Film Fangirl: Thirteen horror films to set Halloween mood

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“Do you like scary movies?” asked Ghostface from “Scream” before engaging in a deadly chase with high school student Casey Becker.

An apt question, Mr. Ghostface. With the season of ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night upon us, there are few better ways to immerse yourself in the Halloween spirit than with a horror flick. So the answer is yes.

Here is a list of my top horror films—an unlucky 13 of them—to send those shivers running down your spine.

1. “Ju-On: The Curse” (2000) and “Ju-On: The Grudge” (2002)

These classics of Japanese horror deal with a certain house in Tokyo, which is cursed when a man murders his wife and young son. This curse spreads to anyone who enters the home, dooming them to certain death. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the curse — or “Ju-On,” which roughly translates to “curse/grudge” — is how utterly helpless each character is before its wrath. There is an American remake of the films titled “The Grudge” that roughly mashes some of the main storylines from its Japanese predecessors, but you’d be better served by sticking to the original subtitled version if you value true horror. The American version is somewhat laughable, but the Japanese had me sleeping with the lights on.

2. “Oculus” (2013)

“Oculus” shifts back and forth through time as a brother and sister try to prove what actually caused the murders in their family. The film values the growing feeling of dread over gore, and boy howdy, does this film get dreadful. “Oculus” features masterful acting with an especially fantastic turn from Karen Gilligan of “Doctor Who” fame.

3. “The Blair Witch Project” (1999)            

A trio of filmmakers sets out to make a documentary about the Blair Witch, and it all goes downhill from there. Whenever “The Blair Witch Project” comes up in conversation, it seems that about half of viewers are terrified of it and the other half label the film as an absolute bore. Polarizing as it may be, this film reinvigorated the found footage genre and single-handedly began the movement toward viral marketing. Outside of these obvious achievements, it’s also just plain scary.

4. “Insidious” (2010), “Insidious: Chapter Two” (2013) and “Insidious: Chapter 3” (2015)

“Insidious” is the third feature film from director-writer team James Wan and Leigh Whannell, and it launched a film trilogy with effective scares and an original alternate universe in the Further. Surprisingly for Wan and Whannell, the minds behind “Saw,” “Insidious” relies on old-fashioned ghosts and shadows while bringing a new twist to the material. Unlike a lot of other horror movies, the “Insidious” films make you care about the characters with deeply empathetic performances.

5. “The Ring” (2002)

This list would be incomplete without the film that launched the popularity of J-Horror in America and scared the pants off of many a teenage viewer at the same time. Most of us know the story of Samara/Sadako (depending on which version you’re watching), and that iconic, terrifying finale has been burned into our brains. This is one of the few American remakes that actually stands on equal ground with its predecessor. No need to bother with the ill-advised sequel, though.

6. “The Shining” (1980)

Jack Nicholson stars in one of his career-defining roles as Jack Torrance, a writer who wants to finish a novel while acting as caretaker for the Overlook Hotel during a winter season. But soon everything spirals into madness, and it’s uncertain whether Jack’s raging alcoholism or ghosts are to blame. While I prefer Stephen King’s novel over the film version, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation has stood the test of time with fantastic cinematography, deep symbolism, and depictions of sheer terror. The scene with an elevator gushing blood isn’t too shabby either.

7. “The Conjuring” (2013) and “The Conjuring 2” (2016)

Based on the case files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, each of “The Conjuring” films deals with a haunted house and a family struggling to survive. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga give tour de force performances as the Warrens, bringing the love of a husband and wife to stand against the demons of the night. Let’s hope “The Conjuring 3” is on its way.

8. “Coraline” (2009)

“Coraline” was the first feature film by animation studio Laika and is based on the Neil Gaiman novella. In this film, we meet Coraline, a spunky somewhat bratty girl who discovers a secret door while exploring her new home. Unlike most children’s fare, “Coraline” doesn’t shy away from darkness. Instead it presents frightening concepts on a level that scares both children and adults alike. The stop-motion is also impeccable.

9. “Re-Animator” (1985)

More funny than scary, “Re-Animator” uses incredible practical effects to tell the macabre story of a medical student who creates a special serum to bring the dead back to life. The film is a hodgepodge of surreal humor and gore that will have you laughing your head off — quite apt for a movie that features a talking decapitated head.

10. “Scream” (1996)

From horror master Wes Craven, “Scream” managed to revitalize the horror genre in the 1990s by exploiting horror clichés in a slasher story. The film uses in-jokes, irony and social commentary to its advantage, all while setting up a classic whodunit mystery with plenty of bloody fun.

11. “Marble Hornets” (2009-14)

“Marble Hornets” is different than the other entries on this list because it is not a feature film. Rather it is a YouTube series that helped spread and cement the popularity of Slender Man, a supernatural being that originated as a meme on the Something Awful forums. I watched the Introduction entry of “Marble Hornets” after an online recommendation from a fellow creepypasta fan, and that was all it took. Hours were spent curled up under a blanket each night as I soaked up the tale of a film student searching for a friend who disappeared after abandoning a student film project. Deserted buildings never seemed so creepy until watching this.

12. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)

This classic slasher film from Wes Craven (yep, the same director from “Scream”) asks the question of what to do when a serial killer is stalking you in your dreams. If you die in the dream, you die in reality. And no one can avoid falling asleep for long. This is good old slasher fun, with dreadful demises and a clever introduction to the famous Freddy Krueger who has “knives for fingers.”

13. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974)

This film was marketed as true story to draw in viewers, but rest assured, it’s not real. Here we meet a group of five teenagers who fall victim to a group of cannibals while investigating reports of grave robbing. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” is fascinating as it was made largely without blood, much less than the violence that critics at the time of release had audiences believing. It’s now considered one of the most influential horror films of all time. Particularly pleasing for me was the lack of “jump scares” — a moment in many horror films where a something startling happens along with a loud burst of music that causes us to jump in reaction. Jump scares can be effective (as in “Insidious”), but oftentimes they serve no purpose other than for cheap scares that mar the viewing experience. Here, scary images pop up on screen with no warning and no music, leaving you to struggle with exactly how to feel seeing horrific events unfolding before your eyes.

There you have it, folks. Grab some popcorn and friend or two for a scary old time with any—or all—of these films.

You may want to leave the lights on.