It is officially spooky season – time to armour yourself in this year’s costume, stock up on sweet treats, and watch a horror movie that leaves you chilled to the bone. From the lurid beauty of Dario Argento’s ballet-school horror Suspiria, to the pertinent social critique of Jordan Peele’s satirical thriller Get Out, we have selected films that not only get your heartbeat racing, but also make you consider the ways in which horror exposes the darkest truths of our reality. Lock your doors, settle down and prepare to be thoroughly spooked...
1/ Suspiria (1977)
Dario Argento’s masterpiece will shock and delight you to the extreme; it's not only a feast for the senses, but a complete attack on them. The director's masterful use of lurid primary technicolour engulfs you in its hallucinatory intensity, while the score consisting of screams, hisses and wails reverberates through your whole body. It’s a simple tale: an American girl joins a prestigious German ballet academy and uncovers a cult of witches. There are no surprising twists or heavy, convoluted plot points – instead, the film's power lies within its reliance on your basic senses, where one is asked not to think, but to feel. Argento’s kitsch atmosphere – all manic wallpaper, distorted camera angles and flashing lights – creates a horror concerned with controlled splendour, where the meticulously splattered blood and gore resembles a Pollock painting more than a crime scene.
2/ Get Out (2017)
Daniel Kaluuya gives a career-defining performance in Jordan Peele’s Get Out. The image of the actor's expression of terror will stay with you long after this film: eyes wide-open, mouth slightly ajar, tears streaming down his cheeks as he’s frozen to his seat. Jordan Peele’s timely film considers the complex nuances of racial prejudice, allegorising racism's more traditional forms – slavery, incarceration, exploitation, blackface – and reimagining it through the lens of horror. Get Out follows our protagonist Chris (Kaluuya) who is invited to the family home of his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) for Thanksgiving. When he gets there, the Armitage family reception is warm, inviting and supposedly ‘colour-blind’. However, at the estate, Chris is confronted with all kinds of micro-aggressions, from transparent attempts at ‘street talk’ by Rose’s overly obsequious father (Bradley Whitford), to sinister stereotypes verging on eugenics by her brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry-Jones). The mounting micro-aggressions then become something altogether more horrific, with Peele turning to the more fantastical tropes of the genre to reveal the dark realities about race relations in America. Weaving satire and horror together, Peele threads his needle perfectly.
3/ Nocturnal Animals (2016)
Serving high-octane glamour and clean-cut style on screen as on the runway, Tom Ford’s second feature is concerned with the way we tell stories to preserve our illusions of our truth. Nocturnal Animals takes that to the extreme, exploring the emotional violence inflicted by betrayal, love, and doubt through an allegorical meta-narrative consisting of physical violence, abduction, and revenge – a self-reflexive exposition on art’s attempts to represent life through our own eyes. It’s fitting that our protagonist Susan (Amy Adams), runs a Los Angeles art gallery while her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), is a writer who, soon after the movie opens, sends Susan his latest novel, ‘Nocturnal Animals’, which he’s dedicated to her. Intrigued, she begins reading this strange tale for which she was the inspiration. We cut between Susan reading the novel to the meta-narrative: Jake Gyllenhaal plays both Edward and Tony, the protagonist of the novel. At the beginning of the novel, we see Tony’s family on a tranquil road-trip, driving through the sublime desert landscape of West Texas. However, their cozy ride is shattered when a gang of men tail their car, beat up Tony and abduct his wife and daughter. Upset and shaken up, Susan stops reading, shifting us back to the main narrative, set within her chic modernist home in LA. Gradually, these worlds drift into one another, linked through talismanic objects, a red sofa, a green sports car, blurring the distinction between fact and fiction. Tom Ford meticulously builds up seductive worlds of intense beauty, only to then shatter their illusory charm.
4/ The Shining (1980)
Hailed by many as the ‘Greatest Horror of all Time’, Kubrick’s masterpiece breaks the expectations associated with the horror genre: scenes are not engulfed in shadows, there are no erratic quick cuts to create jump-scares. Rather, everything takes place in the colossal and brilliantly lit spaces of the Overlook Hotel. The Torrence family - Jack (Jack Nicholson), his wife, Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and son, Danny (Danny Lloyd) - settle into The Overlook for the winter where they plan to live as the caretakers, cocooned away from the outside world. Jack's employer warns that a former caretaker murdered his whole family and committed suicide, but he shrugs it off. It's not long before we start to see Jack disintegrate before our very eyes, as his inability to write forces him to confront his own inadequacy and, in effect, drives him to madness. Kubrick highlights the murderous violence of patriarchal insecurity with a skilled precision, taking time to deliver his moments of terror, not through physical violence, but through the image of a sheet of paper.
5/ Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
Strickland's film eschews blood and gore in favour of a precise stylistic abundance. It pushes the limits of image and sound; we see ordinary objects take on an element of the macabre while everyday noises begin to resemble the soundtrack of hell. Slowly entrapping you in its ghastly embrace, the film creeps up to a chilling crescendo. Literally. Set in the 1970s, Toby Jones plays British sound engineer Gilderoy, who takes a job in Italy working on a horror film called the The Equestrian Vortex – which we never actually see. However, we do hear the film and see how the ghostly sounds are created: melons are hacked to a red pulp, radishes and aubergines meet similarly gory ends. We listen to the unending cry of a lightbulb dragged across a metal rake. Self-reflexive cinema at its best, Strickland links the image of stabbed cabbages to the sound of hacked limbs, compares a close-up of a destroyed head of lettuce to an open wound, and implies Gilderoy’s complicity in these acts of violence. Strickland’s camera manages to make the mundane appear both sensuous and ghastly, a balancing act of a true visionary.
6/ Oldboy (2003)
An ode to Shakespearian and Greek revenge tragedies (especially Oedipus the King), Park Chan-Wook’s lyrical revenge tale combines perverse thrills with surprising elements of humour. Oldboy’s power lies in its self-reflexive consideration of its own violence, examining the basic level of dignity that every human life deserves, even when reduced to desperation. Oldboy revolves around Dae-Su (Choi Min-sik), the film’s protagonist and victim. He’s introduced as an ordinary white-collar businessman, whose evening of drinking lands him in jail for the night. Soon after being bailed out, he disappears without a trace for 15 years – having been abducted and captured in a cell – and then is suddenly released with no answer as to why, and only five days to find his answers. His entrapment breeds a prescient desire for revenge, which turns out to reflect the sadistic spite of his captor. Dae-Su is a complex and captivating agent of vengeance who is pushed to the brink of insanity by his spiritual and physical isolation. Yet, in moments of vulnerability, we see our anti-hero as who he is: a man reduced by violence, by suffering, by distress. Park’s film is a paean to the tradition of revenge tragedies, it remains as fresh and thrilling as it did upon its release 18 years ago.
7/ Deep Red (1975)
Dario Argento is the King of Horror. Before giving us Suspiria, he made Deep Red, the 1975 giallo masterpiece featuring David Hemmings, who takes on the role of Marcus Daly, a piano player who develops an obsession with solving the murder of a famous psychic. Argento seduces us with his visual exegesis, saturating our screens in hues of red (of course). Beauty and horror coalesce in every high camp murder scene, leaving us vacillating between terror and awe: disorientating tracking shots link distorted memories, gramophone lullabies accompany close-ups of stripped baby dolls, which dangle from the ceiling like macabre party streamers. Every mise-en-scene offers up a clue to what lurks beneath the plot, as Argento marries content and form in perfect unity. With its subtle and precise examination of the dynamics of gender identity and fluidity, Deep Red is more than just a jump-scare slasher film (though it also does have plenty of blood and gore, galore); it rather highlights how trauma can create a killer.
8/ Raw (2016)
Julie Ducournau is making waves with her new body-horror Titane which won the Grand Prix of Cannes this year (only the second female director to ever win the title) and is set to grace screens in the UK on the 31 December. Until then, give her debut film, Raw, a watch. A coming-of-age narrative and a feminist-cannibal horror in equal measure, Ducournau’s film uses cannibalism as a delicious allegory to compare discovering oneself and one's sexual agency with power and bloodlust. Raw comments upon the perversity of our carnal desires, yet she flips the moral taboos and ensures that her female protagonists are in control, rather than averse to, their own cannibalistic urges.
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