Scary Trips: 10 Surrealist Horror Movies Perfect for Halloween

Scanners (1981, David Cronenberg)

Cameron Vale is one in nearly three hundred telekinetic individuals in America. Learning to control his powers Cameron seeks to infiltrate and bring down the leader of a terrorist group, an extremely powerful telekinesis.

In a world where everything is internal these very intense battles consist of men staring at each other as hard as they can while veins and warts grow on their flesh. The idea is that everyone’s connected man. We’re all just part of this big thought and feeling. By connecting to each other we can experience tons of different lives man. It’s awesome.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Amer (2009, Helene Cattet  & Bruno Forzani)

A French film following Ana, who has had a rather horrific childhood. In fact, all three stages of her life that we are shown are quite terrifying. We see her as a young girl, a teenager and an adult as she tries to come to terms with what happened to her and explore her own sexuality.

Though Amer takes heavy inspiration from giallo films in Italy, it has a style all its own. Sexual abuse is psychologically paralyzing, especially to children. Showing this mental horror with only editing colors and metaphorical images creates one of the most terrifying sequences in any movie without the use of on-screen violence. The overall effect is what one imagines a drug induced hallucination gone wrong would feel like.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

A Field in England (2013, Ben Wheatley)

Set to the backdrop of 17th century British civil war, a group of soldiers flee the battlefield in search of an alehouse. Along the way they are captured and held prisoner by an alchemist in search of treasure.

Demanding several viewings and possibly some research to fully understand it, the film drops you into a foreign land in a mix of historical practices and folklore magic. Without a “modern man” narrating explanations to the audience often gives the feeling that we are one of the characters who has been captured and are seeing strange magic for the first time. Combined with a climactic scene with some very inventive editing this is one hell of a ride.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper)

You’ve seen it all before. A group of twenty-something year olds, a creepy house, a mad killer and misfortune. But in 1974 Sally and Franklin Hardesty were the first youths to take some friends to dad’s old property in the middle of nowhere. The purpose for the visit is to make sure that grandpa’s body has not been one in a string of grave robberies. It being a long trip they opt to stay at the house they grew up in. If that doesn’t unsettle you then the house they stumble upon in search of dad’s old pool will.

Boil the themes and purposes of the film and that’s what you get. As if the premise is not mad enough we are given characters like drunks outside the graveyard and the hitchhiker. What really pushes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre over the edge, however, is the infamous dinner scene. The extreme close-ups of Sally’s eyes and the finger pricking, blood sucking grandpa get under your skin and disturb you for days. Spawning dozens of remakes, sequels and spin-offs, not to mention thousands of imitators, nothing has ever quite amounted to the craft, characters or nightmarish surrealism of the first slasher ever made.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)

Hundreds of young women come to Hollywood each year in search of careers in acting. Betty Elms is one of these. When she arrives at her aunts house (who is in Canada making a film) she finds a young woman who can’t remember who or where she is. This is how the story begins. Along the way we are taken on a journey with a stranger collection of characters than The Big Lebowski. Only this is not a comedy. It is a nightmarish realm of confusion, mystery, death and revenge.

Mulholland Drive feels very much like a nightmare. Sometimes at the most climactic moments the sound all but cuts out. Muted sounds. Constant hum. Strange characters, shapes, shots and images. Arguably without any jump scares or conventional Hollywood terror David Lynch gets in the head of nearly everyone who watches it and reminds them of the things that frighten them at night. Perhaps most impressive is that once the credits roll, you may find yourself replaying it for round two. Both because of an obsession to interpret the symbolism and the fact that, frankly, we enjoy nightmares, and this one is a relatively safe bet. Knowing what’s going to happen we are aware that it will not harm us, only frighten us. You know what’s beautiful about this film?

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Videodrome (1983, David Cronernberg)

Cronenberg’s second film on this list follows Max Denn, a man who runs a seedy television channel screening anything from soft porn to hardcore violence. Always on the search for new content he stumbles upon an obscure, privately broadcasted series of videos called Videodrome. Sex torture and murder being the subject matter of these videos Max tries to track down the content’s creators, but not before he begins hallucinating.

Need a convenient hiding place for a gun? Or possibly a place to store and or destroy some videotapes? Max has on, or imagines he does, in the form of a large vagina on his stomach. But don’t worry, compared to some of the theories and ideas about the infinity of video this film speculates on, a vagina stomach is one of the tamer images we see. Thought provoking as it may be, long conversations about how videos create their own universe and reality lasting forever does seem inspired by the consumption of some less than legal substances. All joking aside though, this is an incredibly creepy and all over wonderful film that has a lot to say about society’s current condition. Especially when adding modern phenomenons like YouTube to the table, which may happen in a possible remake.

Rating: 4.5/5

Santa Sangre (1989, Alejandro Jodorowsky)

A man in a mental hospital is haunted by the traumatic events that took place during his childhood. That’s all you get.

Being the Mexican filmmaker’s most accessible film does not mean that it is not crazy enough to be considered intense surrealism. Getting his start in the seventies Jodorowsky has always had a habit of mixing symbolism, metaphors and cultural traditions of every religion. Thus creating new, cinematic religions all his own. Santa Sangre is no exception and the spirituality of the film is what makes it so odd. It is less concerned with how certain religions affects society and more concerned with the different ways religion as an idea effects our minds. This film has everything in it from Italian giallo influence to Federico Fellini and all things colorful and weird. There really are few words to describe Jodorowsky’s work, “entrancing” is what I will stick with.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)

Jack Torrence gets the wonderful job of caretaker at an exquisite hotel during the winter. Excited for a chance to get away and write his novel, Jack and his family head to total isolation. Dark spiritual forces begin to contort Jack’s mind as the trip turns violent and an ever-present feeling of death increases.

Most of the other films on this list are from the perspective of the victim as they experience the craziest, scariest and most unbelievable events of their lives. The Shining puts us inside the head of our villain for large portions of the film. Effective in scaring the hell out of us this technique gives the uneasy feeling of not knowing what will happen next. Jack could give Danny a hug and tell him he loves him, or he could just as easily take him in the bathroom and hold him under running water till his legs stop moving. Being in the mind of that caliber madness gives this film a number three spot. All of that does not even touch on the excellent craft of the movie. This may be the closest to perfect any horror film has ever come. Technically and emotionally it is absolute brilliance in a way only Kubrick can create.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Eraserhead (1977, David Lynch)

A man impregnates his girlfriend and marries her because of his responsibilities as a father. The baby ends up being terribly disfigured and he has to deal with marital issues while keeping the child from getting sick.

There are several variations of a theory in which the entire film is the main characters nightmare. Dream sequences, strange and fantastical things happening in the real world and the slow, muted visuals of the film all support this theory. When the most straight forward scene in your horror film is a man repeatedly ripping fetus’ out of his wife while she sleeps, you’ve got something rather ambiguous on your hands. But don’t let any of that deter you! Truly beautiful and truly scary this film has meaning behind every scene.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Hausu! (1977, Nobuhiko Obayashi)

Angel, a young Japanese teenager brings a group of her friends to visit her aunt’s house. Once again, that’s all the summary you’re gonna be getting.

Watching it for the first time with a Japanese lady unaware of its existence who also happens to be a filmmaker yielded almost constant, “What? This is crazy!” Often with surrealist movies such as the other selections on this list we watch them and do not understand what we have seen. Further viewings bring revelation of depth and understanding.

Nobody has ever had such revelations with this Japanese cult masterpiece. Either it’s nonsensical foolishness or you accept that you will never understand it and accept it as the eighth wonder of the world and love the hell out of it. Containing everything from bad Japanese pop shows to flying heads to carnivorous pianos to dancing skeletons to man slaughtering bananas this wild ride is something to behold. To use the old Matrix cliché, No one can be told what Hausu is, you have to see it for yourself. And, hey, if it’s not your thing, don’t let it be a judgment point for all Japanese films. They make some truly wonderful films. That being said this movie is receiving a huge recommendation and should be, if nothing else, the one movie you watch on Halloween instead of doing drugs. My Japanese mentor said it right: This is a crazy movie!

Rating: 5/5 Stars

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Categories: Lists and Editorials, Movie

Author:Oliver Gelleni

Check out more thoughts on movies new and old here: I am an Austin based filmmaker with a passion and an eye for quality cinema.

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