5 Classic Films That Are Perfect For Halloween
Most of us will indulge in at least one scary movie during October. The crispness in the air and the grinning Jack-o-lanterns decorating our neighbors’ drives demands it. It’s tempting to squander our spooky movie binge on the usual suspects or go with whatever Saw knock-off is in theaters at the moment, but why not try a classic film instead?
Classic cinema has a wealth of thrillers, ghost stories and horror films to choose from, many of which you may not have seen before. There is a subtlety to the scary films of the past that many modern films lack. They get under our skin without resorting to gore. Instead, they focus on the psychological aspects of horror by playing on our deepest fears. I’ve chosen five scary classics that will add a haunting and edifying touch to your Halloween viewing this year.
Henry James’ classic novella “The Turn of the Screw” is a favorite of high school English teachers everywhere. The tale of a potentially crazy governess, Miss Giddens, and her two young charges, Miles and Flora, who may or may not be under the influence of malevolent spirits is chilling on the page, but the story becomes even more frightening when it’s translated to the screen by director Jack Clayton in The Innocents. The film has an aesthetic that moves with unnerving ease between beautiful and unsettling. The stately English manor that provides the backdrop for the story becomes imposing when cast in shadows or in moments like when Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) is racing through its empty halls in search of a hiding place during a game of hide and seek that quickly takes a dark turn.
The sense of atmosphere is unparallelled, but Kerr deserves much of the credit for making the film so unforgettable. Just as it is in the novella, it’s unclear if Miss Giddens is going mad, or if the children are in real danger. Kerr plays the character with a righteous sense of purpose that ratchets up the tension as the film moves towards its final, shocking image.
Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece, The Seventh Seal isn’t a traditional choice for Halloween. It’s a dense, heady film that demands the viewer’s full attention, and its aim is not to scare. Still, the strong sense of foreboding that characterizes the film makes it ideal for this time of year.
The Seventh Seal follows a knight (Max von Sydow), who encounters Death upon his return from the Crusades. The knight challenges the cloaked specter to a game of chess that will decide his fate.Their game stops and starts throughout the film as the knight and his companions make their way through the Black Plague-infested Swedish countryside. The film possesses a haunting quality that compliments its more overt intellectualism nicely. It’s not going to give you those pleasurable jolts of fear that would accompany a horror film, but it will continue to linger on your mind long after the final credits roll.
A thriller cut from the Hitchcock mold, Wait Until Dark is a film that must be watched with all of the lights off and a throw pillow nearby for clutching purposes. The film’s hero is Susy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn), a recently blind woman whose home is invaded by a trio of violent drug smugglers who are looking to retrieve a doll stuffed with heroin. The most frightening villain is played by Alan Arkin, who is relentless in his quest to get his hands on the doll, no matter what it takes.
Wait Until Dark is one of the most intense films you will ever watch, particularly the final moments which play out in near total darkness (when the film originally played in theaters, every light was cut in those final moments to increase the terror). Watching Suzy’s desperate attempts to fight off intruders she can not see, leaves you feeling helpless yourself. It’s a harrowing sensation, but the film has a terrific payoff.
Hollywood has offered up more than its fair share of evil kid movies, but the children in question tend to have a reason for their evilness. They’re usually possessed or demonic, but not little Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack), she was just a tiny sociopath.
As the titular bad seed, Rhoda is a murder-happy, manipulative moppet in pig-tails who thinks nothing of offing a kid to steal his penmanship medal. The censors never wanted the film to happen, but thankfully for those of us who enjoy quality campy horror flicks it did. Today, it’s a cult classic and Rhoda has become one of cinema’s iconic villains.
Carnival of Souls begins with a drag race gone wrong and a woman who survives against all odds. That woman is Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss), and for the rest of the film we follow her as she seeks out a quiet life to no avail. Mary is haunted by The Man (played by the film’s director, Herk Harvey), a ghoulish figure who begins to appear to her no matter where she turns. Her problems are magnified when she begins to feel as though she is invisible (literally), as well.
The creepy cult classic is a favorite of directors like George A. Romero, and it’s easy to see why: the film creates an almost oppressive sense of dread that begins in the first moments and doesn’t let up until the end. It’s the kind of atmosphere that most horror films can only dream of creating, and it does it with mood, rather than with gallons of blood.
Will you be watching any classic films this Halloween? Share your favorites in the comments!
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