Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Movies List #3 - Classic Halloween Movies

This was the hardest list to do because I kept going back and forth between the ones I wanted to list. What criteria was needed. I decided to just list the movies that I watch or make me think of Halloween. Some are obvious and some aren't. Some of them are just because I probably saw them for the first time around Halloween so I just happen to associate them with this day.

There is no lack of movies to watch. I always recommend the old Universal classics - 'Dracula', 'Frankenstein', 'The Wolf Man', 'The Mummy'. You just can't lose there. All of the great Vincent Price movies - 'House of Wax', 'The House On Haunted Hill', 'The Abominable Dr. Phibes'. What about Robert Wise's 'The Haunting'? Don't forget the many adventures of Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface. And any of George Romero's zombie films. In fact, I debated whether I should list 'Dawn of the Dead' but I decided to leave it off because those films work at any time of the year. I could sit here forever listing movies. This is why I knew I had to go with the more personal picks. This is not a one is better than the other list. By all means I encourage everyone to tell other people what they love to watch on Halloween. This should be about fun and not competition. No matter what you choose just make sure you have a good scary night ahead.

On with my picks.


AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON - John Landis jumped from comedy to horror with a film that became an instant classic although he had written the script years before he ever became known for comedy. Werewolves freak me out so it's only natural that one of the films I recommend is 'An American Werewolf In London'.

David and Jack (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne) are backpacking through England when they come across a small town where the villagers inside the local pub (called The Slaughtered Lamb which for those of you familiar with pubs isn't really a farfetched name) warn them to beware the moon. They take off into the night where they are attacked by a giant wolf. David awakes in the hospital in London where he is having odd dreams and getting visits from his dead friend Jack warning him he will become a werewolf. He falls for a nurse, played by Jenny Agutter, and goes back to her place only to find out that Jack warnings are true.

While Landis' flare for comedy is apparent in many very funny scenes the horror is played completely straight. So much so that when I saw this as a kid I was freaked out for a long time that a werewolf would jump out of the woods and attack me.

This film was the first film to win a competitive Academy Award for Best Makeup. Rick Baker did amazing work on this film. The transformation still stands as the best werewolf transformation ever.  Even by today's standards it holds up.

It's one of those films that has everything - horror, comedy, a love story. One that for me is a perfect fit for Halloween. Afterall, aren't we all looking for some scares, some laughs, and a little lovin' this time of year?

FRIGHT NIGHT- Tom Holland's vampire film 'Fright Night' is one of my all time favorite films on vampires. This is one of those films that I have yet to meet anyone that doesn't like it and when introduced to the film I get people thanking me.

It has the Hitchcockian idea of the kid next door who peeks into his neighbor's window and sees some odd things. He soon discovers that his new neighbor Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire. Needless to say no one believes him. Not his friend Evil (Stephen Geoffreys) or his girlfriend Amy (a pre-'Married With Children' Amanda Bearse). He even seeks out the help of a local TV host Peter Vincent (played perfectly by Roddy McDowall) who plays a vampire killer in the movies. A nice undertone of comedy but much like 'An American Werewolf In London' the horror is played straight.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen this film and it is just as entertaining every time I watch it. Do yourself a favor and track down this film. Or if you haven't watched it in a long time dust that copy off the shelf and pop it in. What better time of year than now.

TRICK R' TREAT - I know this one is too new to qualify as a classic. And I was even tempted to go with something else but not in a long time has something come along that so fits Halloween like 'Trick r' Treat'. I've seen the film three times now and it just gets better with each viewing. Plus watching it at this time of year is just perfect.

I wrote about this film in a previous post so be sure to check that out HERE.

CREEPSHOW - My love for this film knows no bounds. I first saw this when I was a kid in the theatre. I think it was several years later until I could watch "The Crate" with my eyes open. George Romero's and Stephen King's homage to EC comics is, in my opinion, the greatest anthology film ever. And what better name than 'Creepshow'? Five tales of horror which you would think might be boring at a 2 hour running time but the film is completely entertaining. And each story is told so well there isn't a weak one in the bunch.

This film is basically like five short films blended together. They're not linked in anyway outside of the fact that they are stories out of a comic book. However the mood and atmosphere of them is what links them together. The mix of horror and comedy is perfectly blended.

The cast is made up of a young Ed Harris (fresh off of Romero's previous film 'Knightriders'), Hal Holbrook, E.G. Marshall, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson, Adrienne Barbeau. They all approach the film with such honesty that it makes the stories all the scarier because while the humor is there it's never winking at you so you're never pulled out of the story.

Featuring the great effects of Tom Savini and a great creepy score from John Harrison, 'Creepshow' is such a great fun ride that is perfect anytime of year as I have watched it I am sure at some point in every single month of the year. Matched this up with the other anthology film 'Trick r' Treat' and you have quite a night ahead of you. It's definitely the most fun you'll ever have being scared. To steal the tagline.

This is one of my all time favorite films so don't be surprised if this shows up on several lists from me.

HALLOWEEN - I am sure no one is surprised by this one. Let's face it though this film is an absolute classic. Can you not think of this film on some level when you think of Halloween? I know I can't. John Carpenter crafted a low budget phenomenon with 'Halloween'.

One thing John Carpenter does well is create an atmosphere and that is why this film works outside of its title during this time of year. It feels like Halloween.

Jamie Lee Curtis stars as Laurie who is being followed by Michael Myers, an escaped patient from an instituion where he was staying since he murdered his sister when he was a child. His doctor, Sam Loomis played by the great Donald Pleasance, is after him since he knows how evil Michael Myers really is.

I think most of us know the story. This film just works on every level. Who can forget the great score also done by Carpenter. The theme is one of the best themes ever written. Yes. I said ever because everyone knows it.

Every year I end my Halloween night watching this film. This will be the first year I watch it on Blu-ray so it's a little extra special. I think I've watched it in every format over the years. VHS then laserdisc then DVD and now Blu-ray. In the last 20 years I think I missed it twice. I did not watch it one year. Once I watched it the night before so that one is a little iffy but still. It is my Halloween tradition.

Happy viewing and most importantly - Happy Halloween everybody!!!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Movies List #3 - Alternative Halloween Flicks

Another list for this Halloween (the first two you can see Here and Here). This one offers a slightly different scary film for this time of year. Films that may not be full blown horror or ones that have a slightly more dramatic layer to them. Or ones that will make you feel like you're above the usual horror fair when talking to other people around the water cooler at the office. If you are one of those people then just know I appreciate you reading this blog and hope you come back but I don't like you.

Let's kick things off!


ANGEL HEART -Mickey Rourke gives another great performance in Alan Parker's dark journey into the world of Voo Doo and the darker side of human nature in 'Angel Heart'.

Rourke plays Harry Angel a detective who is hired by a mysterious stranger, played by Robert DeNiro, to track down Johnny Favorite who has gone missing. This takes him to New Orleans but then people start turning up dead as he comes across more and more people that knew Johnny. It's a haunting tale with a surprise ending. It's basically a dark film noir mixed with horror and one worth checking out.

MAY - Not sure how many people have seen Lucky McKee's 'May' which is why I decided to list it here.

Angela Bettis perfectly plays May a girl with an extreme lazy eye which she corrects by wearing a special contact lens. But growing up she was teased and made fun of so she took solice in her doll kept in a glass case. May is a loner and an outsider. Something I think many of us can relate to on some level. She works at a vet and befriends a fellow co-worker played by Anna Faris who is both curious and attracted to May. May also has a crush on a mechanic played by Jeremy Sisto and she desperately tries to get him to notice her. Unfortuantely for her the oddness proves to be a little much for people. All she wants is to fit in and have a friend. She finds a way to but that will have to wait until you see the film for yourself.

This film works on many levels and is held together by the great performances all around especially by Bettis' May. While not a full blown horror film it definitely delivers on the horror of being an outsider that we all feel from time to time. You really should track this one down.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS - As much as I love the original film with Kevin McCarthy I have to admit I prefer the Philip Kaufman 1978 version of 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers'.

Aliens have arrived on earth in this slimy substance that attaches itself to our plants and then grows into a flower like pod which when near a sleeping human being slowing absorbs them and then replaces them with a new one only without emotion.

This version features some amazing performances by Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams. Not to mention Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, and Leonard Nimoy. The way that you feel the paranoia and the feeling of who is who in the film is really quite amazing and very creepy. When I used to work at a big company downtown and I would arrive at the office at 8:30 I would look down the street to the people that just got off the train and there was this huge crowd of people walking down the sidewalk with just blank expressions on their faces. Always made me think of this movie. Luckily I got out in time. Or ... did I?

STEPHEN KING'S IT - I know what you're thinking. Did I just list a TV movie? Yes I did. One of the better horror TV movies and the first major one (probably since 'Salem's Lot') made from a Stephen King novel 'Stephen King's IT' really stands out from the standard TV fare.

While it is a made for TV movie and therefore has some of the drawbacks a TV movie can have it no doubt works on the dramatic level. A two night miniseries the film featured an all star cast and the concept of trying to adapt a novel that seemed almost impossible to do. A group of people reunite after decades to confront the evil monster they faced as kids. The first half is mainly introducing the characters and then flashbacks to them as kids when they first fought Pennywise The Clown played by the great Tim Curry.

The young cast is very impressive featuring the late Jonathan Brandis and featuring a young Seth Green plus the performance of a pre-'Ginger Snaps' Emily Perkins whom I had the pleasure of meeting last weekend. The younger actors do a great job of setting up the relationships and laying the groundwork for the reunion of their adult counterparts so many years later. In some ways I prefer the first half but there is no denying the film as a whole works.

When they all reunite years later having practically forgotten the horror they left behind things start right away. Warnings to leave and bizarre hallucinations before they all take on the evil of Pennywise. The adult cast is no less impressive featuring Annette O'Toole, Tim Reid, Harry Anderson, Richard Thomas, and the late John Ritter.

'IT' was a benchmark in TV miniseries in many ways. It's ratings success led to other Stephen King novels being made into miniseries. However the story, characters, and creepiness that this one has was never really duplicated. Definitely worth your time and a great title for this Halloween.

PSYCHO - Once again I know what you're thinking. I know this film Why are you listing it? My answer is do you really? I know a lot of people who know of Alfred Hitchcock's brilliant 'Psycho' but haven't actually seen it. Or if they have then not in a very long time.

We all know the shower scene. Even if you've never seen the film you know of the shower scene. We all know the character of Norman Bates played to the tee by Anthony Perkins. However, when was the last time you watched the film? Have you ever actually seen it? The film is more than the shocking shower scene. It is a film that really took scary films to another level. One that disturbed audience because you felt like you weren't safe anymore.

Hitchcock's other films while very suspenseful still had a sense of safety to them. It was a fun suspense and in the end you always knew the hero would win out. Not in a cheesy way but that our main character, whether it was James Stewart or Cary Grant, would turn out ok. Not so with 'Psycho'. You didn't know where the film would go next. Once the now infamous shower scene happens you also realize that anyone is expendable. It is Hitchcock's darkest film and his most terrifying.

Made with a fraction of his usual budget and utilizing the crew from his TV show 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' he made sure that Hitchcock the artist had to do things in a creative way without the benefit of a large budget. Therefore this film had many iconic shots in it. All of his other films have one shot we all remember. This film has like twenty. Bernard Hermann's score is one that is completely unforgettable. In its simplistic string-based use of music it works hand in hand with the film.

Do yourself a favor and jump back into this one. I think you'll be surprised to find out that this film is far more than just a shower scene. It is a classic made by a master at his most rawest.

One more list to go for Halloween. My favorite picks to watch during this time of year. I am sure they are all ones we all know but are worth posting about and more importantly watching again.