Ah, Octoberween. T’was ever a month so splendid as thou art? Yowza. The leaves are falling and gathering in ghostly breezes to follow along the heels of college students late at night and make them think that a witch is coming. Candy is cheap, decorations are expensive, and cereal turns milk into some truly funky colors. My roommate just bought some Cap’n Crunch that turns milk green, just like the Reptar cereal! But Octoberween isn’t just about spooky weather and fun food products. It’s also about watching a ton of seasonally appropriate movies. So, building up to Halloween, over the next couple weeks I’m going to be bringing you (in the ever-popular list format) a few suggestions for gettin’ in the mood for this incredible month. Make no mistake, though. I’m a critic, so I understand that while my taste may be absolute and definitive, not every movie is for every viewer. In other words, diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks. So I’ll be making a wide range of recommendations.
For the Uninitiated:The Wolf Man (1941)
You’ve never seen a horror movie? Never!? Oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh. Where to begin? There’s so much to watch. We should start with something scary! No. Something not scary! No. Something classic? Something classic. If you’re unfamiliar with a genre, there’s no better way to introduce yourself than through a classic.
In this case, I mean a Universal Studios Monster Movie. Now, I’ve talked about these movies before. They’ve popped up a few times. I am, one could say, a BIG FAN. I’m talking about Frankenstein, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Phantom of the Opera, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, etc. Any of those. Frankenstein is great introduction, but I talked about that one last week. So this week I say watch The Wolf Man. This canonical werewolf flick lays out all the important rules of the monster, and then subverts them with a monster who’s more afraid of himself than any of the townsfolk are.
For Children: Toy Story of Terror (2013)
This just aired a few days ago on ABC and is only a half hour long, but is incredibly enjoyable. The Toy Story gang, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Jesse (Joan Cusack), Timothy Dalton as a hedgehog in lederhosen (Timothy Dalton), and the rest reassemble for a brand new, post-Toy Story 3 adventure. As with all previous Toy Story installments, this Halloween special is immensely enjoyable for children and parents alike. The humor is genuine and never cheap, the characters are as great as ever, the horror is child-appropriate, Carl Weathers voices a toy version of his character from Predator, and it won’t make you cry like the last movie in the franchise did. All around fun time. Highly recommended.
For Pretentious Film Students: Vampyr (1932)
Yeah, you know who you are. You wanna watch something and feel intellectual? Fine. Have a weird German movie directed by a Dane. Watch it and then desperately pretend that you had any idea at all what was going on so that you can impress all your other Pretentious Film Student friends who are also desperately pretending that they had any idea what was going on.
For the Strong-Stomached: The Thing (1982)
One of John Carpenter’s seminal works, and possibly his best, The Thing has hardly aged a day in the thirty years since its release. It’s strong sci-fi horror, but does not rely on its scientific elements. At the core of this film is a carefully constructed psychological thriller about paranoia and suspicion. On the surface it’s a horror movie about a shape-shifting alien monster picking off the inhabitants of an isolated science station in Antarctica, one of whom just so happens to be the great Kurt Russell. Tension mounts once the scientists become aware of the creature’s capabilities, and start to turn on each other, not knowing who is really the alien in disguise.
Why is the film not for the weak of stomach? Simple, because it’s insanely gory. I wasn’t bothered, per se, by the gore the first time I saw it. It was there. I was, however, surprised. That statement should bear some weight. I’ve seen a lot of violent movies in my time, but The Thing is so bloody that I raised my eyebrows in shock quite a few times. If you don’t go in for that kind of thing, DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE.
For Tricksters: Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
Trick ‘r Treat is a neat movie. It takes place on Halloween in a small town and follows a series of mostly unrelated events, linked by the spirit Sam, who appears as a small boy dressed in burlap with a jack-o-lantern head, who wanders around enforcing the “rules” of the holiday. Don’t knock over a jack-o-lantern, pull nasty pranks, don’t randomly murder people, etc.
This is not a great film, but probably the best straight to DVD low-budget horror movie I’ve seen. It has some really interesting concepts and executes them pretty well for the most part. For my preference, it has a wee bit too much inconsequential child murder (re: any inconsequential child murder), but if you’re a big fan of Halloween, the horror genre, and the rules of the game, you’ll probably enjoy Trick ‘r Treat.
For Treaters: Curse of the Demon (1957)
This movie is awesome! Those of you who are just looking for a seasonally appropriate, inoffensive, all-around good time, check out Curse of the Demon. Dana Andrews (my favorite film noir actor ever) plays a scientist who gets caught up in a cultist plot when a deranged wizard starts using a demon to commit murder.
Curse of the Demon is a flawless blend of horror and noir. Andrews’ skeptical detective-type might not agree perfectly with the standard Universal Studios fare, but is great for some pseudo-Lovecraftian demon worshipping. I have nothing bad to say about this movie.
For Those Looking for Fear: The Blair Witch Project (1999)
This is, for all intents and purposes, the first “found footage” horror film. For all intents and purposes. As far as we’re concerned. Anyway, it’s the first good one. The movie follows a group of stupid film students who venture into the vast, expansive wilderness of Maryland to make a documentary in search of the infamous Blair Witch. Of course, they find… absolutely nothing. Something, however, seems to have found them.
The horror here is mostly atmosphere. We never see the witch, but some really creepy stuff keeps happening to these kids. When they get lost in the woods it becomes clear that they’re not just incompetent (though they are incompetent); something’s keeping them there. As with all classic horror, what’s scary here is what you don’t see. It’s left up to the imagination. In this case, rather than just being a shameless gimmick, the handheld camera technique helps to obscure, manipulate, and confuse. It’s often difficult to tell, visually, what is going on, but you can hear the characters react.
For Those Who Really Don’t Like Halloween: Space Jam (1996)