It’s October which, for some of us, means one thing – horror movies. As is fairly well represented here at The Lost Highway Hotel, horror movies are a pride and joy. Few genres are so daring, so inventive or so resonant with the world we live in. It’s an area of filmmaking that encompasses our darkest fears and our giddiest desires. Here, then, for those struggling to pick something new to watch this Halloween, are 40 recommendations from the last 10 years or so, some popular, some obscure, some unjustly dismissed. They are not intended to be the be-all-and-end-all. But, depending on your preferences, you should find something here to embrace in the dark as the nights draw in…
40. The Innkeepers (2011, Ti West)
Ti West followed his masterpiece The House Of The Devil with a quietly impressive slow-burn character study. Sara Paxton and genre-mainstay Pat Healy are exceptional as wannabe ghostbusters serving double shifts at a rundown hotel. This one’s all about personality and atmosphere. If you’ve a short attention span it may test you, but there’s one hell of a kick to the ending.
39. The Lure (2015, Agnieszka Smoczynska)
The Lure is a Polish ’80s set musical comedy about a pair of man-eating mermaids who find minor celebrity on the country’s club circuit, obviously. A joyously strange take on The Little Mermaid, there’s plenty of bite here, and it’s well served for home viewers as part of the Criterion Collection.
38. Kotoko (2011, Shinya Tsukamoto)
Tsukamoto is most famous in the West for his techno body horror Tetsuo films, but the Japanese auteur has a prolific work ethic (as Third Window Films will help you to identify). One of his most accomplished and shocking works is this 2011 essay on the cyclical nature of abuse, which stars J-pop sensation Cocco in a shattering central performance. Not to eschew culpability, Tsukamoto casts himself as her abuser in an often difficult and punishing watch, made all the more frightening by how low-key and real it all feels.
37. Kill List (2011, Ben Wheatley)
Ben Wheatley is one of the UK’s great talents as he has frequently shown us this past decade. Kill List remains his signature piece, evolving from comedy of manners, into hitman thriller and finally corkscrewing into terrifying folk horror. Large swathes of exposition have been stripped from the narrative, making some of the events a guessing game, but the imagery will keep you awake for hours. See also his recent return to horror, the COVID-response In the Earth.
36. Detention (2011, Justin Kahn)
If you prefer your horror flicks to entertain rather than traumatise, Detention might be the pick on this list for you. Buzzing with pop culture references and teenage enthusiasm, it bolts out of the gate at a rate of knots, faster enough to make Edgar Wright steady himself on the furniture. This hyperactive mishmash follows in the tradition of Scream, making playful digs at the tropes of the high school slasher movie… before freewheeling into a truly bizarre narrative involving a time-travelling stuffed bear. Yes, you ready that correctly. Giddy mayhem.
35. Resolution (2012, Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead)
Answering the question, how do you make a horror film out of literally nothing, what Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s debut lacks in budget it more than makes up for in ideas. Essentially a two-hander between Michael (Peter Cilella) and his junkie friend Chris (Vinny Curran), Resolution uses the loaded lore of the rural cabin to build a potent level of paranoia in a story about telling stories. They would later fold Resolution into the wider world of time-looping cult favourite The Endless, but their micro first feature is a closed-loop all of its own.
34. Scre4m (2011, Wes Craven)
Perceived as iffy-at-best on it’s initial release, Scre4m has proven surprisingly and pleasingly durable. The returning seasoned cast were all well and good, but it was the new crop that really shone, particularly Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere and Rory Culkin. In fact, the only real feeling of regret conjured here is that the film’s promising young things weren’t given the opportunity to take on the baton from Neve Campbell and co. We’ve got a hot new vision of the Ghostface franchise coming in the new year but, for now, this belated fourth film ranks as one of the series’ best.
33. The Grudge (2020, Nicolas Pesce)
Pesce’s recent sequel to Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On: The Grudge is not well loved. That’s understandable, but also a little unfair. To his credit, Pesce dares to make genuine changes to the formula while maintaining the ethos of a vengeful spirit causing chaos over time. While the film discards most of the trappings of the franchise (there’s no guttural moaning here), it adheres to the traditions of the Japanese ghost story, albeit transplanted to leafy American suburbia. The cast is stacked and, not for nothing, the surprisingly downbeat ending leads to the most chilling credit sequence of recent memory.
32. Ready Or Not (2019, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett)
There’s some justified debate as to whether Ready or Not really counts as a horror movie. Like a couple on this list it has arguments either way. But whether you think it’s a knee-deep genre romp or just a housebound action movie featuring bucketloads of blood, there’s little denying this is one helluva good and crazy time. Samara Weaving is fantastic as a new-money bride who learns that she needs to win an elaborate game of Hide and Seek in order to survive her wedding night. It’s all huge fun, but the finale is breathtakingly bonkers. Bodes well for the new Scream, which is in Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillet’s capable hands.
31. As Above, So Below (2014, John Erick Dowdle)
John Erick Dowdle had played in the sandbox of found footage before this (The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Quarantine), but his minor-hit As Above, So Below saw him draw all of that experience together for an Indiana Jones-style adventure through the real life catacombs beneath Paris. Shooting on location, the film starts out as a breezily enjoyable treasure hunting romp, before descending – literally – into a hectic, panic-stricken boo factory. The last twenty minutes are positively manic (in a good way!). It may run through its scares a little hastily, but the technical nous ought to be celebrated.
30. The Transfiguration (2016, Michael O’Shea)
O’Shea brings a sense of depression and urban malaise to the vampire genre in this disturbing tale of a maladjusted teenage boy, Milo (Eric Ruffin), who has become obsessed with vampires and vampirism, even going to murderous lengths to bring his escapist fantasies to life. Literally choking on the realities of consuming blood, Milo’s coming of age story is coldly representative of the Black experience in many downtrodden inner city precincts, where dreams of the future are negated by circumstance. The Transfiguration isn’t an easy film, but it feels like an important one.
29. House of Love (2016, Ben Young)
A thoroughly nasty piece of work from Down Under, Ben Young’s Hounds of Love examines the warped dynamics of a serial-killing couple through the eyes of their latest abductee, Vicky (Ashleigh Cummings). The power of Young’s film is how mundane and chillingly believable it all is; that such horrors could be occurring behind closed doors in your neighbourhood. You’ll never hear Enya quite the same again.
28. V/H/S (2012, David Bruckner, Adam Wingard, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg)
V/H/S/2 may feature the most ambitious, apocalyptic shorts of the series, but the first film in the found footage franchise remains a riot of the raw and nasty. Egregious frat boys get their comeuppance, as do prowling sex offenders. But this tawdry trawl through cursed videotapes just as frequently evidence evildoers going unpunished. So V/H/S depicts a world of cruel injustices. It’s a hoot, but it’s also often about as dark as modern horror gets.
27. Under the Shadow (2016, Babak Anvari)
British/Iranian director Babak Anvari’s startlingly accomplished 2016 debut turns to Gulf War-era Tehran as backdrop for it’s classically spooky chills. After a stray missile embeds itself in the roof of a residential high-rise, newly single mother Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is forced to protect her young daughter from a ‘djinn’; a vengeful spirit causing havoc about the building. Here the traumas without are manifested within and the results are genuinely scary.
26. One Cut of the Dead (2017, Shinichiro Ueda)
Don’t even read about it. Go in as cold as you can. Trust me.
No, I’m not saying anything more.
25. Hereditary (2018, Ari Aster)
Ari Aster’s technically proficient word-of-mouth smash has probably had enough written about it already. A knotty examination of grief that ramps up to some incendiary places, the film boasts some sharp about-turns and a whirlwind performance from Toni Collette. It also features one of the single best groan-inducing scares in modern horror-filmmaking. I can still vividly remember the sound around me as an entire cinema audience caught on to the terror hiding in plain sight…
24. Swallow (2019, Carlo Mirabella-Davis)
Suburban malaise manifests in an acute case of pica in Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ clinically realised domestic chiller. Haley Bennett is magnetic as Hunter, a housewife who starts compulsively ingesting inedible items – a marble, a tack – as a response to the bland dissatisfaction she is confronted with in her antiseptic middle-class existence. An empathetic tale of not only self-destruction but also self-discovery, Swallow is forward-thinking horror, taking the genre in new directions.
23. November (2017, Rainer Sarnet)
But if it’s tradition you’re after, look no further than this wonderful Estonian oddity. November is built out of the bones (and trash!) of genuine folk tales, presenting a unique (and funny!) vision of village life fueled by superstition and magic. At it’s centre is a bizarre love quadrangle, but its the kook around the peripheries and the majestic black and white cinematography that truly impress. You don’t even have to make sense of it; the vibes are enough.
22. The Wailing (2016, Na Hong-jin)
A deliciously slippery proposition, this South Korean cult hit blends horror tropes until you’re not sure if you’re watching a serial killer flick or an insidious outbreak movie. The two and a half hour sprawl here is more than justified, as a small town becomes ‘infected’ with all manner of misfortunes, leaving local police dumbfounded.
21. The Neon Demon (2016, Nicolas Winding Refn)
Forget Drive, The Neon Demon is Nicolas Winding Refn’s best film. A full-throated attack on America’s obsession with youth and beauty, Refn conjures a pervasive, surrealistic mood of malevolence around Elle Fanning’s Jesse; an underage model who discovers – too late – that she’s entering an industry that literally wants to eat her up. Cliff Martinez once again provides a magnetic synth score, but it’s the eerie space in the film that sets it apart (and prefigures the extreme emptiness found in Refn’s astonishing Amazon series Too Old to Die Young). Oh, and watch out for Keanu Reeves, too.
20. Black Christmas (2019, Sophia Takal)
I’m not apologising for including this; one of the most hastily maligned and derided horror movies of the last 20 years, because actually it’s a blast from start to finish. Less a remake of Bob Clarke’s seminal ’70s proto-slasher than a knowing original that aims to do for the patriarchy what Get Out did for white liberal hypocrisy, Sophia Takal’s supernatural campus chiller subverts the slasher movie playbook (no ‘final girl’ here) and has a lot of fun doing it. It’s also, on occasion, atmospheric as hell. Time will be good to this Black Christmas. Don’t simply disregard it.
19. The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015, Oz Perkins)
Speaking of atmospheric campus-based shenanigans, few are as moody and mysterious as Oz Perkins’ oppressive, chronologically scrambled Satanic mystery. Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men, Sabrina), Lucy Boynton and Emma Roberts (Scre4m, Scream Queens, The Hunt) are a trio of young women linked to an icily abandoned girl’s school at the end of term; all three entwined in a dark mystery involving the basement boiler room. One to untangle, re-watch and appreciate, The Blackcoat’s Daughter (aka February) is one of those under-the-radar titles worth digging back up.
18. Starry Eyes (2014, Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer)
Craven obsessions with fame are at the forefront of our next two recommendations. First, Starry Eyes, which sees Mike Flanagan fave Alex Essoe cast as a waitress in LA with dreams of stardom, whose compromises to obtain her goals lead to literally monstrous transformations. Only a couple of years ahead of the Harvey Weinstein rumors becoming public, Starry Eyes exhibits how such horrors have long been a part of an unspoken pact within Hollywood. The body horror may be fantasy, but the emotional fallout is very real.
17. Cam (2018, Daniel Goldhaber)
Former camgirl Isa Mazzei extrapolates elements of her own experiences (documented in her superb memoir Camgirl) and augments them into horror for this acute examination of 21st century self-made stardom. Performing via an OnlyFans-style website, eager starlet Alice (Madeline Brewer) finds her life coming undone when a mysterious double takes her act to dangerous new places. A smart deconstruction of a wholly contemporary phenomenon, and a deftly played psychological spiral, Cam is one of the rare, unassuming Netflix Originals that stands out from the crowd. Criterion Collection edition when?
16. In Fabric (2019, Peter Strickland)
Most of the art house praise for Peter Strickland goes to his giallo-loving Berberian Sound Studio or the lesbian power-dynamics of the (admittedly brilliant) The Duke of Burgundy, but In Fabric deserves as much praise and coverage. Long, leisurely, but wonderfully comedic, this two-part anthology follows the misadventures of those who come in contact with a cursed dress from a nightmarish department store. It’s all delightfully absurd and profoundly British. Here Strickland fetishises the tactile pleasures and time consuming activities of the past, showing as much of an appreciation for pneumatic tubing as he does for the slick paper of fashion catalogues.
15. Midsommar (2019, Ari Aster)
I almost didn’t include Midsommar because of how iconic it has become. But to make this list without it felt conspicuously incomplete. Florence Pugh stuns as the grieving Dani, who tags along with her douchebag boyfriend on a trip to observe the rituals of a reclusive Swedish commune. This folk-horror epic may look as though it owes a great debt to The Wicker Man, but really Aster takes this opportunity to manifest something that is entirely his own, riddled with miniature details and specificities. Though it runs to nearly three hours, I’d particularly urge you toward his director’s cut, which is the superior version.
14. Happy Death Day (2017, Christopher Landon)
Swinging back into the realms of readily-digestible, not-that-scary popcorn horror flicks, few if any beat Happy Death Day; an unassuming Halloween surprise that made instant devotees of those who gelled with its knowing humour and bubblegum pomp. Jessica Rothe is wonderful as ‘Tree’, the token nasty-bitch who finds herself trapped in a time loop with a slasherific killer. Landon uses the Groundhog Day premise to poke loving fun at genre tropes. Save this one for drunken pyjama parties. A hoot.
13. You’re Next (2011, Adam Wingard)
Superior in every respect to The Purge – the home-invasion horror movie that trounced it at the box-office – Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard’s You’re Next sat on a shelf for two years before Lionsgate saved it, only for it to become a victim of (ironically) bad timing. You’re Next is an absolute blast, subverting the tropes of the subgenre with a ‘final girl’ far more capable than her attackers (and even the film’s audience) could possibly imagine. Sharni Vinson rocks as Erin, while the film’s supporting cast is peppered with gems, including mumblecore director Joe Swanberg’s hilarious turn as a whiny privileged brother and scream queen royalty in the pristine form of Barbara Crampton. Hugely entertaining.
12. Censor (2021, Prano Bailey-Bond)
It’s a little too early to crown Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor as The Lost Highway Hotel’s Film of the Year, but it’s presently ahead of the competition. This smart British debut winds us back to the heyday of the so-called ‘Video Nasties’ as BBFC operative Enid (Niamh Algar) tunnels into her own traumatic past via a series of beloved homages to the low-rent slasher movies of yore. Algar’s central performance is slyly transformative, while the narrative through-line leads us to some unexpectedly emotional places. Censor is that precious combo; funny, wicked and wise. It will also make its UK streaming premiere this Halloween on MUBI.
11. Get Out (2017, Jordan Peele)
Like Aster’s Midsommar, the films of Jordan Peele almost didn’t make the cut simply because they’re so ubiquitous. Everyone knows the score already; Peele is as assured of genre status as forbearers like Carpenter and Friedkin. Get Out captured a cultural zeitgeist like few films of any genre, arriving within a couple of months of Trump’s inauguration, reflecting the stricken horrors of most of us at that time. It’s politics have been covered thoroughly in the intervening years, so I’ll wrap up this short summation by praising how funny the film allows itself to be. Daniel Kaluuya is undoubtedly great, but Lil Rey Howery’s comedic turn as TSA officer Rod Williams might be the movie’s tonal masterstroke.
10. The Witch (2015, Robert Eggers)
Roger Eggers’ feature debut marked him out as a talent to watch and, with its stunning central showcase, did the same for it’s young star Anya Taylor-Joy. With period-specific dialogue, this slow-brooded folk-horror eschewed popular jumps for an imposing and sustained sense of dread, as faith and superstition collide to heart-stopping effect. Wouldn’t we all like to live deliciously?
9. Relic (2020, Natalie Erika James)
Speaking of knock-out debuts, Australian filmmaker Natalie Erika James’ multi-generational three-hander is an astonishing and heartbreaking achievement. Telling a story of Alzheimer’s just as powerful as the Oscar-nominated The Father, Relic externalises the condition, transforming a secluded family homestead into an untrustworthy labyrinth. The ending is exceptionally tender – rare for horror – and marks James out as a talent to keep tabs on. Claims that it simply remixes The Babadook are unfair. This is creepier, sadder and (most importantly) doesn’t feature a shrill child who is annoying-as-fuck. Win win win.
8. Us (2019, Jordan Peele)
I had a rule here; no director to feature twice. But every rule needs an exception (or two), and Jordan Peele’s second feature justifies breaking this self-imposed directive. Placing Us higher than the landmark Get Out may seem bold or even contrarian, but of the two it’s my favourite. Peele’s direction is bolder, more confident, more robust and daring. And then there’s Lupita Nyong’o, whose double-duty in the lead as a woman confronting her own double stands as one of the genre’s most intensely engaging manifestations. A wild ride indeed.
7. The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018, Johannes Roberts)
Bold ranking? Perhaps. But Johannes Roberts’ belated sequel to Bryan Bertino’s po-faced 2008 favourite is perhaps the past decade’s most efficient, streamlined and aesthetically pleasing slasher. The dour hopelessness of the first film is replaced with a more pronounced retro vibe and an invitation to the audience to – shock! – have fun. The result is a love letter to the genre’s ’80s heyday without falling into the trap of tokenistic nostalgia (hello, Stranger Things). The Strangers: Prey at Night may suffer the odd awkward performance (good horror dads are hard to come by…), but it more than makes up for that with stylish cinematography, pitch-perfect pacing and a soundtrack of out-and-out bangers. Style over substance has rarely felt so inviting or compelling.
6. It Follows (2014, David Robert Mitchell)
A word-of-mouth mini-sensation, It Follows saw David Robert Mitchell continue the teenage nostalgia of his excellent debut feature The Myth of the American Sleepover, but with a delightfully perverse horror twist. Riffing on adolescent awakening to both sex and death, the film takes supernatural stalk and slash paranoia to new levels. Disasterpiece’s score became an instant genre classic, while Mitchell’s leafy vision of suburban Detroit fondly cross-pollinates John Carpenter and Sofia Coppola by way of the eerie twilight photography of Gregory Crewdson.
5. Excision (2012, Richard Bates, Jr.)
Featuring prominent cameos from the likes of Malcolm McDowell and John Waters, Richard Bates, Jr.’s terrific splicing of body and surgical horror wears its vulgar influences on its sleeve, and yet there’s an acute sensibility here that is entirely separate and original. AnnaLynn McCord is sensational as troubled teen Pauline, whose dreams of become a surgeon outstrip her capabilities to horrifying ends. In contrast to Mitchell’s eerie suburbia, Bates, Jr. presents a striking bright and flat vision of repressed Americana. A punkish, deliberately vile oddity that ends on a speaker-busting, blood-curdling scream.
4. Suspiria (2018, Luca Guadagnino)
Remaking Argento is ballsy, and Luca Guadagnino’s effort certainly divided opinion. Here at The Lost Highway Hotel though, the results work gangbusters. A decidedly different beast to its forbearer, Suspiria circa 2018 is an epic, dour affair that excels because of it’s grim excesses. In place of eye-popping colour schemes we have bizarre detours into Berlin’s war-torn past, Thom Yorke’s skeletal, flinty score, Tilda Swinton in three separate roles, and a career-best Dakota Johnson who reconfigures Suzy Bannion into a wolf-in-sheep’s clothing. An epic funeral dirge of a movie.
3. Raw (2016, Julia Ducournau)
Ducournau’s second feature, Titane, just scooped the Palme d’Or at Cannes and is poised for a New Year’s Eve release here in the UK. I. Cannot. Wait. Why? Because her first feature Raw was an instant-classic. Garance Marillier is a veterinary student forced through rigorous freshman hazing rituals, leading to the awakening of terrible cannibalistic urges – urges that apparently run in the family. Raw is a coming-of-age film like no other, one so assured that one would have expected to find Ducournau had been building up to it for decades. Her preceding short, Junior, is also well-worthy rooting out also.
2. American Mary (2012, Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska)
Revisiting the Twisted Sisters’ American Mary nearly 10 years on, what strikes most vividly is how inclusive and embracing it is of subcultures and self-expression. In this sense especially, the film feels boldly ahead of the curve. Katharine Isabelle – already a horror icon for Ginger Snaps – is truly phenomenal as Mary Mason, the medical student lured into the backroom surgeries of the body-modification community. Along the way the film picks up a rape-revenge story line, one that proves instrumental to the tragic finale, but this is a delicious and intelligent splicing of genres (torture porn, surgical horror) and a thoroughly modern inquiry into what the American Dream means for women in the 21st century. A subversive masterpiece.
1. The Woman (2011, Lucky McKee)
Lucky McKee’s The Woman is confrontational, upsetting and genuinely disturbing. It’s a difficult watch. But that punishment is worth it, because in the process McKee created something significant. It isn’t celebrated as such, but The Woman is among the most impressive and accomplished horror films of the 21st century, and an absolute takedown of the kind of casual misogyny that infects and then infests our society. Pollyanna McIntosh is the titular feral woman caught by buttoned-down psychotic family man Chris Cleek (a chilling Sean Bridgers). But the slow unpeeling of what occurs at his family farmhouse and the vile dynamic hiding beneath the surface casts McIntosh as a predatory antihero held captive in a suburban nightmare.
Sean Spillane’s emotive rock songs (written on set for the film during shooting) provide an intentionally incongruous soundtrack, though they echo and enhance the emotionally-wrenching story being told. The façade may be more palatable, but what McKee has rendered here is as powerful as Tobe Hooper’s original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre; an as-scathing attack on American values. You’ll feel pulverised by what this film has in store for you. Massively, massively underrated.