Option One - Rec
We’ll start with a pretty well known horror film. Rec is a Spanish found footage movie made before the found footage ‘shaky cam’ style of movie was done to death. Personally, I think this is one of the best examples of this style of film-making alongside Chronicle and Troll Hunter. It follows the story of a TV crew trapped in an apartment building locked down due a virus being found in the area. The film crew work their way up the building showing the effects of the virus on the people living in the building and end up having to survive any way possible. It’s very well paced, building tension throughout the film with a good few jump scares thrown in for good measure. It uses the location, lighting and the filming style to create a tense atmosphere with characters who aren't the most dislikable people on the planet and react like actual people in these situations, which is annoyingly rare for a horror film. Avoid the disappointing American remake and stick with the original. While the ending isn't fantastic, the ride towards it can be genuinely creepy and well worth a watch.
Option Two - The Orphanage
If you want something a little more traditional then this is definitely one to go for. It’s a Spanish horror film, like Rec, directed by J. A. Bayona and produced by Guillermo Del Toro, whose filmography contains some of my favourite films. His influence is definitely felt here in the clever use of settings and visuals to create a unique and unsettling tone. The kid’s mask in particular still creeps me out whenever I see it. This is a great example of a ghost story done right. While I wasn't too impressed with Del Toro’s latest ghost story, Crimson Peak, The Orphanage tells a story much more original and involving. There are a few jump scares but they are well paced out and aren't overused. It tells the story of a woman returning to the orphanage she grew up in along with her new family. Her son then develops an imaginary friend which leads to his disappearance and more ghostly shenanigans. While more unsettling than frightening, it's filled with moments that will fill you with dread. This is definitely a film that deserves much more love than it gets.
Option Three - Audition
I’ll warn you now, this one’s a slow burner but any fan of disturbing horror will not be disappointed. The majority of the film is basically a very twisted love story with a malicious undertone. A Japanese psychological horror from the always fascinating Takashi Miike, Audition follows the story of a middle aged man ‘auditioning’ women looking for a new wife. When he finds someone who sparks his interest he tries to learn as much as possible about her. The film teases and builds up her past and the mysteries grow, giving the seemingly normal plot a very sinister edge. The sense of dread only increases, culminating in an unforgettable finale. With such a long build up you may be worried that the pay off wouldn't be worth it, but not many films have made squirm and cringe quite like audition. There's not a lot of scares and anyone after a traditional horror film will probably be disappointed but If you want to watch something different that will definitely make a lasting impression, go check it out.
Option Four - Oculus
While being released quite recently and more of a mainstream horror film, I've included this as, like me, you may have decided to dismiss this when released due to it looking like a pretty generic horror film. But thanks to the power of Sky Movies and having too much free time I gave it a shot this year and was pleasantly surprised. The main plot revolves around a huge, old fashioned mirror that doesn't always reflect reality. The main characters, two siblings, are convinced that the mirror was the cause of their mother’s death and try to destroy it. Through some clever twists it allows the film to play around with the idea of what the characters and viewers are watching isn't always what’s really happening. It consistently surprises with smart ideas and plot beats that go against conventional horror. While not overly frightening or spooky, in a genre where relatable characters, original ideas and decent twists are hard to come by, if you can sell the idea of ‘spooky mirror’ to your friends, there are far worse alternatives to watch.
Option Five - The Cabin in the Woods
This is a bit of a cheat - although I love The Cabin in the Woods, calling it a horror film is a bit of a stretch. From director Drew Goddard (whose track record is very impressive) and screenplay co-written by Joss Whedon, it takes the horror genre and turns it on its head. It takes every horror film cliché (especially ones from The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II) clever writing, likable characters and a ridiculously smart script, and blends them all together to create something much greater than the sum of its parts. I don't want to spoil anything plot wise but it will satisfy anyone looking for a horror film, a good story or someone looking for something unexpected. Although I wouldn't describe it as scary, it’s definitely fun and would make perfect viewing on Halloween. Great to watch with friends and endlessly rewatchable, this is easily one of my favourite films from the last 10 years.
Any of these should make for enjoyable viewing on a spook filled night of Halloween or anytime of year honestly. If you've seen all of these already or disagree on any of my choices, well too bad. After all, it’s the Internet and if it's one thing the Internet isn't lacking, it's lists about movies.