Written by Sooz Kempner


Scary thrills, blood spills and spine chills

Sooz Kempner tells us how she learned to stop worrying and love horror, and offers a film guide to scaring yourself shitless this Halloween.

Shaun of the Dead: You’ve got red on you. Photo: Oliver Upton/Universal Studios.

Shaun of the Dead: You’ve got red on you. Photo: Oliver Upton/Universal Studios.

I used to hate horror. I hated horror on screen and I hated it in books. As a pre-teen there were even a couple of Goosebumps books that disturbed me too much to finish (Say Cheese And Die… horrendous).

It all changed when I was 14 and read my first Stephen King novel: Misery. It’s horror but it’s also a psychological thriller and gets under your skin in the most wonderful way. I read more Stephen King, scaring myself stupid with It when I was 15. More than a decade later, it remains my favourite book as well as the reason I finally came to embrace horror, particularly horror cinema.

With Halloween on a Saturday night this year it’s the perfect time to get some friends round and scare the shit out of yourselves with a film. But which one? The range in horror cinema is enormous. Here is my guide for scary thrills, blood-spills and spine-chills to suit any viewer. Go on, be brave.

“I want chills!”

Like that creeping sense of dread? The kind of movies that create gooseflesh and have you hiding behind cushions/the cat? Well chill out, guys, Sooz got this. Get it? Chill out? Get on board, that’s what this whole article is going to be like…

Brave: The Ring. I’m not talking about the US remake, I’m talking about the original Japanese film from 1998. A haunted VHS tape that, once watched, kills you. It sounds ridiculous. It isn’t; it’s terrifying. I watched it alone at night when I was 16 and ruined the next three weeks of my life. Didn’t die though, so that’s good.

Braver: The Exorcist. More than 40 years after its release, William Friedkin’s supernatural exorcism movie is beautifully acted and still has the capacity to leave you a whimpering wreck. I can remember watching it as a teenager with a bunch of friends who kept laughing at the special effects. Gradually, as the story unfolded, they stopped laughing. Because The Exorcist is petrifying.

Bravest: Martyrs. Not for the faint of heart, Martyrs is the scariest film I’ve ever seen. I don’t want to say much about it as I think it’s best experienced with no prior information. Don’t be put off by subtitles (it’s French) and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be completely traumatised. Have fun!

Martyrs: The scariest movie Sooz has ever seen. FACT.

Martyrs: The scariest movie Sooz has ever seen. FACT.

“I want a slasher!”

Being chilled to the bone by Korean water ghosts and Satan himself not your bag? Prefer a bit of stabby-stabby action, maybe even with a pinch of whodunnit? What you want is a slasher. In my opinion Hitchcock’s Psycho is the precursor to every slasher in this list but it isn’t very… Halloween.

Brave: Scream. Wes Craven had already revitalised horror films with the Nightmare on Elm Street series (more on that later). When he released Scream, the first horror to acknowledge that horror movies exist, he revitalised it all over again. The original modern slasher, Scream is a scream, baby.

Braver: Halloween/A Nightmare on Elm Street/Friday The 13th/The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Four movies, Sooz? Four? These movies and the many, many sequels that followed dominated late-70s/80s horror cinema and it’s hard to pick between them. You’re in for a rollocking good thrill-ride whichever movie you choose.

Bravest: Sleepaway Camp. This bizarre little film is not without its flaws. Much of the acting is questionable and there’s a very cheap feel to the whole affair but, oh boy, that ending is etched on my memory and that’s why Sleepaway Camp is only for the bravest of viewers.

“I want to laugh!”

Getting the right mix of horror and comedy is tricky. Get it right and you get the films below. Get it wrong and you get Lesbian Vampire Killers. There are many terrific comedy-horrors that didn’t make the list (notably Young Frankenstein) but I stand by my picks. Weirdly, they’re all zombie films.

Brave: Shaun of the Dead. One of the great British films of the 21st century, Shaun of the Dead is so quotable and witty it’s easy to forget the excellent scares. Zombies have been hip again for the last 10 years and I think this movie played a part in that.

Braver: The Evil Dead. Sam Raimi’s super-low budget zombie classic sets itself apart from its counterparts with its ingenious practical special effects and black humour. It’s a blast.

Bravest: Braindead. Before Peter Jackson sent hobbits into Mordor and stuff (I don’t like Lord Of The Rings but I assume that sums up the series) he made fiendishly funny horror and none of his films are more fiendish or funny than Braindead. Incredible gore meets rapid farce at times in this little slice of insanity from New Zealand. Warning: have a sick bucket nearby.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or just a normal night in round Sooz's place?

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or just a normal night in round Sooz’s place?

“I want something bad!”

I love bad movies and so should you. Done badly, horror really whiffs and there are a good few turkeys that make it into the awesome so-bad-it’s-good category. Laugh incredulously at the ineptitude of the following howlers.

Brave: It. This three-hour adaptation of Stephen King’s incredible novel is a controversial choice, because I’ve met many people who think It is a truly frightening film. I’m sure it is if you’re already afraid of clowns or are, y’know, eight. But I find It laughably bad. A dodgy script, rickety special effects and what has to be the worst movie score ever composed are eclipsed only by a plethora of crappy performances. There are a couple of exceptions, notably a tour de force from Tim Curry as Pennywise, the killer clown. He is working at a level that the movie doesn’t deserve and is an absolute riot.

Braver: Maximum Overdrive. Oh, Stephen King. Why did you put a whole bunch of cocaine in your face and make a B-movie? (That’s not libellous by the way, he’s admitted it.) Off his head and with $9m at his disposal, King wrote and directed this steaming pile of shash about sentient trucks attacking some idiots in a service station. It’s great fun.

Bravest: Troll 2. Only for those of you with a very strong disposition, Troll 2 is not a sequel and trolls are never mentioned. A family go to a strange town full of vegetarian goblins who want to turn them into plants and then eat them. No, I don’t get it either. Troll 2 is what would happen if a competent film crew all suffered massive head injuries but were told to get the film made anyway. It’s a stunning, baffling mess. Love it.

“I want stellar acting!”

It’s rare for horror films to make it into the Oscar nominations, which is a shame as there are some awesome performances in the genre. If you like your scares convincing you can’t go far wrong with the following.

Brave: Frankenstein. It’s more than 80 years old but Frankenstein still packs a punch and that’s almost solely down to Boris Karloff’s performance as the monster. Even through heavy makeup and costume he evokes menace – and also vulnerability and pathos. At just over an hour, this is a classic that will fit right in with your Halloween viewing party.

“I’ve met many people who think It is a truly frightening film. I’m sure it is if you’re already afraid of clowns or are, y’know, eight.”

Braver: The Omen. I personally think all kids are evil but little Damien (Harvey Spencer Stevens) in The Omen is probably the worst. There’s a scene at an outdoors party that is incredibly disturbing and jarring but everything is lifted a notch by the performances, particularly Gregory Peck’s.

Bravest: The Babadook. Toe-curlingly creepy, The Babadook isn’t just the best horror of 2014, it’s one of the best films of that year full stop. At the centre of everything is the storming performance from Essie Davis as an increasingly terrified mother. I’ll never set foot in a basement again. Unless I’m told there is gin in there.

“I want found footage!”

Found footage isn’t really a genre, it’s an aesthetic but it’s become extremely popular over the last few years. Paranormal Activity is a recent success story (although it hasn’t made the list) and has spawned some heinous sequels but, if done right, found-footage movies involve a viewer like nothing else.

Brave: The Blair Witch Project. Seeing this in the cinema at 14 was something of a mistake. I left the cinema and dreaded going to bed that night. But what had I actually seen? Some people running, some stick figures hanging from trees and a man standing mute in a corner. Oh lord, the man standing mute in the corner.

Braver: REC. View a zombie apocalypse from the start in this Spanish found-footage masterpiece. Zombies suit found footage very well and REC is a film you’ll be unable to tear your eyes away from.

Bravest: Cannibal Holocaust. With a title as horrific as Cannibal Holocaust it would be easy for the movie to be tame in comparison. It isn’t. Cannibal Holocaust remains shocking 35 years after it was released. Italian director Ruggero Deodato invented found footage with this brutal exploitation film and was arrested for murder upon its release – it was that convincing. The film features some entirely unsimulated animal cruelty which no one needs to see so you’ll be pleased to know there is an edit available where the animal cruelty is removed.

The Thing

One of the less gruesome images from The Thing.

“I want to be grossed out!”

Sometimes it’s just fun to kick back and go “Eww!” so I’ve selected some horrors that are grand films with just the right amount of yuk. Behold some very fine body horror.

Brave: Hellraiser. This creepy oddity about sadomasochistic demons from the bowels of hell has some gloriously nasty practical special effects and is well worth a watch. CGI will probably never hold a candle to handmade effects.

Braver: The Fly. Cronenberg is never afraid to be disgusting and The Fly manages to combine stomach-turning effects with a real emotional heart. You’ll feel your skin crawl as Jeff Goldblum gradually becomes a fly.

Bravest: The Thing. If you handled The Fly OK you may be ready for John Carpenter’s The Thing. A shapeshifting alien is disguising itself as members of a team of scientists in Antarctica and killing them gruesomely. With makeup, prosthetics, puppetry and stop motion there are some truly nightmarish images in this 80s classic. You’ll certainly be ready for a gentle comedy after this one.

Right, that’s more than enough to choose from. Make a vat of pumpkin soup, turn off all the lights, eat enough sugar to keep you up until 3am, draw the curtains and be afraid. Be very afraid.


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Written by Sooz Kempner

Funny Women Variety Award Winner 2012. ASDA Kate Bush.