Author and Scriptwriter

'Among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.' -Ramsey Campbell

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

10 Films For Halloween

Cold Prey
If you’re anything like me, you’ll be spending Halloween on the couch with a bumper bag of popcorn and your pick of DVDs. There are some obvious, classic choices: Psycho, The Wicker Man, Dracula: Prince Of Darkness, Quatermass And The Pit, The Devil Rides Out, The Innocents, Insidious, Sinister, Halloween, The Thing, The Fog… But what if you’re after something different this year? Well, fret no more. Here, in particular order, are ten great little movies to darken your Halloween.

1) It Follows (2015)
The newest title on the list, and the one you’re most likely to know. A crackingly effective low-key horror about a murderous demon transferred through sexual contact, that can take any form to close in on you. And when it reaches you, you’re finished. Builds a terrific sense of dread and doom.

2) Mulberry Street (2006)
Or, as the UK distributor insisted on calling it, Zombie Virus On Mulberry Street. Even though there are no zombies: the menace in this taut low-budget little movie comes from bite-spread virus that turns its victims into feral rat-like monsters. Caught in the middle of the storm are the inhabitants of a run-down New York tenement, led by Clutch (co-writer Nick Damici) all facing eviction as the area is gentrified. What makes this work are the strong performances and the finely-drawn characters. Director Jim Mickle has gone on to make the even more stunning No.3 on this list...

3) Stake Land (2010)
Written by the same creative duo who produced Mulberry Street – Jim Mickle and Nick Damici – and set in an America turned into an apocalyptic wasteland by a plague of vampires. Damici plays Mister, a grizzled vampire-killer who takes charge of Martin (Connor Paolo) a teenage orphan and Sister, a former nun (Kelly McGillis, brilliant in her first acting role in a decade.) Travelling through America in search of sanctuary, they’re threatened not only by the vampires but by the fundamentalist Brotherhood led by Jebedia Leven (Michael Cerveris).

4) Salvage (2009)
Filmed in my new home city of Liverpool – and on the former set of the soap opera Brookside! - Lawrence Gough’s low-budget chiller is set in a suburban cul-de-sac. When something goes on the rampage through the near-deserted houses, Special Forces seal off the close and threaten to shoot anyone leaving their house, leaving troubled mother Beth (Neve McIntosh) and her estranged daughter Jodie (Linzey Cocker), trapped on opposite sides of the close. Beth has one objective: to save her daughter. A taut, tense and brutal thriller with a cruel gut-punch of an ending.

5) Onibaba (1964)
Set in mediaeval Japan, Kaneto Shindo’s 1964 film centres on a mother and daughter-in-law survive by killing and robbing soldiers from the civil war that has torn the country apart. Their way of life is disrupted when a former neighbour comes home from the wars and begins a relationship with the daughter-in-law. Afraid that the younger woman will abandon her (making it impossible to keep robbing), the mother dons a demon mask taken from a murdered samurai and uses it to frighten the daughter-in-law away from her lover, switching between her identities as mother-in-law and onibaba (literally, ‘demon hag’). But then the mask becomes stuck to her face...

6) Banshee Chapter (2013)
Blair Erickson’s directorial debut weaves together recent American history (the MKULTRA project, where US citizens were used as guinea pigs for psychedelic drugs) and the works of H.P. Lovecraft. When James (Michael McMillian) disappears in mysterious circumstances after taking a rare drug used in the MKULTRA trials, his friend Anne (Katia Winter) sets out to find him. The trail leads to Thomas Blackburn (the ever-reliable Ted Levine) a Hunter S. Thompson-esque ‘60s author, who has his own supply of the drug, which enables the human mind to perceive different dimensions and the creatures that inhabit them. The only problem is that if you can see them… they can see you too.

7) Cold Prey (2006)
There aren’t many slasher movies I genuinely like, but this one, from Norwegian director Roar Uthaug is an exception. Five twenty-somethings go skiiing in the mountains: when one breaks his leg in an accident, they find shelter in a long-abandoned ski lodge – but they’re not alone. This one works for a bunch of reasons: the well-drawn characters (all superbly acted, especially by leading lady Ingrid Bolso Berdal, who won the Amanda – Norway’s equivalent of the Oscar – for the role) and the great location are a big part of it. Even though the threat is a hulking, skin-clad killer with a pick-axe, it has the atmosphere of a supernatural horror film, perhaps because there’s something almost archetypal, even mythic, about this tale of travellers who unwittingly trespass on a monster’s hidden mountain lair and incur its wrath. The sequel, Cold Prey: Resurrection, also starring Berdal, is almost as good, and makes up a fine double bill.

8) Entity (2012)
Not to be confused with the 1982 Barbara Hershey film. In a Siberian forest, a documentary crew led by journalist Kate (Charlotte Riley) and guided by local cop Yuri (Branko Tomovic) close in on a clearing where thirty-six bodies were found, their identities and cause of death unknown. Psychic Ruth (Dervla Kirwan) leads them to Sadovich, a derelict Cold War research facility where suspected psychics were subjected to inhuman experiments to develop their powers. Their unquiet, tormented ghosts remain: but so does another one, known only as Mischka. He’s angry, and he wants revenge… Steve Stone’s movie offers both dread and jump scares, amped up by excellent sound design, so watch this one with the volume up.

9) The Awakening (2011)
Written by Stephen (Ghostwatch) Volk and with a cast including Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Isaac Hempstead-Wright and Shaun Dooley (who also appears in No.4 on this list, Salvage), The Awakening is set in the years following World War One, when the fascination with spiritualism is at its height. Florence Cathcart (Hall) is a professional ghost-hunter, whose mission in life is to expose fake mediums and debunk the supernatural. Then Robert Mallory (West) seeks her out to investigate a ghost at the all boys’ school where he teaches. Florence finds herself confronting not only a genuine haunting, but the secrets of her own past.

10) Big Bad Wolves (2013)
If you’d prefer black comedy to jumps and chills, then this Israeli movie by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papusahdo will be just the ticket. Detective Miki (Lior Asheknazi) is suspended after trying to beat a confession out of Dror (Rotel Kelnan), the prime suspect in the murder of several little girls. He sets out to take matters into his own hands – but Gideon (Tzahi Grad), the father of the latest victim, has ideas of his own. Big Bad Wolves is one of those films where you find yourself laughing hysterically at things that shouldn’t be funny at all, but without ever cheapening its subject matter.

If you're looking for some Halloween reading matter, Simon Bestwick's collection of ghost stories, A Hazy Shade Of Winter, is available as an ebook here. Or you could check out this list...

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