Halloween Special: What are your teachers’ favourite thrillers?

Editor | Cassandra Lau

This year, I thought it would be exciting for some of Royal Holloway’s professors, heads of department, lecturers, and researches to share with us some of their personal horror-thriller indulgences. Many have confessed to not being a fan of scary movies; however, there are some exceptional books and films that truly worth the post-horror paranoia.

Stewart Boogert, Head of the Physics Department

Arguably the most classic horror films, and the worst introduction to horror films if you “hate anything scary.”

I came home one night about 15 years ago and put on the tv and Ringu was on, I thought it might be useful to practice my Japanese and I got completely sucked in and absolutely terrified. It is a fantastic horror movie.

Prue Chamberlain, Lecturer in Creative Writing



I’d recommend ‘Hush,’ which is a Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode.

“Filmed almost entirely without dialogue, it’s really creepy & plays with the idea that we might actually be more expressive beyond the confines of language.”

In terms of books, there’s a series called the ‘Rosie Strange Mysteries’ by Syd Moore, about a witch museum in Essex. It’s very lighthearted (no bad thing), but makes some really insightful parallels between anti-witch hysteria and ‘Essex Girls’ stereotypes. There’s also a know-it-all PhD student, which is very fitting with Higher Education.

Arnaud Chevalier, Head of the Economics Department

I don’t do much horror movies nowadays but Dario Argento’s ‘Suspiria’ still gives me the chills. The Haunting’ by Robert Wise shows that no blood is needed to be pretty scary. Both movies have just been remade, I’m not sure of the new versions but I would advise to go and see the originals nonetheless.

Doug Cowie, Dept. of English: Senior Lecturer 

“Halloween is probably my favourite horror film.”

My favourite horror novel is ‘The Wanderer’ by Timothy J. Jarvis (the novel includes a satanic hunting party on Hampstead Heath, and a family being chased by a demon through the Woolwich Tunnel. It made me feel physically ill a couple of times when I read it, and has basically ruined nice walks around London for me. 

Philip Crang, Head of the Geography Department

I am not equipped to be a fan of horror movies, or even thrillers really. I am a sensitive soul who struggles to watch even ‘mild peril’ without feeling the urge to just run away and find a less disturbing environment. Bizarrely, then, back in the 1980s, when I was first getting into cinema by watching at least one cinema screening a day (at the enticing price of £1 per film based on a discounted bulk buy from the local arts cinema…), I had one of my favourite cinema experiences of all time, watching ‘Re-animator’ (1985).

“Directed by Stuart Gordon, it’s a disgusting, appalling, over the top, comic gore fest, based around the premise of a young scientist (Dr Herbert West, played by Jeffrey Combs) re-animating dead bodies with a ‘re-agent’. It spawned various sequels that I haven’t seen, but what I remember from the original is its hilarious gross out energy.”

I have just checked, and on the Rotten Tomatoes ranking of the 100 best horror movies of all time, it comes in at number 34… so if you do check it out, don’t blame me alone for steering you to something quite so warped.

Chris Hanretty, Head of School Politics 

“Although they’re terrifying, they also tackle big issues of gender and race.”

Horror isn’t my favourite genre, but The Skin I Live In’, directed by Pedro Almodovar, and Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’ were two really disturbing films which stayed with me for a long time after I’d left the cinema 


Matthew Humphreys, Head of School of Law

Possibly the best response I’ve received for this article.

“In terms of horror stories I think I’d have to say the UK Government’s ‘The United Kingdom’s Exit from, and New Partnership with, the European Union White Paper’ – the Brexit White Paper.”

My favourite horror/thriller film is Mike Reeves’s 2008 horror-thriller ‘Cloverfield‘.

Juliet John, Head of the English Department

lewis matthew matthew c13742 84.jpg
The British Library

A book that gives me guilty pleasure is ‘The Monk’ (1796) by Matthew Gregory Lewis.

“It’s often referred to as a horror text – and also often maligned for political incorrectness and misogyny. But it is so gloriously camp and over the top – often bordering on comedy or parody for me – that it has to be sending up and critiquing moral, political and gendered norms.”

So it’s hard to see how it could scare anyone. Having said that, Coleridge called it ‘a romance, which if a parent saw in the hands of a son or daughter, [s]/he might reasonably turn pale’. But when I taught it on the Novel course at Royal Holloway, students loved it! 


Katie McGettigan, Lecturer in American Literature

Starring Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington. / Photo: Universal

“One of my favourite horror films is Jordan Peele’s Get Out, which uses the horror genre to explore the contemporary African-American experience and the racial politics of the United States.”

It’s funny, genuinely scary, and incredibly clever, and a film that carries on a tradition of political horror from classics like Dawn of the Dead and Candyman. 

For Halloween scary reads, I’d recommend anything by Shirley Jackson, one of the great American horror writers of the twentieth century. The Haunting of Hill House is probably her best known work, but if you’ve only got time for a short short you could try “The Lottery” or “The Summer People” both of which offer a very particular New England Gothic.

Check out: Get Out Explained: Symbols, Satire & Social Horror

Will Montgomery, Dept. of English: Senior Lecturer 

Check out the trailer here! / Photo: Variety
Er… Where to start?
John Carpenter’s The Fog?

Jen Parker-Starbuck, Head of Drama, Theatre & Dance


I did recently read ‘The Passage Trilogy’ by Justin Cronin, which is all about vampire-beings created through some human experimentation that turns into a post-apocalyptic world, and that was pretty suspenseful. There is something about the real possibility of humans getting it so wrong that it changes the way we fundamentally understand the world that I am interested in.  What happens when we have no more electricity, or when a biological virus shifts DNA to the point of the creation of new entities that go rogue?  I am interested in all of these possibilities, after all, my monograph is called ‘Cyborg Theatre‘! I like lots of dystopic fiction, but I just can’t watch it!!


Jonathan Powell, Department of Media Arts: Professor

Starring Sharon Stone as the mysterious crime novelist, Cathrine Tramell / Photo: BFI

Horror is not my thing, maybe Silence of The Lambs. However, I am partial to a good thriller. I am a big fan of Paul Verhoeven, and Joe Eszterhas’s ‘Basic Instinct’ (1992) which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year and I can always watch the Paul Greengrass Jason Bourne films. Currently you can’t beat ‘Killing Eve’, the thriller series playing on BBC 1. Watch out for Phoebe Waller Bridges’ amazing scripts. It is by far the best TV thriller for ages and even more satisfying than The Bodyguard even though the later was a monster hit.

As far as novels go, ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ by John Le Carre and Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ must be at the top of the thriller list. Maybe I am partial because I made TV versions of both of them in my days as a TV producer! I have just read the novelist Mick Herron’s ‘Jackson Lamb’ series of books – a real treat for spy thriller fans.

Boris Rankov, Head of the Classics Department

I had a think about this and came to the conclusion (confirmed by checking both my bookshelves and my DVD collection) that I didn’t have one because horror isn’t really my genre. I did like the visual style of Coppola’s 1992 film version of the Dracula story, but I think that’s about it (and I hated the clunky epistolary format of Bram Stoker’s original novel). I think I’ll have to pass on this one!

Chris Townsend, Head of the Media Arts Department

“It’s no harder to be nice than it is to be creepy. And it’s much more fun.”
I don’t really have a favourite horror/thriller movie; I’ve been too scared in real life to enjoy playing with it. If there’s a book it’s actually a graphic novella – Neil Gaiman’s ‘Death: The High Cost of Living’, part of ‘The Sandman’ series

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