Two film fans of varying sensitivity run through a list of spooky movies for superstition week. Who’s opinion will you relate to? The one informed by calm, logical, and thoughtful analysis? Or the ramblings of a shaking baby, who has not slept since watching them?
J: I just love movies lol. I can watch anything really and jamming some horror movies just happens to be one of my favourite pastimes. Blood, jumpscares, psychological terrors—you name it I’ve probably seen it all. There’s just something about these superstitious scare fests that speak to me and I was more than happy to sit through these horror classics once again. Let the games begin!
M: I have written a full dissertation about horror films. I have made a horror short film (using actual animal organs). I have learned extensively about how films are mere constructions of reality, that they use clever magic tricks in front of, within, and behind the camera. Yet, I shake in my boots at the mere sight of red cornstarch goop on screen. Writing this article was my waking nightmare.
The Shining (1980)
J: The mother of all superstitions is the haunted house, so Stanley Kubrick made an absolute flex and expanded it to a hotel. For what is already a horror classic, The Shining plays its hand during the moments of silence, with droning sound design that pushes tension to its extremes. Many scenes will engrain themselves into your mind for the rest of your life. I was just dumbstruck on how awesome these ideas are. I mean a slow descent into insanity is cool, but ghosts appearing out of nowhere and blood-filled elevators? The movie plays so many mind games, making you second-guess what is actually happening and what’s in the family’s hallucinations. Let’s not forget the amazing set that is the Overlook Hotel, which I would not stay at for an hour even if you paid me. If you love to watch a good haunting, The Shining is more than willing to serve.
M: If I know anything about this film, it’s that this is a classic. That’s because every white dad ever has chastised me for being a film major and not having seen it. I avoided seeing The Shining mainly because it has a reputation as being, you know, one of the scariest films ever. Not my jam. At times, I’ve watched through the first 15 minutes, but shut it off after getting spooked. Mustering up the courage to watch it all the way through was really tough, but I felt so rewarded after the credits rolled. The sets are so consistently impressive—those big, long hallways seem to echo with their emptiness. This makes the pacing of the horror scenes so much scarier too. There’s no sudden jumpscares, just horror that builds and builds to be more terrifying the longer you can bear to look. That notion of isolation really does start to get to you… but it’s just a movie. Just a movie, just a movie, just a movie.
The Thing (1982)
J: Doppelgangers are an often overlooked superstition and the general idea of one infiltrating my ranks is scary to me. I already have enough trust issues so I don’t think I would survive the scenario The Thing presents. The cold Antarctic setting adds to the anxiety that lingers from scene to scene. Kurt Russel’s beard is the only saving sight between the string of suspicion, animosity, and truly horrific body horror sights. Some of these practical effects will make your stomach churn. You get to know all these characters as they fall into the hell of untrusting and violence that creeps upon you every minute passing. Safely put, if you have trust issues and can’t stand the thought of gore, stay well away from this masterpiece of terror.
M: Though the title suggests a more goofy, pulpy film, this John Carpenter piece has some really genuinely creepy moments, and some really inventive movie-making techniques. It’s the film that had me the least nervous, probably because there is a little bit of camp and fun present within the production. The practical effects are brilliantly executed, especially in the case of the melting faces and swelling eyeballs. This would be the one I could watch again, purely to enjoy the set and production design. The Thing is just far enough from reality to make it a more watchable horror for fellow babies.
J: As said with The Shining, we’re obsessed with the good ol’ haunted house. The setting proves time and time again to be a place of torment and what’s better than having one set in our own backyard: Aotearoa. We follow Kylie’s struggles with supernatural entities, superstition after superstition and even dodgy law and mental health services to boot. There are some terrifying shots and theories throughout the movie but it never strays away from being a comedy first and foremost. There are lots of exciting references to ghost hunting as well, which is more than welcome for those thrilled by superstitious adventuring. Something about a haunting on the North Shore hits close to many of our hearts and can feel pretty enlightening knowing our country can take a slice of the wider horror cake. Still, Housebound is a horror romp through and through, and worth any number of views from horror veterans and ghost enthusiasts alike.
M: While I’m not the biggest fan of a jumpscare, it’s relatively rare that I actually vocalise my fear when they happen. Usually, I’ll twitch and wince in my seat, quietly and respectfully. For some reason, Housebound had me yelling and screaming, much to the annoyance of my movie pals. Maybe it’s the familiar accents that really bring out my terror, making the spookiness feel closer to home. Housebound follows Kylie, a woman under house arrest in her mum’s place, who becomes convinced the house is haunted. Some of the revelations are much scarier than that, and there are some house invasion scenes that I will continue to think about with every creak of my floorboards.
J: Within a contemporary genre of shlock, a market of stupid, unscary horrors that do nothing but ineffective jumpscare after jumpscare, A24 come into clutch with one of the scariest modern horror films. A dark family drama is hidden away between the superstitious themes with cults, small scares, and demon presence aplenty. Toni Collette does so much for her character and, at times, becomes a scarier sight than anything supernatural. But it’s never clear what exactly happens behind the family’s haunting. Very long drags of silence are blown apart by terrifying events and by the end, nothing is safe, everyone is in danger and there’s no real hope in sight. Not only is it a draught and intense character drama, but an essential horror show full of all the superstitious terror you can think of.
M: Nope. No, no, no. Please get this film away from me. I probably only managed to get through half of it, because I had my hands covering the screen at some point in nearly every scene. Hereditary has everything that I despise in a horror film—the unseen forces, hollow bodies, and contorting human faces. It’s some of the most haunting imagery I’ve ever seen in film, but so gripping that I couldn’t switch it off. I’m sure I will continue to see these expertly composed shots in my head at night time, so I’m at least glad that this horrifying film looks beautiful. Hereditary is part of the new brand of indie-horror designed to just make you feel terrible. It’s likely the only one I’ll see, as, for some reason, I prefer to feel good most of the time. Any more of this stuff, and I might lose my head.