Halloween – possibly my favourite holiday of the year (excuse the Americanism). I’ve always had a bit of an interest in the otherworldly – in ghosts, witches and the paranormal. My childhood home was an 18th Century farmhouse where things always seemed to go missing and where you would hear footsteps upstairs while you were sat downstairs – on your own (gulp!). I’ve also worked in a National Trust property with 16th Century origins, where I saw, heard and smelt too many unexplainable things to count. If you’re looking for a believer, you’ve got one right here.
So, to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve, Samhain or whatever you want to call it, why not snuggle up with a classic period horror film? Light the candles, stoke the fire, nab the sweets you bought for the Trick and Treaters and be prepared to get scared!
I start the list with what is probably my number one period horror film of all time – Sleepy Hollow, starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci. The film is loosely based on the eponymous American folk tale featuring the famous headless horseman, portrayed by Christopher Walken. Sleepy Hollow is directed by the modern-day king of the Gothic horror, Tim Burton. Its very aesthetically pleasing with its so-muted-its-almost-black-and-white colour palette with splashes of vivid, bright red blood. An underrated, self-professed love letter to the iconic Hammer Horror films, Sleepy Hollow is a must watch for Halloween.
A list of horror films would not be complete without an entry from M.Night Shyalaman. However, The Village is a different type of horror film altogether – a period horror film that makes you think. An American Gothic story full of fog-shrouded scene-scapes, this is a film about a village (funnily enough!) whose inhabitants live in fear of creatures inhabiting the woods beyond it, referred to as “Those We Don’t Speak Of”. Like other films written and directed by Shyamalan, this one has a MAJOR twist ending. You won’t be disappointed.
The Woman in Black
First a book, then a West End Show, it was perhaps only natural that the very British ghost story Women in Black would be made into a film at some point. Daniel Radcliffe stars as a young solicitor who travels to a remote village where he discovers the vengeful ghost of a woman is terrorizing the locals. This film is packed with horror clichés including that universally sinister setting, a neglected Victorian nursery, complete with creepy toys. The only problem? Like me, you may struggle to think of Daniel Radcliffe as anyone else but Harry Potter.
I bloody love Tom Hiddleston. He, along with Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska, stars in Crimson Peak. The film, set in Victorian England, follows a young author who travels to a remote Gothic mansion in the English hills with her new fiancé and his sister. Unfortunately, her new home is plagued by ghostly visions. I love this period horror film so much because, like Sleepy Hollow, Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro goes full on with the visuals. It’s a proper old school Gothic romance. And Jessica Chastain is a marvel as the twisted and evil sister, Still unconvinced? Horror King Stephen King himself called Crimson Peak ‘gorgeous and just fucking terrifying’.
Unsurprisingly (or perhaps I’m just not aware of them) the mainstream film market has not been saturated with Jack the Ripper films, despite the almost cult following the Victorian mass murderer inspires. From Hell is a 2001 Jack The Ripper film loosely based on a graphic novel of the same name. Another thing that is loose about this particular period horror film is its adherence to historical detail, mixing up various Ripper theories for dramatic effect. Johnny Depp plays a too-young opiate-smoking Inspector Abberline to Heather Graham’s Mary Kelly who (spoiler alert) doesn’t get murdered and escapes to a quiet life on the coast.
There are two types of horror films – the ones with loads of slashing and blood and guts, and the ones that are more psychological thrillers that keep you in a horrified suspense. The Others falls into the latter category, and it is that type of film that truly terrifies me. Nicole Kidman plays Grace, a woman who lives in a darkened old house with her two photosensitive children and their servants, and becomes convinced that her family home is haunted. I’m not going to give the ending away, but let’s just say there is a massive M.Night Shyamalan-esque twist!
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
While Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is technically a black comedy there is enough blood and guts and plenty of zombie slayings to satisfy even the most die-hard horror film fan. This film was a random Netflix pick during one drunken night in with the girls. We all started out as a bit ‘WTF?’ but by the end we were loving it! The film does what it says on the tin – it follows the general plot of Jane Austen’s original novel, but with zombie, horror and post-apocalyptic elements. It’s also nice to see Lily James (as Lizzie Bennett) be a bit more kick-ass then her usual leading lady fair.
If you would like to learn more about period horror films and Gothic cinema then I thoroughly recommend the BFI’s compendium Gothic: The Dark Heart of Horror. The book charts the story of how the Gothic found its dark heart in Britain through a series of essays with contributions from names such as Mark Gatiss and Guillermo del Toro.