By Spencer. If you hate costume parties as much as I do, then you’re probably in need of a few quality scary movies to watch on Halloween night after the trick-or-treaters are gone. Last year, I gave you a few of my favorite lesser known options, from It Follows to Suspiria to The House Of The Devil to A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. And if you haven’t watched all of those yet, you’re making a grave mistake. But if you’re looking for even more horror flicks that don’t suck, then fear not, because I’ve dug up a few more—headlined by Sundance 2016’s haunting indie horror breakthrough, The Witch.
The Phantom Carriage (1921): One of the first great horror movies comes all the way back from the silent era. The Phantom Carriage, filmed by Swedish director Victor Sjostrom, used groundbreaking visual effects to tell the tale of Death himself, riding across the world in his carriage to collect souls. But there’s a catch: whoever is the first to die after midnight on New Year’s Day must drive the carriage next. The ghostly visuals and the screeching violins of the film’s score create a truly creepy atmosphere that will surprise those expecting something more antiquated. The great Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman credited The Phantom Carriage with inspiring him to become a director, while Stanley Kubrick directly borrowed from the film for The Shining during that famous scene of Jack Nicholson breaking through the door with an axe. Not a bad pedigree for a film without dialogue.
The Invisible Man (1933): When you think back on the classic Universal monster movies, most people gravitate towards the true icons: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf Man. But overlooked among them is The Invisible Man, played with raspy menace by maybe the greatest character actor of all time, Claude Rains (Casablanca, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Lawrence Of Arabia). The revolutionary special effects still hold up 80 years later, using simple double-exposure tricks to convincingly give sight to a man removing his bandages to show … nothing underneath. One of cinema’s first masked killers, Rains’s Invisible Man set the stage for future slasher movie villains like Michael Meyers or Jason Voorhees. But the childlike glee he takes in his killings might also remind you of Jack Nicholson’s or Heath Ledger’s takes on The Joker, making this one of the most influential film villains even outside of the horror genre. Oh, and as a bit of trivia, take a closer look at the damsel-in-distress; it’s a 23-year-old Gloria Stuart, better known to today’s audiences as the old lady from Titanic.
Night Of The Living Dead (1968): I’ve been boycotting zombie movies for running on ten years now—with the exception of this one, the original. While zombies may have been played to death by now—ugh, sorry, I couldn’t resist—George Romero’s 1968 classic take is less focused on gore and more on unrelenting dread. The premise is simple: surrounded in a house besieged on all sides by the walking dead, a band of strangers try to survive. Star Duane Jones was the first African-American to play a lead role with an otherwise white cast, and the film has been seen as a metaphor for everything from the Vietnam War to the violent tension of the civil rights era. But while that nihilism makes this unusually political for a horror movie, it’s the gritty simplicity of the story and the camerawork that makes it so horrifying. The villains aren’t monsters or aliens or ghosts; they’re the nameless, faceless hordes of everyone around us, and they’re coming for you.
The Evil Dead (1981): If you’ve seen Bruce Campbell’s hilariously gory new television series, Ash Vs. Evil Dead, you’re probably already familiar with the Evil Dead franchise’s trademark blend of horror and comedy. But that all started with Evil Dead 2. The original stands alone among the franchise as a bona fide horror movie, hellbent on scaring the soul out of you, without any comic relief. There may be no chainsaw hands or shotguns yet, and the Claymation gore may be unimpressive by today’s standards. But the atmosphere, the tone, the sound effects, the setting—it’s completely disturbing. Giving you the best of supernatural horror and splatter films at the same time, it’s the perfect Halloween movie—though I wouldn’t advise it if you’re watching from a cabin in the woods.
The Mothman Prophecies (2002): Coming from the X-Files end of the scary spectrum was this criminally-underrated film of the supernatural. Richard Gere plays a reporter investigating strange incidents in West Virginia surrounding the Mothman—a winged creature from local folklore whose sightings have been linked by parapsychologists to UFOs and psychic phenomena. The real-life story of the Mothman is something of a catch-all for conspiracy theories, but this script wisely only flirts with all of that, focusing instead on a series of psychic visions that look beyond the grave to Gere’s recently-deceased wife (and foretell a greater loss of life to come). The scene below, in which Gere takes a phone call from an otherworldly voice in a dark motel room, will make you shiver. Mulder and Scully may never show up, but you won’t miss them in the least.
Let The Right One In (2008): A Swedish vampire movie with subtitles may not sound like the ideal place for a good scare, but trust me on this one. Let The Right One In (later remade to lesser effect in the U.S. as Let Me In) is about a soft-spoken, bullied young boy who befriends the new neighbor girl—who happens to be a vampire in hiding. The film does the neat trick of making you sympathize with the monster over her victims, and if the friendship between the two children comes off as unusually heartwarming for a horror flick, there are still plenty of moments to chill you (along with the icy imagery of the Swedish setting). Abandoning traditional lore about silver bullets and wooden stakes, it puts new twists on the vampire legend while exploring the meaning of unconditional love in a world too often devoid of it. And along the way, it transforms something as tired and rehashed as the vampire movie into something meaningful.
Lake Mungo (2008): If you’ve ever seen one of those photos that purports to capture the image of a ghost in the background, consider Lake Mungo the movie version. Filmed in Australia as if it were a documentary, it tells the story of a family haunted by grief over the accidental drowning of their teenage daughter—and maybe by something more. The film’s slow pace in the beginning won’t be for everyone. But once it sets the table, Lake Mungo is full of twists, creepy images that will make the hair on your neck stand up, and for those who see it through to the end, one big heart-stopping scare. Also be sure to stick around through the credits for one last surprise twist. Just don’t be surprised if you start inspecting your photographs a little more closely afterward.
The Witch (2016): This year’s out-of-nowhere indie horror hit is a throwback to the days of seventeenth-century witch hysteria—with a very modern dose of paranoia. A devout Puritan family who suffers the disappearance of their youngest child begins to suspect that witchcraft may be at play—and that the witch might even be one of them. First-time filmmaker Robert Eggers (who won Best Director at Sundance) penned the movie based on real life historical accounts of the occult, and fills every shot with lush cinematography (stunningly captured under only natural light). Young actors Anya Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw offer star-making performances as the eldest children, trying to maintain their innocence in a family that finds sin in every thought and deed. This one might not satisfy your traditional horror movie junkies looking for thrills and shocks, but the mood is palpably evil and spooky as all hell. And the ending—well, you’ll see.