(Long Island, N.Y.) Hi folks. Since I’m both a huge fan of Halloween (not to mention spooky stuff in general), I’m going to do something a little different with my column this week. Instead of just reviewing one film, I’m going to compile a whole list of my own personal horror movie recommendations, past and present, to get you in the mood for this dark and evil season. This way, after you’re done partying or trick-or-treating, you can head on down to your local video store and pick up a few of these 13 creepy selections, comprised of both mainstream hits and obscure cult classics:
Starring Kurt Russell and directed by the great John Carpenter back in 1982, The Thing is probably my all-time favorite horror movie. Based on the short story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr., it’s the tale of a naughty shape-shifting alien that terrorizes a remote American artic research outpost, killing the men stationed there one by one and leaving nearly-undetectable doppelgangers in their places. Naturally, this breeds intense paranoia among the dwindling survivors, who must overcome their fear and find a way to destroy ‘The Thing’ before it finds a way to get to civilization, where it’s sure to eventually assimilate the entire planet. Dark and relentlessly grim, The Thing is blistered by a great ensemble cast (including Wilford Brimley and Keith David) and Rob Bottin’s legendary creature and gore effects work. One of the most involving and intense horror movies ever made.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes-
Almost any film starring the late horror icon Vincent Price is a safe bet for Halloween, but if I had to pick one, it would be this tongue-in-cheek masterpiece. Price stars in the bizarre tale of Dr. Anton Phibes, a famous musician thought dead who slowly stalks and murders the surgical team responsible for his wife’s accidental death on their operating table. Do these nice people, who were only trying to save the poor woman’s life, really deserve such a fate? Who cares! Using the ancient Ten Plagues of Egypt (as depicted in The Bible) as the basis for his murders, the twisted Dr. Phibes shows us all a good time as he foils the bumbling police time and again as he exacts his misguided revenge. Campy, creepy, and over-the-top, The Abominable Dr. Phibes is an underrated classic.
The Silence of the Lambs-
Okay, everyone should know this one. Serial killer Buffalo Bill has been kidnapping women, holding them hostage, and eventually skinning them, something the FBI doesn’t like. However, they’ve hit a dead end in their investigation and, when a senator’s daughter ends up Billy’s newest victim, they get desperate. The FBI sends trainee Clarice Starling to gain the assistance of the brilliant yet cannibalistic psychiatrist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, incarcerated in an asylum for many years. A former criminal profiler for the FBI, Lecter’s keen insight and powers of deduction appear to be the key to stopping Bill’s killing spree, but does the sinister Lecter have ulterior motives in helping the naive Starling? Who knows, all I care about is that actor Sir Anthony Hopkins’ charming yet feral turn as Lecter still manages to make me nervous despite his character being imprisoned through inch-thick Plexiglas. If that’s not the hallmark of a true horror icon, I don’t know what else is. A finely directed (by Jonathan Demme)
and shot thriller, The Silence of the Lambs remains one of the very few horror films to win multiple Oscars, an honor it rightfully deserves.
The Evil Dead-
Way before director Sam Rami found success with the Spider-Man series, he was eking out low-budget splatter flicks in the woods with his friends and trying to make a name for himself. This film, the first of the Evil Dead trilogy, gets my personal pick for Halloween viewing mainly because it’s the only one of the three that can be classified as true horror. You see, as the series went on, the scares gave way to campiness and slapstick instead, which is all well and good if you dig that sort of thing. But if you’re looking for a creepy and atmospheric tale of demon possession with a side of blood and guts, it’s hard to top the film that basically launched Rami’s career (not to mention the career of B-Movie god Bruce Campbell). It’s crude and rough around the edges, but that’s all part of The Evil Dead’s charm.
I reviewed the Frank Darabont-directed adaptation of Stephen King’s novella back in 2007, and assigned it my first (and, to date, only) 4-star rating. In retrospect, giving The Mist 4 stars and Pixar’s WALL-E only 3 1/2 was a bit off- looking back, the scores probably should be transposed with one another- but you know what they say about hindsight, right? Anyway, none of that takes away from The Mist’s quality one iota- it still remains one of the best horror movies released in years. The tale of a group of shoppers trapped in a supermarket after a mysterious monster-infested mist envelops their small town, it does what so few horror flicks bother to do: give you characters you care about, so when they’re placed into a dangerous situation, you don’t actually root for the CREATURES to kill THEM like you do when watching Friday the 13th (although that’s fun too). A top-notch cast lead by Tom Jane, some great camera work, and really freakish monster design help to overshadow some of the (surprisingly) poor CG effects.
In theaters currently, and now that it’s finally gone into wide release, you don’t have an excuse not to see it anymore. And no, that whole “Um, but I have to do my laundry, feed my cat, trim my toenails…” bit ain’t gonna cut it, either. Yes, the somewhat obnoxious advertising campaign billing it as the “SCARIEST MOVIE EVER” might make you think the film is all hype, but trust me, it’s not. It’s the real deal, and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen this disturbing tale of a couple videotaping a malevolent demon who just won’t leave with a rabid, live audience. Chances are you’ll be screaming along with them.
Released back in 1985 and based on a short story by H. P. Lovecraft, director Stewart Gordon fashioned a quirky gore-fest that could be considered one-half horror film and one-half black comedy. Re-Animator is the story of mad scientist Dr. Herbert West (a character that has achieved cult status due to actor Jeffrey Comb’s portrayal) and his quest to perfect his invention, known as the re-agent- a fluorescent green formula capable of re-animating dead tissue, at times with disastrous (or humorous) results. Aided by his long-suffering assistant, Dr. Dan, Herbert gets into all sorts of outlandish situations, including confrontations with an arrogant, bubble-headed co-ed obsessed, talking decapitated head and the somewhat annoyed body it used to be attached to. Re-Animator is both fun and freaky.
Halloween (John Carpenter and Rob Zombie’s versions)-
For a good one-two punch, watch John Carpenter’s slasher genre-defining 1978 original about masked murderer and escaped mental patient Michael Myers and his quest to get back home to Haddonfield, IL to wish his baby sister a Happy Halloween. Couple that screening with Rob Zombie’s excellent 2007 re-make (and I normally HATE remakes), which delved deeper into Myers’ childhood and his relationship with his therapist, Dr. Loomis, and you should be all set for a sickenly good time. The sequel to Carpenter’s version isn’t so hot, but at least he can rest easy because he wasn’t the director on that one. Alas, Rob Zombie has no such excuse, as his follow-up, Halloween 2, was pretty terrible. Stick with the originals and you’ll be
Friday the 13th (any film in the series)-
Now, if you’ve been reading my column for any length of time, you’d know that I’m a big fan of one Mr. Jason Voorhees. The hulking, hockey mask-clad, machete-wielding, mass murdering momma’s boy and most-hated county resident of the Crystal Lake tourism board, Jason is one of the most iconic monsters in cinematic history. While his films all have varying degrees of creepiness, you watch them more for the blatant fun factor, over-the-top and imaginative kills of brainless teenagers out to party, and the abundance of 80’s cheese. The recent 2009 remake/reboot of the series has taken it in a slightly darker and more realistic direction, but it still captures the essence of what made Jason the king of slasher movies. As long as you avoid the blight to humanity known as Jason Goes to Hell, any entry in the series (if not all of them in a row!) will make for excellent viewing this Halloween.
A science fiction film released in 1997, Event Horizon is only good movie directed by Paul W. S. Anderson, but that’s most likely because it’s one of the few films he’s helmed where he didn’t actually write the script as well. But regardless of Anderson’s (lack of) credentials, Event Horizon remains an underrated and effective romp through a great big haunted spaceship, complete with hellish imagery and some rather nightmarish set design (that “meat grinder” corridor…eek!). Plus, it has Laurence Fishburne as a feisty rescue ship captain and Sam Neill ripping his own eyes out! What more do you need to know?
I reviewed Orphan earlier this year and gave it all-around high-marks, and I still stand by that review. And, luckily for you, it’s out on DVD in time for the Halloween season. It’s not the most original movie in the world- I mean, how many flicks can they make about charming, evil children and the one adult who discovers their true nature but that no one believes? Quite a few, actually. But that doesn’t change the fact that Orphan is expertly made and readily plays with the standard horror movie conventions by lulling the viewer into thinking it’s going in one obvious direction, then winking and pulling a fast one on us. Talented child actor Isabelle Fuhrman helps make the eponymous Orphan pretty believable…and scary. I’m sure not adopting some brat any time soon, and it’s all thanks to this movie.
A little-known film directed in 2002 by Lucky McGee, May is about a really, really weird girl (played by Angela Bettis) who just wants to make a friend. The problem, as I just stated but must reiterate, is that she’s really, really weird. Relating more to a glass-boxed doll named Suzy given to her
by her mother than to real people, May nonetheless tries over and over establish relationships with actual people, only to be rejected time and time again. So lonely that she’s finally driven to the brink of madness, May sets out to make a friend, no matter what the cost to herself…or them. Overall, a very good movie with an odd, quiet atmosphere that has a thick underlying sense of dread underneath, but sadly it falls apart somewhat near the end. Still, well worth seeing if you’re looking for something offbeat.
Another sleeper, released in 2001 and directed by Brad Anderson, it’s about an abandoned mental hospital and the asbestos removal crew that arrives to clean it up before it can be demolished. Once the job has started, however, strange and startling things start happening, and the ominous past of the hospital and its patients slowly start to reveal themselves. Filmed in an actual ruined asylum, the dilapidated surroundings (dust, broken furniture, peeling paint) help to generate a thick, foreboding atmosphere over the proceedings. The terror in Session 9 is more psychological than physical, but in some ways that makes it all the more menacing. This movie was one of the inspirations cited by the creator of the excellent Silent Hill series of Survival Horror videogames, and if you’ve ever played them, you can easily see the influence Session 9 had on their look and feel.
Well, there you have it…13 scary film suggestions to keep you busy this Halloween. Enjoy