People like to talk about Christmas being the most wonderful time of the year, but they’re filthy liars. Halloween reigns supreme, the most spooky and magical of all, a giant grinning jack-o-lantern behind the wheel of a hot-rod hearse that runs on candy corn and blood, burning rubber as it peels out onto the open highway, flipping the bird at every other holiday.
The days grow short, the nights cold, the leaves fall from the trees. People start putting ghouls and skeletons in their yards, and I throw myself headfirst into horror movie marathons. There’s something about horror films that tugs at the part of me that still believes magic is real, the part that is still a kid running through the streets trick-or-treating with my sisters, a pillowcase of candy tucked under my arm, my voice hoarse from screaming and whooping into the night. Although I’ve certainly read my share of horror (Hi Stephen King, I LOVE YOU), nothing quite gets my blood pumping like a good horror film, and as a writer, horror films are my favorite source of inspiration for writing about the things that go bump in the night.
How about you? Are you filled to the brim with the spirit of Halloween or, unlike me, do you require some assistance to get your mind thinking of the spooky, the bizarre, the supernatural, the weird, the wicked, the wonderful? I’m your girl. Without further ado, below you’ll find some of my favorite horror films in my rotation – may they bring you inspiration in writing your own spooky tales:
Director: Stanley Kubrick
A family with a telepathic son moves to an isolated haunted hotel and, in the understatement of the millennium, things work out rather poorly for them. There is so much good ol’ fashioned creeping dread here; one of the prize jewels of slow burn horror films. Every time I watch this, it’s scarier than the last time – sort of like eating spicy wings, except the escalating spice factor is sheer terror. I read the book before I watched the movie, which unfortunately didn’t prepare me for the scene where Jack Nicholson frenches a rotten swamp lady. (As an aside, is there anything more horrifying than Jack Nicholson? How can one man’s smirk be so unsettling? Does anyone else have nightmares about him busting through their door like some kind of axe-wielding Kool-Aid Man or is that just my thing?) And those creepy twins? You know the ones. Don’t even get me started on them.
Want more inspiration for writing a haunted house story?
Watch: Poltergeist (1982), The Devil’s Backbone (2001), The Amityville Horror (1979), Hausu (1977), The Changeling (1980)
Director: Fred Dekker
Imagine The Goonies and Ghostbusters make sweet love and have a baby. This movie is that baby. A group of classic monster fanatics team up to take on Count Dracula and his gang of monsters — Dracula is searching for an amulet that will bring darkness to the world, and this band of misfit kids must find it first so they can tear a hole in the universe and send the monsters back to hell, or Florida, or whatever. There’s a lot to love in this movie including, but not limited to, bad-boy Rudy (be still my pre-teen heart) and a fat kid kicking a movie monster in the balls. Yeah, I’m into some real highbrow shit. You’re welcome.
Want more inspiration for writing a classic monster story?
Watch: Nosferatu (1922), The Mummy (1932), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Frankenstein (1931), The Wolf Man (1941), Dracula (1931)
Director: John Carpenter
Paranoia and claustrophobia are both cranked up to a solid 11 here. ‘The Thing’ is a parasitic alien lifeform that invades a remote research station in Antarctica, replacing and mimicking its victims. “Oh, sure,” A young me thought to herself, “I’ll watch this old sci-fi horror film with its bunk-ass antiquated special effects.” NOPE. NOPE. NOPE. Have you ever seen a snake-spider burst forth from a man’s chest cavity, adding insult to injury by wearing an approximation of his face? No? Do you want to? No? Then don’t watch this movie. (Watch it.)
So, not only has this movie clearly stood the test of time (almost forty years!), it’s a great example of one of my favorite horror genres: body horror. As I mentioned, there’s a lot of unsettling bodily transformations and degeneration of the human figure goin’ on. Also, definitely worth mentioning that this is Kurt Russell at the apex of his foxiness.
Want more inspiration for writing a sci-fi/body horror story?
Watch: Splinter (2008), From Beyond (1986), The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Void (2016), Alien (1979), and… well, basically anything Cronenberg has ever done.)
Director: Robert Young
I wanted to include a palate cleanser between The Thing and Dead Alive, because I feel like you’ll need it. And also, this film is my guilty pleasure. I’d like to be clear that this is not really a good movie, and I know that this is not really a good movie, but I keep going back to it time and time again because it is perfect… sort of like that time I got food poisoning from a Taco Bell and then went back to the same Taco Bell the following week, because Crunchwraps are delicious. But enough about tacos – this is a wonderfully nostalgic made-for-tv movie about a witch who is an outcast at school because she sucks at being a witch, but she stumbles across a top-secret plot and needs to save the day. It features some particularly terrible green screen effects, and Tim Curry stars as the headmaster of the school. During his big musical number, he plays a tambourine while swirling through the air in a giant pink cloak and a bat bow tie. See? Perfect.
Want more (aka better) inspiration for writing a witch story?
Watch: Suspiria (1977), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Witch (2015), The Love Witch (2016)
Director: Peter Jackson
You know Peter Jackson? Before he was making Lord of the Rings movies, he was busy making zombie films. Specifically, this zombie film which, according to IMDB, holds the prestigious title of being the bloodiest movie of all time. (Three hundred liters were used in the final scene alone, so buckle up.) A mama’s boy falls in love with a shopkeeper’s daughter, and his overprotective mom disapproves. Then – DRAMA – his nosy mom gets bitten by a Sumerian rat-monkey and shit really starts going down. This is a runaway train on the express route to Barftown. Disclaimer: This movie may ruin custard for you if you were one of those monsters who enjoyed it to begin with.
Want more inspiration for writing a zombie story?
Watch: Night of the Living Dead*(1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), Re-Animator (1985), Night of the Comet (1984), Zombi 2 (1979), Pontypool (2008), The Return of the Living Dead (1985), City of the Living Dead (1980), Demons (1985)
*George Romero is the king.
That should do that trick…or treat. If you want to write a story with elements from another subgenre – we haven’t even touched on vampires or demonic possession yet! – and are looking to curl up on the couch to binge watch some inspiration, comment below and I’ll see what I have brewing for you.
And now, here to play us out is this Halloween mixtape I made – it’s spooky, fun music to write to, with the added benefit of being Halloween party approved. Happy haunting, everybody!
01. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – I Put a Spell on You
02. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bad Moon Rising
03. Goblin – Suspiria
04. Johnny Otis – Castin’ My Spell
05. Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead
06. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Red Right Hand
07. The Ventures – The Bat
08. Misfits – Halloween
09. The Ghouls – Weird Wolf
10. Lord Huron – The World Ender
11. Kip Tyler – She’s My Witch
12. The Cramps – Human Fly
13. The Black Keys – Howlin’ For You
14. Holly Golightly – Devil Do
15. Timber Timbre – Black Water
16. John Carpenter – Night
17. The Moontrekkers – Night Of The Vampire
18. David Bowie – Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
19. Dead Man’s Bones – My Body’s A Zombie For You
20. The Orwells – Halloween All Year
– Jenn Carr