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Three wicked-scary movies to check out this Halloween

How do you separate the Saws from the should-sees? Here are a few recommendations to get things rolling.

How do you separate the Saws from the should-sees?

Toni Collette stars in Hereditary, a film that earned a reputation as one of the scariest in recent memory.

Halloween is the perfect time to tuck into some scary cinema.

Horror as a genre has a reputation for schlock. It's deserved in many cases.

Scary movies are relatively cheap to make and are one of the last sources — alongside superhero movies and animated kids' flicks — of reliable box office success.

As a result, offerings in the genre are often cynical cash grabs. When one hits, sequels can come as quickly as once a year with little regard for quality. The Saw franchise comes to mind.

So how do you separate the Saws from the should-sees? Here are a few recommendations to get things rolling.

Halloween (1978)

What better place to start than the film named after the occasion itself?

Halloween redefined the horror genre. Michael Myers — the mute, masked, unstoppable killer — inspired legions of copycats.

Halloween was such a huge success at the box office that it was immediately followed up by Friday the 13th, another film about a killer lunatic in a mask. That was so successful that scores of imitations soon flooded cinemas. Halloween now gets lumped in with Friday and everything else that followed.

Halloween and Friday are actually quite different. Halloween is largely bloodless. Director John Carpenter relied on tension rather than excess gore. The film takes its time to portray actual characters and the suspense comes from the audience knowing things the characters don't.

Friday the 13th, on the other hand, was directed by a literal pornographer. Sean S. Cunningham brought his skin-flick sensibility to the genre, with character-building replaced by as much blood and nudity he could pack in.

This is not to say gore makes a movie bad. The splatter-focused side of horror has produced some great films through the years. But Halloween stands out from — and is a lot better than — many of the movies it spawned.

You can buy it on iTunes for five bucks.

Drag Me to Hell (2009)

Netflix subscribers received a Halloween gift with the recent addition of Drag Me to Hell.

This 2009 Sam Raimi movie is about a young bank employee who denies an old woman a loan extension and becomes the target of a terrible curse.

Raimi is probably best known as the guy behind the first three Spider-Man movies, but he made his reputation as a filmmaker in the horror genre with Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness. If you enjoyed those films then this recommendation is for you.

Drag Me to Hell is classic Raimi. He has a unique ability to make something that is both truly scary and truly hilarious.

He and early collaborator Bruce Campbell are open about having been obsessed with The Three Stooges as kids. The influence shows. Raimi delights in tormenting his characters, but somehow avoids feeling cruel. His madcap set pieces veer into slapstick, but the films still manage to be scary.

The mix of humour and terror make for a rollercoaster-like experience, with tension building and laughter acting as a sort of release valve.

Drag me to Hell is rated PG-13, so it could be a good option to watch as a family if the kids are old enough to handle some scares. The film has some gross parts, but it's not particularly gory. Instead, Raimi uses sound and shadow to great effect.

Hereditary (2018)

Hereditary, directed by first-timer Ari Aster, hit theatres in June and quickly earned a reputation as one of the most disturbing films in recent memory.

It begins with a woman, played masterfully by Toni Collette, mourning the death of her mother. The two had a rocky relationship and it soon becomes clear the dead woman left behind a lot more than just bad memories.

Hereditary manages to be an intense family drama that is also an extremely scary flick. Collette shines but the performances are great throughout.

I'm hesitant to say too much about this one as much of its power comes from it being so different from what you've seen before. You may think you know where it's going, but you don't.

Almost everything about it — the plot, the cinematography, the pacing, the score — feels strange, as if it's a little off-kilter. The result is an unsettling air that has your stomach twisted well before the film descends into its darker subject matter.

Hereditary is out on DVD and Blu-Ray and available for download from all the usual services. Oh, and it's definitely NOT for children.

Your scary movie memories

This week Morning Editiion host Stefani Langenegger asked her Twitter followers, "What scary movie did you see way too young?"​

The question struck a nerve, drawing many responses about sleepless nights spurred by cinematic scares:

What about you? Did you see something before you were old enough top handle it? What's the scariest or most entertaining horror film you've ever seen? Let us know in the comments.

About the Author

Sean Trembath worked as a newspaper reporter for five years before joining CBC in early 2018.

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