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31 October 2016

The top ten alternative Halloween films and TV

Forget The Exorcist, prepare to get seriously freaked out with these bone-chilling classics.

By George Bass

Blair Witch. Paranormal Activity. Yvette Fielding hiding in a windmill. Every year, the TV guide and HMV promotions rack seem to offer the same old cycle of Halloween viewing. There’s little emphasis on actually scaring you – isn’t 31 October meant to be the night we touch hands with the undead? Here are ten forgotten chillers which are guaranteed to have you cowering behind the sofa.

Ghostwatch (1992)

The BBC’s Orson Welles moment, Ghostwatch convinced school kids everywhere that their TV sets were channelling the undead. Keith Ferrari was bone-chilling as Mr Pipes, the ghost lurking in the corner of a council house bedroom. The odd wobble aside, this “live paranormal investigation” still holds up: shortly after broadcast, the Beeb would receive a dry cleaning bill from a woman whose paratrooper husband soiled his trousers while watching.

MisinforMation (2010)

Remember all those public information films that scared the pants off you in the ‘80s? They’re back, distorted and submerged in dark ambient noise. A trippy, unnerving experiment from musician Baron Mordant, MisinforMation achieves the impossible in making a social housing commercial feel like a night down the K-hole.

The Night Visitor (1971)

A bizarrely overlooked psychological horror that ranks with Hitchcock, Laslo Benedek’s movie is a guessing game that opens on Max Von Sydow breaking out of – and then back into – a castle-like asylum. His sister and her husband had him committed two years ago for a brutal murder. But if he’s locked in a snowbound fortress, how can he be peering through their curtains?

Jam (2000)

Probably the most perverse sketch show ever to air on terrestrial TV, highlights from Chris Morris’s Jam’s include a woman who practices acupuncture with roofing nails, a mother who gets a plumber to re-route her central heating through her deceased baby, and CCTV footage of Richard Madeley throwing a cleaner down the stairs before shagging a coffee machine.

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The Hide (2008)

Alex MacQueen – best known as Neil’s dad from The Inbetweeners – plays Roy Tunt, a twitcher who’s seen every bird in Britain bar the sociable plover. Crouched in a Suffolk hide, he hears a message about an escaped murderer, then spots Dave (Phil Campbell), a tattooed Scouser with a gun. The tension and gore ratchets as these two men discuss their losses.

The Last Wave (1977)

How would the ultimate pragmatist deal with a premonition? Australian Legal Aid lawyer David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) keeps seeing water, and is told by an Aboriginal elder that he’s not human – he’s a Mulkurul, the last in a race of clairvoyants. An ancient mask in an underground cavern seems to perfectly match his face. The film builds to an apocalyptic final shot that will leave Thalassophobics (those with a fear of the sea) cowering.

The Woman in Black (1989)

Forget the 2012 remake with Daniel Radcliffe and seek out this nerve shredding, Nigel Kneale-scripted adaptation starring Harry Potter’s dad (Adrian Rawlins). Osea Island has never looked more foreboding, and the bed sequence alone will have you crossing your eyes in fear.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931)

Rouben Mamoulian’s adaption of the classic tale remains the most gripping and graphic: the sight of Miriam Hopkins’ barely concealed nakedness must have sent monocles flying. Frederic March hisses and bottles barmen as Hyde, and is filled with desperate longing as Henry Jekyll. Only David Cronenberg’s The Fly can match this for experiment-induced tragedy.

Bottom (“Terror”) (1995)

Eddie Hitler and Richard Richard’s Halloween has got off to a rocky start: Richie’s incinerated his breakfast sausage, and Eddie’s been stabbed in the knackers with a pitchfork by Gus from EastEnders. Their response? Trick or treating using a cattle prod, followed by an attempt to raise the devil via pens, dressing gowns and sprouts cooked in gunpowder.

Threads (1984)

Plenty has been written on this horrifying docudrama about an imagined global nuclear exchange. Here are some fresh words from director Mick Jackson, and actress Karen Meagher, who played Ruth.

George Bass: Threads is frequently referred to as one of the most disturbing films ever made. Was it disturbing to make?

Mick Jackson: Inevitably, yes. Much of it was very graphic and the shoot asked a lot of everybody – especially the actors. When you’re obliged, for creative reasons to imagine the familiar world around you – everywhere you look – in smoking ruins and desolation, and all the people you know and love are killed, missing or horribly disfigured, you can easily find yourself living in two realities at once.

Why did the sound of the teleprinter stop after the bombing? That was possibly the eeriest moment of the film.

 If you notice, in the first part of the story, before the nuclear attack, the soundtrack is full of texture – radio and TV shows, DJs, pop music, commercials, birdsong, traffic, news bulletins, teleprinters –  familiar noises of city life. In the last part, after the explosions have stopped, that’s all gone. There is only silence – and the wind.

(To Karen Meagher) What has been the strongest reaction you’ve had to your performance?

KM: That many years later people still talk about how profoundly Threads affected them.

(SPOILERS) When Ruth’s daughter goes into labour at the end of the film, is that a shell-shocked and bandaged Jimmy watching her in the hospital?

KM: No, it is not Jimmy watching her. That would be far too corny now, wouldn’t it?

George Bass is a freelance journalist who write for The Guardian and Total Film.

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