As we draw closer to the sumptuous shadow of All Hallow’s Eve, there’s no better time to sink your teeth into some classic cinematic creep-fests. Here’s a witchy selection of gothic horror gems, a list that avoids realistic slasher gorefests in favour of supernatural frights and raunchy delights. Trick, treat and repeat.
Directed by Michele Soavi, 1994
Undoubtedly one of the best films ever made, Dellamorte Dellamore (released in the US as Cemetery Man) is Michele Soavi’s 1994 erotic existential zombie masterpiece. This was Soavi’s first foray into directing after his stint as Dario Argento’s assistant. A droll, gun-tottin’ Rupert Everett plays Francesco Dellamorte, the caretaker of the cemetery in a small Italian town. With the assistance of his Igor-like colleague Gnaghi, Dellamorte faces an emerging epidemic – some corpses return on the seventh night of their burial. As is standard zombie law, cracking the skull puts them to rest for good. The work takes its toll however, and Dellamorte’s grip on reality, the margin between life and death, becomes blurred. Soavi’s phantasmagorical tale is full of killer dialogue, torrid romance, bleak hilarity, a memorable score and operates as many a great opera, with a masterful balance of tragedy and farce. Do yourself a favour and visit this cemetery on Halloween.
Directed by Michael Winner, 1977
Upon its release, Death Wish director Michael Winner’s effective supernatural horror movie The Sentinel was unfairly compared to The Exorcist and The Omen and fairly compared to Rosemary’s Baby. While it’s not quite in the same league as those three films, this creepy tale of a model that moves into an eerie Brooklyn brownstone builds to a lingering finale. While the film is mostly an atmospheric piece, the screenplay is punctuated by some unexpectedly gruesome and shocking moments. The incredible cast features a fiendish Burgess Meredith, Ava Gardner, John Carradine, a masturbating Beverly D’Angelo, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, Eli Wallach, Jerry Orbach, Tom Berenger, Chris Sarandon and the breathtaking Cristina Raines as the lead. Full of ghoulish intrigue, this gothic outing is a perfect flick for Halloween.
Directed by Paul Schrader, 1982
Paul Schrader’s erotic tale of sexual awakening and otherworldly transformation weaves the dreamlike atmosphere necessary for such heady themes. And, quite smartly, Cat People takes itself seriously in a way few modern films would dare, given its fantastical subject matter. But the elements combine to a sensuous whole – David Bowie’s theme song, the score by Giorgio Moroder, the New Orleans setting, the typically devilish performance by Malcolm McDowell and the stunning, otherworldly presence of lead actress Nastassja Kinski.
Directed by Joe Dante, 1981
Warner Bros. were so impressed with Joe Dante’s erotic werewolf fantasy The Howling that they offered him Gremlins shortly thereafter. Both films centre on transformation, though The Howling does so by mining werewolf folklore for its primal, carnal subtexts. One of three superb lycanthropic fantasy movies made in ’81, alongside An American Werewolf in London and the vastly under-appreciated Wolfen, The Howling‘s strengths are Rob Bottin’s superb practical creature effects and a fine cast led by Dee Williams’ dogged news anchor – and the finale is a killer.
Directed by Tom Holland, 1985
This cult favourite and fun riff on Rear Window is worth a visit this Halloween, with its underlying themes of teenage angst and insecurity, suburban paranoia and a note-perfect performance by Chris Sarandon as that all-too-charming neighbour. While leaning into the ’80s horror comedy cheesiness, the final act is surprisingly sexy. Holland and his team go to town on the practical creature effects. Unfortunately the 2011 remake lacks the texture and spark of this kitsch, enjoyable and spooky classic.
Directed by Dario Argento, 1977
Woe be the person that compiles a Halloween movie list and omits Dario Argento’s vivid and phantasmagoric masterpiece Suspiria. With its sustained waking-nightmare atmosphere, sensory unease and saturated set design, few movies evoke the spirit of Halloween as effectively as this absolute must-watch. The recent remake by Luca Guadagnino is, in its own way, quite brilliant, but vastly different in visual style and tone. Argento’s Suspiria is where the witchiest of witches roam.
SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK
Directed by André Øvredal, 2019
This Guillermo Del Toro produced film might be based on a series of short horror stories written for children, but trust me when I say – this flick will fuck them up. It’ll scar them for life. And they’ll be all the better for it. Such is the nightmarish qualities of its brilliant creature designs, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a perfect Halloween movie. In fact, it takes place on Halloween in 1968 and is a celebration of the power of storytelling. From missing toes to spider bites – to the completely fucked up “Jangly Man” – this series of monstrous encounters, framed within the discovery of a cursed story book, will get under your skin. With a story by Del Toro and esteemed direction by impressive Norwegian director André Øvredal (Trollhunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe), you’d be silly to dismiss this as a kids movie – it’ll shake even the most resilient adult horror movie buff.
THE WICKER MAN
Directed by Robin Hardy, 1975
Truly one of the all-time great horror movies, this disturbing journey into a mysterious pagan cult, seen through the eyes of a Christian police officer in search of a missing girl, contains one of the most shocking finales on celluloid. Frequently copied but never surpassed, The Wicker Man embodies the spirit of Halloween, weaving themes of sexual repression under religious doctrine, mischief and carnal abandon, and striking imagery, into a compelling mystery. Hardy’s direction blurs the lines between dream and nightmare, typified by Britt Ekland’s naked siren song through a hotel room wall, the ultimate enticement for our righteous hero.
BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, 1992
Perhaps one of the last great big-budget studio horror movies, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a timeless tale in the hands of one of the greatest mainstream filmmakers. Coppola pays homage to the classic vampire movies by refusing to use digital effects – everything is practical and in-camera – but also vehemently avoids the standard Nosferatu look, instead devising a fresh and now iconic Count Dracula (the movie understandably won Academy Awards for both its costuming and make-up). Gary Oldman is superb as the ancient count, at once horrifying and fragile; a seductive monstrous bloodsucker and a pitiful, heartbroken and tortured soul. Coppola leans into the gothic eroticism of Stoker’s novel, crafting an atmospheric, intoxicating and sensuous nightmare.