Empire's Best Horror Films For Halloween

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'Tis the Season of the Witch. As Halloween approaches and you no doubt begin to plan your marathons of classic horror, we thought we'd suggest a tranche of triple-bills to spice up your Samhain. And what better place to start than...


Halloween / Halloween II / H20

Let’s start with the obvious: John Carpenter’s prowling classic that spawned not only a franchise but arguably an entire genre. Carpenter, of course, kicks things off here, but we’re going to be controversial and suggest you next go to Rob Zombie’s brutal, bleak Halloween II - the sequel to the remake. It isn’t perfect, and you’ll have to wear the change of cast, but its treatment of Laurie Strode as a harrowed PTS sufferer plays nicely into H20, which brings back Jamie Lee Curtis as an adult Laurie hiding out and still trying to deal with the trauma.

Freddy Krueger And Jason Voorhees

A Nightmare On Elm Street / Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter / Freddy Vs. Jason

Fancy an evening of Freddy and Jason? There’s nowhere to start but Wes Craven’s classic original Nightmare On Elm Street. We’re going to say that Friday The 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter is the purest distillation of Jason’s franchise: it’s found its feet by this point and he’s wearing the hockey mask rather than a bag. Plus, Tom Savini is back for the first time since Part 1 to do the make-up effects. And then there’s Freddy Vs Jason, Robert Englund’s last hurrah in the glove, sweater and burn prosthetics, and a film that somehow makes Voorhees feel like the put-upon good guy. It’s a deliberate hoot – although many would say it shouldn’t be.

British '70s Horror

Horror Hospital / House Of Whipcord / Psychomania

British horror in the ‘70s wasn’t all about Hammer and Amicus, so here are three berserk examples of what was going on elsewhere in the UK. Horror Hospital pits Confessions Of... star Robin Askwith against a mad Michael Gough doing evil mind control experiments. House Of Whipcord is from the incomparably scuzzy Pete Walker, and sees his regular star Sheila Keith running an illegal, sadistic reform school for bad girls. And Psychomania gives us black magic bikers in Walton-On-Thames. Somehow George Sanders and Robert Hardy are in the cast.

Ghost Stories

The Haunting / The Innocents / The Others

For an evening with a bit more class, try this trio of elegant ghost stories. The Haunting is drawn from Shirley Jackson’s classic chiller The Haunting Of Hill House, whilst The Innocents is an adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn Of The Screw (John Mortimer contributed to the screenplay). The Others is a homage to both, but an original story. All three make hay with the ambiguity of who is actually doing the haunting and who is being haunted, with The Others turning the question into a Shyamalan-like twist.

Cabins In The Woods

Evil Dead / The Cabin In The Woods / Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil

Horror legend André de Toth’s advice to first-time filmmakers was to “take some kids to a cabin and chop ‘em up,” but here are three examples of how much you can do with that very basic formula. Sam Raimi played it relatively straight the first time, although the seeds of dark humour and mad filmmaking tics would blossom into the Evil Dead sequels (and an imminent TV series). Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard spun the premise into a high-concept plot about a secret society making reality TV to appease Cthulhu (or something). And the hilarious Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil sees our apparent backwoods bad guys utterly bemused by all these pesky kids suddenly dying around them.

'80s American Vampires

The Lost Boys / Near Dark / Vamp

Back before Twilight, vampires in American teen movies were cool. Even if they had mullets. The Lost Boys perfectly juggles comedy and horror as Coreys Haim and Feldman take on Kiefer Sutherland’s coven of nightstalkers. Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark is a more sombre affair – in many ways a Western – with Adrian Pasdar reluctantly tagging along with outlaw bloodsuckers Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein. And we could’ve plumped for Fright Night here, but y’know, we’ve always had a real soft spot (probably somewhere around the jugular) for the off-kilter Grace Jones nightclub horror of Vamp...

Guillermo Del Toro Presents…

The Devil’s Backbone / The Orphanage / Julia’s Eyes

We’ll start with one of Del Toro’s own here. You can pretty much take your pick from the equally excellent Cronos, The Devil's Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth, but we’ll go with Backbone, both because we like the clever metaphor comparing ghosts to unexploded bombs, and because it’s an excellent companion piece to J.A. Bayona’s The Orphanage, which Del Toro produced. And we’ll end with Julia’s Eyes, which, like The Orphanage, is a Del Toro presentation (directed by Guillem Morales) starring Belén Rueda, who in this case is losing her sight and dealing with shadowy presences while investigating her sister’s death.

British '80s Horror

Hellraiser / Paperhouse / Lair Of The White Worm

British horror might have tailed off after its '60s and '70s heyday, but there was still Hellraiser... even if most of the cast are peculiarly dubbed with American accents (as they walk through Cricklewood). Clive Barker���s Faustian melodrama is justly famous for its loony S&M demon “Cenobites” – including, of course, Doug Bradley’s iconic Pinhead – and has just been subjected to a spiffy 2K restoration by Arrow. Now’s the time for a revisit. We’ll follow it with Bernard Rose’s chilling Paperhouse, in which a girl’s drawings come disturbingly to life in her dreams. And we’ll conclude with Lair Of The White Worm, Ken Russell’s mental adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novella. Never get in a hot tub with Amanda Donohoe, guys. Look out for Peter Capaldi and Hugh Grant too.

Christopher Lee

The Wicker Man / The Devil Rides Out / Rasputin

Since we recently lost Christopher Lee, let’s have a tribute night. He wouldn’t have thanked us for choosing Dracula – although we’ll get to it later – but he did love The Wicker Man, so let’s start with Lord Summerisle setting Edward Woodward on fire. The Devil Rides Out is great too, pacily adapted by Hammer from Dennis Wheatley’s slow novel, and casting Lee against type as one of the good guys – although the Duc is certainly an ambiguous character. And we’ll end with another Hammer, and perhaps Lee’s most thunderously energetic performance as the appalling Rasputin, The Mad Monk.

Classic Monsters

Bride Of Frankenstein / Dracula / The Wolfman

We’ll take our big three from different generations. For Frankenstein we’ll go with James Whale’s beautiful, funny, sad, frightening The Bride Of Frankenstein: the second of three Universal Frankensteins to star Boris Karloff as the monster. For Dracula we’ll go with Hammer and Christopher Lee: still the best adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, despite completely eviscerating it. And for The Wolfman we’ll actually take Joe Johnston’s loving recent homage, with Benicio del Toro as the unfortunate Lawrence Talbot, Shelly Johnson’s beautiful cinematography and Danny Elfman’s wonderful score. It’s a better film than you think it is – but make sure you watch the extended version rather than the theatrical cut.

American Cannibals

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre / The Hills Have Eyes / Wrong Turn

We’ve had Freddy, Jason and Micheal Myers, so we’d be remiss not to suggest a night starting with Leatherface. Tobe Hooper’s gnarly original Chainsaw Massacre remains an extraordinary ordeal, recently given a 4K overhaul which, frankly, seems weird for such a thoroughly grungy movie. Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes sits well alongside it, with the cannibal family this time out in the desert rather than confined to a house. And Wrong Turn is a fun backwoods tribute to both – perhaps hard to remember now that it’s turned into a DTV franchise about little more than gore, currently lumbering towards Part 7. The first one’s ace; trust us. And if the name of director Rob Schmidt looks weird next to Hooper and Craven, bear in mind that Wrong Turn is essentially all about FX legend Stan Winston.

Goblin Soundtracks

Deep Red / Suspiria / Dawn Of The Dead

We’ll mix up Dario Argento and George A. Romero here, with the linking thread the music by Italian nutballs Goblin. Deep Red was Argento’s return to the murderous territory of the giallo movie after a few years out, and widely considered one of the high watermarks of the entire genre. He followed it with the unmatched Suspiria, the first of his Three Mothers trilogy, about witchy goings on in a ballet school. And Argento was also much involved with Romero’s zombie masterpiece Dawn Of The Dead. If you want the full-on Goblin aural experience, you need to watch Argento’s Italian cut rather than Romero’s own. Goblin are playing in Cardiff, Birmingham and Manchester over the next few weeks, incidentally. Go see.

John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy

The Thing / Prince Of Darkness / In The Mouth Of Madness

And we’ll end where we began with John Carpenter. Didn’t know he’d made a trilogy? Well he hasn’t really, but he considers these three to be thematically linked, dealing as they all do in their way with the end of the world. The Thing gives us a dormant alien waking up to start a pandemic from the arctic; Prince Of Darkness sees Satan beginning his dark work among a gaggle of researchers; and In The Mouth Of Madness is a Lovecraftian tale about an author driving the world insane with his mega-selling new novel – and film adaptation. Sam Neill laughs as the apocalypse begins…