Did you know that Halloween has Irish roots?
The spooky holiday was created by the Celts as the day of All Souls when ghosts walked the land and the undead spoke.
The 2,000-year-old ancient Celtic festival is called Samhain (pronounced sow-in).
The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1, a day that marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of winter – a time of year they associated with death.
It was believed that on October 31, the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred and ghosts returned to earth.
To mark the coming of otherworldly spirits, Celtic Druids built large, sacred bonfires where everyone gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic gods.
During Samhain the Celts wore costumes, usually consisting of animal heads and skins, and told each other’s fortunes.
Perhaps a bit more intense than today’s Halloween – and spookier!
In celebration of the upcoming holiday and its Celtic origins, we’ve compiled a list of ten great Hollywood horror flicks that have Irish roots.
"Interview with the Vampire" (1994)
This 1994 film, from Irish director Neil Jordan, was a huge hit with both audiences and critics.
Adapted from Anne Rice’s novel "Vampire Chronicles," the movie features Brad Pitt as Louis, a 200-year-old vampire who tells his epic story to a journalist (Christian Slater).
Tom Cruise plays the charismatic villain, Lestat, who turned Louis into a vampire in the 18th century in order to make him his companion. Louis hates being a vampire, but Lestat convinces him to turn a little orphan girl, Claudia, into one as well, and together Louis and Claudia live on through the centuries.
A classic vampire tale from a great Irishman.
"Queen of the Damned" (2002)
Another installment of Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles," "Queen of the Damned" was brought to the big screen in 2002 and an Irish actor took over the role of Lestat.
Stuart Townsend appeared opposite the late R&B singer Aaliyah in the movie.
The Dubliner portrayed the legendary vampire Lestat, who, after many years of sleeping in his coffin, awakens to a modern world unfamiliar to him. Lestat decides to become a rock star and his music awakens the ancient Akasha, Queen of the vampires and the damned.
The film may not have gotten rave reviews, but it rocketed its Irish star into the spotlight – so job well done!
"Bram Stoker’s Dracula" (1992)
In 1992, legendary director Francis Ford Coppola finally brought an accurate version of Irishman Bram Stoker’s masterpiece “Dracula” to the silver screen.
Dubliner Stoker wrote the classic novel in 1897, introducing the world to the now iconic conception of the modern-day vampire, and Coppola helped solidify that image with his film (though he certainly made the repressed Victorian sexuality within the novel a bit more overt).
The horror movie, starring Gary Oldman as Dracula, Winona Ryder as Mina Harker and Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker, was a huge hit, and some even consider it to be one of the best films of the 1990s.
Coppola – you owe it all to Bram!
Not one for those with a weak stomach but hilarious nonetheless, "Grabbers," directed by Jon Wright, is a fantastical, silly and gruesome laugh fest that could only really be set in the Emerald Isle.
A small rural Irish village is taken over by monstrous sea creatures thriving in the rain and drizzle of the Irish climate and killing off as many people as they possibly can. However, they have one weakness – alcohol. Yes, alcohol is their kryptonite and if you keep enough of it in your system the terrors won't be able to touch you.
A village trying to stay as drunk as possible in order to stay alive makes for incredibly funny viewing.
"Dementia 13" (1963)
Coppola incorporated the Irish in one of his earlier horror movies as well – “Dementia 13.”
The film, which was the director/writer’s first mainstream film, was shot in Ireland in 1963.
The thriller tells the story of a woman named Louise whose Irish-American husband dies. Louise wants in on her wealthy Irish mother-in-law’s will, so comes up with a scheme to get the cash. Her plan involves traveling to Ireland to visit her late husband’s family castle.
Her scheming ways are interrupted, however, when a maniac begins murdering members of the family.
“Dementia 13” got mediocre reviews, but most critics agreed: the Irish setting made the movie.
"The Company of Wolves" (1984)
Back again to some great Irish direction – Neil Jordan had a great pseudo-horror film back in 1984 called “The Company of Wolves.”
In the movie, which is made up of several Gothic tales, Jordan tackles werewolves and their sexual connotation.
Angela Lansbury stars as Granny, who tells her granddaughter Rosaleen stories about innocent girls falling for handsome strangers with heavy brows, and then suddenly disappearing when the moon is full. Naturally, Little Red Riding Hood pops up in one of the stories, with Granny being eaten by the wolf.
Nobody tells folklore tales better than the Irish!
"Darby O’Gill and the Little People" (1959)
No, this classic Irish Disney film isn’t traditionally classified as “horror,” but its banshee scenes make it a contender in the Irish scary movie contest.
The 1959 adventure film set in Ireland starred Sean Connery (and his awful Irish accent) as the hero Michael McBride.
Darby O’Gill is an elderly storyteller who tells tales about leprechauns and banshees to locals at the pub.
The Ireland of this film is actually enchanted, so Darby has many a run-in with leprechauns like the 21-inch King Brian.
The horror comes into play when the banshee shows up, heralding the death of Darby’s daughter (and Michael McBride’s love interest), Katie.
But this is a Disney Irish horror movie, so naturally, all turns out right in the end.
Obviously, you can’t talk about Irish scary movies without mentioning “Leprechaun.”
The 1993 film, which starred a young Jennifer Aniston, is admittedly ridiculous, but it certainly offered up a brand new (twisted) view of leprechauns!
Dan O’Grady steals a leprechaun’s pot of gold from Ireland and brings it back to the U.S.
Little did O’Grady know the angry leprechaun would follow him back. O’Grady barely escapes the deadly leprechaun, but manages to lock the little Irish lunatic in his basement.
Fast forward to 10 years later, when J.D. and his spoiled daughter Tory (Aniston) move into the house.
The leprechaun is accidentally released, and wreaks havoc on the town, killing anyone who goes near his gold.
Quality Irish horror film? Definitely not. A good Irish gore fest to watch for a laugh? Absolutely!
"Leprechaun 2, 3, 4 and 5"
Yes. Believe it or not, “Leprechaun” was a big enough success that they decided to make four sequels between 1994 and 2000.
Here’s a quick rundown of these Irish horror gems:
“Leprechaun 2”: The evil Leprechaun comes to claim the bride of his dreams (or nightmares?) on his 2000th birthday.
“Leprechaun 3”: The Leprechaun, now a statue, travels to a Vegas pawn shop, where the owner mistakenly sets him free. Tagline: “Welcome To Vegas ... The Odds Are You Won't Leave Alive!”
“Leprechaun 4: In Space”: On a distant planet, everybody’s favorite deadly Leprechaun kidnaps a Princess Zarina, and plans to make himself king, but not if a group of U.S. Marines can stop him!
“Leprechaun in the Hood (a.k.a. “Leprechaun 5”): The Leprechaun is back – but this time, he goes on a killing spree in Compton, Los Angeles. Naturally.
"Lake Placid" (1999)
Also in the horror-comedy drama is a film that stars an Irish acting heavyweight.
“Lake Placid” features veteran actor Brendan Gleeson as the local sheriff.
The 1999 film, about a man-eating crocodile that picks off tourists in beautiful Lake Placid, also stars Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman and Oliver Platt.
Great actors, not so great film. But in IrishCentral’s opinion, the beloved Irishman Gleeson can save any movie!
"The Keep" (1983)
Last, but not least, is another thriller starring a popular Irish actor.
Early in his career, Irishman Gabriel Byrne played a World War II Nazi major in “The Keep.”
The movie, made in 1983 and co-starring acting great Ian McKellen, tells the story of a group of Nazis who guard a Romanian citadel, or “keep,” that the locals fear is haunted.
One by one the soldiers are killed by an evil force in the keep, and the Nazis have no choice but to seek the help of a Jewish father and daughter to translate manuscripts and help stop the murders.
“The Keep” was once voted one of the most underrated films of all time, so it’d be a perfect Irish scary movie to rent this Halloween.
*Originally published October 2011.