Five Frightening (and Free!) Films That McGill Students Can Stream This Halloween

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Horror movies usually captivate us with the riveting thrills and spine-chilling scares missing from our own lives. That being said, this Halloween might be a little different. With Montréal in the red zone, the United States presidential election just days away, and the ongoing stress of online learning reaching everyone’s heads, horror movies in 2020 might offer an escape from an even scarier reality. 

And escape to the screen we will! Included in our McGill University tuition is access to four different streaming platforms designed to give students educational access to international, indie, and classic films. Each platform has a plethora of horror movies to choose from. So, here are five hair-raising horror flicks that McGill students can stream for free this Halloween. 

1. Alien (1979) — Criterion on Demand

Where better to escape reality than outer space? Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic is one of the finest works in both sci-fi and horror. The film follows Sigourney Weaver and her crew, who are stuck on a ship returning to Earth from deep space. The crew can’t leave the ship without a Hazmat suit, they constantly bicker with each other, and their only entertainment is the ship’s cat. (Hey, doesn’t that sound like your quarantine experience?) The nefarious company governing the crew orders them to investigate a distress beacon on a mysterious moon, where they accidentally bring a camouflaging, blood-thirsty alien on board. The crew must find and destroy the alien before it can hunt them down in a real life game of Among Us. The combination of Ridley Scott’s directing and H.R Giger’s visual designs creates some of the most iconic moments in horror history, and Sigourney Weaver provides an excellent performance as the film’s no-nonsense and fearless heroine. Perhaps it’s an especially worthwhile film to revisit in 2020, as themes of hyper-capitalism and claustrophobia while staying indoors are reflected in this nail-biting, sci-fi thriller.

2. What We Do in the Shadows (2014) — Kanopy

Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s horror mockumentary follows a group of vampires sharing a house in modern New Zealand. The guys may be undead, blood-sucking vampires, but they act like second-year McGill students sharing an apartment in the Plateau. The vampire roommates argue over who’s doing the dishes and help each other align their frilly blouses for a night on the town. Each character fits the mold of both classic vampire and college roommate. Viago is the group’s “mom” who schedules regular dungeon cleanings, Deacon is the cocky frat boy show-off who doesn’t clean his victims’ blood-stains, and Petyr is the lonely Nosferatu-type stoner who never leaves his room. The vampires head into town on what feels like a (pre-pandemic) Halloween night for McGill students, flaunting their banging costumes, trying to get into clubs, meeting new people/creatures. It’s a playful premise that adapts its genre into a surprisingly poignant and relatable mockumentary. What We Do In The Shadows is perfect if you want the aesthetic of a horror flick, but don’t want to stomach any real frights. 

3. The Mist (2007) —  Criterion on Demand

Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist offers a more traditional horror premise but with fantastic execution and a truly bonkers third act. After a freak storm unleashes a deadly mist on a quiet Maine town, a small cast of locals holes up in a grocery store to fight for their lives. The characters are an ill-prepared, rag-tag, and gritty sort. Unlike us fashionable Montreal students in quarantine, they don’t wear their best outfits for their weekly grocery store run. The first two acts are filled with solid but typical horror intrigues: there’s something slightly amiss, nobody believes the protagonist’s warnings, the cars won’t start, and the cell phones have no signal, among other classic tropes. The film is exciting, if not predictable. The final forty minutes of The Mist, however, offer some truly captivating thrills that diverge from traditional horror staples. The cast really start to turn on each other as more about the mist’s deadly origin is revealed, and the film is capped off by one of the most shocking and thought-provoking horror endings of the 2000s. The Mist compounds our 2020 fear of grocery stores with exceptional horror production to create some awesome Halloween excitement. 

4. It Follows (2014) —  Kanopy

It Follows is a modern physiological thriller that follows college student Jay as she is tracked by a supernatural force after a date. An odd cast of young adults assemble around Jay to circumvent and defeat this monster. Without spoiling anything, the monster targets teenagers, and it’s highly contagious…not unlike a certain infectious disease. Director David Robert Mitchell foregos horror cliches and indices fright through suspenseful pacing, an anxious soundtrack, and an unfading fear of the unknown. The film is set in the Stranger Things-era Midwest but chooses to reflect on darker, less nostalgic themes of class and suburbia. It’s an excellent horror film that also acts as a reminder that during the pandemic, it’s probably not wise to go into town for dates or parties. After all, who knows what will follow you back to New Residence Hall?

5. Under the Skin (2013) —  Criterion on Demand

Under the Skin is a sci-fi physiological thriller and one of the 2010’s finest films. Scarlet Johansson stars as an extraterrestrial who has been dropped into Scotland on an assignment to lure and kill men. But Johansson sympathizes with who she’s supposed to kill, forestalls her mission, and journeys to understand the human race, if not become part of it. The film’s eerie atmosphere and supernatural violence make it function as a thriller perfectly suited for this Halloween season. But perhaps the film’s horror aspects are meant to provoke some far deeper themes. Johansson’s quest to understand humanity acts as a rumination on what makes us sympathetic and emotionally complex beings. The film has also inspired an array of  interpretations; some critics see Jonathan Glazer’s film as an allegory for rape culture, while others read it as an allegory for the immigrant experience. Under the Skin blends genre frights with some truly profound, challenging, and valuable reflections. It’s a brilliant film to check out on Criterion this Halloween…and one that you’ll be staying up all night thinking about.

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This Halloween won’t have the parties and costumes of a normal October 31, but that’s no excuse not to get into the spirit of this spooky season! Replace trick-or-treating with stream-and-screaming, and check out these awesome horror flicks.

(A reminder that students will have to login to the McGill VPN to access movies through Criterion on Demand. Happy Halloween!)

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