Halloween movies to watch this year

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Photo courtesy of Bryanston Pictures.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Halloween is here and the revolutionary horror movies of the 1970s are a great place for anyone looking to get into the season with a great horror movie.

In the 1970s, the boundaries of the horror genre were pushed further than they had ever been before. As a result, we have many genre-defining classics such as “The Exorcist,” “Halloween” and perhaps most notably, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Produced on a shoestring budget and shot like a documentary, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is a disturbingly simple classic.

The film tells the story of five young adults who are on a road trip to go visit an abandoned home where some of the characters had grown up.

This house is located in one of the most remote and desolate parts of Texas.

While exploring the house and the area around it, our main characters find themselves victims of a family of savage redneck cannibals who will stop at nothing to slaughter any who are unfortunate enough to come across them.

The chainsaw-wielding Leatherface is the focus of the fears of our protagonists and the viewing audience. The very thought of being in the same world as such a monster is enough to make anyone’s stomach squirm.

The brutality on display in this movie is not for the faint of heart. Even seasoned horror movie viewers will likely have trouble stomaching this film.

Pure cruelty and insanity is what drives the evil in this film, making it all the more terrifying. This movie pushes the boundaries of showing just how horrible people can be to one another and how much mindless evil one can endure.

The simplicity of the plot, intelligent dialogue, use of foreshadowing and good performances all lend to the creation of a nail-biting experience. This movie introduces the cannibals with very little buildup and relies on the disturbing nature of the subject matter to terrify the audience, rather than cheap jump scares.

Hooper’s classic is a brutally horrifying experience, even 43 years after it was originally released. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is unlike any low-budget horror movie that came before it and has been influential to all that followed.

For those with a strong stomach and a passion for the Halloween season, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is an appropriately horrific classic.

Scream

“You like scary movies?”

If you do, Halloween is here, and the brilliant and creative mind of the master of horror, Wes Craven, has made just the film.

Craven defined the modern horror genre. Revolutionary and startling films such as “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “The Hills Have Eyes” took old horror tropes and made them into something new and terrifying.

Craven’s talent for reinventing the horror genre is best seen in one of the most well-known slasher movies of all time, “Scream.”

In 1996, when “Scream” was released, audiences were saturated with countless slasher movies wherein the plot was predictable and characters were the same from film to film;  the horror movies were generally shallow and gory. For franchises such as “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th” and even Craven’s own “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” their first installments were revolutionary achievements in their own right, but became bogged down by campy, predictable and poorly made sequels.

Craven saw this downward trend in the horror genre and made “Scream.” When “Scream” was released, it reinvigorated an entire genre of cinema.

“Scream” follows high schooler Sidney Prescott who lives in the tiny town of Woodsboro.

Prescott and her friends are typical teenagers who, like many children of the ’90s, grew up with slasher movies and knew the cliches and tropes of them well.

In the film, Woodsboro has been recovering from the brutal murder of Prescott’s mother. The anniversary of her death is approaching when Prescott and her friends begin receiving terrifying phone calls from the cloaked and masked ghostface killer who seems fixed on killing Prescott.

The town is terrorized once again by horrific murders. Poor Prescott is left with only her friends, who insist on partying since school was canceled due to the murders.

Prescott is constantly on edge because, like the audience, she cannot figure out who is trying to kill her.

She suspects all from her boyfriend to her father to her other friends because this movie breaks all of the typical rules of a slasher film.

“You like scary movies?” This line from the first five minutes of “Scream” instantly makes audiences realize that it is not simply a person or a group of people that are being focused on. Rather, it is the horror genre itself.

“Scream” is so effective because it constantly keeps the audience guessing. The movie plays with its viewers by subverting countless horror movie cliches so the audience does not know what to think.

It is a very reflective and humorous work that never misses an opportunity to show how smart it is.

Saw

“Saw” was director James Wan’s first film to make waves in filmgoing crowds. In 2004, when “Saw” was released, horror audiences demanded more gore, more terror and more sadistic twists.

On an incredibly small budget, James Wan worked with other novice filmmakers to create a movie that would define the horror genre for a decade.

“Saw” focuses on two unfortunate souls, Adam and Dr. Gordon, who are trapped in a filthy room together and are unable to find any way out. They are chained to opposite sides of the room and have no idea as to how they got there.

They soon discover a tape that reveals that they are at the center of a deadly game organized by the Jigsaw killer. They must find a way to break free from their bondage or face the truth that only one will ever be allowed to leave alive.

They begin to discover and remember more and more about how they got in their undesirable circumstances through flashbacks that are integrated seamlessly into the film.

These men, and the audience, begin to learn more about themselves, how they are connected, why they are there and who this terrifying Jigsaw actually is.

The film concludes with a grisly, suspenseful and shocking twist that will still leave audiences’ mouths wide open.

The methodical and psychotic character of Jigsaw is arguably the most disturbing aspect of “Saw.”

The way that this killer constructs his games is all about making people realizing what wrong they have done in their lives and forcing them to dig deep and endure intense mental, physical and emotional pain in order to survive.

Jigsaw claims that he is no murderer, he believes that he is a liberator. His mission is to free people from their ingratitude for life, and he goes about this by forcing them to choose between pain and death.

Those who do not survive his games, Jigsaw claims, do not deserve life because they were not willing to sacrifice for it.

Because of this type of justification for the violence happening, “Saw” is an intense psychological thriller. Not only are audiences disgusted by what is being shown on screen, they are left utterly terrified when they consider what they themselves would do in the victim’s’ place.  

“Saw” does feature a great deal of gore. However, the superior first installment in the lengthy franchise has significantly less than its over-the-top sequels.

“Saw” was a low budget horror movie and suffers many issues due to the budget. Some of the ways that certain scenes are edited are very jarring and succeed in giving the audience motion sickness rather than terror.

The acting in “Saw” is serviceable; there are no incredible stand out performances.

The film’s greatest assets are its chilling concept, suspenseful nature, horrifying and brutal sequences, and the brilliance of the man behind the camera.

“Saw” now has seven sequels, and none of them quite grasped the psychological aspect of the first film that made it so compelling.

For those with strong stomachs and are looking for a terrifying thriller, “Saw” is an appropriately gripping and gruesome choice.

The Blair Witch Project

“The Blair Witch Project” was released to audiences in 1999 and was a pop culture phenomenon not quite like any other before. It was the first found-footage horror movie that made waves in the box office, and for good reason.

In “The Blair Witch Project,” audiences follow a group of college students out to make a documentary about the infamous Blair Witch. The audience follows these students as they document their trek through the woods of Maryland to see what they can discover.

As they are on their journey, this skeptical group begins to realize that they are not quite so alone as they may have thought. Their hike quickly takes turns for the worse, literally.

The group loses their way, goes around in circles and is tormented by a supernatural entity that never makes its way onto the screen, adding to the suspense felt by the audience.

When the students wake up, they discover piles of rocks outside their tents, disturbing stick figures hung all over their campsites and their belongings strewn about.

At night, they endure the terror of hearing cackling in the woods, and their tents are suddenly battered. They, as well as the audience, feel truly trapped.

They devolve into terror as they slowly realize that they are never going to make it home. One by one, members of the group are lost to the witch’s cunning.

While the first two acts of the movie are relatively slow, they are engaging for any committed viewer. The last act of the film is intense, terrifying and downright disturbing despite little to no gore shown.

This movie builds tension, suspense and intense fear through its sheer realism.

No horror movie that came before it can match just how real it feels.

“The Blair Witch Project” was one of the first ever found-footage style horror movies. The way it was marketed, written, directed, acted and shot led throngs of viewers to believe that what they saw in the theaters in 1999 was actually real.

Even critics who knew that the movie was indeed fiction declared it to be the most terrifying movie of all time simply because no one was used to the intense realism of the film.

No horror movie had ever accomplished this on a large scale before, and no film has come close to it. Now found-footage movies such as the “Paranormal Activity” franchise and “V/H/S” are incredibly common, but “The Blair Witch Project” was the first.

Even among modern found footage movies that are technically better shot and edited, “The Blair Witch Project” holds up very well because it does not rely on cheap jump scares or manufactured tension to grip its audience.

This movie scares because of the merit of its story, wonderful performances from its actors and the simple brilliance of the writing.

Despite this high level of praise, “The Blair Witch Project” is not for everyone. Many viewers will find the found-footage style of the movie to be too slow and much of the dialogue and situations to be boring.

“The Blair Witch Project” kick-started the found-footage horror movie sub-genre and because of this, it will forever be remembered as iconic but also, unfortunately, has to compete with hundreds of other entries into the genre it started such as “Paranormal Activity,” “REC,” “The Visit,” and “Cloverfield.”

Many modern audiences will not be able to appreciate the movie for all it truly is because they are all used to the type of movie that “The Blair Witch Project” is.

For all who are fans of iconic cinema and are looking for a notable movie to watch this Halloween season, “The Blair Witch Project” will delight and scare all committed viewers.

The Conjuring

Director James Wan is arguably the best horror movie director currently in the business. Wan has dominated the genre and has given audiences some of the most notable horror movies in modern times, and some of the best horror movies ever made, period.

Some of his most well-known creations include “Saw,” the “Insidious” franchise and “The Conjuring” franchise.

Wan is a master cinematographer, writer and director who takes concepts that audiences are familiar with and films them in a way that leaves them speechless and clawing at their seats.

In “The Conjuring,” Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga star as a married couple of Catholic paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren.

“The Conjuring” is a re-creation of a real-life case of possession. The Warrens were called to the Perron family home in the 1970s to investigate a series of bizarre occurrences that had the Perron’s desperate.

After the Warrens arrive, they investigate all possible causes of the seemingly supernatural and demonic events occurring with the highest level of skepticism, but quickly come to realize that they are indeed dealing with a malevolent force.

As the Warrens are Catholic, they try to get a member of the clergy who has been trained in the rite of exorcism to come to the Perron home, but are unable to contact the Church in time.

The Warrens then take it upon themselves to call upon the name of God and rid the family of the demon’s grasp.

“The Conjuring” is an intensely scary and emotionally riveting movie. The audience really grows to care about the Warrens as well as the poor family being tortured by this entity.

The haunting genre of horror movies is full of countless entries. Very few will ever stand out, and “The Conjuring” stands a head and shoulders above the rest.

“The Conjuring” is a modern masterpiece in the horror genre not because of any groundbreaking themes, but because of the way the movie was made.

Wan uses expert cinematography to craft scenes that build tension upon tension and winds the audience up like a rope ready to be snapped. Wan needs no cheap jump scares or grotesque imagery to scare because of his great ability to squeeze every bit of potential out of every scene.

The way certain scenes are shot is alone enough to engage audiences, and the film boasts a well-written screenplay that allows most characters to be fully fleshed out and ensures that every scene builds on the previous one.

Committed performances, particularly from stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, as well as supporting actress Lili Taylor, lend to the engaging atmosphere of the film.

An interesting fact that illustrates how creepy “The Conjuring” really is, is that it received an R rating despite featuring no nudity, grotesque violence or an abundance of profanity. The movie is rated R for simply being scary.

For seasoned horror fans, the beginning of “The Conjuring” can feel a bit slow at times. However, the somewhat slow buildup allows the intensity of the second and third acts to take full advantage of the tension established.

“The Conjuring” is not a revolutionary or new type of movie, but it is a superb one. It takes concepts everyone is familiar with and uses them to their full potential and delivers an experience that will have most checking under their bed, inside their closet and praying a bit longer than normal before going to bed.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Why is U Dallas News printing this story about Halloween movies? How is this encouraging your readers to pursue what is good, beautiful, and true? How are these suggested movies in keeping with the mission and vision of U Dallas? If I am missing the intent please explain.

    • To my knowledge, good cinema is an expression of the truth. If a movie is good, people should be able to relate to it and understand what about it is intrinsically true.

      Horror movies do not remove one in any way from the good, true, or beautiful unless a person becomes obsessed with the evil and worships it.

      Any Christian is called to look at a horror movie and see the pitfalls we can perhaps fall into ourselves. Often a horror film will contain a terrible situation that a person falls into out of their own sin or the sin of another.

      These movies can serve as depictions of the worst state of man, and they always illustrate that sin is what gets us into terrifying circumstances. They are warnings. They help us realize just how incredibly important it is to remain in a state of grace and keep God at the forefront of our thoughts and concerns.

      It is naïve to simply say that if you do not acknowledge sin, you will not experience it. These films point us to God by showing us the horror of a life without Him.

      A movie such as “The Conjuring” perfectly illustrates this. Two Catholic persons who are very much concerned with the true, the good, and the beautiful come together and experience a terrifying evil caused by sin. This evil causes them to turn to God and trust in His saving grace to rid this family of the effects of sin.

      While we all may not experience drastic evil everyday, we all experience evil. Movies like this make viewers recognize that we need God’s mercy for all our sins and every evil, no matter how small or large, that enters our lives.

      Besides turning us towards God’s grace and love, these movies are incredibly important to understand modern pop culture, are wonderfully creative and beautiful works, and are unique artistic expressions that can be appreciated by all peoples.

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