If there is anything that people associate October with, it is Halloween. A holiday where scaring your friends, getting candy and wearing unique costumes is incredibly popular. Halloween is a rare day where people put aside their differences and have fun with one another. And if there is any medium that people associate Halloween with, it is horror movies. The horror genre is in a mixed bag right now; for every successful and well-made entry in the genre comes an onslaught of cheap films that makes me question my love for the genre. However, if you are looking for fun but also terrifying movies this holiday season, you have come to the right place.
- Malignant (2021), Directed by: James Wan
James Wan is one of the most celebrated filmmakers in the entertainment industry; starting out with his universal success with 2004’s “Saw.” Wan changes the game from experimenting in the horror and action genres. However, his latest film “Malignant,” might be his best work yet.
In his first original horror outing since 2007’s “Dead Silence,” “Malignant” tells the story of a woman whose dreams become terrifying realities. What sets this film apart from other mainstream horror productions that have come out recently is its style. “Malignant” is a film that heavily borrows from the Italian horror subgenre known as a “Giallo”. But instead, Wan does not copy from his influences, rather he places a spin on them. Both equally campy in their storytelling and filled with Wan’s passion for the genre, “Malignant” gives me hope for the future of the horror genre, making it one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. The movie is both fun and haunting with its scares, but does not play itself too seriously. Sure, the twists and turns come from a mile away but “Malignant” still manages to surprise me due to the sheer will that Warner Bros allowed James Wan to go in that direction. Well acted, briskly paced and executed perfectly, “Malignant” is a modern horror title you do not want to miss.
Where to watch: HBO Max and in theaters
- Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), Directed by: Shinya Tsukamoto
One of my favorite sub-genres in horror is the body-horror. Like the genre suggests, it is allowing make-up and effects artists to create something imaginary and real without the use of computer-generated images or computer green screen. In my opinion, the film that represents the subgenre the best is this Japanese classic, “Tetsuo.” The film tells the story of a man who has a weird craze for metal and after he runs into a couple, the boyfriend starts to feel the same fascinations.
To call this film “stomach-turning” is simply an understatement. Tsukamoto makes the audience feel a level of fear that many modern horror filmmakers fail to capture. Its effects still hold up by today’s standards and make me squirm every time I watch. Tsukamoto does not waste the audience’s time, as all 70-minutes only get crazier after the start.
Where to watch: YouTube (for free!)
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Directed by: Tobe Hooper
The ’70s-’80s were the era where studios birthed horror icons that would become not only staples for the genre but also in film history. Characters such as Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Freddy Krugar and many more have become infamous, as they still manage to scare audiences to this day. However, my favorite of the bunch comes from Tobe Hooper’s grindhouse masterpiece “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and the birth of Leatherface. The film follows a group of teens on a road trip as they suddenly get lost. If you’ve seen any horror film, you could pretty much tell where it’s going. Why “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” still manages to scare lies in how it’s filmed. Gone is the use of traditional horror filmmaking techniques in replacement of raw and gross type filmmaking.
Hooper manages to capture things in the moment, making the audience feel uncomfortable. Think of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” as the cinematic equivalent of not showering for three days and how one feels gross and greasy on the inside and out. Nobody could capture that feeling like Tobe Hooper. I would like to briefly shout out the film’s sequel (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Part 2”) as they’re both incredible but completely different in tone as the sequel is a horror comedy rather than a grindhouse slasher.
Where to watch: Tubi, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video
- Old (2021), Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
2021 was a weird year for the theatrical movie-going experience. Every blockbuster scheduled to release in 2020 was either pushed aside to a streaming service or pushed back to be premiered in theaters once they opened. The summer blockbuster movie season was a mixed bag, with every great fast-paced action spectacle like “F9: The Fast Saga” came underwhelming at disappointing ones like “Black Widow”. However, if there is one film that truly shook me to the core and also impressed me was the latest film by horror auteur M. Night Shyamalan.
To preface my thoughts on the film, I am a huge fan of Shyamalan. No filmmaker working today understands the ability to capture empathy and emotionally rich characters like he does and after concluding his trilogy with 2019’s “Glass,” I could not wait to see what he has in store for the future. “Old” is one of the rare studio genre films that allows a filmmaker to express themselves creatively. “Old” allows M. Night to operate at full force from a filmmaking standpoint and a storytelling perspective. It is a juggling act that combines many story elements at once and is told effectively and beautifully executed.
The scares are both gruesome and existentially haunting and are all executed perfectly. The acting provides some of the best I have seen in a Shyamalan project. I have seen “Old” at least four times over the summer and could happily see it again this October. It is easily in my top three films I have seen all year and one of Shyamalan’s best works, he simply cannot miss.
Where to watch: VOD
- Pulse (2001), Directed by: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
If someone were to ask me what is the scariest film I have ever seen, my answer will always be this Japanese horror classic. “Pulse” was released during a period when the Internet was foreign to most people. Nobody knew how to operate it, nor did they understand its limitations. Kiyoshi Kurosawa understands that and makes surfing the web a living existential nightmare. A film that combines themes of mental health, paranoia and the world at the time; “Pulse” is an emotionally driven slow-burn that becomes more haunting as it continues. Kurosawa knows how to blend genre tropes and flips a narrative on its head to create something unique and real. No film’s haunting atmosphere could ever top what “Pulse” creates.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime
Horror will forever be my favorite genre, due to its action and how much filmmakers are willing to push the boundaries of the genre’s limitations. And seeing modern filmmakers borrowing subgenres from other parts of the world only ignites my love for it. I hope these recommendations serve you well and have a happy October!