five horror fairytales to watch this october. [halloween movie fest 2020]

Once upon a time, all fairytales were horror fairytales. Murder, cannibalism, torture, dismemberment, necrophilia, and all sorts of other nasty bits fit right in, and even happy endings were likely drenched in blood. It’s a reminder that, while often dismissed as a genre, horror plays no small part in the tradition of human storytelling.

The same goes for the history of film, where horror can always be found at the vanguard of style and innovation. [1920’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is perhaps the most famous early example of a horror film that changed the medium forever, but examples date all the way back to the 1890s.]

To this day, horror is still an unsung pillar of storytelling and film, and in the hands of gifted and imaginative filmmakers, great horror bedtime stories are still being told. Here are five you should watch this October.

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Tigers Are Not Afraid

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“But the prince couldn’t become a tiger, because he’d forgotten how to be a prince.”

Set in a nameless Mexican city ruled by drug lords, Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid is a heartbreaking fairytale about children trying to survive in an ugly, violent world. A clear descendent of writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s work [get used to del Toro showing up on this list], the film is darkly imaginative, using supernatural horror and fantasy to tell a story in which real monsters are human, and defenseless kids are treated as so much collateral damage.

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The Lure

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“Help us come ashore. There’s no need to fear. We won’t eat you, my dear.”

Ever wonder what it would be like if Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid was told as an erotic-horror-musical about man-eating mermaids, who take jobs working as adult entertainers at a club in Poland? Of course you have, and now you finally have your answer.

Whatever you’re imagining, I assure you the film is significantly more bizarre – and gleefully so. This one definitely isn’t for everyone, but it sure as hell isn’t like anything you’ve seen before.

Fun Fact #1: The original Polish title is Córki dancingu – which translates as Daughters of Dancing – because apparently the working title for Hans Christian Andersen’s original story was “Daughters of the Air.”

Fun Fact #2: This is director Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s feature length debut, which left me sooooo curious to see what craziness she’ll create next. Turns out, it’s going to be a science fiction opera featuring the music of David Bowie. So, you know, sploosh. [Mermaid phrasing, boom!]

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Coraline

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“She’s got this whole world where everything’s better. The food, the garden, the neighbors. But it’s all a trap.”

Horror, myths, and fairytales are all firmly situated in Neil Gaiman’s wheelhouse, so I can’t imagine anyone being surprised to see his work on this list.

This stop-motion fairytale about a girl who must singlehandedly take down an ancient monster, learning just how strong and brave and clever she is, is exactly the sort of story we all need right now.

Laika is the best at what they do. Neil Gaiman is the best at what he does. Bring the two together, and — *chef’s kiss* — perfect.

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Kwaidan

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“I won’t harm you, but if you ever tell anybody about what you’ve seen tonight, even your own mother, I will know of it, and I will kill you.”

If you’re into classic Japanese cinema, then Kwaidan is the horror fairytale film for you. Drawing its title from an archaic Japanese word meaning ‘ghost story,’ legendary director Masai Kobayashi’s film – consisting of four stories based on Japanese folk tales – is a consensus masterpiece.

The film is one of Guillermo del Toro’s favorites of all time, and a huge influence on his work. That’s a big deal, because – as I’m about explain – del Toro is king.

[Pro tip: if the film’s 182 minute runtime spooks you, you can watch the self-contained stories episodically. #themoreyouknow]

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Pan’s Labyrinth

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“My mother told me to be wary of Fauns.”

Guillermo del Toro is the master of horror fairytales. Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and The Shape of Water fit on this list in their own right, but Pan’s Labyrinth is the one film to rule them all – and by ‘them all,’ I’m including not just his filmography, but all the horror bedtime stories ever committed to film.

The film is the platonic ideal of a del Toro film. Every hallmark of del Toro’s storytelling sensibilities is distilled down to its purest form. Remarkably imaginative, beautifully horrible monsters populate a tale of violence, cruelty, power, and innocence, illustrating humanity’s capacity for both ugliness and beauty. Del Toro’s work is proof of the power of storytelling and imagination.

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Thoughts?