The air outside getting colder, the days getting shorter and the 13th of this month just happening to land on a Friday all serve as a reminder that Halloween spirit is in full effect and that spooky season is upon us. What better way is there to fully channel that energy than to turn off all the lights in the house and flip on a scary movie, hoping and praying that the shadow in the corner of the room is just a piece of clothing?
To help you on your quest to find a good movie to watch this Halloween season, here is a list of movies and short films rated from 1 to 10 in terms of spookiness (1 being “I can sleep soundly at night after watching this movie” and 10 being “I need to punch the shower curtains to make sure nobody is there.”)
If you took some of the fantastical aspects of Alice in Wonderland (the idea of a mirror dimension, the blurring of dreams and reality, etc), mixed in some darker elements and made it into a stop motion film, you would get Coraline, a story about a young girl neglected by her parents who finds a portal to a better and mirrored version of her life. In the parallel world, Coraline finds a loving version of her parents, but with one key difference: They have hollow, black buttons sewn in as eyes. As Coraline comes to find out, those eyes are a key indicator of the darker aspects that surround this seemingly perfect world and the manipulation involved in getting her to stay there.
Spooky rating: 6/10
It’s hard to be scared by an animated film, but there’s something so unsettling and uncanny about the figures with buttoned eyes in the film… It’s almost like the opposite of seeing the toys in Toy Story and getting a sense of comfort.
Where to watch:
At this point, The Shining has been memed into oblivion with the infamous “here’s Johnny” scene, but the memes undersell just how much of a masterpiece the movie is in terms of conveying fear and tension. Most of the scenes in the movie are tightly framed, and the music is unsettling and unhinged, pointing to the gradual mental breakdown of Johnny (the main character, who moves his family to a hotel in which the previous owner murdered his entire family).
Spooky rating: 8/10
Director Stanley Kubrick is widely known as a stickler for detail when it comes to filmmaking, and this reputation is fully earned in The Shining. Every little detail, from the camera work to the color scheme to the music, is designed to make you feel uncomfortable, and that feeling lingers long after you’ve finished watching the film.
Where to watch:
Portrait of God:
They say you should never meet your idol, a point that the short film Portrait of God makes clear in its opening scene with the line, “‘No man shall see Me and live.’— Exodus 33:20.” Throughout the short duration of the film, the main character (a young woman giving a presentation about a blank portrait in which other people claim to see an image of God) begins to learn this lesson by staring at the portrait and feeling a presence of God that is unexpected and unsettling. The entirety of the film is set in a dark auditorium setting, and you can actually feel the tension as the blank portrait stops being a blank portrait and God reveals himself, albeit in a surprising and unnerving way.
Spooky rating: 9/10
There’s something very terrifying about the idea that the source of your fear is right there with you, and this film does a great job of manipulating the lighting to “hide” that source of fear (upon closer inspection and second watch, I’ve come to realize that God is in frame, even at the beginning of the film).
Where to watch:
Other Side of the Box:
A common trope found in the horror genre is a “cursed item”: A person is given a mysterious item that contains some kind of curse, and the only way the person can escape the curse is by giving the item to another person. The short film Other Side of the Box takes this trope and condenses it into 15 minutes of heart pounding tension; Ben (the main character) is given a gift box and a letter by Shawn (an old friend of Ben), who seems anxious to get rid of the box. The box initially seems harmless, but after Ben shows the box to his girlfriend and he reads the letter (it tells him that the creature in the box won’t move if he keeps an eye on it), a human head appears out of the box and stares at Ben. The rest of the film focuses on Ben and his girlfriend’s new-found responsibility of keeping their eyes on the head at all times, as well as the decisions they make regarding the box.
Spooky rating: 10/10
The fact that the creature inside the box is introduced so quickly in the film makes it that much scarier. We as an audience are faced with the dread of what might happen if Ben and his girlfriend lay eyes off the creature.