Frightening films for this sinister season
The transient days, shadowed by the expansive nights, the decaying foliage and, most notably, the plunging temperatures all signal the approach of Halloween – undoubtedly the scariest time of the year. To accelerate the switch from your frightening midterms to the somehow less frightening advance of Halloween, below are my picks for the most terrifying, spine-chilling films I’ve seen within recent years.
The Vanishing (1988):
What I would call ‘the perfect thriller,’ a combination of horror, psychosis, and adrenaline, is fueled by the eminent ghoul of tragedy. Rex Hoffman accompanies Saskia, his girlfriend, on a trip across France. When they stop at a gas station to refuel their car, lodged halfway through a tunnel, Saskia goes missing. What ensues is the most horrifyingly procedural demonstration of the duality of man when faced with the recognition of his own free will. The film, only running in at 107 minutes, was heralded by legendary director Stanley Kubrick as “the most terrifying film he had ever seen” and contains, what I would declare, one of the greatest endings in all of cinematic history.
Make sure to view the 1988 version of The Vanishing, not the 1993 remake which ruins the perfect ending.
Spook Score: 8/10
Funny Games (1997):
Often regarded as director Michael Haneke’s magnum opus, the 1997 version of Funny Games isn’t too funny. When Georg, Anna, and their son venture to their vacation home, two unexpected visitors, only looking for four eggs, end up causing a physical strain unforeseen on this ill-fated family. Haneke’s nihilistic view of hope and optimism provides a dark yet novel watch.
Spook Score: 7/10
Polish director Andrzej Żuławski created possibly the strangest marital relationship ever situated on screen. After Helen reveals to her husband, Mark, that she is cheating on him, she disappears into secrecy. Mark hires a private investigator to probe into her actions. What he finds marks this grimy search for love as one of the most disturbing yet utterly intriguing films on this list.
Spook Score: 9/10
Dario Argento’s most mainstream entry into the Giallo film genre is a plethora of neon lights and pleasing palettes. The seemingly cheap and campy production of this ballerina-horror flick is known for accelerating the adoption of neon-lighting in Hollywood and revolutionizing the scores of films, with the Italian prog-rock band Goblin’s unforgettable soundtrack. Is it very scary? Not really, but it’s a horror film whose influence has spanned decades and, at moments, is laughable in its narrative techniques.
Spook Score: 5/10
As the master of surrealism, David Lynch’s first feature length film – and “most spiritual” – is always worth a watch, creating its chilling dystopian environment with the aid of Alan Splet’s haunting ambient soundtrack. The film, produced on a measly $10,000 by the thirty-year-old painter, is backed by some to be an overdramatized autobiographical look into the mind of Lynch. The haunting absurdity of Jack Nance’s portrayal of Henry Spencer, the father plagued with the premature birth of his defect child, whose crying slowly descends him into a surreal nightmare accompanied by the woman inhabiting his radiator, is widely regarded as a horror classic 45 years later.
Spook Score: 8/10
Like any film by Argentine filmmaker Gaspar Noé, this recommendation is accompanied by my strong content warning. When a select group of street dancers gather in a warehouse for an end-of-season party, surrounded by the chilling, snow-laden landscapes of France, all goes to hell as they discover their sangria has been laced with LSD. A disturbing whodunnit mystery ensues along the lines of Noé’s experimental style of epileptic lighting and intense camera sequences. This electrifyingly experimental take on psychological horror will have the viewer watching between their fingers.
Spook Score: 10/10
Each of these films, selected with care from a list I aggregated, wishing I could include all of them, are each, in their own way, scary, disturbing, and blend creative cinematography with narratives that are sure to keep you up at night.