Halloween is back and, with it, a whole host of horrors and ghastly treats to haunt our screens. The horror movie has been around since the earliest days of cinema - with silent classics such as The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922). And this witching season, the genre’s appeal remains just as strong for audiences across the world.
So whether you’re looking for some classic scares, a spooky cult tale or something a little more intelligent and sinister, they’ll be something to suit, whatever your taste.
Zack Snyder’s zombie epic Army of the Dead is action-packed, funny, entertaining and, although long at two hours and 28 minutes, it doesn’t feel absurdly so. Released in May straight onto Netflix, it’s no 28 Days Later, but it’s what World War Z should have been if it hadn’t taken itself so seriously. It’s enthrallingly gory and features some surprisingly sympathetic performances, as well as the dumbest premise for a heist movie (robbing a Las Vegas casino that is crawling with the ravenous undead) since Now You See Me 2.
Spiral is a rather disappointing reimagination of the Saw series, masterminded by Chris Rock, with a decent turn from actor Samuel L Jackson. Halloween Kills sees the return, again, of Jamie Lee Curtis to the role in the movie Halloween that made her famous in 1978. This latest film in the Halloween franchise is disappointing in quality and doesn’t work as well as the 2018 reboot – also called Halloween.
Though fear not, for a fine evening of slasher gore, you might try looking into a mirror and invoking the urban myth of the Candyman (the legend has it he appears if you chant his name repeatedly). This is the fifth film in the Candyman franchise, unlike Spiral, which is the ninth, and Halloween Kills, which is the twelfth. It combines the talents of the series veteran actor, Tony Todd, as the infamous Candyman, and screenwriter Jordan Peele, writer and director of both Get Out and Us – two of the most satisfying horror movies to come out of the US in the last five years.
The UK streaming service Britbox is celebrating Halloween with the release of a set of classics from the Hammer Film Productions company, which created those technicolour treats of immortal horror which proved a mainstay of British cinema more than half a century ago. The eight films on offer range from the wonderfully ridiculous Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde to the surprisingly serious, such as The Nanny. There’s also Frankenstein Created Woman, a movie Martin Scorsese once described as metaphysically sublime.
Meanwhile, actor Christopher Lee returns as the count in Taste the Blood of Dracula, a typically robust performance in a relatively uninspiring production – most notable for being the last before Hammer’s ill-fated decision to shift the Transylvanian vampire into the present day.
This selection also features Lee in the lacklustre To the Devil a Daughter and the rather more exuberant Rasputin the Mad Monk. But the pick of 1960s silliness from this motley bunch must be The Reptile, if only for actor John Laurie (famed as Frazer from Dad’s Army) as Mad Peter, the doom-mongering old Highlander he was always born to play.
Psychedelic forest horror?
The director-writer, Ben Wheatley, is best known for his adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s novel High-Rise, a dystopian triumph starring Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons - as well as for A Field in England, a psychedelic folk horror in which actor Reece Shearsmith has a particularly bad time of it in the English Civil War.
In the Earth is his latest masterpiece. Here he deftly combines the hallucinogenic influences of a folktale forest with the dystopia of a world ravaged by a deadly pandemic.
It’s the first major horror film created in response to COVID-19. The entire movie was written and directed in August 2020. Out for home viewing just before Halloween, Wheatley’s film promises an intelligent alternative to some of the season’s more populist horror fare.
Small screen screams
The new season of Doctor Who (sadly, Jodie Whittaker’s last) is set to launch on the evening of Halloween. And fans have been excited to learn of the long-awaited return of the show’s most gothic of horrors, the Weeping Angels. These murderous statues are only able to come alive – and kill – when you’re not looking at them.
Their return to our screens offers an opportunity to revisit their finest hour, in Blink, the tenth episode of the third series of Doctor Who, which aired in 2007. The episode features a pre-stardom Carey Mulligan and is scripted by Steven Moffat. And it’s still available for free in the UK on the iPlayer. So why not treat yourself, and your kids, to some of the cleverest and scariest TV that has ever dared call itself family entertainment?