e can’t get together to do the monster mash, but there’s no better night than Halloween to scare yourself silly.
Here, Evening Standard writers pick the films that still give them the willies even now.
From classics like The Shining and It to some hammy Noughties shockers, make room behind the sofa and consider yourselves warned…
All that slime, that dripping acid, those pulsating eggs, and the alien creatures themselves — pure and utter terror. For years I was much too scared to even contemplate watching Alien, but I finally got round to enjoying (or should that be enduring) Ridley Scott’s original 1979 scare-athon masterpiece, gripping my 10-year-old son’s hand in terror, in about 2003.
I’ve watched it several times since, and it’s as terrifying now as the first time, more so actually because I know what’s coming — unlike the actors, who were apparently totally unprepared for the famous chest bursting scene. Still shocking after all these years.
The Mummy (1999)
At the risk of merciless teasing forevermore, the movie that terrified me as a youngster was The Mummy. Yes, the dreadful remake of the 1932 classic featuring a floppy-haired Brendan Fraser and a fresh-faced Rachel Weisz, who awaken a cursed, and long dead, high priest called Imhotep thus threatening the existence of humanity. Aged 11, it was the most frightening thing I had ever seen and I had nightmares for months about scarab beetles crawling under my skin and eating me alive. Now, much older but alas no wiser, I see it for what it is — a silly swashbuckling adventure story with terrible CGI and dodgy one-liners. But I still don’t fancy coming face to face with one of those beetles.
I just watched the original trailer and, OK, it looks shonky as hell. BUT there are still moments that make my heart race. I was persuaded to watch the two-parter as a teenager by a committed goth friend and the tale (since retold in a 2017 version which became one of the highest-grossing horror films of all time) about a group of chums terrorised by a child-murdering demon-clown, was scarringly scary. I think because of the inescapable proximity of the danger — Pennywise could appear amid the fluttering of your backyard washing line, or magically fill your fridge with sinister balloons — and the fact that grown-ups couldn’t see him and thought you were being ridiculous. I’ll never forget the two brave young kids scrubbing litres of blood off a bathroom that looked perfectly normal to the frightened girl’s abusive father. If Pennywise found you, you were on your own.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
I am so easily spooked that I couldn’t even watch spoof horror film Shaun of the Dead. It lulled me into a false sense of security, posing as a comedy, and then it gave me nightmares. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are hilarious as hapless flatmates on a mission to save Shaun (Pegg)’s ex-girlfriend, but what they are saving her from is no laughing matter — a pandemic of flesh-eating zombies who stalk the streets of Crouch End. It doesn’t help that I live nearby; I still can’t walk past The Winchester Tavern without feeling jumpy.
Jeepers Creepers (2001)
The curtains were drawn, the lights low and the bags of jaw-numbingly sugary sweets open. This was your common-or-garden 2003 sleepover, but instead of a rom-com, the video (!) we’d cued up was Jeepers Creepers. We’d all lied and told the boys at another school that we’d seen it, so it seemed imperative we did so. Of course it’s one of those hammy, Noughties teen numbers that borrows all the classic horror tropes and then reproduces them without sophistication or subtlety: students; road trip; remote countryside; run off road by an odd man who turns out to be a demonic creature who papers walls with human skin. Obviously, we were terrified. Especially when the man-monster sprouted wings, when I’m fairly certain we all screamed. I was very glad to be sharing a room with four other 13-year-olds that evening; I’m not certain my 11-year-old brother was as delighted when I returned home and insisted on sleeping on his floor for a week. The boys from the other school never spoke to us again.
The Shining (1980)
The reason it took me years and years and years to watch The Shining is precisely why it scared me so much: I thought old films couldn’t be that frightening. Filmmaking has progressed so much since 1980 — surely the movie that spooked my parents all those years ago couldn’t get the better of me now? I was ignorant. And I paid the price. I can now firmly deliver a filmic truism: The Shining is really, really scary. The twins! The elevator full of blood! Jack Nicholson’s crazier-than-a-box-of-particularly-crazy-frogs face! I watched virtually the whole thing through my fingers. Sorry, Mr Kubrick, I’ve learned my lesson.
The Ring (2002)
Would 12-year-old me have felt any better knowing that The Ring’s main devices of torment — VHS tapes, landlines and wishing wells — would all be rendered obsolete by modern life? Probably not, because a few days after watching it at a sleepover, I received an email from “Samara”, notifying me (in quite a jazzy font) that I only had seven days to live. Yes, one of my school friends later claimed responsibility, but the looming threat that long-haired well-dweller Samara might get an iPhone remains. Based on the inhumanely scary 1998 Japanese original, it’s about a sketchy video tape doing the rounds: watch it, they say, and you’ll die within seven days. Naturally everyone watches it immediately. When the phone call comes and all you’ve seen is some static and a woman brushing her hair, you probably wonder if it was really worth it. But, oh well, it’s too late now. It still haunts me in my dreams.
Bird Box (2018)
Being hunted by something so evil that just the sight of it makes you want to take your own life. I mean, can you think of anything worse? Oh, and you’re one of the only people left on Earth. I don’t watch horror movies, I don’t have the constitution for it, so when I eventually succumbed to the buzz around Netflix’s 2018 movie Bird Box, it haunted me. Actually, come to think of it, an invisible deathly monster forcing us to hide indoors… I was right to be so scared.