Ghost, goblins, ghouls and maybe a guy with pins in his face… These images aren’t just symbolic of the terrors and mysteries we now associate with Halloween, but make up some of the most memorable images of the horror film genre. In this installment of our Horror Film series, we’ve cataloged 13 supernatural/occult films we feel no All Hallows’ Evening celebration is complete without. Much like slashers, films dealing in the supernatural or occult are staples in the horror genre. After all, what good is a ghost story with no ghost? And, much like its slasher and silent film counterparts, supernatural horrors often contain a deeper meaning, one that requires prodding and exploring on the part of the viewer, that lies just beyond the surface of screams, apparitions and hauntings.
The supernatural can help us examine how we process grief like Essie Davis’s character in The Babadook, or paranoia and institutional distrust like Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby. A film like The Witch uses the tried and true trope of witches as an allegory for a young, curious woman yearning to establish her independence and explore the world outside of the religious confines drawn for her by her puritanical family. Or sometimes, in addition to frightening the wits out of us, the supernatural makes us laugh like the iconic ’80s film Ghostbusters. These films take everyday places and events–a camping trip with friends (Blair Witch Project) or moving into a new home (Paranormal Activity)–and carefully weaves into them feelings of unease, dread and fear, all of which are heightened by the inexplicable and irrational.
As children, the idea of a ghost haunting the woods or a boogeyman in the closet is no more impossible than the sun rising or rain falling. But it is only once we grow up, so to speak, that we come to know these terrors as mere stories, legends and superstitions, a realization that doesn’t quite take the edge off of being alone in the dark or hearing a creaking noise just beyond the closet door. With supernatural/occult films, we’re not only able to develop our ability to read film but to, if only for two hours, let our imaginations revert to their childlike state and run wild as we fearfully attribute every shadow, sound and dark crevice to something from “the beyond.” Here, 13 supernatural/occult films that will scare the crap out of you.
The Exorcist (1973)
Dir: William Friedkin
The Exorcist is so terrifying that an earthquake three months after having watched it for the first time made me certain I was about to be possessed by a demon with more insults to throw than Donald Trump at a presidential debate–albeit, better insults. Every image in this film will haunt you from Linda Blair’s (Regan) infamous head-turning scene to Eileen Dietz’s portrayal of the demon Pazuzu. For those who have yet to see the film, make sure you do so with the lights on and someone else present. This isn’t something you want to watch alone.
Dir: Ivan Reitman
We know ghosts are scary as shit, but who knew they could be funny too? In Ghostbusters, the supernatural meets the comedic and the result is an iconic movie that should have never been remade. #justsaying
Blair Witch Project (1999)
Dir: Eduardo Sanchez, Daniel Myrick
While not the first “found footage” film, The Blair Witch Project marks a milestone in the cinematic stylistic genre due to the widespread critical acclaim it received upon release. The Blair Witch Project is centered on three film students who travel to Maryland in the hopes of producing a documentary on the fabled Blair Witch. What follows is a psychologically terrifying trip through the woods that melds together the horrors of fiction within the realm of fact.
Dir: Clive Barker
Regardless of your age, Pinhead and his crew of Cenobites are terrifying enough to scare the shit out of anyone. Based off of Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser follows Frank Cotton, a hedonist, in his search for a a puzzle box that is purported to unlock an extra-dimensional realm of carnal pleasure. However terrifying the Cenobites look, it is our selfish, human desires and the lengths we go to fulfill them that are what make this film truly horrifying.
The Babadook (2014)
Dir: Jennifer Kent
Along with It Follows, The Babadook is one of the most terrifying horror films of today. In Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut, a grieving widow must face her grief as a monster, the Babadook, enters her household through a children’s book. In addition to the scares and screams, this film is beautifully shot, expertly crafted and wonderfully told.
Dir: Rupert Wainwright
Sure, Stigmata has a 22% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but critic reviews aren’t everything and despite the movie’s flaws, there is something terrifying about this film, something that stays with you long past its viewing. In the movie, an atheist named Frankie becomes the victim of stigmata, a condition experienced by devout believers in which they become afflicted with the five wounds Jesus Christ endured during his crucifixion. The movie’s accompanying images, including a Virgin Mary crying blood, along with the soundtrack (done by Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins and Elia Cmiral) make this, if not a must-see film, then at least one that deserves a spot in your queue.
The Witch (2016)
Dir: Robert Eggers
Where do we even begin with a film as beautiful and captivating as The Witch? Set in a New England town in the 17th century, The Witch follows a puritanical family as they leave their church over a difference in interpretation and settle on the edge of a large, secluded forest. What follows are a series of disappearances, murders and fear as a witch living in the forest begins to prey on the family’s children. There are few descriptions that can do the film justice and this definitely isn’t one of them, so do yourself a favor and rent The Witch.
The Evil Dead (1981)
Dir: Sam Raimi
Equal parts gory and funny, The Evil Dead is one of the quintessential horror films to watch on Halloween. For those unfamiliar with the movie’s premise, five college students stop at an abandoned cabin deep in the woods and find the Sumerian “Book of the Dead” which can be used to summon otherworldly demons with the power to possess the living. Suffice it to say, this movie is not for the faint of heart.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Dir: Roman Polanski
It’s not Rosemary’s baby we should be praying for, but Rosemary as she finds herself trapped and unable to escape the inevitable mortal danger that lies just beyond her front door. Great performances and wonderful storytelling on Polanski’s part make this film a cinematic landmark.
Dir: Dario Argento
Man, where do we even begin with Suspiria, one of the most visually captivating, yet appalling films to ever be created? In Suspiria, Argento creates a technicolor nightmare filled with violence, gore and a needling paranoia heightened by the Goblins penetrating soundtrack. Even by contemporary standards, Suspiria is scream-inducing and downright terrifying.
Dir: Tobe Hooper
With Steven Spielberg at his prime and Tobe Hooper behind the camera, Poltergeist was bound to be an instant classic, but then Spielberg had to go and create film’s most endearing family to date and with moments like Diane and Steve Freeling smoking a doobie in their room to everything that Carol Ann is, the Poltergeist goes from classic to personal favorite (definitely in our top 10), a film we wouldn’t mind watching over and over again. Yes, its monsters are scary, but what makes Poltergeist great to us is the Freeling family’s dynamics coupled with its moments of witty levity.
Dir: Bernard Rose
If swarming bees and being gutted like a fish by a man with a hook for a right hand doesn’t scare you then you’re probably not human and haven’t felt true emotions in a very long time. Candyman isn’t camp; it’s true horror with the power to either leave you stunned in suspense or shuddering from fear.
Paranormal Activity (2009)
Dir: Oren Peli
Using the “found footage” format, Paranormal Activity plays off of our irrational fears by presenting to us the story of a couple whose new home is haunted by violent spirits. A series of inexplicable events eventually lead to one of the scariest movie endings of all time, one inspired by and on par with The Blair Witch Project‘s.
Halloween fast approaches so for those who still rent their movies from a video store, make sure to snag these films before they’re taken!
Later this week, we’ll post the 31 best horror films of all time. If you missed the previous installments of our Halloween Horror series, see them below:
Feature image via Blumhouse.