The Ten Best Classic Horror Films to Stream This Halloween
Settle in for a spooky movie marathon featuring a 97-year-old vampire flick and a South Korean zombie thriller.
When the first motion pictures flickered across the big screen 120-plus years ago, audiences were reportedly scared. The line between truth, embellishment and fiction has become muddled over time, but the idea viewers were astonished and startled when they watched the Lumière brothers' famous The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station makes one hell of an urban legend.
That was back in 1896. As we know all these years later, cinema hasn't stopped causing bumps and jumps since. The world's first horror film is thought to have released the same year — Georges Méliès' three-minute short called The House of the Devil — and plenty of folks have taken his lead afterwards.
Today, that means horror's on-screen cup truly runneth over. Thanks to streaming, a wealth of unnerving flicks linger at everyone's fingertips. If you prefer celebrating Halloween by dimming the lights, popping some corn and getting cosy on the couch for a marathon of unsettling movies, we've put together ten classic recommendations — from creepy vampire films that are almost a century old to more modern must-sees.
Before she took Keanu Reeves surfing in Point Break, tasked Jeremy Renner with defusing bombs in The Hurt Locker and dramatised the international manhunt for Osama bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty — and before she became the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar, too — Kathryn Bigelow sunk her teeth into the vampire genre. Near Dark, her 1987 sophomore film, takes elements of the western genre, throws in a clan of roving bloodsuckers and lets atmospheric horror thrills ensue. Bigelow's work has always been lean but weighty, and her dance with the fanged undead is no different. In fact, it's a flat-out vamp classic.
Near Dark is available to stream on SBS On Demand.
TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME
As 2017's Twin Peaks revival proved, no one conjures up unsettling imagery quite like David Lynch. He's been thrusting eerie visuals out into the world since 1977's Eraserhead — but if you like your Lynchian unease with some damn fine coffee and a slice of cherry pie, there's nothing better than 1992's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Set in the lead-up to Laura Palmer's (Sheryl Lee) death, the prequel flick burrows deep into the sinister forces at play. It's a movie of sheer dread, even though viewers know what's going to happen. As only he can, Lynch steeps every frame in the pain, terror and suffering of his doomed protagonist, all while baking in his usual surrealist touches. No wonder it lingers long after watching, like the two seasons of Twin Peaks before it and the belated third season that followed 25 years later.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is available to stream on Stan.
Back in 1973, the horror genre was possessed — and it has never truly recovered. That's not a criticism; The Exorcist is a landmark piece of spine-tingling cinema, with William Friedkin's film leaving a heavy imprint on everything that's followed. It even became the first horror flick to score an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, a feat that's still much more rare than it should be. When a movie spends the bulk of its time with a 12-year-old girl (Linda Blair) whose body has been overtaken by a demon, as well as with the two priests (Max von Sydow and Jason Miller) trying to cast the devil out and save her soul, it's going to make an impact. The fact that the film was based on a William Peter Blatty novel inspired by real-life exorcisms also helped, as did Friedkin's handling of Blatty's script, which gives the supernatural details a raw, visceral feel.
The Exorcist is available to stream on Netflix.
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
How funky is your chicken? How loose is your goose? And, to keep the questions going, how well do you remember the original Buffy? Before Sarah Michelle Gellar stepped into her shoes in the cult TV show, everyone's favourite vampire slayer shouted the above cheers, took guidance from Donald Sutherland, battled Rutger Hauer and romanced Luke Perry in the 1992 big-screen comedy. The Joss Whedon-scripted flick still takes its premise seriously, but there's a looser vibe to the movie than the television series. And a thoroughly early 90s vibe, as well. While you're enjoying the undead-killing antics, keep an eye out for everyone from Hilary Swank to Thomas Jane and Ben Affleck among the cast, too.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is available to stream on Foxtel Now.
This time last year, the latest Halloween film hit cinemas. In 2020 and 2021, sequels Halloween Kills and then Halloween Ends will reach the big-screen in late October. But, when it comes to the absolutely best franchise for this time of year, 2019 is unfortunately an anomaly. While Michael Myers isn't terrorising a theatre near you at this very moment, John Carpenter's original 1979 flick is always worth revisiting — in the slasher-thriller realm, it's an utter masterclass. From Jamie Lee Curtis' pitch-perfect performance as formidable babysitter Laurie Strode, to the pervasive air of unease looming over suburbia and Carpenter's own exceptionally unnerving score, the original Halloween is both supremely scary and sublime.
Halloween is available to stream from the Apple Store.
Scaring cinemagoers while simultaneously making them laugh isn't as easy as it might sound. Plenty of films call themselves horror-comedies, but they're usually just comedies with horror theming — and they're about as sinister as clown without makeup. While 2014 New Zealand picture Housebound falls into the tried-and-tested sub-genre that is haunted house flicks, writer/director Gerard Johnstone finds the ideal balance between spooks and giggles, all by following a small-time criminal placed on house arrest. Kylie (Morgana O'Reilly) would rather be anywhere but stuck at home for eight months with her mother (Rima Te Wiata); however she soon discovers that they have company in a movie that serves up jumps and chuckles in tandem.
It's the best Dracula film that doesn't actually mention the word "Dracula". In fact, when FW Murnau adapted Bram Stoker's gothic classic in 1922 without getting permission to do so, a court ordered that the movie be destroyed. Thankfully, a few prints survived, which is how we can still soak in the wonders of Nosferatu. Even with a few changes (the famed bloodsucker is now called Count Orlock, for example) the story lures viewers in, but it's not just the plot that's captivating. As proves the case with all German Expressionist cinema from the 1920s, it's how the tale is told in a visual sense that makes an enormous impact. Also significant today, almost a century later, is how free Nosferatu is from everything that's since become a vampire cliche — with the film cutting to the heart of Stoker's disquieting narrative instead.
Nosferatu is available to stream on Tubi.
TRAIN TO BUSAN
Forget Snakes on a Plane — if you want to see what happens when something scary is let loose in a confined space, but you don't want to cringe the whole time, opt for zombies on a train instead. Yeon Sang-ho's instant classic doesn't use the obvious moniker; however this frenetic thrill ride definitely fits the description. It's far, far better than that simplistic outline might seem to suggest, though. As well as forcing a father (Gong Yoo) and daughter (Kim Su-an) to fend off the shuffling hordes while they're in mid-transit, and fleshing its protagonists out more than most zombie flicks manage, Train to Busan also paints a probing picture of modern-day South Korean society. It's part of a franchise, too, with animated prequel Seoul Station exploring another aspect of the outbreak, and a sequel is also in the works.
Train to Busan is available to stream on Netflix.
Is a horror classic really a horror classic if it hasn't spawned a remake? In The Craft's case, no one will need to ponder this question for much longer. A new version is currently in the works, but that doesn't mean that the 90s original is going anywhere — and if you like your retro horror fun packaged with teen goth witches, then you'll always want to go back to where it all began. Starring Neve Campbell, Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk and Rachel True, the 1996 hit charts the fallout when a group of high-schoolers start messing around with the occult and using it to rule the school. It owes a significant debt to Heathers, just with added witches, but The Craft still casts its own enjoyable spell.
The Craft is available to stream on on Google Play.
If you ever come across a gooey substance on the ground, don't eat it. Things don't turn out well when this exact scenario happens in 1985 satirical horror/sci-fi The Stuff — especially after the titular substance is sold in supermarkets, marketed as being calorie-free and starts a huge food craze. Where it goes from there is best discovered by watching, but don't expect anything in the way of subtlety or realism. Larry Cohen sits in the director's chair, and this is the kind of playful horror fun that the prolific B-movie filmmaker was known for. Everyone needs their spooks with a dose of silliness now and then, after all.
The Stuff is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Published on October 31, 2019 by Sarah Ward