Culture

9 Canadian horror films that belong on every Halloween watch-list

Whether it's a slasher, a creature feature or satirical sci-fi, these streamable picks prove we're really the Great Fright North.

Whether it's a slasher or creature feature, these streamable picks prove we're really the Great Fright North

(Source, left: Thom Best/Copperheart Entertainment; middle: Elevation Pictures; right: Mark Irwin/Canadian Film Development Corporation)

Movies have the incredible power to tap into our emotions. No genre of film does this on such a visceral and cerebral level as horror, targeting the audiences' deepest, darkest fears. Some people veer toward the gruesome and graphic, while others gravitate toward the more psychologically frightening. Some horror fans enjoy monsters and ghouls that generate jump scares, while others long for eerie atmospheres and tragic ghost stories.

Luckily, Canada's horror film landscape includes every kind of terror, spanning enough subgenres to satisfy just about anyone's appetite — even if you're a scaredy cat. For every creepy craving you may have, below is a recommendation or two for you.

Zombies!

Blood Quantum (2019), 18A

Jeff Barnaby's Blood Quantum follows the beats of any great zombie movie: the slow realization that something deadly is infecting people; the who, the why and the how are revealed; as are, of course, the differing ideologies among the survivors.

Where Blood Quantum sets itself apart is in the implications of its zombie infection, which the film uses to explore the generational trauma that stems from colonialism. It's discovered that only people of Indigenous heritage in a Mi'kmaq community on the fictitious Red Crow reserve are immune, leaving anyone not of Indigenous ancestry vulnerable to contracting and spreading the vicious disease. Flipping the switch on history, we see the lives of the white settlers put in the hands of the oppressed, who must choose to either save or purge them.

Blood Quantum can be streamed on Crave.

Pontypool (2008), 14A

Pontypool is a master class in tension building. The film stars Stephen McHattie as a shock jock broadcasting his radio talk show to the residents of the small Ontario town of Pontypool. While sitting in a basement sound booth with his technical assistant and station manager (played by Georgina Reilly and Lisa Houle, respectively), a field reporter slowly and terrifyingly describes to them what the audience has already ascertained is a zombie uprising right there in Pontypool. Like the main characters, we, too, are trapped in a claustrophobic space, helpless as an unspeakable horror overwhelms the town. 

The film can be a little convenient in its resolution but it will certainly pique your interest to dive into how this virus even began.

Pontypool can be streamed on CBC Gem.

Slasher

Black Christmas (1974), R

Predating some notable classic slasher films, such as Halloween and Friday the 13th, Black Christmas has since gained a cult following, and is often deemed one of the most influential films in the genre.

When a sorority house is preparing to vacate for the holidays, the last few stragglers are terrorized by obscene and threatening phone calls in the middle of the night. When one of the girls goes missing, an investigation is launched as more murders wreak havoc on the house and suspects mount up.

Keep an eye out for some recognizable faces, such as Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet) as the "final girl" who seems to be the target of the lewd calls, along with Margot Kidder (Superman) and Andrea Martin (SCTV), who both make appearances before their big claims to fame.

Black Christmas can be streamed on Tubi.

Monsters and other creatures

Ginger Snaps (2000), 18A

Comparing a werewolf's transformation to the changes experienced during puberty is not exactly a subtle analogy, but that shouldn't stop this film from making your Halloween must-watch list. 

Directed by John Fawcett, who would later go on to co-create Orphan Black, Ginger Snaps features Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle as Brigitte and Ginger Fitzgerald, two sisters who are outcasts at their school and a little obsessed with death. When Ginger is attacked by a beast one night, the girls begin to see drastic changes in her, including heightened hormones, unexpected hair growth and other bodily transformations. From the perspective of being a teenager, especially for young women, these changes can be seen as both monstrous and empowering.

Weaving together humour and horror, the film is a coming-of-age tale in its own twisted and satirical way, focusing on the strong bond between Brigitte and Ginger as they try to overcome both puberty and Ginger's recent lycanthropy.

Ginger Snaps can be streamed on Amazon Prime.

The Gate (1987), 14A

The Gate might be the closest thing to a family-friendly movie on this list. If you're a fan of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, The Goonies and the movie magic of Ray Harryhausen, you'll enjoy this cult classic horror film. For a low-budget creature feature from the '80s, the special effects hold up surprisingly well.

The movie stars a very young Stephen Dorff as Glen, who along with his best friend, Terry, accidentally opens a gate to hell in his backyard. With his parents away and his sister in charge, Glen has to find a way to fight a horde of stop-motion demons and send them back to hell before his parents come home.

The Gate can be streamed on Hoopla.

Body horror

The Brood (1979), 18A

Imagine a type of therapy that takes all your trauma and manifests it as mutant children who violently act out your rage on unsuspecting victims. Then imagine physically birthing one of those malevolent children, creating nightmare fuel that will last you for days.

Acclaimed director David Cronenberg (Scanners, The Fly) shows he's a master of body horror, enticing his audience into  watching such a gruesome — yet imaginative — scene. However, the real terror in The Brood happens psychologically, slowly building uneasiness as a father, played by Art Hindle, begins to investigate the strange murders, while trying to protect his daughter from his wife's experimental therapy.

The Brood is available for rent on iTunes.

Sci-fi horror

Antiviral (2012), 18A

Antiviral is very Black Mirror-esque in its depiction of a dystopian future that parades as a utopian one. In the film, companies capitalize on obsessive fans by selling them viruses and illnesses from celebrities. Given the state of the world we live in, both with the pandemic and the accessibility of celebrities on social media, the absurdity of this premise feels painfully potent.

There are elements of body horror in this film, which is unsurprising considering it's from the mind of Brandon Cronenberg, son of famed director and master of the body horror subgenre, the above-mentioned David Cronenberg. However, it's Antiviral's satirical commentary that makes the movie a compelling watch.

Antiviral can be streamed on CBC Gem.

Haunted houses

The Changeling (1980), 14A

It takes very little effort and few practical effects to create genuine scares in a haunted house story. Loud noises, running water and doors that open and close on their own can be enough to spook you from your seat. The Changeling does all three, while taking the time to familiarize the audience with the home — so you know exactly where things should and shouldn't be.

The film stars George C. Scott (Patton) as a music composer who has experienced the sudden and tragic loss of his wife and daughter. Dealing with his own grief, he moves into an old Victorian house where unexplained phenomena lead him to uncover a murder that took place within one of its rooms many years before.

The Changeling can be streamed on Tubi.

Found footage

Capture Kill Release (2016), NR

The challenge with a lot of found footage films is finding a use for the narrative device that doesn't feel contrived. What makes Capture Kill Release uncomfortably believable is that the found footage element is baked into the premise of the film. There is literally no better way to capture the disturbing journey of a young couple who are planning, documenting and executing what they think will be the perfect murder than by using the very footage that they've been shooting along the way.

Speaking of the young couple, they are played magnificently by Jennifer Fraser and Farhang Ghajar, whose chemistry is palpable throughout the film, as their playfulness quickly reveals a darker — and far more abusive — dynamic. 

WARNING: There are some very tough and extremely graphic scenes to swallow in this film (kudos to the special effects team). This is not for the faint of heart.

Capture Kill Release can be streamed on Tubi.

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