You could spend hours . . . days even, going through the endless amount of horror films to watch in October. Nearly every channel seems to show fright flicks featuring vampires, ghosts, or masked maniacs, leading up to October 31st. While some of these films are classics or even modern-day classics, there are just as many that should be left dead and buried. I’ve been a longtime horror fan ever since my brother first scared me senseless while I watched NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD at far too young of an age. My years since have been spent watching both the good and the bad of the genre. However, the films I have comprised below are all favorites of mine that I revisit every year at Halloween. We always hear about “scary” films like THE SHINING and THE EXORCIST, but what about the films that truly capture the spirit of All Hollow’s Eve? Without further ado, here are six films - since that is the devil’s number – that will get you in the mood for Halloween.
HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH
Year after year John Carpenter’s original classic HALLOWEEN airs on screens across the world during the haunting holiday. While I’m not going to argue with its importance in film history or its ability to still frighten viewers, I am here to urge you to check out the once bastard child of the HALLOWEEN franchise. Upon its release, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH wasn’t met with the same praise that greeted Carpenter’s original. In place of Jamie Lee Curtis and the now iconic Michael Meyers is a wacky plot involving a suspicious company that makes Halloween masks for kids, robotic men in suits, and Stonehenge; yes, that Stonehenge. Not a scary idea on paper, but trust me, HALLOWEEN III is a delightfully odd film that is truly a product of the gonzo 1980’s. Praise for the film has increased among die-hard horror fans in recent years, and a proper Blu-ray of the film was finally released last year. So before you dismiss this for not including the knife-wielding maniac from Haddonfield, IL, give this inventive Halloween themed film a stab.
LADY IN WHITE
LADY IN WHITE is one of the first horror films I distinctly remember watching as a kid on HBO during the Halloween season. This mostly forgotten 1988 film begins with a young boy in the 1960’s who gets trapped in his school’s coat closet on Halloween night. When darkness falls, the boy is visited by the ghost of a girl who was murdered years earlier. Though tame by today’s horror standards, this film excels in creating a chilling atmosphere that continues until the film’s final revelation. I guarantee you will never hear Bing Crosby sing “Did You Ever Hear A Dream Walking?” the same way again. Those not looking to have their pants completely scared off might enjoy this one for the vintage costumes and the quaint small-town Halloween décor featured in the film.
This film proves that the horror genre can produce beautiful works of art. I know that sounds cheesy, but the first fourteen minutes are breathtaking and yet absolutely nerve-racking. SUSPIRIA is centered around a dance school plagued by a series of murders that may have to do with the legend of an old witch. And not just any murders, but some of the most memorable and bizarre sequences committed to film. None of it makes a whole lot of sense, but the combination of Goblin’s haunting score with striking imagery is enough to overlook such anomalies as why the school has a room full of razor wire. This may not be the goriest Italian film from the 1970’s, but it just might be the most gruesomely exquisite. All of the crazy colors director Dario Argento uses – vibrant reds, bright yellows, and lush blues - remind me of both the fun and creepy side of Halloween. With Halloween, you always have bright and goofy costumes (giant hot-dog costumes, anyone) alongside dark and scary ones. This juxtaposition is certainly at play in SUSPIRIA. Who would have thought seeing a kaleidoscope of candy colored lights shining on a girl’s face in the back of a cab would be such a creepy and indelible image.
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL
What would Halloween be without haunted houses? We have all visited them at one point in our life, but none of them are as scary as the ones seen in the movies. The original haunted house film that started it all was William Castle’s 1959 classic HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. Though I actually didn’t mind the remake from 1999, it is the original that does such a great job creating some spooky scenes using simple gimmicks. The film has it all: severed heads, a pool of acid, creepy old ladies, a grisly hanging, and a St. Louis legend . . .Vincent Price! Yes, it’s a little hokey and dated at times, but this HOUSE has a lot of charm if you enjoy black and white films with old school scares. It all begins with such a sinister first line: The ghosts are moving tonight. Restless. Hungry.
TRICK ‘R TREAT
There are many who will say that modern day horror just isn’t like it used to be. Well, I’m hear to tell you that one of the best horror films of the past ten years . . . or maybe even longer, is TRICK ‘R TREAT. After a string of festival appearances beginning in 2007, the film was finally dumped straight to DVD and Blu-ray in October of 2009. However, don’t let the film’s lack of a wide theatrical release deter you from checking out this anthology horror film. Several stories are interweaved that focus on different characters on Halloween night, but the one element that ties them all together is a mischievous trick ‘r treater wearing a burlap sack named Sam . . . and the fact that all the stories are pretty damn scary. Don’t be surprised if this cult classic ends up being your new favorite film to revisit every Halloween.
Because I am such a Halloween fan, the first thing I think of is celebrating the amazing holiday the right way – WITH A PARTY! For me, this zombie comedy from 1985 is just that. It is a non-stop, blood-drenched, self-aware party. The characters in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD are aware of such horror films that came before it like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD long before Wes Craven’s film conscious teens in SCREAM. A punk rock score featuring The Damned, The Cramps, and many more, sets the tone for a group of teens who decides to party at the wrong cemetery when a dangerous toxin is let loose in the morgue next door. While watching the film, you can tell that everyone involved in the production has such a love for the horror genre; especially director Dan O’Bannon who previously wrote the screenplay for Ridley Scott’s ALIEN. It is this same love and excitement that I have as well for horror films and the Halloween season. With that, I ask you to raise a glass of witches brew with your friends and family and toast to the holiday that was made for us horror fans: Halloween!
Michael Haffner is a full-time geek who has written about film for Destroy The Brain, We Are Movie Geeks, and Very Aware. You can follow his daily musings on art, music, and movies @MPHaffner on Twitter.