It wouldn’t be Halloween without settling down to a movie that will prey on your biggest fears and worst nightmares. But rather than the obvious list of blood and gore, try one of these seminal cult horror films that are as fashionably cool as they are chilling. Whether a haunting classic from the late 60s and 70s, the era of the horror genre, or a new critically-acclaimed future classic, send a shiver down your spine this All Hallows’ Eve.
The setting may be the resort of Scarborough, with its sandy beach and donkey rides, but the seaside fun ends there. This psychological melodrama – from first-time feature director Rose Glass – is a tale of “faith, madness and salvation in a fallen world”. Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) is a headstrong former dancer and choreographer who is dying from cancer. Along comes Maud (played by Morfydd Clark), a newly devout hospice nurse, who – haunted by her own sinful past – becomes obsessed with saving her patient’s soul. As Maud’s journey into darkness unravels and we witness her disturbing breakdown, be prepared to be chilled to the bone.
No Halloween film list would be complete without Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s modern-day tale of Satanism and occultism. Macabre and darkly comic, it tells the tale of the emotionally-fragile Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes), who move into a swanky-yet-spooky New York apartment. The young couple are trying for a baby and when Rosemary falls pregnant, she becomes obsessed that her husband – along with the seemingly friendly elderly neighbours Minnie and Roman Castevet– are all in a plot against her and the baby. Thus begins her spiral into a dark, dark world of unease and paranoia.
A truly eerie folk horror from acclaimed Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska, which tells the story of an all-female religious cult that lives in a forest cut off from the world, led by a man who calls himself Shepherd (Game of Thrones’ Michiel Huisman). Here, the women are divided into ‘wives’ and ‘sisters’ , all of them sexual servants of the Shepherd. As Selah (Raffey Cassidy) – who was born into the secretive cult – reaches adolescence, she begins to rebel and starts questioning the Shepherd’s authority… with blood curdling results. The film, shot entirely in Wicklow, is visually stunning, but even the dreamy landscapes won’t distract you from the misogynistic toxicity and simmering suspense.
A British gothic cult classic, directed by Robin Hardy and loosely based on the novel Ritual by David Pinner. The protagonist is Police Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward), who is sent to the remote Scottish island of Summerisle in search of a missing child. But, surprise surprise, all is not as it seems. A devout Christian, Howie is shocked to discover that the isle’s inhabitants now practice a sinister form of paganism, fraught with bizarre rituals and provocative behaviour (Britt Ekland’s naked dance as the seductive innkeeper’s daughter Willow is one such example) – even human sacrifice is on the agenda.
A thriller of epic edge-of-your-seat proportions. In Nicolas Roeg’s haunting adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s shattering short story, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie play grief-stricken couple John and Laura Baxter, who head to Venice in a bid to try and forget about the untimely death of their daughter Christine. Here, they encounter two elderly sisters who claim to be in touch with the young girl. While Laura takes heed, John ignores the psychics and omens. That is until a series of inexplicable, hideously scary experiences – including spotting a red-coated figure who resembles his daughter flitting amongst the local canals – leave him no choice, with what is often described as one of the greatest endings in horror history.
More than four decades since this satanic blockbuster was released, it is still sending shivers down people’s spines. The Richard Donner-directed film follows American diplomat Robert (Gregory Peck) who, unbeknown to his wife Katherine (Lee Remick), replaces their stillborn baby with Damien (apparently screenwriter Daviod Seltzer originally wanted to call him Domlin). Unfortunately for the couple, it turns out that Damien (Harvey Stephens) is the AntiChrist, something they discover only after he leaves a trail of death and destruction in his wake.
Swedish midsummer is traditionally a time of flowers in your hair, dancing around a pole, singing songs and drinking schnapps. Not so in Ari Aster’s folk horror flick. Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor play Dani and Christian, a young couple who, in a bid to repair their deteriorating relationship, head to a Harga village in Halsingland to observe the fabled festival in an ancestral commune. Unfortunately for them, the commune turns out to be a sinister pagan cult, and their carefree summer holiday becomes a nightmare of hallucinogenic drugs, mutilation, murder and more. If you’re after a fairytale ending, this isn’t for you.