Last week, we rolled out Part 1 of Kasey’s Halloween Extravaganza – a line-up of film titles ranked according to fright-potential. She’s back with the greatly anticipated Part 2. If you need a little bit of fright in your night, Kasey has ranked these as her top 5 scariest movies. When you see her, ask Kasey how she’s recovering .
6. American Horror Story: Roanoke (2016)
Putting an entire season of a television show on a list of films might sound like rule-breaking, but hear me out. American Horror Story is an anthology series. Every season effectively stands alone as its own miniseries. It’s just a long movie with commercial break fade outs.
At first presented in the style of a TLC interview/dramatic reenactment reality show, we are told the story of Shelby and Matt. After personal tragedy, the couple buy an old fixer-upper farmhouse in North Carolina in an attempt to start over, but strange, disturbing, events plague the property. It rains teeth, for example, human teeth. And the neighbors, if one wants to call the family holed up in a trailer off in the woods “neighbors”, are none too friendly. Still, with all their money now tied up in the old manor, Shelby and Matt are stuck, and soon, when the Blood Moon rises, there may be more than just bank statements tying them to the land they’ve stumbled upon.
American Horror Story is one of my favorite television shows because it maintains this curious balance of delivering only about 60% Quality while remaining 100% Entertaining. I’ve seldom seen such squirrely writing on a show that people have won actual Golden Globes for. But it’s always fun, it’s always ridiculous, Sarah Paulson spends three straight episodes of this season running back and forth through the forest screaming while nothing happens. I was glued to my seat.
American Horror Story is hot garbage but it’s my hot garbage.
American Horror Story is hot garbage but it’s my hot garbage.
What I appreciate about this particular season, the sixth, is that it’s a little different from the others. Most of the other seasons are entirely explained by their titles. Season One: Murder House; it takes place in a haunted house. Season Two: Asylum; some creepy stuff happens at a mental institution. Season Five: Hotel; oh no, the Ramada Inn has ghosts I guess. There’s a pattern; you can see it. What I love about Roanoke is anything that can be extrapolated from that title in no way prepares the viewer for the twists the plot goes down. The way the first few episodes flow into the shakeup at the midpoint is some of the most interesting meta-bending I’ve seen on television. The writers took real risks in the way they chose to construct the story. Not all of the risks pan out, but the taking of them is admirable. Unfortunately, this is still a Ryan Murphy show, so the season loses steam in its last few episodes (see above: “Sarah Paulson spends three straight episodes… running back and forth through the forest screaming”), but even if it doesn’t stick the landing, I still enjoyed it.
Long live American Horror Story, I hope they set a season on a haunted space base someday and Sarah Paulson spends three episodes screaming on Mars.
This show gets a 7.5 out of 10 on the Spook-o-Meter. There’s good news and there’s bad news. And then there’s good news and there’s bad news.The good news is, Leslie Jordan is in this and he’s wonderful! The bad news is, he’s horribly disemboweled onscreen. But the good news is, this is network television, so it’s tasteful! And the bad news is, every time they kill Leslie Jordan on this show (and they’ve done it several times now) it creates a void they can never fill.
7. We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)
Really, we need to talk about Tilda Swinton. I love her, I think she’s wonderful. But every film she appears in is just a little off, a little spooky, even if it shouldn’t be. From the Chronicles of Narnia, to Burn after Reading, to the amazing Snowpiercer (which I would LOVE to discuss someday), Tilda Swinton is here to unnerve. And she’s very good at it.
Kevin has always been different, ever since the day he was born. He never seemed to bond with people correctly, never seemed to care about other’s thoughts and feelings in the ways a person should, which is certainly disturbing behavior to see on a toddler. But his mother Eva is the only person who ever seems to notice it. To the world, Kevin looks normal and healthy, just a growing boy who maybe has a few quirks. His own father regards him with little concern. But Eva keeps seeing things. And Kevin’s behavior only broadens in its scope and malice, deepening into a wild violence that plays behind his eyes despite no one else being able to see it; a bomb in plain sight, in Eva’s sight. But how in the world can a mother convince the world that her son might be a monster? …how in the world can a mother even believe it?
This film is such a slow burn, it’s easy to get an hour into it before realizing how hunched your shoulders are, how furrowed your brow is, and how on edge you are. There are no monsters here, no ghouls or ghosts or demons. There are no big reveals and no huge conspiracies. This film is an exercise in watching the inevitable come to pass, slowly, painfully, and despite everything you might wish to happen instead. It’s a car crash in slow motion.
Tilda Swinton is, of course, phenomenal in her role here, but it’s Ezra Miller as Kevin who really gets the showy material to work with. I had just seen him in the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower, in which he plays a deeply likable teenager who I wished I could have had as my best friend in high school. To see him make such a heel-turn and deliver the performance he manages here is truly outstanding craft; Ezra really gives Kevin and eerie pathos throughout the film that just builds and builds and builds to the point where it finally explodes; it’s captivating to watch. And not everyone can hold their own opposite Tilda Swinton, I certainly couldn’t, not even just over tea and scones.
There are good ways and bad ways to use your Tilda Swinton, much like there’s good and bad ways to use tarragon in cooking. Sometimes you do well and you make Snowpiercer; sometimes you really don’t and you get Doctor Strange. It seems to always be a gamble.
This film gets an 8/10 on the Spook-o-Meter. Despite lacking most of the things I typically find scary in a film, this movie is genuinely disturbing and it lived in my brain for several days after I watched it. It’s a slow creep, but it will creep you out. Kind of like Doctor Strange.
8. Creepshow (1982)
Remember in Part 1 how I mentioned that me being a huge pansy who’s too anxious to truly enjoy horror would come back into play later? We’re at Later, welcome to Later.
Creepshow is an anthology film released in 1982, directed by the OG zombie-daddy himself, George A. Romero. I first watched it when I was 4 years old. That is way too young to come face to face with the Cryptkeeper, but honestly, that’s not even what I remember most distinctly. What I remember is The Crate.
The Crate is the fourth short film offered in this anthology. It begins as a janitor working late at a college campus during summer break stumbles upon a crate tucked away under a staircase, seemingly forgotten. Burned into the side of it is the year 1834 and something about an Arctic expedition. Excited by his discovery, the janitor calls up the most senior professor he has a telephone number for and together, they heave the dusty, heavy, mysterious box out from its nest of cobwebs. With nothing to do except crack it open, the men pull out crowbars. This crate has been under the stairs for decades, if there ever were live specimens in there, they’d be long dead by now… right?
I would love to talk about how not-scary this film is. I would love to say that I’ve become stronger and more courageous in the years since I first watched it. I would love to say all that cool stuff. But it would be lies.
I find that crate monster just was spooky today as I did twenty-four years ago. So much for growth!
I cannot even begin to describe how this much dumb, horror, movie from the 80’s fried my tiny brain when I was young and meek (and for that matter, how much it fries me now that I’m old and meek!). The imagery lingered in my brain for literal years of my childhood. There’s a shot of the creature’s clawed paw shooting out through the opened lid of the crate and it made me too afraid to open laundry baskets, lest my face get scratched off. A majority of the shots showing the creature tend to be washed out with a harsh red light, so for the longest time, images of photography studio dark rooms filled me with inexplicable dread and terror. I remember the creature as this ghoul of my youthful imagination, a toothy gargoyle whose malicious eyes leered in my mind late at night and regularly sent me flying fright over feet out of my bed and into my mother’s.
Behind the scenes, the filmmakers apparently named the creature Fluffy the Crate Beast.
It’s one thing to re-experience one’s childhood terrors as an adult, but to finally put a name to it and have that name be Fluffy? Sometimes I feel like the life I lead is strange, I really do.
This film gets a 9 out of 10 on the Spook-o-Meter. Look, the crate creature is a guy in a modified gorilla suit, I get that. But the face sculpt on that custom head is genuinely unnerving to look at, I do not enjoy it! Oh, and the fifth short film in this anthology is about giant swarms of cockroaches. I don’t enjoy that either.
9. The Babadook (2014)
My first exposure to this film came in the form of memes.
When this film was first released to streaming platforms, apparently Netflix’s algorithm did a goof and listed it in the LGBT section. When a screenshot of this surfaced, a tidal wave of memes proclaiming the Babadook to be a new “gay icon” swept through the internet. It was great fun, we all had a good laugh, and it and in no way prepared me for the experience of actually watching this film.
Amelia is doing her absolute best, but it’s never quite good enough. She is a single mother trying to raise her young son, Sam, but he seems plagued by nightmares and followed by troubles. He makes “weapons” to keep his room safe from monsters, and one day, he finds this very curious book. As Amelia reads it to him, she finds the pages of the innocuous pop-up book describe a disturbing story, a monster that gains power the moment one learns of it and still more power through the victim’s denial of it. The book describes a Babadook. But Amelia slams the book shut. What a ridiculous story! But it isn’t fiction to Sam, and the more Amelia tries to put his fear at ease, the more things happen she can’t entirely explain, like the fact that no matter how hard she tries, she can’t seem to get rid of the book about the Babadook… almost as though, it’s trying to send her a message…?
There is a long and proud history of movie monsters acting as ooky-spooky metaphors for real life anxieties. The Wolfman, the Fish Man, the Frankenstein man, even those hoards of zombies chasing around people on The Walking Dead every Sunday, all of these monsters were once created as an expression of real world fears. To overexplain The Babadook would be to spoil the film, but rest assured, the Babadook himself, while regrettably not a gay icon, is certainly another instance of metaphor in horror working to grand effect.
The interesting thing about this film is that it’s essentially just a dark, family drama with ooky-spooky monster sprinkles on top, but it works, and that’s even considering that part of the ooky-spooky monster’s character design is a top hat. It works.
I particularly appreciate the child acting in this movie. There is a tendency in film to write child characters unrealistically and then toss those parts to mediocre actors because who cares they’re just kids. The Babadook did not take that shortcut. There is something viscerally real about this portrayal of a young, troubled, bratty, boy that felt so familiar to me. Probably because I have two younger brothers. Sam is a major part of the story, and this natural feeling performance of a little kid contending with a real monster is extremely compelling stuff.
This film was also made in Australia, which is worth mentioning only because I adore Australian accents and I naively thought my enjoyment of that facet might save me from getting too spooked. This will just all sound like the Crocodile Hunter, right? I was wrong. I was very wrong. I mean, they do sound like the Crocodile Hunter, I was right there, but it’s like, Scary Crocodile Hunter, like one of those episodes where he held a poisonous snake way too close to the camera.
This film gets a 10.5/10 on the Spook-O-Meter. There is a bit in this where the Babadook, something of an ethereal creature, swirls around the main character in her car as she’s attempting to drive. And it just brought up this primordial fear I have of trying to drive down the freeway with a wasp in the car. It’s never actually happened to me before. But I have to figure I’d fare about as well as Amelia does.
10. Hereditary (2018)
Knowing myself as I know, and knowing this film by reputation, I knew even in the formulation of this project that this movie would take the top spot. I knew it intuitively; I’ve been avoiding this thing for years. So, when I sat down to actually watch it, I did so at 11am, on my day off, next to an open window on a beautiful day, with a cup of robust coffee, and a lit aromatherapy candle close at hand.
Spoilers, but this movie is so spooky that by the end, my coffee froze into an ice block, the weather outside turned, and whatever demon this film released into my bedroom blew out my candle. I will never be the same.
Annie Graham leads a perfectly normal life with her perfectly normal husband and perfectly normal children. But her past is criss-crossed with shadows, the largest looming cast by her own mother. Well, her late mother. The funeral is today and the family awkwardly dressed in their best blacks. At long last, Annie can put to rest her strained maternal relationship and move forward. But it seems her mother’s past isn’t done with Annie’s future. After the funeral, strange, tragic, and monstrous events begin to plague the Grahams, all unconnected and yet… it’s almost as though everything is unfolding at the whim of an unseen puppet-master. But what plans are in store for the Grahams? Annie is almost too frightened to find out.
I genuinely hope this is the scariest movie I ever watch, I truly do. My nervous heart cannot take any more than this, I will fall to pieces as though my joints were held together by Lego. Because the thing is, this is a really great film. It isn’t scary because it’s constantly throwing jumpscares or spooky ghouls at the audience, it’s scary because it has a scary story to tell. The horror goes deeper. It seeps into everything. It’s beautifully shot. In particular, there are these shots that zoom into the rooms of a miniature dollhouse that fade into shots of the actual house, and they are immaculately conceived, I love them.
Everybody praises Toni Collette in this movie, and they should, she’s amazing. But to me the stand out is Alex Wolff, who plays the main character and audience window into this world. This movie is terrifying, but the only scene that made me almost turn the film off and walk away from it for a little while was a scene featuring him. It wasn’t even a visually intense scene, no blood, no gore, no jump-scares, no monsters; it was just a long, sustained shot of his facial reaction to an event that had just occurred. Chilling. I have seldom felt more tense while watching a movie. It floored me. I almost couldn’t handle it.
If you are a horror fan and you haven’t watched Hereditary yet, you owe it to yourself to seek this film out. Hereditary feels like… a kind of movie that people just don’t make any more. A self-contained, well-constructed, slow, edgy, intense, thrill ride that has no interest in establishing a franchise or sequel baiting; rare, in the world with 5 Insidious films. It stands on its own, and it looms large.
If you are not a fan of horror then RUN, RUN FOR THE HILLS! Protect your innocence as I no longer can! There’s definitely a Before and After in this life, and it’s Before Watching Hereditary, and After Watching Hereditary. If there is an after…
This film get a 1000/10 on the Spook-o-Meter. Don’t ask me to watch this again. This is absolutely the kind of movie that rewards repeated viewings, but don’t even ask me. I’m not strong enough. I never want to see Toni Collette do The Thing in That One Scene ever again, it’s been playing on repeat in my head since I saw the first time anyway. What I need is Brain Bleach.
I never want to see Toni Collette do The Thing in That One Scene ever again
That’s it, that’s the gauntlet! I survived! Well, mostly, barely. That one-two punch of The Babadook and Hereditary blew a few holes in my sails, but I am richer for having experienced some new art, even if it was ooky-spooky, mentally-scarring levels of fear inducing art!
I hope this list has helped to expose some weird films to new light which have otherwise been sitting in the shadows (looking at you, Olsen Twin movie and Repo!), and I really hope this list has been helpful in giving people new titles for their Halloween marathons.
I am certainly very sufficiently spooked, and if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to be starting a 25 Days of Christmas movie marathon several weeks early this year. Or maybe I’ll just watch Hostel. I stand at a fork in the road with two options before me… and I never enjoy picking the obvious trail.
Happy Halloween, everybody!