Play Hard

HLN recommends: Scary films, TV and books to enjoy this October

A Halloween culture special, because it’s good to have a scare sometimes… By Christopher Kingston

Written by Chris Kingston
Published 16.10.2020


Halloween – 1978  

We’ll get things started with one of the best Halloween movies ever, which preys on the fear of The Boogeyman breaking into your house while the grown-ups are out. This scary movie sees a Babysitter played by Jamie Lee Curtis being stalked by knife- wielding psychopath Michael Myers who has escaped from a lunatic asylum. You just know it’s Halloween when you hear its iconic theme music. Forget the numerous sequels – this is the original and also the best.      

Psycho - 1960

Alfred Hitchcock’s black and white masterpiece is most famous for its iconic shower scene in which Marion Crane played by Janet Leigh (who was Jamie Lee Curtis’s Mother in real life) is knifed to death by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) – the scene caused a sensation at the time. When viewing it now, the movie looks fairly tame compared to modern standards, however it has stood the test of time and proves why Alfred Hitchcock was the master of suspense.   

The Exorcist - 1973

This is probably the most famous of all the horror movies out there and probably the most controversial on this list. We see a mother’s resolve in a bid to rid her daughter (Linda Blair) of demonic possession and enlists the help of two priests to save her from what could be the Devil himself. At the time this film caused cinemagoers to faint in their seats but like most of the films on this list, it looks a little dated now. However it is still a classic and still stands the test of time.      

The Shining - 1980

“All work and no play make Jack a dull boy” and “Heeeeere’s Johnny” are perhaps two of the most quoted in this movie directed by Stanley Kubrick. This list would not be complete if I didn’t include a Steven King adaptation for which there are many, however I just had to choose this Jack Nicholson classic in which he plays a writer who takes a job as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. He takes his wife and son, but the boy has a psychic power called The Shining enabling him to see into the hotel’s past. Steven King is known for hating this adaptation of his work however personally is one of my all-time favourites.


Hocus Pocus – 1993

One that the whole family can enjoy. This Halloween movie starring Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker is a cult classic. They play the Sanderson sisters – a trio of evil witches who accidentally get resurrected by a teenage boy on Halloween night. The sisters have one night to secure their existence and it’s up to Max (Omri Katz), Dani (Thora Birch) and Alison (Vanessa Shaw) to stop them.  

The Witches - 1990

With the remake coming out next year starring Anne Hathaway, I thought that I would recommend the original movie based on the children’s book of the same name by Roland Dahl. The story follows a group of evil witches who masquerade as ordinary women and hatch an plan to turn the world’s children into mice. It is up to a young boy and his grandmother to find a way to defeat them. Produced by Jim Henson who was famous for The Muppets and The Dark Crystal among others, it also stars Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch.        

The Addams Family (1991) - available on Netflix

The Addams family are far from being a normal family. Gomez (Raul Julia), Morticia (Anjelica Huston), Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd) and Wednesday Addams (Christina Ricci), as well as a detached hand for a servant and a Frankenstein-like butler. Things get weirder still when a pair of con artists plan to fleece the eccentric family out of their fortune. They really don’t make them like this anymore. Be sure to check out the sequel too – The Addams Family Values. Based on the classic cartoons by Charles Addams and the iconic 1960s TV series, you will find yourself humming the theme song for days after and is definately worth revisiting.

Labyrinth (1986)

When a young girl Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) accidentally wishes her baby brother Toby away, he gets sent to the realm of Jareth The Goblin King played by the one and only David Bowie. She must save him before time runs out and he becomes one of the king’s minions forever. The puppet special effects do an amazing job of bringing the world of the Goblin King and his minion’s to life.


The Haunting of Hill House – 2018  – Netflix  

If you are watching The Haunting of Bly Manor currently on Netflix you may want to try The Haunting of Hill House as well. The story follows a family’s traumatic childhood at Hill House and how it has affected them as adults. Created by Mike Flanagan who also writes and directs The Hunting of Bly Manor. Be warned it is not for the faint of heart. 

Dracula - Netflix - DVD/Blu Ray

It wouldn’t be Halloween without a visit to Transylvania, the home of Count Dracula. From the team behind BBC One’s Sherlock – Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat – comes a three part adaption which is loosely based on the Bram Stoker’s novel of the same name. Count Dracula (Claes Bang) draws his plans against Victorian London when Jonathan Harker, a solicitor, is sent to his lair in Transylvania. He also battles with Sister Agatha and a group of nuns. Every episode feels like a mini-movie as these new tales flesh out the vampire’s gory crimes. Be warned – there is a lot of gore and a lot of blood!

Bates Motel - Amazon Prime

This psychological horror drama is set before the events depicted in the 1960 film Psycho, this follows Norman Bates’ early years before he became a killer. Norman, played by Freddie Highmore, lives with his mother (Vera Farmiga) as his psyche begins to unravel though his teenage years and how deep the relationship, he has with his mother truly is.

The Walking Dead: World Beyond - Amazon Prime

This is the third spin-off series in The Walking Dead franchise. which is based on the comic book series of the same name by Robert Kirkman. This 10-part series is a coming of age story with a difference. Set in Nebraska 10 years after the events of The Walking Dead. We follow four teenagers as they encounter zombies and ponder the state of the world as the first generation to grow up during the zombie apocalypse.


Bone China by Laura Purcell 

Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft’s family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken. But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the same disease in the cliffs beneath his new Cornish home. Forty years later, Hester Why arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralysed and almost entirely mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try and escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers that her new home may be just as dangerous as her last…

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported from the Dutch East Indies to Amsterdam, where he is facing trial and execution for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent, while also on board are Sara Wessel, a noble woman with a secret, and her husband, the governor general of Batavia.

But no sooner is their ship out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A strange symbol appears on the sail. A dead leper stalks the decks. Livestock are slaughtered in the night. And then the passengers hear a terrible voice whispering to them in the darkness, promising them three unholy miracles. First: an impossible pursuit. Second: an impossible theft. Third: an impossible murder. Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes? With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent and Sara can solve a mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board.

The Wake: An Irish Ghost story by NP Cunniffe

Oxford student Michael has been summoned to the will reading of his old music teacher, Miss Callahan, in the remote West of Ireland. But not everyone is pleased to see him return. As mourners gather around the deceased, secrets Michael thought were long buried are unearthed, and with them a past he realises he can never escape…

Quietly compelling and deeply chilling, The Wake is a haunting story about the inescapable power the dead continue to wield over the living.

The Danger Gang by Tom Fletcher

One for the younger readers from the author of The Christmasaurus and The Creakers. Tom Fletcher’s latest book is about a boy named Franky who moves to a new town. After the town is hit by a storm in which strange green lightning and thunder hits the town, something happens to the kids living on Franky’s street and they begin to change. Franky then finds himself part of The Danger Gang and together take on a terrifying new evil.

Christopher Kingston
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