Thinking about having a Halloween movie night? Who isn’t? Here are ten of my favorite Halloween movies, in no particular order. Get to the video store early, ‘cause a lot of these will have disappeared by then. Or, if you’re like me, you subscribe to NetFlix, thus contributing to the much-anticipated decline of brick-and-mortar video stores that charge late fees and only let you have new releases for 24 hours. This is a veiled “screw you” toward Blockbuster, if you haven’t figure that out already. Anyway, on to the movies!
The Thing (1982)
I differentiate this from the B&W original, The Thing From Outer Space, because they are completely different movies. Both are excellent, but for different reasons. John Carpenter’s excellent 1982 ode to cabin fever stars Kurt Russell and Kurt Russell’s Beard as well as various other actors who I don’t remember the names of. The film concerns a crew of researches in Antarctica who discover and are hunted by an alien that can imitate biological entities perfectly. Before long, nobody trusts anybody else, and Kurt starts taking a flamethrower to blood samples. The oppressive, muted musical score and claustrophobic hallways really bring out the spookiness of the film. It doesn’t hurt that the special effects—which are entirely practical—hold up very well even today. It is without a doubt my favorite horror movie.
The Ring (American version)
I went through a bit of a J-horror kick a few years ago, renting every Japanese horror movies I could get my hands on. In this manner, I subjected myself to the original versions of Ringu (The Ring), Ju-On (The Grudge), Pulse, and The Eye. Let it be known that, in all cases, the Japanese originals have low budgets, terrible pacing, and WAY too much emphasis on human sacrifice and technophobia. In almost all cases, the American versions of these films are far more effective, especially The Ring. It is truly disturbing in many, many ways. Watch this one with the sound up and the lights out, with a room full of friends who jump at the “it’s just the cat” scene in Aliens. There is no better way.
After a successful career as a space marine but before his current stint as a Mormon polygamist, Bill Paxton was an axe-murderer, killing sinners in the name of the lord. His religious zeal and unwavering conviction is what makes the movie so good, and Bill is an underrated actor. The film also examines how his beliefs impact his two children, one of whom took on his father’s mantle and continued slaying “demons.” It’s not a big-budget, eye-candy movie, but it’s subtle and effective.
This is one of few horror movies that kind of screwed me up as a youngster. I saw it way too young, and had nightmares for several days afterwards. I only recently re-watched the movie, and it’s still very effective. It’s kind of like The Amnityville Horror in space, but more fucked up. It’s got lots of disturbing imagery and good pacing, with some very claustrophobic sequences and a very tense atmosphere. The best scares happen midway through the movie, as they start to lose their effectiveness during the action-packed finale. Still, it’s a helluva ride that’s well worth time in your DVD player.
(Good picture apparently not available on Google)
This is a good horror movie in that it starts out with a very familiar premise (a bunch of teenagers get drunk in a backwoods cabin) but quickly turns into something disturbing and different. No slashers here, just a flesh-eating virus that begins to infect the kids one by one. The grisly makeup effects might not go over well with the feint of heart or queasy of stomach, but the story progression is great and you really do feel sorry for the characters. This is one of the more gore-tastic movies on my list, but you’ve gotta have one blood ‘n’ guts movie on a Halloween series, right?
Adapted from an old Stephen King novel, The Mist is about a group of small-town citizens trapped in a grocery store as a terrifying fog covers the town. Anyone who goes outside tends to be killed by some otherworldly creature. Like The Thing, this movie is more about cabin fever than the monsters themselves. When they do show up, though, the creature effects are wonderful and convincing. Things go from bad to worse when the local religious crazy lady starts preaching Armageddon and turning the pious against the rational. The ending is particularly tragic, and changed from the novel. Mr. King liked it so much that he’s changed the ending to all new editions of the book. Two of the monsters in particular have very Lovecraftian designs, which makes me happy.
This movie is largely responsible for inspiring the usually-excellent Silent Hill series of video games. Tim Robbins’ life starts falling apart when he discovers that his girlfriend is a demon, and he may or may not have been the subject of bizarre military experiments in Vietnam. The movie’s pacing is its worst quality—it’s too long, and parts of it are too slow or entirely unnecessary. But the core concept is great, and the ending is a surprise. Some of the “demonic” features that Tim sees are pretty freaky; “wrong” in just such a way as to make you gag a little. The hospital scene in particular is bizarre and disturbing.
Freddy vs. Jason
This is a good old-fashioned slasher movie: over-the-top (but silly) violence, comical villains, gratuitous nudity, and a bunch of teenagers. I forget how the two end up fighting each-other, but does it really matter? All you really need to know is that Freddy turns into a pot-smoking caterpillar at one point and possesses the group’s stoner friend. Also, there’s lots of blood and people are slashed in ridiculous ways. Have you ever seen a Friday the 13th movie? How about a Nightmare on Elm Street entry? Do you like either one? If your answer is a rousing “Sort of!” then you’ll probably like Freddy vs. Jason.
You may think that a movie based on a video game is an instant FAIL (and I wouldn’t blame you), but this particular film is pretty good, even if you haven’t played the games it’s based so heavily on. The movie takes its inspiration mainly from the original game and makes some bizarre and unexplainable changes to it, but also includes significant winks to Silent Hill 2. The movie reaches a good balance between being gory and disturbing. It’s all the more disturbing when you realize that the vast majority of creatures in the film are played by heavily made-up actors. Real people, that is. I want that Pyramid Head costume!
One of Peter Jackson’s early efforts, Dead Alive is perhaps the goriest film ever made. Remember how gruesome the first two Evil Dead movies were? Dead Alive makes them look like Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Truly, this is not a movie for the weak of gag reflex. Despite this, the movie is hilarious and the gore is mostly over-the-top and comical. The ending is particularly…um…disturbing in a certain way. Because of its goretastic spectacles, the film was banned in several countries and cut significantly for its initial American release. It’s not hard to find the director’s cut nowadays. If you have NetFlix, it’s easily available.
Coraline: I wouldn’t call this a “Halloween” movie, but it’s excellent nonetheless, and sometimes spooky.
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark: Elvira and her gigantic breasts star in what’s basically a series of running jokes and nods to old horror films.
Young Frankenstein: Possibly Mel Brooks’ funniest movie.
Drag Me to Hell: Sam Raimi is so much better at making campy horror movies than he is at directing super-hero movies.
Slither: Kind of a cross between The Faculty and a zombie movie. It has that Firefly dude and the girl from Zack and Miri Make a Porno.
The Faculty: Lots of now-big stars made their debut in this contrived, but entertaining, horror movie.
Phantoms: Entertaining because it’s so terrible.