Movies to Watch and Avoid This Halloween

Halloween is just around the corner, and this year my colleagues and I decided to do something a little different. Instead of compiling another list of games we recommend, we decided to pick the best – and worst – horror films we’ve seen this year and tell you about them. To give the team more freedom, we decided not to focus on films released in the past year, but ones we’ve seen for the first time whether they’re old or new. The following entries were written by each member of our team, so beware of any spoilers – and watch these films (or not) at your own risk!

Howl (2015) – Picked by Harrison Fleming

Harrison: I discovered our first film in HMV's horror section just three weeks ago. Howl is an independent, British horror directed by Paul Hyett (the special effects designer for The Descent and The Woman in Black) and starring Ed Speelers as harried ticket collector Joe. On the last train out of London on a stormy night, Joe has to deal with rude, condescending passengers. Suddenly, the train grinds to a halt and the driver vanishes trying to investigate the cause. Joe and his remaining colleague, a stewardess (played by Holly Weston), are left alone to protect the passengers from the driver’s killers: a pack of hungry werewolves. I enjoyed Howl far more than I expected to for two reasons. First, the characters feel less like your typical horror cast and more like living, breathing people. You'll hate them at first for treating Joe like dirt, but later you learn things about the characters that really flesh them out. The second reason’s the werewolves, which are different from the more wolf-like breeds we see nowadays. Imagine the Wolf Man crossed with an Uruk-hai and the result would look something like Howl's beasts. Better yet, they're brought to life through good ol’ practical effects making them all the more fearsome. Critics on the DVD cover call it “the greatest werewolf film since An American Werewolf in London”, and for all intents and purposes it lives up to the hype.

The Pyramid (2015) - Picked by Harrison Fleming

Harrison: Last year, I saw the Film 4 premiere of Gregory Levasseur's The Pyramid. Produced by Alexandra Aja (director of 2005's version of The Hills Have Eyes), the film follows a team of archaeologists into a newly-unearthed pyramid in Egypt. As you might expect, things soon go wrong as the team are trapped and forced to survive deadly obstacles and hellish creatures. Sadly, the film's setting isn't the only thing that should've stayed buried. The Pyramid styles itself as an Egyptian take on Blair Witch, but it constantly breaks from its found-footage format to follow the cast from a third-person view. Worse still, the threats leave a lot to be desired - although there aren't any mummies for once, the CGI traps and creatures are underwhelming. Worse still is the film's ending: a run-of-the-mill jump scare that caps the film off far too soon. If you ever find it on TV, or in the shops, stay well clear of this one.

Hereditary (2018) - Picked by Ben Williams

Ben: 2018’s definition of “what the hell was that?”. When a family matriarch (mentally disturbed old lady) dies, members of her family become haunted, leading to a story of unravelling mystery and scenes that will leave your mouth agape. These scenes are not of a random monster popping out of the corner at the last second of a silent moment like every other horror, mind you, as Hereditary takes the principle of “expect the unexpected” and flips it on its head before dunking it into a cocktail of horror, drama and thriller, creating a true sense of fear and unease.
Hereditary takes the tropes that have come to be expected from the horror genre and uses them to trick you. As the story progresses, you expect outcomes to situations to be the worst possible imaginable, before being slapped with something that is even more disturbing than you possibly could’ve imagined. Whilst you would normally anticipate a dark corner of the screen to be the entrance for a screaming demon, there may only be a subtle movement, only for the sole purpose of it putting you into eerie discomfort. The indescribable anticipating dread you’ll feel throughout the watch is what will make you come back again and again. You won’t stop thinking about it for days, wanting to know more as to how a film could make you feel this way. It’s truly an example of what horror should be.
When a filmmaker has their directorial debut, it’s expected to be mid-tier blockbuster padding, filling the cinematic voids that pop up between the big budget releases. Horrors are usually the biggest culprits, being jumpscare-fests that lack in substance with mediocre box office returns. With his first full feature, Ari Aster manages to lay the foundations for redefining the horror genre. 

You’ll meet the closing credits with either a sense of confusion or wide-eyed emotional trauma.

Paranormal Activity (2009) - Picked by Ben Williams

Ben: Despite cementing a new love for the found-footage genre, the only good thing about Paranormal Activity is its shroud of surprise that immediately gets pulled off after watching it for the first time. After the removal, trying to rewatch the home movie of two bad actors with spooky noises is as mind-numbing as listening to your co-worker talk about their latest session of “drinks wid da gurlies”.
Newcomers to jump scares in 2007 may have got something new out of Paranormal Activity if they were under the age of 15 at the time, however, having to sit through scenes of nothing in order to build up to even the slightest thump in the night gives me goosebumps in thinking of the immense boredom that could await me.
Being the best out of a six-film franchise, it’s an example of how horror gradually became regarded as the movie genre equivalent of processed meat, the quantity vastly exceeding the quality.

Get Out (2017) - Picked by Lewis Cox

Lewis: A movie that came out of nowhere and received rave reviews across the board,
Get Out stars Daniel Kaluuya playing the character of Chris, a black man concerned about how the parents of his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) will react to him because of his race when he goes to visit them. Feeling like an alternative take on the Stepford Wives formula, Get Out hides a sickeningly dark premise behind what seems to be nothing more than a hunky dory setting filled with people who just seem a bit ignorant, if not slightly behind. While Stepford Wives' talking point was gender, Get Out's is race. Get Out manages to go much deeper than the average horror movie, balancing elements of suspense, mystery, thriller, and even satirical comedy within its 103 minute run time, but it does so with such impressive control, whilst providing a thought-provoking social commentary that is sadly more relevant now than it's ever been. Get Out will provide you with a heavy dose of creepiness this Halloween, whilst leaving you with a message that you'll be thinking about way past November.

The Forest (2016) - Picked by Lewis Cox

Lewis: The (sadly) infamous "suicide forest" of Aokigahara in Japan seems like the kind of morbid location that a horror movie would thrive in, and for the most part this 2016 movie manages to utilise the mystery and intense despair of such a setting well. Starring Game of Thrones sweetheart Natalie Dormer, The Forest details the story of a concerned American woman going into the suicide forest to find her twin sister (also played by Dormer) who was last seen entering it.
The film takes a long time to set up, but it still kept me interested. The location was intriguing and the atmosphere was constantly foreboding. Even the set up of Dormer's character and her relationship with her sister seemed surprisingly genuine for a horror movie. I was gripped to find out what scares awaited. The problem is, by the time the spooky stuff actually happens, it not only feels incredibly underwhelming, but it's also over way too fast. We spend nearly two hours watching a pretty decent set up only for the movie to go from zero to one hundred in the last ten minutes before finally finishing on a really gimmicky, unsatisfying twist ending. This one definitely had potential to be quite memorable, but its pacing is completely off, and its scares are a sad case of too little, too late.

Carrie (2013) - Picked by Liv Gamble

Liv: Perhaps it’s no surprise that my horror movie recommendation is based on a novel by the master of horror himself; Stephen King. It’s the second remake but is, by far, the best of the three versions. This one is set in the modern day rather than the late seventies and, despite such a change, the inclusion of today’s technology, trends and culture really works – especially when we consider how stark, suffocating and almost medieval Carrie White’s own life is, in contrast to the regular, modern lives of her schoolmates.
Naturally, Chloe Grace Moretz is a great fit for the role of Carrie – quiet, unassuming, and plain. Julianne Moore plays Carrie’s mother, Margaret White, and her performance will have you convinced that she really is a full-time religious fanatic. Everything in this film is an improvement from the original movies and only compliments the novel, from the memorable first scene in the locker room showers, to the bloody and violent finale. This is definitely one to see.

Gerald’s Game (2017) - Picked by Liv Gamble

Liv: Another horror movie (this one a Netflix original) based on a novel by the King, but one that I wouldn’t personally recommend. While the movie tries so hard and could be considered halfway decent, it simply misses the mark. Much of the novel’s plot relies heavily on suspense, which can’t always be reliably translated onto the silver screen. The same goes for one of the story’s villains, the ‘Moonlight Man’ – reading about him conjured up an image that terrified me, but seeing him brought to life was more of a disappointment than a thrill.
There’s also the added issue of the traumatic childhood memories that Jessie must relive while trapped. For me, these flashback scenes fell flat – the acting was a little wooden, the characters didn’t seem true to the novel, and something key to the story had been changed. In short, it felt like a lot of the novel’s original spirit was lost through this adaptation, and scares were in very short order.

What movies are you watching (or avoiding) this Halloween? Let us know via the official Alt:Mag Facebook or Twitter pages, or by leaving a comment below. We're always looking for new movies to spook us!

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