Spooky season is well and truly upon us, and the team here at The AU Review are firing up the popcorn maker and getting ready to enjoy our favourite scary movies. If you’re looking for some ideas for that horror marathon you’re planning this weekend, here’s a few films had us checking under our beds before going to sleep.
Valentine (dir. Jamie Blanks, 2001)
Years after a school dance took a brutal turn, five old school friends find themselves targeted by a slasher with a penchant for Valentines cards and Cupid masks. When one of the women is viciously murdered, the other four face a startling realisation: what if the boy they’d rejected all those years ago is the one behind the mask?
Peter: One of the lesser known early-nought slashers that rose off the Scream resurgence, Australian director Jamie Blanks’ masked killer thriller is just as witty and tense as any of its contemporaries.
Starring a then-relevant David Boreanaz, a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Katherine Heigl, and a post-007 Denise Richards, Valentine was perhaps ahead of its time in its celebration of women in the genre, as it centres on a group of female friends and their attempts to evade a cherub-masked killer who takes the term “love hurts” a little too literally.
Dog Soldiers (dir. Neil Marshall, 2002)
A group of British soldiers head out to the Highlands for a routine training mission, only to come across the bloody remains of a Special Ops squad. And then the howling starts. Running into zoologist Megan, they take shelter in a seemingly abandoned house in the woods, and prepare for the fight of their lives against a most unexpected enemy: werewolves.
Jodie: While Neil Marshall’s The Descent is probably the more obvious choice for the season (and justifiably so), his earlier big screen foray into the spooky stuff, Dog Soldiers, holds a special place in my horror-loving heart.
It’s wonderfully paced, gloriously gory, and cast to perfection. It’s also genuinely funny, and delightfully quote-able – if you ever hear me grumble that things are going “from shit, to bone, to worse“, this is where it came from.
The Return of the Living Dead (dir. Dan O’Bannon, 1985)
After a corpse is inadvertently reanimated as a flesh-eating zombie, those responsible seek to cover their tracks with a sneaky cremation. Unfortunately, all this does is release a deadly pollutant into the atmosphere, resulting in a toxic rain that lands on – you guessed it – the local cemetery. Cue the undead chaos.
Lyn: You just can’t go past an 80’s zombie movie, and this is one of the best. So funny, filled with classic lines and memorable moments – I quote lines from this movie to this day. Idiotic characters, nudity, no CGI – it’s the bomb!
What Lies Beneath (dir. Robert Zemeckis, 2000)
In an idyllic Vermont lakehouse, Claire and Norman settle in for a life as empty nesters, after waving Claire’s daughter off to college. But soon Claire is plagued by ghostly voices and eerie manifestations, and a dangerous secret threatens to reveal itself.
Peter: Doing for bathtubs what Psycho did for showers and Jaws did for the ocean, this Robert Zemeckis-directed chiller is a supernatural slow-burn.
Starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, What Lies Beneath frames their relationship around a ghostly entity that haunts Pfeiffer’s character, leading the fragile housewife to investigate a supposed murder. All is not what it seems in their house though, leading to a frightful finale that’ll make you think twice about lingering in your own bathroom.
Ravenous (dir. Antonia Bird, 1999)
Exiled to a remote military post in the Sierra Nevada, Second Lieutenant John Boyd doesn’t expect to see much action, until a frostbitten stranger named Colqhoun arrives with a nightmarish tale of lost wagon trains, murder, and cannibalism. Horrified by the man’s story, the fort’s motley crew set out on a rescue mission, but upon arriving at the travellers’ last known location, Boyd realises the men are walking straight into a trap…
Jodie: Please don’t let the trailer put you off – Ravenous is fiercely underrated and beautifully shot. If you’ve ever scared yourself stupid reading about the Donner Party, this one’s for you. Cannibals, dark humour, an historical setting, a Damon Albarn soundtrack, and Robert goddamn Carlyle. Job done.
Saw (dir. James Wan, 2004)
Would you like to play a game? Adam and Lawrence regain consciousness in a dingy bathroom, chained to pipes at either end, the latest unwilling participants of sadistic serial killer Jigsaw’s twisted games. The basic premise is simple: escape or die.
Stephen: James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s genre-defining horror spectacle spawned a yearly traditio,n which saw a new Saw film release every Halloween for 7 consecutive years.
This psychological thriller had me mesmerised through its use of inventive traps, creative concepts, shocking imagery, and an iconic score guaranteed to send chills down your spine. It’s eerie, mysterious, terrifying, and will have you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. Complete with committed performances from Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Leigh Whannell and more, what’s not to love about Saw?!
This self-contained, twist-filled narrative is a certified classic, and definitely up there on the list of essential viewing for any horror fan, especially if you want to see the film that catapulted James Wan on his way to the horror hall of fame. If it’s Halloween, it must be SAW!
Lyn: Not a big fan of the two most recent, but the originals are so thought provoking, and the fact that this could happen in real life makes them extra scary. When a man takes it upon himself to place people in life threatening situations with little hope of escape, it’s playing God, really.
And, of course, Jigsaw’s games are truly awful at times. You’ll be watching with a hand over your face, peeking through your fingers!
Pretty much anything by Mike Flanagan
Jodie: Looking for something a little longer to while away the Hallow-eekend? Pick up any of Mike Flanagan’s trio of truly haunting Netflix series. Not content with just delivering plenty of short term scares with the likes of Hush, Gerald’s Game, and Doctor Sleep, Flanagan has also been stretching those horror legs with a bunch of binge-worthy content over on the massive streaming service.
As a whole, they’re heavy on the spooks and, surprisingly, heavy on the heartache too – after watching the finale of Midnight Mass, I looked (and felt) like I’d watched Coco. Twice.
Midnight Mass will tickle all your religious, cult-y, gory itches, while The Haunting of Bly Manor and The Haunting of Hill House deliver on the Gothic, the grief-stricken, and the good ol’ fashioned ghost stories.
With recurring actors throughout the shows, including Flanagan’s astonishingly brilliant wife Kate Siegel and current internet darling Rahul Kohli, wherever you start your mini-series marathon (Flanag-athon?), you’re in safe and incredibly talented hands.
Bring a cushion to hide behind, whether from terrors or tears.
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