Improve your English and spook yourself this Halloween

Are you in the mood to watch something spooky this Halloween? Grab some pillows and pop the popcorn! Halloween is the perfect time to sit on the sofa with friends (or alone if you’re brave) to watch a horror movie or two. Why not use this opportunity to practice your English listening skills as well?

There are tons of good and bad horror movies out there on Netflix, Hulu, or your other favorite streaming service. With so many options to choose from, you might not know where to start. So here’s a list of important horror movies from the past five decades to get you started. Keep in mind that these movies are adult-oriented. That means you should make sure the kids are asleep before you start watching. Happy viewing!

Horror Movies to Watch

1970s

The Exorcist (1973)

This supernatural horror film by William Friedkin— which is based on William Peter Blatty’s novel that is in turn loosely based on true events—has often been called the greatest horror movie ever made. It deserves praise.

The film centers on a priest who is called to examine a young girl’s disturbing behavior. Her mother can’t find any medical or scientific explanation, and the priest concludes that the young girl, named Reagan, is showing signs of demonic possession. The priest requests the Catholic Church to send an expert priest to perform an exorcism (a religious ritual to remove an evil spirit from a person’s body). The devilish ordeal unfolds over the rest of the film.

The film famously uses complex visual and audio special effects as well as a chilling soundtrack to achieve moments of terror and disbelief. It has many memorable scenes, and the acting is excellent. If you only watch one film from this list, I recommend this one.

Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter directed and scored (wrote the music for) this genre-defining slasher film, which has led to many sequels and remakes. This includes the highly-praised 2018 direct sequel with the original lead actress, Jamie Lee Curtis, reprising (performing again) her role.

The film tells a story of an escaped mental institution patient named Michael Meyers who stalks and kills teenage babysitters in a small town on Halloween night. One by one, the babysitters fall until the last girl remains and fights back with everything she has.

Although it wasn’t the first in the slasher horror genre, Halloween is a hugely influential movie, paving the way and creating a blueprint for other slasher horror films like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th.

Carrie (1976)

Carrie would the first of many film adaptations of novelist Stephen King’s bestselling work. In fact, Carrie was King’s first published novel.

Brian De Palma directed this story of supernatural suspense and horror about a seventeen-year-old girl who is bullied in high school. One day, she discovers that she has telekinetic powers (the ability to move objects with her mind). She uses this power to take revenge on the cruel classmates who humiliated her. The prom night scene is one of the most famous moments in the history of horror movies.

Also, consider:

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) The Wicker Man (1973) The Omen (1976)

1980s

Creepshow (1982)

The best thing about Creepshow is that you don’t have to watch the whole film to enjoy it. The film comprises (consists of) five short dark comedy horror stories written by Stephen King and directed by George Romero. Creepshow isn’t a particularly good film by acting or film-making standards. It has the feeling of a comic book. Still, horror movie lovers will find a lot to enjoy here. It’s not too silly to be called a comedy, and it’s not too serious to be truly scary.

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The Evil Dead (1981)

The Evil Dead follows five college students who stay the night in a cabin in a remote part of a forest. In the cabin, they listen to an audiotape which summons demons which possess their bodies. This film has a lot of gory (showing lots of violence or blood) special effects and make-up, which may be disturbing for some viewers.

Despite the very low budget used to make it, The Evil Dead lives on as a critical and fan favorite in the genre. The tight story drives viewers through a terrifying plot that gets more gruesome and tense with each passing scene.

The director, Sam Raimi, and lead actor, Bruce Campbell, went on to create two direct sequels, The Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. Campbell plays the main role in both. Both sequels take a more comic approach than the first film. Developing a close relationship through their partnership, Campbell appears as a cameo character in all of Raimi’s films. Look for him in the Sam Raimi Spiderman trilogy films.

The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter made this science fiction horror film about a group of American researchers in Antarctica. They encounter “the thing”, an alien parasite which can take the shape of and imitate any person or creature which it absorbs. The researchers must fight against the parasite creature and their own sense of paranoia (a false belief that other people are trying to harm you). The story becomes grimmer as the researchers lose trust in each other and realize that any of them could be an imitation. Kurt Russel plays one of the main characters here.

Although the film was released to negative reviews, it has grown in popularity over the years and is now considered a horror classic. It has been praised for its very impressive special effects and slowly but steadily increasing suspense.

The alien is a terrible creature, but the main fear is not knowing which character is still human.

Also, consider:

The Evil Dead II (1987) An American Werewolf in London (1981) Poltergeist (1982) The Fly (1986) Friday the 13th (1980) The Shining (1980) Prince of Darkness (1987) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The 1990s

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Francis Ford Coppola directed this international renowned Gothic horror film which won Academy Awards for costume design, makeup, and sound editing. The story, of course, is a classic, based on the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker that built up the lore (traditional knowledge and beliefs) and mystery of Dracula, Van Helsing, and the vampire fantasy genre. Gary Oldman’s performance of Vlad Dracula might be the most impressive part of this film, but don’t ignore the excellent costumes, make-up effects, and background sets. Don’t miss out on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It does a great job of telling this classic story in a unique way.

Francis Ford Coppola is a central figure in cinema, known especially for The Godfather series and Apocalypse Now.

Event Horizon (1997)

This science-fiction horror film directed by Paul W.S. Anderson occurs in distant space. A group of astronauts goes on a rescue mission near the planet Neptune when they suddenly find the Event Horizon, a spaceship that has long been missing. They board (get into or onto) the Event Horizon and discover that the entire crew is gone. They also find out that the ship’s engine is designed to open passages to another dimension. As they continue to look for the missing crew members, they realize that there is an evil presence on the ship.

Sam Neill is widely known for his role as Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park. But he actually played a major role in Event Horizon and several other horror films—including another on this list, In the Mouth of Madness.

Scream (1996)

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Scream is a slasher film directed by Wes Craven. The film stars a group of 90s TV and film celebrities (including Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and others) who play high school students. A knife-wielding murderer wearing a ghost mask terrorizes the group, killing them off one by one. The film combines slasher horror with comedy and mystery elements. It also satirizes (makes fun of) clichés (common situations or characters) within the horror genre. The movie was very popular when it was released, and a series of sequels and films with similar stories were released thereafter.

Also, consider:

In the Mouth of Madness (1994) Army of Darkness (1993) The Blair Witch Project (1999) The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Candyman (1992) Tremors (1990)

2000s

Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

Trick ‘r Treat is an anthology (collection of art) film like Creepshow. It offers four different Halloween stories, but there is one character that appears across each of them. Every time one of the characters breaks a “rule” of Halloween, the character Sam shows up to show teach them a horrifying lesson. One reason you’ll love Trick ‘r Treat is that all the stories take place on Halloween, and the stories play on people’s expectations of Halloween customs and horror movie plots. It couldn’t be more a more perfect film to watch this season. All the stories are well-crafted, balancing a line of fun entertainment and scary thrills.

The Descent (2005)

The Descent is a British horror film about six adventure-seeking women who go spelunking (cave exploring) in a cave system. Inside the cave, they encounter a long-hidden group of bloodthirsty creatures who start to hunt them down.

The cave setting increases the tension since you know the characters have very few places to hide. Also, the moody soundtrack does a great job of building and holding suspense. This film also explores the characters’ flawed relationships and problems, adding a sense of personal development to this tale of monster horror.

The Mist (2007)

Frank Darabont directed this Stephen King science fiction horror adaptation. It follows a group of people who barricade themselves in a supermarket after a thick fog covers their entire small town. When anyone goes out into the fog, they are swept up or gruesomely attacked by monstrous insect-like creatures.

Although the monsters are huge threat to the characters, the film also explores the extreme tension between people as they struggle to survive the unnatural mist that drives them to the brink (edge) of sanity. The climax of the film is really remarkable.

Also, consider:

Drag Me to Hell (2009) 28 Days Later (2002) Slither (2006) Let the Right One In (2008)

2010s

The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

The less I say about The Cabin in the Woods, the better. It follows a group of college students who visit a cabin in the woods, and you’ll just have to see the film to find out anything else. This is the kind of horror film where the surprise is the most rewarding part of the movie. I’ll just say this, the more horror movies you’ve seen in your life, the more you’ll appreciate The Cabin in the Woods.

Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) wrote the screenplay for the film in just three days. The film has great special effects and make-up.

The Conjuring (2013)

The Conjuring is an expertly crafted supernatural horror film from director James Wan. It follows Ed and Lorraine Warren, a husband and wife team of paranormal (very strange events that can’t be explained by science) investigators, whose real-life reports have inspired many other horror films, like Annabelle and The Amityville Horror. In this film, the couple tries to help a family which recently moved into a severely haunted house in Rhode Island.

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The chills (sudden feelings of fear) in The Conjuring are outstanding. The film does an amazing job of getting you to sympathize with the family and investigators’ plight (very bad situation) as they deal with the disturbing events taking place in the house.

The Conjuring is the first film in The Conjuring Universe, which includes direct sequels, the Annabelle series, and the newly released The Nun.

Get Out (2017)

Get Out is a landmark (very important achievement) of American horror films. The film is the directorial debut (first produced film) of Jordan Peele, a well-known comedian from his retired Comedy Central show, Key and Peele. It tells the story of an African-American man, played by Daniel Kaluuya, who goes to visit the family of his white girlfriend for the first time. While he stays at their home, he uncovers a horrifying secret.

Not only does the film tell an exceptional story of tension and terror, but it also spaces out the dread with moments of brilliant humor. Looking closely at the film, viewers will see how Jordon Peele addresses racism through the lens of (with the perspective of) a unique horror story while paying homage (respect based on previous work) to classics of the genre.

Also, consider:

It Follows (2014) The VVitch (2015) It (2017) The Babadook (2014)

Some people might read this and think, why should I watch horror movies at all? I don’t like to be scared. Well, there’s not a perfect answer to that question. Your brain produces a mix of chemicals that makes you feel scared when you think something bad is going to happen. It’s the same as when you ride a roller coaster or do something else that takes you outside of your comfort zone.

If you enjoy suspense or the feeling of surprise that keeps you on the edge of your seat, then you can’t go wrong with any movie from this list for a great Halloween thrill. Just about all of them have received critical praise or have gone on to become fan favorites.

Moreover, watching movies can be a great way to improve your English! For one thing, you’ll get to hear English that isn’t coming from a textbook. The English spoken in movies is very natural, which means that it’s what you would hear from native English speakers. Second, when you watch a movie, you’ll develop a sense of the context around the dialogue. This means that you have chances to learn or guess vocabulary based on the situation. Finally, by hearing natural English in movies you can hear and see the way words are expressed. You can pay attention to body language, pronunciation, and reactions to understand what the characters really mean.

LASC faculty and staff always want to help students learn English in interesting ways. Teachers here would recommend you keep your dictionary by your side, turn on the English subtitles, and don’t worry about catching every word. Even rewind and repeat scenes if you’re using English movies to study. Watching movies, scary or not scary, can be a fun way to improve your English. You can also follow this blog for more great tips on learning English and living in southern California.

Talk to an LASC representative to learn how we can help you on your learning journey.

Daniel Palacio
Head Teacher, Rowland Heights