We take a look at some non-horror films that will still creep you out, disturb you or deliver a nightmarish scenario…
It’s almost Halloween and so the perfect time to dive into some horror. The genre sees a perfect boost during Halloween season but a film doesn’t need to belong to the horror genre to make your skin crawl or plunge you into a nightmarish scenario. Cats might, on the surface be an all-singing and dancing musical, but the film version turned out to be nightmare fuel filled with cats assholes and worse still, James Cordon. It’s time to look at ten films that don’t fall into the horror genre but will still offer you some disturbing viewing this Halloween season…
The Safdie brothers’ relentless and gripping thriller features Adam Sandler in inspired form as a hapless gambler weighted down by debts who perpetually digs himself deeper into a hole.
The reason Uncut Gems works so well as a horror-adjacent film, perfect for your Halloween viewing is it elicits levels of anxiety and exhaustion in the viewer that most horror films could only dream of. Watching this on the big screen was a trial that’s for sure, but a wholly gripping one. Sandler’s affable loser takes three steps back for every step forward and is almost aggressively cursed to make the wrong decision at every stick or twist decision that comes his way.
It’s a pulsating and brilliant film that’s for sure.
Wake in Fright
Ever found yourself stuck in an awful place for way too long? Visitors to Slough need not answer this one, but Wake in Fright tells the tale of a teacher on his summer holidays who makes a stopover in Bundanyaba (the locals refer to it as ‘the Yaba’).
The outback town seems at once hostile but hospitable, with John (Gary Bond) being given drinks by the locals and invited to gamble in a popular game. We’ve established by this point that John has issues with gambling and money, so the combination of booze and a feverishly exciting betting game which rouses the locals results in him being penniless.
That’s when he finds himself trapped in The Yaba and trying at every turn to scrape enough cash to get to Sydney. The more he’s dragged into their boozy ways, the more he loses himself with the situation becoming more and more inescapable. Throw in Donald Pleasance (in a career-best performance) as an oddball, once outsider and now irremovable Yaban fixture, and the film becomes nightmarish.
Orson Welles’ surreal adaptation of the Franz Kafka book is a film born of a desire by the director to conjure the feeling of a nightmare. Welles’ succeeds, throwing our protagonist Joseph K (Anthony Perkins) into chaos and never letting up, as a man is accused of a crime but never told by the justice system what that crime is.
The film moves at a breakneck pace as Joseph K has to manoeuvre from odd situation to odder situation which gives the story a jumpy feeling with settings that become increasingly more exaggerated. It feels very much like a world one might conjure in a dream and at the centre of everything is Anthony Perkins with an exceptional performance.
The film is visually stunning and discomforting and is Welles really letting loose. It’s his favourite of his own work and he might just be right given how truly unique it is.
War films have an inherent horror in them but Apocalypse Now cranks everything up a notch and delivers a final act filled with a trippy descent into hell and plenty of nightmarish imagery. The film’s legendary shoot was nightmarish enough in itself, almost killing Martin Sheen.
In truth, Apocalypse Now is worth watching at any time such is its cinematic power and legacy, almost unmatched in the Vietnam War sub-genre. As critically derided as Brando’s brief finale appearance was back in the day, in time it can be appreciated for its unrestrained intensity, adding to the disturbing features within the film. If not this, then Come And See will probably age you 10 years just by watching it.
No Country For Old Men
The Coen brothers have always masterfully peppered their films with a mix of genres, able to garnish thrillers with comedy and sometimes elements of nightmarish horror in the case of Barton Fink and No Country For Old Men.
Here you have a typically laconic Coen thriller, laced with dry comedy (of errors). It’s the wrong place, wrong time with an everyman hero who ends up way over his head (Moss, played by Josh Brolin). The real horror injection in this comes in the form of fearsome hunter, Antoine Chigurh (Javier Bardem). He’s tracking a case of money and thus Moss, who happens upon said case. For all intents and purposes, Chigurh is a Terminator – a perfectly relentless, soulless killing machine who does not stop – and Bardem is terrifying.
I’ve sung the praises of this one plenty but this underrated gem can never be bigged up enough. This frenetic, almost dreamy thriller begins almost quaintly like a ships-in-the-night romance before turning into an against-the-clock thriller, always retaining a quirky sensibility.
Anthony Edwards makes for the most perfectly unassuming everyman hero, knee-deep in a race against armageddon with a stray, misfired Nuke due to obliterate LA within the hour. The scenario is nightmarish enough, but the late Cold War era when the film was made, gave it a chilling sense of believability that is still retained in today’s politically dicey world. The power of nukes is terrifying. Less terrifying, but totally awesome is the pulsating score from Tangerine Dream.
In space, no one can hear you scream…the black emptiness of space carries so much mystery but also inhospitable horror. When humans go up there we’re defying God and/or nature. We’re not supposed to be pissing about up there but we have done.
Cinema has long held a fascination with space and all its dangers and mysteries. Gravity puts us up in space looking down on the Earth with a pair of astronauts on a spacewalk who get caught in a meteor shower leaving one of them (George Clooney) dead. Alfonso Cuaron shot much of the film in long, evocative takes as well as a rare effective use of 3D. The meteor storm sequence is gut-wrenching and horrifying and the subsequent isolation and slow drifting to a seemingly inescapable drawn-out death (for Sandra Bullock) is also grim.
Throwing protagonists into a baffling and horrible situation is a great way to unsettle the audience. Oldboy sees a man kidnapped and imprisoned for years by a mysterious captor, then released without explanation. As he sets about trying to solve the mystery of his kidnapping he’s plunged into a dangerous and confusing situation with some horrific twists in the tale.
Oldboy really brought Korean cinema to the attention of the West, way before Parasite reinvigorated interest. It’s dark, twisted and unafraid to descend into places Western cinema just wouldn’t and it’s part of why the film was so appealing then and why it’s endured.
Jeff Burr sadly passed away recently and left behind a long line of enjoyable horror sequels that would make perfect Halloween viewing (Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Pumpkinhead 2, Puppetmaster 4 and 5, Stepfather 2). However, it’s one of his sidesteps into sci-fi that makes particularly interesting viewing for our non-horror viewing list. Gary Daniels stars and it marks a real departure for the man who up to that point had largely specialised in films utilising his kickboxing talents or car chase-driven rollicking action films from PM Entertainment.
Spoiler probably has a better concept than the resultant movie, but this video special isn’t without its merits, not least some assured direction from Burr and a sincere performance from Daniels as a prisoner kept in stasis in the near future when criminals are sentenced to years in stasis. As such his daughter is growing and eventually overtaking his age whilst he continues to try and escape. The tragic goal is always just out of his grasp and feels like a waking nightmare. For a mid-90s straight-to-video action film this certainly has more heart and imagination than most.
The late and wholly undervalued Anthony Hickox has a horror legacy that’ll certainly provide plenty of October delights, not least Waxwork, Hellraiser III and Full Eclipse, but as he shifted away from horror in the mid to late 90s, he found himself putting out thrillers and action movies to mixed success (but never without pazazz that belied the difficult nature of shoots like Submerged).
One unheralded Hickox thriller that definitely has a dash of scariness suitable for the Halloween season is Contaminated Man which as the title suggests is a biological thriller. William Hurt, Peter Weller and Natasha McElhone provide a level of star power that gives a film made for cable viewing, a lot of heft. Okay, it’s no Outbreak but this is a very solid thriller in which Hickox runs like a well-oiled machine and biological weapons are terrifying.
You might also check out the underrated serial killer thriller Jill Rips which was an interesting departure for Dolph Lundgren and a film that was effectively grimy with enough quirks to be interesting and ahead of its time.
What are some great non-horror films that are still scary, disturbing or make for good Halloween viewing? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth or hit me up @jolliffeproductions…