of you looking for something good that has somehow slipped under your radar.
1. ‘Hell House LLC’ (2015)
The first in what would become a trilogy, this found footage film is what my partner-in-crime director Scott Derrickson referred to as the scariest movie he’d seen in years. It’s a simple premise, executed to perfection.
A troupe of players who throw lucrative haunted houses has settled in a new location, a long-closed hotel with a hell of a history. Things, as you may well imagine, do not go as planned. The type of film that worms its way into your psyche and might have you jumping at shadows for days after you watch it.
2. ‘Satan’s Slaves’ (2017)
An Indonesian remake of an infamous 1980 (also Indonesian) horror film of the same name. When a family’s matriarch dies, terrifying things begin to occur, and a strange cult comes calling for a debt they are owed.
This is a film so beautifully shot, so classically structured, and so downright scary that I’ve been waiting for an announcement that Blumhouse intends to remake it in English. If a movie delivers one new scare I’ve never seen before, I have great respect for it. This movie delivered three.
3. ‘The Wraith’ (1986)
“A wraith! A ghost! An evil spirit, man, and it’s not cool!” What Halloween season would be complete without a good old ‘80s romp, and “The Wraith” fires on all cylinders. When a kid is killed by a bunch of road-racing bullies, he’s brought back by mysterious forces to become a road warrior all his own. Charlie Sheen, Nick Cassavetes, Sherilyn Fenn, Randy Quaid, and Clint Howard headline this supernatural/sci-fi revenge thriller.
4. ‘No One Lives’ (2013)
For those of you looking for something a little more violent, nasty, and bloody this season, you can’t go wrong with this little-known gem from the director of “Midnight Meat Train” and “Versus.” What begins as pretty well-tread fare soon takes a left turn when a beautiful couple is attacked by a group of disgruntled criminals looking for an easy score.
But when the criminals pull a woman out of the trunk of the couple’s car, the girl begs “Where is he? You killed him, right? Please tell me he’s dead.” That he is Luke Evans, that girl is his victim, and the criminals are about to find out why the movie they ended up in is called “No One Lives.”
5. ‘The Old Dark House’ (1932)
The one that started it all, this James Whale (“Frankenstein,” “Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Invisible Man”) classic is the tale of several strangers who find themselves trapped in a terrible storm, only to seek shelter in the same mysterious house filled to the brim with secrets. Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, and Charles Laughton headline this masterpiece thriller from one of the great, original horror masters.
6. ‘Doctor X’ (1932)
While the Hayes Code, a series of rules forbidding certain depictions in film, was created in 1930, it wasn’t fully enforced until 1934. This is the era we call “pre-code” and was a wonderful wild west of genre experimentation.
My favorite film of the era is this slick, macabre masterpiece in which a scientist deduces that an active serial killer must be one of his professorial colleagues and invites them all to engage in a series of strange tests to figure out once and for all who the real killer is. Weird, wild, and still thrilling audiences almost 90 years later.
7. ‘Let Us Prey’ (2014)
Pollyanna McIntosh (“The Walking Dead”) plays a cop assigned to a new station that clearly doesn’t want her. But when a mysterious stranger (Liam Cunningham, Davos from “Game of Thrones”) is thrown in lockup with a book full of names, and seems to know everyone’s sins, all hell breaks loose. Literally. A creepy, religious thriller for those who like their horror a little on the darker side.
8. ‘Near Dark’ (1987)
Kathryn Bigelow’s horror classic that has sadly fallen into relative obscurity, due in part to a weird rights issue leaving the film with no real owner. When a young man is bit by a vampire, he is forced to choose between death or going on the road with a nomadic pack of murderous bloodsuckers. The only vampire movie I know of that never once uses the word “vampire,” this brutal road movie is anchored by an incredible cast, with standout performances by Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen, both of “Aliens” fame.
9. ‘Stir of Echoes’ (1999)
On August 6, 1999 M. Night Shyamalan unleashed his horror classic about an obsessed man and a kid who could see dead people upon unsuspecting summer audiences, creating a worldwide sensation. Five weeks later, David Koepp released his much better pedigreed “Stir of Echoes,” a story about an obsessed man and a kid who could see dead people, to about 1/14th the box office.
Based upon a story by Richard Matheson, the writer behind “I Am Legend,” “Hell House,” “Time after Time,” and the classic “Twilight Zoe” episode “Terror at 20,000 Feet,” this seemed like a home run, but was instead swallowed whole by bad timing. This is a classic spook fest. After being hypnotized as a party trick, a blue-collar worker (played by Kevin Bacon) begins seeing and hearing strange things in his house and is driven to uncover the mystery, all while his son is having conversations with someone no one can else see. A perfect ghost story.
10. ‘Alone in the Dark’ (1982)
You’ve all seen movies about a murderous lunatic who escapes from an insane asylum to terrorize hapless victims. But have you seen one in which half a dozen murderous lunatics escape from an insane asylum to terrorize hapless victims?
What could easily have devolved into mindless camp is instead anchored by great performances by Martin Landau, Jack Palance, Donald Pleasence, Dwight Schultz, and the “man of four great movies” Erland van Lidth. This was the very first film released by fledgling movie studio New Line, which went on to be a force behind countless classics including “Nightmare on Elm Street” and the Lord of the Rings films.
C. Robert Cargill is an American screenwriter, novelist, podcast host, and former film critic.
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