Film Critic Matt Taylor delves the depths of the Sony superhero slumpWritten by Matt Taylor on 2nd November 2018
Feature: Spookiest Flicks for Halloween 2018
Redbrick Film band together to recommend movies scary, suspenseful and downright silly – here are some classics to hide behind your sofa from this Halloween
Sam Denyer: The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Inexplicable to outsiders, but beloved by the devotees who made it a cult classic, Jim Sharman and Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Picture Show has become a Halloween favourite despite its atypical origins. Critics panned it in 1975, but the film found fans in cities like New York and Los Angeles, attracted to its countercultural spirit, ambiguous sexuality and unadulterated weirdness. Over forty years later, it is still in cinemas - an unbroken theatrical run which remains unmatched.
“As an experience it is infectious
This intense appeal can be difficult to understand for the unfamiliar. The film centres on Brad and Janet (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon), lost on a rainy night, their only refuge a suspicious Gothic castle with even stranger inhabitants. This description reflects the film's pastiche of its horror and sci-fi predecessors, affectionately skewering their goofiness while forging its own brand of kooky. This tone and the incoherent plot can be alienating to the unconverted. Fortunately, the performers give their all to material which would wilt if they were even slightly reluctant, and O'Brien's songs are immeasurably catchy. Sarandon's ingenue turned up to eleven is hilarious, and University of Birmingham alum Tim Curry's complete devotion to camp has made him an icon of queer cinema. Screenings have fully embraced this element of inclusivity. Curry's character has become perennial cosplay material, while devoted audiences sing along and repeat jokes popularised by years of ad-libbing to further enhance their experience.
It is difficult not to gush. It is, of course, complete nonsense and by typical measures not a particularly coherent film. Yet, as an experience it is infectious, made for those who like their Halloween scares more light-hearted - and a lot more kitsch. You will soon find yourself wanting to do the time warp again. And again. And again.
Alisha Shah: Get Out
Every time someone asks me for a horror movie recommendation, I start with Get Out. Simply put, it is an extremely well-made movie that uses ‘social horror’ in a unique and powerful way. The story centres around Chris, an African-American photographer, going with his white girlfriend Rose to meet her family in her countryside estate. What begins as an awkward experience for the interracial couple morphs into something more creepy and disturbing, as the clues start to fall into place. The director and screenwriter Jordan Peele won an Oscar in 2017 for this screenplay, and it is fully deserved (in fact, I’d wager it deserved many more).
“The amount of thought and detail is incredible, from the dialogue to the set
The movie is dense with foreshadowing and symbolism; if you’ve seen it already – sit down and watch it again. The amount of thought and detail is incredible, from the dialogue to the set. Get Out also addresses and presents aspects of modern-day racism in a unique way that only a horror could. I dare not spoil the movie (the less you know, the better), but it builds to a theme and issue of racism seldom discussed, in a very engaging way. Therefore, Get Out is not simply an art piece, political statement or horror-flick – it is enhanced beyond those arbitrary borders by being simply an excellent movie, enjoyable to watch with a brilliant cast and director. So, this Halloween, try checking out a horror movie unlike the others – meticulously constructed with thought-provoking themes.
Rhys Lloyd-Jones: Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Hear me out. Amidst the slasher films and body horror, the psychological thrillers and budget zombie movies, to watch a film as delightful and genuinely funny as Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a refreshing break, without losing any of the Halloween flavour you crave. Once you’ve exhausted the never-ending mine of teenage girls stalked by faceless killers, this film offers a respite with a tale in which the titular leporine monster is instead our hero. Curse of the Were-Rabbit is the perfect homage to werewolf films of the 1970s, not parodying them, but lovingly adding its own spin. The dark cobbled streets and eerie howls of the beastly bunny cement this as the perfect Halloween watch for the more cowardly (unsettling as it might be for a family audience), offering laughs instead of jump scares.
“In true Aardman fashion, the film feels original and home-grown
We follow the inventor Wallace, as he inadvertently turns himself into the herbivore Were-Rabbit and finds himself hunted down by the brilliantly vain Victor Quartermaine, the true villain of the film - as well as the true highlight. Wallace’s transformation scenes echo classics such as An American Werewolf in London and stock characters stand in for horror cliches (such as the wary priest of The Omen). Yet, in true Aardman fashion, the film feels original and home-grown. The entire film was made through plasticine stop-motion, so every frame was painstaking to create. This explains the variety of visual gags found in each shot as the creators tried to alleviate their boredom, making this film worth rewatching every Halloween. Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit offers everything any other Halloween film can, with less nightmare risk. A monster? Check. Moonlight and suspense? Check. Terrified townsfolk and a daring hero? Check. A truly underrated Halloween film.
Tom Smith-Wrinch: Monster House
Well, if you are looking for a thought-provoking, awe-inspiring, movie-making masterclass, you have perhaps come to the wrong place. If, however, you want to see one of 2006’s most underrated films then Monster House is the picture for you. It is a movie filled with tension, laughs and prepubescent masculine anxieties. This is not one for the faint of heart, and certainly not one for those with a fear of rather dubious animation. Following the tale of best buds DJ and Chowder (why his parents decided to name their rather overweight child after a chunky soup remains a mystery to me), we find that they have indeed been living opposite what can only be described as an angry anthropomorphic house waiting to gulp up any unsuspecting mailman or defecating dog. An obvious plot hole, however, is why no adult seems to detect the ten-foot demonic shack in the first place. But, then again, I suppose the film ‘Perfectly Normal House’ would hardly draw in audiences.
“It is a movie filled with tension, laughs and prepubescent masculine anxieties
This is a movie that is bound to have you on edge, silently chuckling and recoiling in horror all at the same time: a movie of friendship, love and loss (and, certainly, one that should encourage you to lock your windows, doors and basically avoid all contact with any satanic homes along your street). Monster House will always be regarded amongst the top Halloween flicks of our time. We must cherish it for what it has to offer and appreciate its timeless nature. Thus, I shall end with this and only this; in the famous words of creepy neighbour Nebbercracker, ‘this is my house and I intend to defend it’.
Ciara Cessford: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Firstly, The Nightmare Before Christmas is not directed by Tim Burton. It is based on a short story by Burton, but directed by Henry Selick and, secondly, yes it is a Halloween film. With that out of the way, this is one of my favourite films for a number of reasons. To start, it is simply beautiful to look at – even if you are not particularly a lover of goth aesthetics or a stop-motion animation nerd. The opening musical ‘This is Halloween’ sequence alone showcases some of the best and most imaginative animation from Disney Studios, bringing the inhabitants of Halloween Town (which include, but aren’t limited to: ghosts, zombies, werewolves, witches and demons) to life.
“It is simply beautiful to look at
The story is an adorably childish drama with a gothic edge as Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, grows bored of the Halloween routine. He begins to explore beyond his realm until he finds Christmas Town, where he decides to kidnap ‘Sandy Claws’ and deliver his own Christmas celebrations in the company of Halloween Town’s occupants. All the necessary hijinks ensue, with enough nightmare fuel to keep you satisfied till Christmas. Danny Elfman’s score is suitably creepy and operatic, with some great sing-along numbers, and the voice acting by the likes of Chris Sarandon (Jack) and Ken Page (Oogie Boogie) is brilliant. The characters are imaginative and engaging with enough energy to bring the clay to life. Whilst not being full of jump scares, long corridors or pasty faced children, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a good bit of Halloween fun with plenty of potential costumes to inspire you for the night itself.
Samuel Zucca: Psycho
A paranoid woman at the wheel of her car, several stacks of money hidden in her purse. A nervous young man in a room full of birds staring down at you. Shower curtains being ripped open by a shadowy figure. A car being towed out of the sludge. All of these are images that have been burned into my brain ever since watching Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho.
“The infamous shower scene... gains the most frequent praise
The infamous shower scene is one that gains most frequent praise, and for good reason, yet for me every scene is perfect. The black and white B-movie style, the sharp editing, the nervous energy of the performances, and Bernard Hermann’s staccato soundtrack which keeps you in utter suspense. Rated regularly as one of the best movie soundtracks of all time – it was so profound that Hitchcock increased Hermann’s salary, giving him much of the credit for the film’s effect.
For sure, some of the attention has come from the way it was initially marketed: slogans such as ‘The picture you MUST see from the very beginning… or not at all!’ and the trailer which carefully avoided showing even a single frame from the film. It can be debated whether Psycho is Hitchcock’s best film or not - and even if it is really a horror film - but one thing that is certain is that nearly sixty years after its release, it is truly and utterly terrifying.
Matt Taylor: mother!
It is extremely difficult to find words to describe Darren Aronofsky’s 2017 film mother! On the one hand, it’s a psychological horror starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a couple who find their house besieged by strangers; on the other, it’s a harrowing, uncompromising, incomparable masterpiece of modern cinema, using Bible stories to explore the destructive nature of mankind.
“mother! is one of the only films that has left me numb when the credits start to roll
mother! is one of the only films that has left me numb when the credits start to roll. It is unbelievably intense for its entire runtime. Aronofsky always leaves us guessing as to what is actually happening on-screen at any given moment. He appears to take influence from the entire Bible (from Cain and Abel, to the crucifixion, to the Resurrection and the Second Coming), but mother! refuses to make anything clear.
Our reference point is Jennifer Lawrence, around whom the film is built. She plays Mother, wife to Javier Bardem’s Him. Lawrence is on screen or in shot for around sixty percent of the entire film (whether we are looking at her, or at what she sees from over her shoulder), and she carries the entire thing wonderfully. It is horrific to watch as she finds her home invaded by hostile strangers who appear to have been invited in by her husband, yet are ruining their lives and their home. It has been pointed out that Lawrence’s character is potentially Nature personified, a theory that makes perfect sense in this beautifully nonsensical film.
Aronofsky’s most ‘out there’ work yet, mother! refuses to bow to our expectations for even a second; it instead offers up an unflinching look at humanity’s capacity for brutality, and terrifies us in the process.
Thomas Armstrong: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, by Director Tobe Hooper, remains essential Halloween viewing because it is truly, unflinchingly horrifying. My fascination with this film is undeniably masochistic as the film is genuinely sickening – but masterfully so.
Set in the deep south of the US, Chainsaw doesn’t deal in spirits or haunted houses. Instead, Hooper takes us on an emotionally-taxing journey with his characters as they cross paths with a cannibalistic family in the middle of nowhere.
“My fascination with this film is undeniably masochistic
The film’s low-budget, off-screen violence (most notably a certain scene involving a meat hook), as well as its now aged aesthetic, give it the uncomfortable atmosphere of a snuff film; and indeed, it came close to actually being one, with Hooper placing the cast under extreme conditions in extreme heat. Marilyn Burns’ wide-eyed looks of terror and endless screams are unsettlingly convincing.
Alongside the all-too-real performances, Chainsaw is made so affecting by the frenetic, conceptually-focused direction of Hooper: we hear a score composed entirely of sounds an animal would hear in a slaughterhouse – earning the film its endorsement by the vegetarian and vegan community – as the characters are hunted down and thrown into intense sequences, including an excruciatingly long chase scene, and one of the most memorable scares in horror movie history at Leatherface’s introduction.
Which brings us to the movie’s main attraction: Leatherface. Like other horror masterpieces such as Silence of the Lambs and Psycho, Chainsaw’s human- flesh-wearing killer was based upon real-life murderer Ed Gein. Gunnar Hansen’s performance as Leatherface is still as disturbing as it must have been in 1974; his improvised chainsaw swinging in the film’s final shot is unforgettable and rounds off one of the most immersive horror experiences of all time perfectly.
No need to talk about any sequels or remakes – as far as I am concerned, they don’t exist – so don’t bother looking.
Todd Waugh Ambridge: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is the scariest film I have ever seen. It features next to no jumpscares, monsters or murderers, but its portrayal of the human psyche – an ecstasy of emotional performances – is utterly haunting.
“Its portrayal of the human psyche... is utterly haunting
After the 1990 cult series was cancelled, director David Lynch created a prequel film depicting the final days of teenage homecoming queen Laura Palmer (whose murder investigation forms the backdrop of the series). While fans expected something similar to the dark-but-goofy TV show, what they instead got was a two-hour nightmare. The show had always explored the duality of Laura – smiling on the outside but dying inside – but it had distance and colourful characters to take the edge off. Lynch stripped all of this away for Fire Walk With Me, showing the audience with brutality the tumultuous, toxic, distressing life that Laura led in her final days.
Lynch is most certainly the marmite of film directors. You either think he's a pretentious amateur or an avant-garde genius. But while his scenes may drag on for some, feeling utterly disparate and not contributing to a coherent whole, it is undeniable that he is a master of tone. And here he absolutely nails the tone: every time we feel hope for Laura we are reminded she has only one way out.
Laura's struggle for what she sees as redemption takes the audience on a path through the dark recesses of the otherwise sleepy town of Twin Peaks and beyond, to supernatural dimensions of twisted evil. The film uses such off-beat measures as an allegory for struggling with domestic abuse; and while this was not appreciated in 1991, the film has seen increased critical acclaim in recent years. Ultimately, it is the idea that such evil could, and does, exist in our world – and not in the supernatural – that makes Fire Walk With Me so terrifying.
Ellen Macleod: Corpse Bride
In my house there will often be two screenings on Halloween film night, a macabre bloodbath in one room and a Disney favourite in another. Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is the perfect compromise. It keeps the softies happy with its romance, humour and even musical elements. Yet its gothic aesthetic – and the expert manipulation of plasticine to create an at times gruesome film – satiates those who feel like October must be filled with the screams of terrified audiences. With October getting darker and colder, Halloween films should bring people together and create warmth and that is exactly what this film does.
“The strong Burtonesque aesthetic and Gothic influence make for a striking spectacle
Tim Burton creator, of The Nightmare Before Christmas is adept at creating seasonal films. The Corpse Bride fully engages with the traditional Halloween themes of death, the afterlife and horror. We follow Victor, a shy young man, who is to wed Victoria, but – after running away and inadvertently practising his vows on the grave of a deceased woman – ends up with a corpse bride. Whilst the plot of Corpse Bride is not its strong point (it is fairly predictable), the film’s best feature is its cinematography. Though animated, the strong Burtonesque aesthetic and Gothic influence make for a striking spectacle. The cast features two regulars of Burton’s films: Helena Bonham Carter (the eponymous Corpse Bride) and Johnny Depp (Victor), as well as greats such as Christopher Lee, Joanna Lumley, and Emily Watson. The vocal performances of the cast and appearance of this animation work together seamlessly to provide a classic, albeit heartwarming, Halloween film.