|Posted on October 1, 2014 at 3:00 AM|
Halloween Movie Traditions
It’s my favorite month. Well, it’s my favorite time of year, actually. I love the fall, or autumn for those in Canada and the UK (and it’s a better word overall). It’s never too hot or cold, but you get to wear a coat and drink coffee and everything feels intimate. Of course, living in LA there’s a lack of seasons, so while trees lose their leaves here there’s no period of color change. If there’s anything I miss about the midwest, it would certainly be that (but I also don’t miss ice storms and humidity, so it’s a fair trade).
October is when all that stuff I like starts happening, but it’s also the time when the other stuff I like start appearing. Ghosts. Goblins. Monsters. Zombies. Well, if you live in LA you kind of see some of that stuff year-round but you get the idea. It’s also an excuse, not that I needed one, to do horror tv show and movie marathons, read scary books, play horror-themed video games and spend coutnless hours online watching horror-themed videos and reading articles.
Like I said, not that I needed an excuse. Time to dance.
I suppose you could say it’s a tradition. There’s a handful of movies I watch every year in October and almost no other time of year and, on top of those, I do marathons of certain themes - sometimes a studio (Universal classic horror or Hammer horror movies) or a director (this year is George Romero) or a series (Friday the 13th or Halloween for example).
These are 13 movies off the top of my head I watch every October, usually closer to the 31st. There might be others I traditionally watch as well, but I also watch them other times out of the year as well (such a Alien or Shaun of the Dead). I could go on with a longer list, but let's get to those that are must-sees every year for yours truly.
Naturally, I have to watch The Thing at least a few times a year, especially over Halloween, to make sure I’m still alive. It’s not just a tradition, it’s THE tradition to which my making sure I watch certain movies in October originated from probably ten or so years ago. Plus, it’s my favorite horror movie of all time. I know for a fan like myself, putting a “#1” next to something is just dumb, but here it’s a clear one. Everyting after is just clumped together, but The Thing is my one-sure favorite horror movie. 30 years old and the thing is still timeless.
Move along, nothing to see here.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
The 80s were a fun time, weren’t they? A ton of horror movies, a ton of horror filmmakers, but honestly when I think of the 1980s, I think of A Nightmare on Elm Street. The entire series was, to me, symbiotic with the 1980s, but only the first one do I unabashadly call "good." I can get some pleasures out of the 3rd and 4th movies, and I feel New Nightmare is criminally underrated, but overall it's a series that was reactionary to the 1980s and seemed to just become part of it.
I mean...really reactionary. Too bad it dates a lot of them.
The original, though, is totally legit for me. It's unsettling still to this day and played with the whole "awake/asleep" trope beautifully that seemed to get lost as the series went on. More importantly is Wes Craven's directing and how the whole thing was shot and lit. Remember, in this one our friend Mr. Kreuger was barely seen and even when he was, he was barely lit. Only later did he turn into a caricature, and maybe that's why I never bothered rewatching most of the sequels. They simply didn't do as good a job of re-inventing the ideas like other horror franchises did (Jason as undead, Michael Myers...ok let's not talk about that one)
One of the first horror movies I remember seeing and still one that holds up remarkably well. Sometimes I’ll watch the problematic sequel simply because all the actors are back and it’s nice to see them again, but usually I’m one and one with this Spielberg flick.
Yes, I called it a Spielberg flick. I know Tobe Hooper was in the director’s chair, but come on, we know what was going on.
It really comes down to the family here. It’s really a typical (white) suburban family that (white) people like me could relate to in a way. Toys everywhere, bad TV reception, food left out. The same mise-en-scene that defined ET was found here and it really made you feel a part of it. Intimate even. You’re in this house as a guest but nobody gave the family forwarding so didn’t clean anything up. Plus the parents smoke weed (spoilers…your parents probably did when you were a kid too). Because we feel so invited, we feel major concerns when bad things start happening to this family we suddenly feel a part of. And some of the best bad things ever happened here.
But hey, I don’t need to explain all that. Want to really go down memory lane, read my write up from a few years back.
Dawn of the Dead
I think I, like a lot of horror fans, have a bit of a love-hate relationship with George Romero. He’s an integral figure in horror history with his Dead series, but outside of that he’s a bit hit and miss. He’s never made something utterly awful, I don’t think. Maybe that found-footage movie he tried a few years ago, but let’s face it: Monkey Shines and The Dark Half are no Dawn of the Dead or even Day of the Dead. At most, Martin and Creepshow might be up there, but like I said…hit and miss.
But Dawn of the Dead. Come on. That’s just an incredibly fun, gory and enjoyable zombie movie and one of the few zombie movies I actually watch more than once. Most are easily digestible (pun) and you just forget about them, but this, Dead Alive and Return of the Living Dead (and to an extent Re-Animator and Night of the Creeps though not traditional zombie flicks in that those movies are about more than that) are about the only ones I constantly re watch. The pacing and the way he shoots this ugly mall and let various scenarios simmer and then restart, it’s just an incredible movie.
Sometimes, I just want to sit and watch a masteerclass of thriller and horror filmmaking. Sometimes it’ll be Rosemary’s Baby. Other times Silence of the Lambs. Maybe Hitchock’s Psycho or Rear Window or Carpenter’s Halloween. But always, always, The Exorcist. Mood, tone, atmosphere, unsettling scene that aren’t so much about “scares” as much as it is a buildup to a scare that may come or may not come.
Basically, The Exorcist is a movie that puts you in a room that you are desperately trying to find a way out of. You don’t want to get stuck there, but it sticks you there. What’s interesting for me, though, is that the stuff with the Exorcism itself isn’t nearly as troubling as the stuff with the priest, Father Karras, played by Jason Miller who, I’m sorry, should have won the Oscar that year. Instead they gave it to the The Paper Chase guy. Well, that may be a mediocre movie but I suppose he was good in it at least.
Sure, the exorcism is the scary part and the vehicle, but the driving force is entirely a character study.
Like Rosemary’s Baby or Psycho, it’s about the characters and their severe troubling faults than it is some killer or the devil or something supernatural. That’s how the good horror movies are remembered. Not the blood or the gore or even the plot, but the characters we relate to and, therefore get “scared” through. For Karras, his whole story about lost faith and internal demons was just as frightening as masturbating with a crucifix.
On a side note. Exorcist III - most underrated horror movie ever probably. Maybe that or The Changeling. One of those.
Night of the Creeps
Night of the Creeps is kind of the antithesis of Dawn of the Dead. Dawn is a relatively serious satire that, though with humor, also has a ton of sincere character moments and takes itself pretty seriously. Night of the Creeps throws all that out and is just a love letter to all things horror. You have aliens, you have an axe murderer, you have zombies, you have brain-eating parasites…and somehow all these are mixed together and it works. There’s not a really good reason why, it should be a mess, and maybe it is, but it’s so lovable.
A staple of horror for decades, this is probably Tom Atkin having his absolute most fun.
The Blob (remake)
Yes, the original Blob movie was a classic, but you know what? I think the remake is far more enjoyable. It’s campy at the right times, gory at the others, and very much an homage to the original film. The original The Blob is kind of hard watch to be honest. It’s too…I dunno….50s. You got your teens. You got your mediocre directing. Might as well watch Teenagers from Outer Space or I was a Teenage Werewolf: movies you’re fine seeing once but, unlike say Bride of Frankenstien or something from Terrence Fisher, really aren’t all that interesting to ever see or think about again.
This one, though, has something going on that just makes it incredibly entertaining. I think it’s the same reason I like The Stuff, whereas the Stuff is all about a corporation literally feeding you something bad for you, The Blob is a little more than “alien thing come to kill folks.” It gets into biological warfare and the cold war and just has a little more going on that makes it a more interesting film. Like The Fly or The Thing, the remake of The Blob is a superior film than its predecessor even though nobody really talks about it nearly as much as those two movies.
Braindead (Dead Alive)
Sometimes, you want something just nuts. You wanna get nuts? Then watch this cult favorite from Peter Jackson before he was “Peter Jackson.” Talk about doing something new, Brain Dead I saw on Showtime one time, caught just a part of it, and thought “what the hell was that?” This was before you had “guides” you can click on and it would show you, but I eventually figured it out, rented the DVD and was blown away while simultaneously disgusted. It’s just a bonkers movie.
Braindead is one of those movies where you face-palm and then go "awwwww! Nooooo!" but entirely with a huge smile. It's nuts.
This is absurdity horror at its finest. Few really get to this nutty style. Slither is another that flourishes with this craziness.
Evil Dead 2
Speaking of bonkers, though not nearly as nuts as the previous one, Sam Raimi. Bruce Campbell. A cabin in the woods. A book. A lot of crazy shit happens and it is always, always freehand new to me. That’s kind of a testament to the quality of the film if anything (and the importance of bold directing and camera shots as well as practical effects).
I can’t go through Halloween without seeing something from these guys, and though I will occasionally pop in Bubba Ho Tep or Army of Darkness or even the underrated Intruder or Maniac Cop, Evil Dead 2 is always a must. You can’t go through October without seeing something from Raimi or Campbell in some form, and this one is the perfect storm of those two at, arguably, their greatest achievements.
It’s schlock, but boy is it good schlock. Like a lot of 80s flicks, from your Critters to your CHUDs to your Toxies to your Basketcases, The Stuff is such a wonderful product of its time that really couldn’t be made today. It’s a b-movie all the way with a similar idea and theme to that of John Carpenter’s “They Live” another movie I tend to watch a lot but not necessarily during October.
Watching The Stuff takes me back to early 90s late-night cable. It was something I might have watched before flipping over to Comedy Central to watch Mystery Science Theater 3000. Hell, it was a movie that might have even been a good addition to MST3k, though it’s not nearly as awful as your Time Chasers or Manos. It’s more in the “so bad its good” category like a Gamera flick.
It was an early role for Michael Moriarity, who would later stake a claim as the guy that was Sam Waterson before Sam Waterson on Law and Order. I think it’s him that really sells the whole thing because it can be a movie that’s a little hard to swallow sometimes.
Get it? Swallow…pun…joke. Insert laugh-track here.
Speaking of puns, Re-Animator is a movie that, on the surface, is just about a crazy student doing awful experiments that result in a lot of deaths, then reanimated corpses, then more deaths. It’s a cycle, you get the idea quick. But here you have Jeffrey Combs in his most famous role. Combs is pretty well known amongst genre fans. He never quite got the crossover to mainstream that a Bruce Campbell eventually had, so he’s not that big, but people who love horror love the guy just as much. Between this and his appearances on Star Trek (DS9 and Enterprise) he’s kind of a geek icon.
You'll make a great roomie, Herbert!
Stuart Gordon was really on a high back in the 80s, and while I think I love his other Combs-collaboration in From Beyond just as much, I watch Re-Animator a lot more. I think its the tone that I enjoy, and if you’re keeping track there is a running theme here: Whiel I love legitimately scary movies (though I rarely get scared) I far more appreciate movies that have a little bit of fun along the way.
And there’s probably no better example than my final two movies on that.
An American Werewolf in London
Some of the earliest horror movies I remember seeing really stuck with me. Friday the 13th Part 3(d) was one I remember seeing on Betamax probably mid to late 80s sometime, I sure as hell remember Halloween playing every, err…Halloween, and I remember, somehow, seeing An American Werewolf in London on TV somewhere when I was about eight or nine.
I want to say it was on TV, but it’s not really a movie that works well on TV. An American Werewolf in London, like the classic Hammer movies of the 60s, was all about atmosphere, and when you break that atmosphere for a commercial, it just ruins the movie. Of course, you shouldn’t be watching any movie on commercial-based television to begin with. But it was the 80s, not a lot of choices.
David Cronenberg would've been proud. Ooh...that reminds me. Nightbreed is on Blu Ray now.
But boy do I remember the “change” scene. If there’s anything that stays with you after this movie, it’s that and it really has never been topped. I remember the music too, all with a “moon” theme to them (Like Van Morrison’s Moon Dance) and, of course, zombie Griffin Dunne.
I can watch this and the previous movie almost any time during the year. Actually, in the case of Fright Night, I was bored one night and just popped it in. So maybe I’ll watch the sequel for a guilty pleasure, but nah…most likely I’ll just watch this one again. Other than The Thing, I have seen Fright Night more than any other horror movie. This goes way back, though. While The Thing I came to love quickly in college, Fright Night was one of those movies that was on cable a lot back in the 80s and 90s and I rented on VHS on more than one occasion. I remember going to the video store and into the horror section, seeing all those lines of Halloween, Childs Play Friday and Elm Street boxes and finding this neat little one probably sitting next to some crap like Friday the 13th Part VII or something.
Peter Vincent is the single reason I love Fright Night. One of the greatest horror characters ever.
Fright Night is kind of a wish-fulfilmment for a lot of horror movie fans, I think. Maybe that’s why I and so many others love it. Charlie is a horror movie fan, loves it, has a gorgeous girlfriend and gets caught up in this Rear-Window scenario when he sees his neighbor as a vampire. Hell, I love those scenarios to begin with: only one guy knows the truth and nobody will listen. This really has all the elements I love, plus you have the great special effects and the amazing performance by Roddy McDowall.
It still has a lot of elements from the 80s that kind of date it, similar to how The Lost Boys got dated really quick as well and both because of music, but it’s so damn clever and smart and everyone is in it having fun but never does that fun undermine the stakes. It’s, arguably, as perfectly balanced of a horror movie I can think of. It has scares, it has comedic moments and it has enough character drama between our leads that really put a lot of others that have tried the same thing, including the remake, to absolute shame.
Honorable Mention: A Nightmare Before Christmas: Though not a horror movie, it's a Halloween movie for sure and is one I watch every year in October as well.
Up and Comers: I'm finding myself already watching Trick r Treat, House of the Devil and Cabin in the Woods kind of yearly in October as well. We'll see how they end up in the long run.
Sorry, Pinhead, I used to watch you every year but haven't in a while, but I can comfortably set you next to House, The Shining and Texas Chainsaw for "every once in a while." Maybe every other year or something....of course now I feel like watching Hellraiser so....
So there’s thirteen. I could have gone longer, certainly. Hell, I usually watch at least a few of those Peter Cushing Frankenstein movies and Friday the 13th Part VI (the only legimatley really good Friday movie) every year too. But I put a limit up there for a reason, this is already long enough.
The thing is, this is just a personal list, but I know there are better horror movies out there. The fact a good chunk of these are from the 80s is no surprise. It's what I grew up with and feel nostalgic for, certainly. That's a big factor. In fact, only, maybe three or four of these would I even call "greatest horror movie" of all time. But that's not what this is, this is just what I love to watch on repeat every October. I know you have your own as well so do share if you're up for it.