When I was growing up, I had an aunt and uncle who loved Halloween. Every year, my sister, cousin and I would go on a five mile death-march through my aunt’s neighborhood, ringing every doorbell at every house even when it was abundantly clear no one was home or the people were sleeping.
My aunt, deeply devoted to preserving the sanctity of Halloween, would carry around a bar of soap and write “CLEAN ME” on the porches or driveways of people who didn’t answer (much to the chagrin of my uncle who was, and is, a policeman).
As an adult, Halloween is a little different. I don’t trick or treat anymore (I tried. People wouldn’t give me candy because I was “too old.” How can you be too old for free candy?), but I do still eat a lot of candy. Heavy emphasis on the eating here—any trick-or-treaters that come to my door receive a raw potato because that’s usually all I have on hand.
One thing that’s now become tradition in my house is our Halloween movie marathon. My boyfriend and I load up on candy, jell-o shots and one shitty sack of raw potatoes and settle in for a cozy night of terrific Halloween horror (followed by a delightfully restless, nightmare-fueled sleep). If you’re thinking, “Wow, that sounds much nicer than dressing up as sexy Nemo,” you’re probably right!
This year, we’ll be watching my top five favorite horror films. For all my Halloween shut-ins, all those ladies who can’t pull off sexy Big Bird and all those kids who’re too old to trick or treat, but not cool enough to go to a party—this list is for you.
1. The Babadook
Genre: Psychological Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98 percent
Vinesauce Spooky Advisory System: Spooky.
Brief summary: Six years ago, Amelia Vanek lost her husband the same night she gave birth to their son. Plagued by his death, the exhausted widow is unable to cope when her child, Sam, stops sleeping, begins to act unpredictably and blames his behavior on a mysterious monster.
Amelia insists the monster isn’t real, but she begins to doubt herself when she finds a strange pop-up book entitled “Mister Babadook,” which tells of a terrifying humanoid creature that stalks his victims once they know of his existence. Once Amelia is aware of the Babadook, her life begins to spiral out of control, and soon, the mother and son are left battling for their lives.
Why it’s so freaking good: Like all my favorite horror films, “The Babadook” isn’t really about the Babadook itself. At the heart of this wonderfully scary story is a tale about the persistence and danger of unchecked grief.
Jennifer Kent, writer and director of this beautiful movie, also weaves in themes about motherhood, the struggles of being a single parent and societal perceptions of the “bad” mom and her “bad” kid. This creepy movie is also very moving, so all you sensitive types should prepare yourselves for some waterworks.
2. The Conjuring 2
Genre: Ghost, Possession and Gently Religious Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80 percent
Vinesauce Spooky Advisory System: Spooky.
Available: Redbox, Netflix (DVD only), Amazon Rental
Brief summary: In Enfield, England, a single mother of four is terrified when her second oldest child, Janet, begins to sleepwalk and talk to an angry, invisible entity.
After the Hodgson family begins experiencing paranormal events, the media interviews Janet and her family and learns that an angry spirit by the name of Bill Watkins is periodically possessing Janet and trying to reclaim “his” house. With confirmation of the entity, Ed and Lorraine Warren, famous paranormal investigators, arrive in Enfield to assist the Hodgson family.
Why it’s so freaking good: “The Conjuring” and “The Conjuring 2” are no doubt well-known films, but what makes “The Conjuring 2” really good is its believability. Since the movie is based on the Enfield Poltergeist, a lot of doubt was thrown on whether or not Janet and her sister were just faking the whole thing. This question was investigated in the movie with Ed and Lorraine (and a few other characters) pointing out how Janet could be faking it.
The truthfulness of the haunting becomes an important subtheme, one that seems to ask why we, as people, are so quick to judge and discredit individuals who—regardless of whether or not spirits/demons do exist—still feel scared and victimized.
3. Dark Skies
Genre: Alien Abduction Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 41 percent
Vinesauce Spooky Advisory System: 2Spooky
Brief summary: Lacy and Daniel Barrett are living in the suburbs with their two sons, Jesse and Sam, when they begin experiencing some bizarre happenings within their home (like hundreds of birds flying directly into the side of their house).
Burdened already by their financial problems—as well as being unable, at times, to control their movements and actions—Lacy and Daniel are then accused of abusing their son, Sam. Amid all these escalating problems is a greater, significantly scarier threat hovering just over their home.
Why it’s so freaking good: I’ll admit I’m slightly biased because I love alien abduction movies, but, unlike most of the crappy alien movies out there which focus too much on the aliens themselves and not on the actual horror of being abducted, “Dark Skies” weaves a disturbingly dark tale that’s hyper-focused on the family experiencing the phenomena.
This movie makes my horror list because of its deeply disturbing final scene. I watched this movie two years ago, but I still get goose bumps when I think about its ending.
Even if aliens aren’t your thing, don’t shy away from this movie. The point of it isn’t to insist there’s life on other planets, but to highlight the terror of the abduction itself and the defeated sadness people feel when no one believes their claims.
Genre: Horror Comedy (Soft Core Satire)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97 percent
Vinesauce Spooky Advisory System: Spoopy
Brief Summary: Kylie, a would-be thief and drug addict, is sentenced to house arrest under the care of her estranged mother after a botched ATM robbery.
Her mother, Miriam, believes the house is haunted, but Kylie, who finds both her mother and stepfather to be incredibly annoying, remains skeptic even after a disembodied hand grabs her ankle. The officer over Kylie’s house arrest hears about these events and becomes part-paranormal investigator as he, Miriam and a reluctant Kylie try to figure out what, exactly, is happening in this supposedly haunted home.
Why it’s so freaking good: “Housebound” gets a rating of “spoopy” because, despite a few scary moments here and there, the movie is decidedly absurd and hilarious. This film, which comes from New Zealand, is brilliant because it takes the old “haunted house” story and puts a surprising, original spin on it that’s both pretty freaking weird and also quite satirical. If your movie buddy isn’t really into scary shit, “Housebound” is a good one to watch.
Gentle Gore Warning: Squeamish friends, this movie is satirical and, as a result, there are a few scenes (maybe three or four) in which there is over-the-top, completely ridiculous gore. Just a little warning for anyone who really, really can’t handle things like spurting blood (or brains).
Genre: Supernatural Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86 percent
Vinesauce Spooky Advisory System: 2Spooky.
Brief Summary: Tricia, a very pregnant young woman living in the LA valley, is about to declare her husband, who’s been missing for seven years, dead in absentia. Callie, Tricia’s sister and a recovering drug addict, moves in with Tricia to help her get Daniel’s death certificate and find a new place to live.
During her stay, Callie meets a gaunt man in the tunnel by Tricia’s house and, although she’s perplexed as to why the gaunt man is so shocked she can see him, she decides to bring him something to eat. By the time she goes back to the tunnel, the gaunt man is gone, but she leaves the food there, unknowingly making a trade and setting off a series of bizarre, unexpected events.
Why it’s so freaking good: Oh, “Absentia,” my all-time favorite horror film. This low-budget ($70,000) horror film was one of the first movies by Mike Flanagan, director and writer of “Oculus.” I’m not sure why, but “Absentia” isn’t really on anyone’s radar despite it being one of the most original horror films in recent years.
What makes this movie so good is both the plainness of its characters and landscape combined with the over-arching question of how people perceive and cope with tragic events. Viewers are allowed to glimpse (along with the characters) other ways in which things could have reasonably happened, which ultimately leaves it up to the audience to decide which “imagined” scenario is actually real. If you like horror movies where, at the end, you can’t be totally sure whether or not something supernatural has happened, “Absentia” will be a welcome addition to your movie repertoire.
Happy Halloween, everyone!