Halloween is upon us, but the staying-in-watching-scary-movies element of the festivities can be a little underwhelming for the many people (and indeed the friends of the many people) who just don’t like horror. There’s only so many times your loved ones can put up with Hocus Pocus, The Haunted Mansion and The Witches over a good slasher before they die of boredom.
So, from someone that was emotionally scarred by Texas Chain Saw Massacre and needed a lie-down after reading the Wikipedia entry for The Human Centipede, here’s a list of classic horror films that will leave horror haters spooked, but not too much…
1963; dir. Robert Wise; starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Adam Johnson
There’s nothing like a good haunted house film on a stormy October night, and The Haunting is the one for you if you love dread and suspense but can’t deal with jump scares. Julie Harris leads the cast as Eleanor Lance, a timid woman scarred by the death of her mother who heads to the mysterious Hill House when dashing doctor wishes conduct an experience around paranormal activity. As soon as Eleanor steps foot on the grounds, it’s clear to her that there’s something different about Hill House. She just doesn’t know what. If you want to get in on the Haunting Of Hill House hype but are far too scared to attempt it, try this classic instead.
The Wicker Man
1973; dir. Robin Hardy; starring Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland
As more of a folksy mystery than a horror film, The Wicker Man is creepy but not too creepy. However, it still lives up to its shining horror reputation. The final act of the film is an uncomfortable watch, but it’s unlikely to leave you dreaming of giant wicker men. Police Sergeant Neil Howie (Woodward) is sent to the remote Hebridean island of Summerisle following the disappearance of a young girl. But the mystery only gets more mysterious when Howie, a devout Christian, finds that the islanders, led by Lord Summerisle (Lee), practise a form of Celtic paganism.
1961; dir. Jack Clayton; starring Deborah Kerr, Peter Wyngarde, Martin Stephens
Another haunted house story, The Innocents follows governess Miss Giddens and her downwards spiral into paranoia when she takes a job at Bly country estate, looking after a young pair of siblings. It starts off quite sweetly, with Miss Giddens being taken by Miles and Flora’s charismatic ways, but once she learns that their previous governess, Mary Jessel, died under mysterious circumstances, things go from idyllic to nightmarish. Like The Haunting, The Innocents doesn’t care for jump scares, but it will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.
1982; dir. George A Romero; starring Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Leslie Nielsen
To be completely fair, anthology film Creepshow is hardly a horror. It’s more of a comedy with a very dark sense of humour. With five short stories (‘Father’s Day‘, ‘The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill‘, ‘Something To Tide You Over‘, ‘The Crate‘ and ‘They’re Creeping Up On You!‘) making up the body of the film, there’s something for everyone, whether you like horror or not.
1960; dir. Alfred Hitchcock; starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles
For thrilling suspense without stepping over the ‘scared silly’ line, Hitchcock is a good place to look, and Psycho is among his very best. The film follows Marion Crane (Leigh), a young woman on the run from the law after stealing $40,000. But the police are the least of her worries when she stays the night at a motel in the middle of nowhere, and meets its proprietor Norman Bates (Perkins). Psycho horrified audiences and filmmakers alike when it was first release in 1960. Now, it’s nowhere near as gory as modern slashers, but it has effortlessly retained its reputation as a product of masterful filmmaking.
House Of Wax
1953; dir. Andre DeToth; starring Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Carolyn Jones
It wouldn’t be Halloween without a bit of Vincent Price. First on the list is House Of Wax, both a remake of Warner Bros’ Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933) and the film that inspired 2005’s House Of Wax starring Paris Hilton. Price is mesmerising as Professor Henry Jarrod, a waxwork artist who seeks revenge after an associate burns down his wax museum — with Jarrod inside — to claim the insurance money. Though the film’s tone is more than a bit macabre, it’s still a lot of fun.
House On Haunted Hill
1959; dir. William Castle; starring Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Elisha Cook
The second Vincent Price flick pick is another haunted house film, making it the most Halloween-y film on this list. This time, he’s playing an eccentric millionaire who invites an eclectic group of people for a party at an allegedly haunted house, offering them $10,000 if they manage to make it through the night. It’s a fun take on the genre with plenty of spooks and scares, but not too many to handle.
Theatre Of Blood
1973; dir. Douglas Hickox; starring Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry
This Vincent Price modern classic is definitely more on the bizarre and comedic side than some of his other his other work, but he’s still as menacing as ever. Price plays an actor flamboyantly named Edward Lionheart who fakes his death and then goes on a revenge-fuelled murder spree, killing off critics that gave him negative reviews, each in a manner very similar to murder scenes featured in the works of Shakespeare. If you love Vincent Price, Shakespeare, or ridiculous revenge movies, Theatre Of Blood is definitely one to check out ASAP.
1963; dir. Alfred Hitchcock; starring Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy
Alongside Psycho, The Birds is one of the only Hitchcock films that toes the line between suspense thriller and flat-out horror. In her most iconic role, Tippi Hedren plays a young socialite who finds herself being terrorised by birds during a visit to Bodega Bay. The horror of The Birds would have little impact on fans of gore, but for horror newbies — and ornithophobics — it’s one hell of a ride.
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