Redbrick Film’s writers’ cult gathers to give you the lowdown on which movies you should trick or treat yourself to this Halloween
It’s that time of year again. The pumpkins are out and the knives are sharpened. The streets are murky with fog and the chocolate is surprisingly discounted. Halloween is the perfect time of year for spills, thrills, and some film-themed chills. Here at Redbrick Film, we’ve compiled our list of recommendations for your Halloween movie night. Each film has been ranked in ‘spookiness’ out of five pumpkins, to help you navigate the various levels of horror and find your taste! So hide under the blanket, draw the curtains and settle in for a night of spooky delight!
Rhys Lloyd-Jones, Film Editor – Midsommar
Holidaying with a group of friends can be embarrassing, tiring, even somewhat traumatising, but none of them could be worse than a trip to Sweden, to celebrate midsummer with the Hårga. Ari Aster proves himself to be the pinnacle of modern horror once again, with a deeply unsettling, sun-dappled dive into hallucinatory rituals and violent sacrifice. Florence Pugh is exceptional as Dani, and Aster is on top form as the two of them take a tumble through grief, savagery and joy, contrasting beauty with the horrific imagery we expect from a horror film.
Midsommar is many things. It is an apt critique of modern colonialism in the harshest form, as the ignorance of the American tourist is met with a fatal reckoning. It is an examination of the relationship between humanity and the natural world, combing the aesthetic duality of psychedelics and natural beauty, as well as the shared, visceral emotion between a collective community that revel in folkish custom. Yet, whilst these divides are the framework of Midsommar, Aster uses the toxic relationship between Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) as the sharpest, cruellest element of the film, in which he deconstructs the notion of family, love, and mourning, pitting it against the cruelty and serenity of nature, with electrifying results. Midsommar is unnerving, unrelenting and entirely brilliant.
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Chloe Hyde, Film Critic – Coraline
Although Coraline is not directly a Halloween classic, it is one of the most iconic, creepy and gothic animation films of our generation. Laika’s Coraline stands proudly as one of the most sinister and nightmarish children’s films around. The premise of having an ‘Other Mother’ and ‘ Other Father’ who want to sew buttons into the protagonist’s eyes as a way of holding her captive in the ‘Other World’ forever is understandably quite a scary prospect to a 10-year-old, (and I know many people who refuse to revisit Coraline for this very reason even going into their twenties).
What facilitates Coraline’s magnificence is the masterful animation; it is the culmination of four years’ skilful creation of different characters and sets, producing an enchanting yet eerie world which is the perfect background for Coraline’s story. From an outward perspective, it’s easy to see why people are completely put off the film; some of the characters are so densely caricatured, they become very uncomfortable to watch (especially once you’re through that famous glowing tunnel) like Mr Bobinsky, Ms Spink and Ms Forcible, Coraline’s neighbours for example.
Undoubtedly, the ‘Other Mother’s transformation into a pointed, sharp villain is one of the freakier moments, and then it gets even worse when she tries to capture Coraline in her deep spider’s web. To say it’s tense is an understatement! Nevertheless, the more I have watched Coraline over the years, the more I have found to love about it. Even if you do not enjoy Coraline’s story, you are still able to acknowledge and appreciate Laika’s first-class stop-motion animation.
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Rosalie Wessel, Film Critic – The Conjuring
Hello, fellow spooky season enthusiasts! Here’s a well researched guide to watching The Conjuring (2013). May I recommend following it down to the last letter, lest damp and dark basements turn into nightmare infested death traps, or the slightest creak of floorboards conjure up (excuse the pun) disturbed imaginings!
Number one: Don’t play hide and seek before or after watching this film. And whatever you do, don’t clap your hands. Not in the kitchen, or in your bed at night, or even in a room full of crowded people. You never know who might clap back. Even if you’re certain you’re the only one home, you might hear that very sound reflected back at you from the quiet darkness…
Number two: Make sure you have popcorn, Reese’s Pieces, or other small bits of food that you can fling up in the air with surprise when the next jump scare flashes across the screen. Oh, the joys of popcorn raining down on your head as you scream with terror!
Number three: Watch it with a friend, partner, parents, or if you’re out of choices, the next door neighbour. Trust me. You’ll want someone’s hand to clutch as you watch Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson explore a house that would send even the most hardened real estate agents running for the hills.
And last, but not least: Enjoy! This movie will scare your socks off, but what else is Halloween for?
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Samantha Andrews, Film Critic – The Lost Boys
Imagine a group of vampires but set them in 1980’s California, to an Echo & the Bunnymen cover of The Doors’ ‘People are Strange’. That perfectly encapsulates the hauntingly cool essence of The Lost Boys.
The film tells the story of Michael and Sam who move to a small town in California. Michael discovers the underground realm of vampires and becomes a part of their group. Eventually, it is left to his younger brother Sam, and the help of the Frog Brothers (local comic book fanatics) to save Michael and murder the vampires. The Lost Boys is genuinely terrifying in places; from the gruesome maggot/noodle scene to the jump-inducing shock of the lead vampire’s upside-down, pale face flashing on screen. Each of the vampire group’s deaths are graphic and horrific in concept.
Yet, it also has a certain charm despite the potential it has to be horrifying. The Frog Brothers are definitely a comedic stand-out, as they hopelessly attempt to use technique that they have read about in their comics to take down the vampires (holy water in a water shooter is a personal favourite.) But the Lost Boys themselves are just really cool, and that is what makes the film for me. Their edgy clothing, makeup and Kiefer Sutherland playing the lead vampire, David, makes them the quintessential alternative 80s group. You can’t help but kind of want to be a Lost Boy, even if it means becoming a vampire.
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Sam Denyer, Film Editor – The Witches of Eastwick
Jack Nicholson is the devil incarnate. That’s the key selling point and central conflict of The Witches of Eastwick, a delightful and zany fantasy-comedy from the director of Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller. Nicholson’s character’s arrival in a Salem-equivalent deep in New England causes excitement and eventually delirium, with the only three people standing in his way being a coven of unwitting witches. He entices each of them with his characteristic devil’s grin, their perceived promiscuity turning them into social pariahs in their small town, so much so that they are forced to hone their newfound magical powers to stop him. It’s like The Crucible, but with more sexual frustration than evangelical hysteria.
The three friends, each with varying levels of rockstar charm and ingenue purity, are played by Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s the late 80s, so they’re about 70% hair, but they remain a dynamic and affable trio. Their fight against Nicholson’s walking Satan underscores the film’s themes of sexual discovery and reassertion of identity, providing laughs and light spookiness in equal measure. The insane climax is a glorious Halloween treat, ready-made for those who prefer their witches to come campy and with a side of wit.
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Sam Zucca, Film Editor – Audition
Takashi Miike’s 1999 thriller Audition is notorious for that one scene, and if you are unfamiliar with it, I would recommend watching it knowing absolutely nothing at all. However, if you need convincing then read on.
Audition begins rather deceptively as a corny romantic drama. Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is a widower who is finally ready to move on and start a relationship with another woman. The method of choosing his new partner is unconventional, and his TV executive friend sets up an ‘audition’ for a fake show, where the role in question is Aoyama’s ‘perfect woman’. What follows is an excruciating scene in which thirty unsuspecting women are interviewed by Aoyama and his friend, leered over, and asked incredibly inappropriate questions. The final woman to audition is Asami (Eihi Shiina), who Aoyama becomes entirely obsessed with, and before too long he asks her out.
The plot at first seems like that of a bad Adam Sandler romcom with questionable gender politics, but the second hour of Audition offers something else entirely, taking us from melodrama, to mystery, to pure horror. Again I don’t want to say too much, but Audition is one of the most skin-crawling, nail biting, and anxious films I have ever seen. It is not for the faint-hearted. When I first watched it earlier this year, my hands were sweating during its climactic scene, and a week later I went back to watch it again.
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Ffion Hâf, Film Critic – The Addams Family (1991)
As someone who loves Halloween but dreads the idea of sitting down and watching a horror film, The Addams Family is the perfect film to get into the spooky mood without keeping yourself up at night. It is one of those films that I have watched so many times over the years that by now I have lost count. You instantly feel at home, like a part of the family, when watching this film, despite their cocky exterior. To say the least, it is not your usual family set up: Gomez and Morticia are gothic and sadistic yet are still deeply in love with each other. Their children Pugsley and Wednesday constantly try to kill each other, but that’s just what siblings do in this family. Along with Lurch, the creepy doorman who is eerily similar to Frankenstein’s Monster, and Thing, who is basically just a hand, things appear to get stranger as the plot progresses.
It is not a film to take too seriously, as the crazy family and their antics are what make it so enjoyable and different to any other gothic Halloween film. The film preaches the notion that you do not need to be normal to be happy and that embracing your quirks is actually more fulfilling than trying to blend in with the crowd. The Addams family live the way they like and we love them for it. Even after watching The Addams Family countless times, you cannot beat the sense of nostalgia when you hear the theme song as the film begins to play. Another thing about re-watching favourite childhood films is that you never know what you might have missed back when you were younger, as watching it back as an adult allows you to really appreciate the dark humour.
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Sarah Mawson, Film Critic – Jennifer’s Body
One of the crowning jewels of the ‘good for her’ film subgenre, Jennifer’s Body has grown into a cult classic since it was released in 2009 to harsh reviews. Over time, the masses have grown to love what was initially seen as a mindlessly bloody, overly-sexualised and hollow film. Now, it is often written about as a feminist piece that explores toxic friendship dynamics. The chemistry between Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried is incredible, elevated by the quip-filled dialogue as written by Diablo Cody (of Juno fame) which is a true product of its time. It has aged well instead of growing stale, much like the film’s soundtrack that features the likes of White Lies and Dashboard Confessional.
Jennifer’s Body toes the line between comedy and horror expertly, the funny one-liners never retracting from the creepy terror of Fox’s Jennifer Check, her bloody smile and lighter-burned tongue now iconic images. Seyfried’s Anita ‘Needy’ Lesnicki is similarly brilliant as she makes the laudable progression from a subordinate and overly-loyal friend to moral voice and avenger. This film perfectly matches the Halloween staples of camp dramatics and stylistic gore, making it essential viewing for the spooky season.
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Jade Matlock, Film Editor – Suspiria
If you’re craving some Halloween viewing that’s jam-packed with campy, gratuitous murder and eerie vibes at every turn, look no further than Dario Argento’s Suspiria.
The story follows American ballet student Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) on her arrival at a respected German dance institute. All is not as it seems, though, as a string of murders lead to a far darker secret hidden within the walls of the school. We are introduced to a plethora of colourful characters as Suzy comes to terms with her position, with an air of tantalising tension. Aesthetically, this film may be the closest to perfection that I have ever seen, until the film’s closing scenes.
The vibrancy of the lighting combined with neon blood and hallowed halls leave any watcher buzzing with visual glee. This film, more than many, seems to highlight the importance of artistic uniqueness in establishing yourself as a cut above the rest – especially within genre constraints that suffer from the curse of monotonous repetition.
While Suspiria is by no means the scariest film on this list, it may be one of the most satisfying watches for this spooky season.
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Annabel Smith, Film Critic – The Haunted Mansion
This 2000s Disney classic, inspired by the Disneyland Paris ride of the same name, has Eddie Murphy’s goofy comedy, the stereotypical spooky conventions of horror and just enough of a plot to make it an enjoyable and slightly eerie family film. It follows Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy) as a workaholic father attempting to appease his family, and most importantly his wife, by having a weekend away, only to be side-tracked visiting a mansion which supposedly wants to hit the property ladder.
Repeated lightning effects, haunting instrumentals, floating candelabras, and graphics that look like they come straight from The Mummy all aid in cementing that ghostly feel. Murphy’s comedic commentary to this spookiness within the mansion prove the film has it all – comedy and a little scare. Murphy’s one-liners cement his character as an erratic modern American father, proving a stark contrast to Master Gracey (Nathanial Parker), whose old English gentlemen persona elevates the mansion’s otherworldliness. The Evers’ children give a sibling dynamic that adds normalcy. They bicker about the mansion’s weirdness, battle their fears by screaming and the son (Marc John Jefferies) even strikes a one liner satirising The Sixth Sense, with ‘Dad, I see dead people’.
The Haunted Mansion embraces every cliché in the book, adds a funny family dynamic and a fast-paced ending that means it remains a fan go-to for Halloween classics. It plays off the mystery of the mansion (and the ride’s sparse story) to form an interestingly haunting plot with a satisfying climax.
Tannaz Zafarani, Film Critic – Scream
Responsible for the pop culture staple Ghostface mask, Wes Craven’s iconic 1996 film is just as captivating on my fifth watch as it was when I was sixteen. Craven, a pioneer of the genre and general director extraordinaire, masterfully fuses together threads of dark humour, violence and satire to create a film that simultaneously evokes the tension of a serious horror and the incredulity of a clichéd slasher. The killer’s insidious remark to a shaking Drew Barrymore in its opening scene – ‘we’re not finished yet’- almost prophesies Scream’s purchase and influence upon both subsequent horror films and fans alike. With a fifth Scream in the making, it appears that I am not alone in my veneration of its achievements.
The film’s opening also parallels what I see to be the work’s mark of genius. Barrymore’s de-masking of her murderer to reveal pitch-black symbolises Scream’s continued frustration for the audience of a clear picture of the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’, which disrupts the genre’s convention of often guiding the viewer to side with certain characters over others. It mirrors how each film in the franchise eludes and destabilises viewer expectations through many moments of adherence to and subversions of horror tropes as established in this first instalment. The Russian-doll like effect of the connected plots, beginning in 1996 and stretching to 2011, can be appreciated in its entirety upon watching Scream 4.
Ultimately though, the original Scream movie remains, in my opinion, the artistic pinnacle of the series. Craven perfectly blends emotional investment into the re-occurring characters with a quick-witted script and adrenaline-inducing jump scares. In doing so, the film surpasses pitfalls of other works in the genre that are either intriguing yet slow-paced, or frightening but somewhat shallow in their narratives. I will happily continue to spend two hours (or more) lost in the town of Woodsboro every Halloween, and I’d encourage you to do the same.
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Bethany Sherrot, Film Critic – Happy Death Day
Happy Death Day is Scream meets Groundhog Day. Yes, it’s as brilliant as that sounds.
Christopher Landon’s 2017 slasher-flick sees Tree, played by Jessica Roth, murdered by a guy in a baby-face mask. But don’t worry, I haven’t spoiled the movie. She wakes up in the same dorm room bed she started the day in. By the third time she’s murdered, she’s figured out that something isn’t quite right. Oh, and she’s mad about that. It’s one of Jason Blum’s quirkier movies and the jump scares aren’t all that startling, but the narrative is surprisingly compelling. Roth’s erratic Tree is matched perfectly with Israel Brussard’s bewildered but enamoured Carter, who she ropes in to help figure out who’s killing her (it is his bed she’s waking up in, after all).
Happy Death Day is a whole lot of fun, and, with most of the cast saying the same lines over and over, completely relies on Roth. She pulls off a great performance as Tree, which never feels repetitive or reliant on the action around her. Plus, Tree might be the only “Final Girl” who gets to avenge her own death. Whilst it isn’t particularly frightening, leaning more on comedy on the horror-comedy scale, it has the right amount of romance thrown in, making it the perfect Halloween rom-com. And don’t worry, despite being a slasher with only one victim, the kills don’t get boring. If variety is what you’re after though, you should check out the sequel: Happy Death 2 U.
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Tamzin Meyer, Film Critic – Hocus Pocus
Hocus Pocus is definitely my favourite film to watch during the spooky season! The film was released in 1993 yet never fails to impress year after year. It has all of the Halloween essentials without all of the blood, gore and jump scares- if you are not a fan of horror films then give this a watch! The plot revolves around Max and Dani Dennison who awaken the Sanderson sisters. Thackery Binx knows all too well how powerful the women are once they transform him into a cat, after killing his little sister, Emily. The Sanderson Sisters, Winifred, Mary and Sarah, are iconic. Nothing says Halloween quite like three witches trying to remain young by capturing children and taking away their youth.
Of course, with it being a Disney film, it had to feature a magical song – ‘I Put a Spell on You’, sung bewitchingly by Bette Midler. This always has me singing along every year! The film has all of the favourites that you would expect to see in a spooky film; flying, spells, magic and zombies – what is not to love? Disney combined comedy and fantasy to create this spellbinding film that is perfect for all of the family to enjoy.
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Edi Dams, Film Critic – The Lighthouse (2019)
The Lighthouse (2019) is a perfect Halloween film; terrifying, atmospheric and a little bit bizarre. There’s a lot for Robert Pattinson fans in here, with a performance that is as vulnerable as it is strange – his accent rivals that of his roles in The King (2019) or The Devil All The Time (2020). The film is defined by its use of humour and gothic atmosphere, rather than a reliance on the traditional hallmarks of the horror genre. Willem Dafoe’s incessant farting and ranting create moments of comedic relief temporarily, before doubling down on the building atmosphere of dread. The abandonment of a traditional horror plot structure allows for a more pervasive sense of paranoia and threat, with images and dreamscapes of bodily monstrosity, gore and the fantastical occurring throughout. This kind of unregulated suspense and release – rather than conventionally building to the film’s climax – is disruptive, chilling and all the scarier for its unexpectedness.
The film is visually gorgeous in its black and white, almost square, 1.19:1 aspect ratio. This often helps to add to the sense of oppression and claustrophobia, with shots of the two leads in their small quarters feeling appropriately cramped. It is an excellent work of gothic horror, having roots in Edgar Allen Poe’s original Lighthouse story. The script, like Poe’s writing, is rich and complex. The layers that the masked, euphemistic dialogue frequently reveal about the leads’ relationship is excellent and leaves enough ambiguity for a variety of readings, from the psychosexual to the mythic. It is rewarding film, and the strangeness and openness of its ending is impactful. As a tale of two men unravelling in remote isolation – with nothing but baggy layers, deep conversation and rampant alcoholism to occupy them – it’s a perfect film for those who are stuck inside over Halloween.
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Minette Life, Film Critic – Beetlejuice
Beetlejuice has been one of my favourite films for as long as I can remember, a perfect fit for the season now Halloween has rolled around again. Released in 1988, this film essentially kickstarted Tim Burton’s cult following. It also stars some huge names, including Michael Keaton, Catherine O’Hara and a young Winona Ryder! The film follows a young couple (played by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) who find themselves haunting their own home after an unfortunate accident. As the film continues, they soon become irritated with the house’s new inhabitants. These new inhabitants include a gothic teenaged Ryder and an eccentric uptight O’Hara who each deliver brilliant comic performances in their roles. Desperate to take back control over their home, they turn to a foul-mouthed, wisecracking and evil demon named Beetlejuice. Played brilliantly by Keaton, he promises to exorcise the living from their home. I won’t spoil the rest, but rest assured that the story is filled to the brim with laughs, mild spooks and that classic Tim Burton surrealism that sets his films apart from the rest. The whole film is soundtracked by legendary Jamaican-American singer Harry Belafonte, a strange yet oddly fitting choice that adds to its lively energy. Overall, Beetlejuice is not the spookiest film you could watch this Halloween, but in my opinion this campy comedy-horror is a seasonal staple that is not to be missed!
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So there we have it. The most brilliant, the most terrifying, the most delightful horror movies that Redbrick Film has to offer in 2020. Enjoy! (Or don’t!) Happy Halloween!