Still from “Trick ‘r Treat” (2009)
If you are a lover of gory slashers and torture porn like the Saw movies, the films on this list may not be so scary to you. But, if you like a good story, a good thrill, a good chill down your spine, and a little necromancy and witchcraft (and the odd human sacrifice), then this list is for you.
Evil Dead (1981)
A classic, ’nuff said. How can you go wrong with an dark grimoire called The Book of the Dead, necromancy, possession, the undead, and evil trees? Any time Sam Raimi gets together with Bruce Campbell, you know it’s going to result in greatness. B-movie greatness, that is. This film is so popular it’s now a gorey musical coming to a city near you. Be sure to wear a rain coat if you sit in the splatter zone – I did say Sam Raimi.
The Gift (2000)
A woman in a small southern town in Georgia has a natural gift for seeing the past, the future, and the spirits of the dead. Branded as a witch by the locals, she tries to help solve the murder of a local socialite girl who was the fiancée of the local school’s principal. This film has a star-studded cast and was also directed by Sam Raimi (surprisingly with a distinct lack of cheese and slime). It is more of a thriller than a horror, but I recommend watching it in the dark for the full effect.
The Ninth Gate (1999)
A rare antique book dealer, played by Johnny Depp, is hired by a strange businessman to confirm the authenticity of a rare 17th century satanic grimoire called The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows. Depp travels to Portugal, Spain, and France on his quest, but soon realizes he’s in over his head as things start to take a dark and rather creepy turn. This film directed by Roman Polanski (of Rosemary’s Baby fame) is an excellently written slow building thriller. It takes its time to scare you. If you like Johnny Depp, film noire, old grimoires, Lucifer, satanic rituals, and lead characters with questionable morals, The Ninth Gate is the film for you. Heck even my adorable Christian mom loves this movie – although she did introduce me to The Omen and other supernatural horror movies (should I worry about you mom?).
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Terrifying, beautiful, mesmerizing, supernatural, and in my opinion, Guillermo del Toro’s magnum opus. Pan’s Labyrinth is a dark and bloody fairy tale set in 1944 Spain after the Spanish Civil War. A pregnant mother and her daughter Ofelia are on their way to her new husband’s residence (who happens to be a fascist captain in the army). Ofelia starts to meet strange creatures in the woods and find’s an old labyrinth in an overgrown garden. At the centre of this labyrinth, she finds Pan – who calls himself a faun. The faun tells her she may be the daughter of the king and queen of elfland, but that she must complete three trials to test her. The trials are horrifying to ask of a little girl, but they reflect the horror within her real life of fascists fighting against rebels and the cruelty of her new stepfather. This film is a must-see if you are Pagan and Samhain is the perfect time to watch it again if you’ve already seen and loved it.
Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
“I want to hear you scream”. This movie is Wes Craven’s take on the true story of the same name by ethnobotanist Wade Davis who travelled to Haiti in search of the poison that makes zombies. Both the real and fictional scientist find what he is looking for – at his peril of course. The film takes Haitian Voodoo to a darker place than the book, but the beauty of Voodoo and its community of practitioners is still featured. Journey with Bill Pullman as ethnobotanist Dennis Allan into Haiti’s secret societies, digging up bones in a graveyard with a bokor, and encountering a dark practitioner who gains his power by stealing and capturing the souls of others. Much is true and much is exaggerated. Are zombies real? Well, you’ll have to watch the movie and read the book to find out.
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Tim Burton’s gothic blood and gore version of the well-known tale of “Ichibod Crane and the Headless Horseman” with Johnny Depp as police constable Ichibod Crane, Christina Ricci as the daughter of a wealthy farmer, and Christopher Walken as the perfectly creepy headless horseman. Even Christopher Lee makes an appearance! Sleepy Hollow is a clever mix of CSI, a slasher movie, and a dark folk tale. Conspiracy, witchcraft, torture, magic, the wrathful undead, and flaming jack-o-lanterns make for a perfect combination for Samhain.
Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997)
This rated R version of Snow White is for the adults. Send the kids to bed and hit the liquor cabinet. In this movie, the dwarves have been transformed into dirty brutish miners who are by no means cute and friendly. Snow White’s evil queen stepmother, played by Sigourney Weaver, is an evil witch who uses her dark arts to try to kill her stepdaughter in her madness after her own child is stillborn. This version is closer to the original dark tale told by the Brothers Grim and is set in the Middle Ages during the Crusades when the peasants and the nobility are at each others’ throats. Despite being based on the familiar fairy tale, this film is frightening and unpredictable. Perfect for fairy tale lovers who like their stories with a side of the macabre.
Trick ‘r Treat (2009)
“If you don’t follow the rules tonight, you won’t live to see tomorrow”. This movie has both tricks and treats. The tricks are the surprise twists to each of the four intertwined tales of horror in a small US town on Halloween night and the treat is just how amazingly good this movie is considering it got shelved and forgotten for a year. Featuring Anna Paquin from True Blood, and other familiar faces from the TV world, this is one of the best Halloween and horror movies I’ve ever seen. The characters are incredibly real which only makes it all the more terrifying. Keep your eyes on the mysterious little creature with the sack over his head…
The Wicker Man (1973)
If you’re not Pagan, this is a terrifying cult classic horror-musical perfect for a Halloween movie night. If you are Pagan, than this film is just your average Beltane at the beach and you may have a hard time figuring out why this movie is supposed to be scary. All kidding aside, this classic movie about Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle and the villagers of Summerisle leading police Sergeant Howie on a wild goose chase for a missing girl is one of my all-time favourite horror flicks. Naked Pagan rituals, sinister children, flaming hands of glory, sacrifices burning in a wicker man… it wouldn’t be Samhain (or Beltane) without it! “Come, it is time to keep your appointment with the wicker man.”
The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Three women (played by Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer) in a beautiful small town in New England make a wish for a rich handsome stranger to come to town and change their boring lives. Of course, instead they get Jack Nicholson. But he is rich and he does seduce them and change their lives on top of giving them magical powers to create his own coven of witches led by himself – the Devil. Who better to play the Devil than Jack Nicholson after all? The Witches of Eastwick is a classic witchcraft thriller. Black magic, poppets, mass amounts of cherry vomit, and one pissed of Devil make this a fun flick for Samhain even though it’s not as scary as the others.