When it comes to horror, I’m a bit of a wimp I’m afraid.
Whenever my other half wants me to get on with some housework or DIY all she has to do is reach for The Exorcist and I’m off the couch quicker than the power of Christ compelling me!
It’s not the gore or mess that I can’t stand, although I wouldn’t recommend watching Alien: Resurrection when eating your tea (it put me off spag bol and orange juice for many months!). I find that it’s the anticipation of the “jump scare”, a shock technique that is becoming increasingly prevalent in modern horror, that is more than I can handle for some reason. I can watch Alien and Aliens without too much bother but only because I know exactly where each jumpy bit is and even then the cushion is within easy reach.
I like intelligent horror and not just gore for the sake of it, so, for my fellow scaredy-pants who want to embrace this Halloween with horror they can handle, here is my top five films you can watch without any danger to your underwear:
5) Let The Right One In
This is commonly referred to as a vampire film but I think this is misleading. What it’s really about is two children who are both outsiders to their peers, and one of them just happens to be a vampire. It is a Swedish film adapted from a book and directed by Tomas Alfredson. It won such an array of awards that I’m sure he had to build an extension on his house just to fit them all in! Set in 1980’s Stockholm, a young boy, Oskar, is being bullied at school and strikes up a friendship with a girl of the same age, Eli, who lives next door. Both have their struggles, and whilst Oskar faces the types of issues that most children can relate to, Eli is struggling to cope with her need to feed, and in each other they find a kindred spirit despite their differences.
Whilst there are a few messy bits, it’s quite tame when it comes to the horror elements, which are apparently quite mild compared to the book, with Alfredson concentrating more on the relationship of his protagonists than out-and-out gore. It has an oppressive atmosphere though and that always enhances the shivers going down your spine. It is a simple story told well with an artistic subtlety from a director who doesn’t want to create a heavy-handed horror romp. It doesn’t have fancy visual effects either, which further enhances the creepy realism of the supernatural elements of this film.
You may want to reconsider this choice of film if you are planning to get cats though…
4) Shaun of the Dead
The first and the best of Edgar Wright’s hallowed Cornetto Trilogy, Shaun of the Dead manages to pull off the impossible by merging a zombie film with a romantic comedy and ensuring all elements work together to create a satisfying whole. The horror makes you jump (when you’re not expecting it) and is as gory as you would want a zombie film to be, it is side-splittingly funny with the same humour that made Simon Pegg’s Spaced such a hit, and they even manage to convince the audience that at the centre of it all is a useless boyfriend struggling to maintain a relationship with a woman who is clearly too good for him. The balance of all these themes is spot on too, and you never get fed up with one and yearn for the other. It isn’t afraid to go down some dark alleys with its story either, or pull its punches when the zombies feed. This makes it sound like the film is too horrific for this list but the intelligent script and comedy elements remove the emphasis from the horror and makes it a joy to watch, whilst providing a sort-of relief from the graphic visuals as a result.
3) The Devil’s Backbone
I bet you didn’t expect a film with a title like this to appear in the list!
It is horrendously misleading, as The Devil’s Backbone is actually a very heart-warming ghost story from the genius that is Guillermo Del Toro, who has gone on record to say that this is the favourite of all his films. Set during the last year of the Spanish Civil War, a young boy named Carlos is left at an orphanage that is haunted by the ghost of Santi, who went missing the day that a bomb landed in the courtyard and didn’t detonate…
…and that’s all I’m going to say when it comes to the plot, as it has a few twists and turns that I wouldn’t want to spoil. Rest assured that it isn’t gory or scary, and if memory serves me well there is only one “jump scare” in it, but that may be a result of my having my speakers on too loud during one of the quieter moments! You would be forgiven if you thought the “ghost story” was more a sub-plot to what is really happening at this orphanage, and that is in no way a criticism as the normal and the paranormal weave this tale together masterfully. The film never ventures too far away from the orphanage, so a lot rests on the shoulders of the young cast; and no one puts a foot wrong. They have a fantastic script to work with though and you will be gripped throughout.
This is one of those films that I always want to see again when I talk about it. It is an absolute triumph. Plus, the title makes it sound like you’ve watched a no-holds-barred horror film so all your friends will think you’re really brave!
A horror film you can enjoy with all the family… well, most of the family anyway. Despite it being a cutesy-looking animation I wouldn’t let a child under the age of seven watch this chiller from the geniuses at Laika Studios.
Based on a novel by Neil Gaiman of the same name, Coraline is a young girl who moves into a new house with her parents, and both are so busy with work that she feels neglected. Behind a secret door in her new home she discovers the Other World, where she finds alternate versions of her mother and father who are identical in appearance bar stitched-on buttons for eyes. She finds that they are much warmer and attentive towards her, but little does she know that a dark secret lurks behind this loving façade…
This is a scary film for its target audience but one that the adults can handle, although I was surprised by how frightening this can be towards the end. As you come to expect from Laika, the animation is beautiful but the story at its heart is what makes this an animated classic. With a veteran stop-motion director at the helm and made under the watchful eye and approval of Gaiman himself, this film received the universal acclaim that it thoroughly deserved.
If you and/or your children enjoy this then I have no hesitation in recommending the superb films in Laika’s star-studded catalogue, particularly their latest, Kubo and the Two Strings. Or, if you are still in a Halloween mood, then ParaNorman is one of their finest.
1) Pan’s Labyrinth
I know, I know, I’m predictable, but it is the greatest horror film you can watch without having nightmares.
Some may argue that it is not a horror at all, but the head honcho of the Shock and Gore Festival in Birmingham says it is and that’s good enough for me…
…and he’s absolutely right. There are some horrific scenes in this film that show you enough to make you squirm but leave enough to your imagination to fill in the blanks. No amount of blood and guts that the eyes see can compare with the fear that the human mind can imagine, and whilst Pan’s Labyrinth’s focus is firm on the adult fairy-tale genre, director Guillermo Del Toro is adept at introducing the scary stuff and letting the viewer conceive the rest.
It is set during the Spanish Civil War, and is about a young girl whose mother marries a Captain in the army (who is a nasty piece of work). Set against the back drop of the war with the Spanish Resistance, our young heroine finds a labyrinth amongst the grounds of her step-father’s home, where she encounters a fawn who tells her that she is the lost princess of a fantastical realm. In order to return, he instructs her to complete three tasks to prove that she really is the missing princess, which is no easy feat…
It doesn’t sound like a horror but some of the scenes in the real world and the fantasy world will have you chomping your nails to the quick. You will not forget the scene with the bottle, the scene in the shed and the pale man in a hurry! Pan’s Labyrinth is so much more than that though. It is a heart-breaking tale that will leave no dry eyes in the house when it ends. The practical and digital effects blend seamlessly to fully immerse you into this brutal but magical world. It is directed by a true master of the craft who has the audience in the palm of his hand from start to finish. Gripping story, an inspired score and outstanding performances from the cast. I could write a dissertation on just how well this film is made and how it should be on everyone’s Blu-ray shelf, but I’ll leave it there.
There you have it, the Film Fluff top five horror films if you are a wuss like me… I have just realised that three of those five films are subtitled. If you have an aversion to subtitles, please read my last blog, which can be found here
Y’see, I don’t just throw this stuff together!