･ eating copious amounts of candy,
･ dressing like a fool,
･ talking about something other than the upcoming election, and
･ feeding the aforementioned need for all things zombie...
... that day is going to be Highly Recommended. But maybe the bestest best thing about Halloween is that it's a chance to dust off those horror movies - the good, the bad, the way-too-scary-for-a-weekday-evening film selections that seem to need an excuse of their own.
So here at HRTotM, we've banded together to give you a good selection of our favorite horror films to watch as you prepare your tricks and treats. Enjoy, but remember... DON'T GO IN THERE!
I've never really been into the guts and the gore - Jason and Freddy never did it for me back in the day and Eli Roth certainly doesn't do it for me now. My sleepless nights are usually the result of the psychological horror flick - the one that crawls into your head and messes with you by forcing you to put yourself in those pictures, by encouraging your mind to go down roads you'd just as soon leave overgrown and unexplored. Hitchcock, of course, was the MASTER at this, and I could probably just list a ton of his films right here and be done. But for my money, the movie that most clearly crawled into my consciousness and took a firm hold was David Fincher's Se7en. Most films like this get to me after some reflection - I'm on the way home from the theater, mulling over the characters or the particularly good lines or the lighting or whatever, and something resonates and stays humming for weeks and weeks. Se7en, though, had me so worked up during the film, that (as little spoilage as possible here, in case there's somebody on the planet that's missed it so far) toward the end, when the killer intones "I can't wait for you to see what I've done," I tried to leave. It was only due to my sense of good theater citizenship, my long legs, and my friend's refusal to get the hell out of my way that I stayed for the mind-enema that was the ending. There are lots of good clips I could post, but the opening sequence maybe showcases Fincher's genius the most - it primed me for an amazing flick the first time and it gets me stoked for what's to come still to this day.
There are so many shitty horror movies it makes me sad. There are perhaps 50 good ones and a dozen sublime ones. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is somewhere in there. I saw it during the day with the sun shining in through the windows when I was 27, and I still had to steel myself through the whole thing because it was so fucking relentless. The original Dawn of the Dead is super-smart, hilarious, and truly disturbing all at the same time.
But for me, even those two movies take a backseat compared with the brilliance that is Halloween. What made this movie fantastic was that, like Alien, it was more of a suspense movie than a gorefest. There is actually very little blood in Halloween compared with most any other horror movie. I probably first saw this when I was about 10, by staying up late and watching HBO on the sly from my folks. I only watched snippets before getting freaked out. Even as an adult, however, with the lights off, this is a scary movie. A fairly low-budget flick, there are not tons of creature effects, but long stretches of silence and normalcy, as the characters go blithely about their lives. The audience sees occasional glimpses of The Shape, and knows something bad is coming, but not exactly what. When night falls, the 70s isolation of suburban streets is as much an enemy as The Shape himself: phones can't be dialed fast enough, and there aren't enough cars on the road or people around to notice when someones gone missing until it's too late.
Finally, the music, by director John Carpenter himself, is about as simple as it gets: a creepy melody for the theme at the beginning, and only pounding single low piano notes as The Shape comes home.
In a time when so many movies are viewed in tiny increments as some type of living room wallpaper, this is one that demands uninterrupted viewing of its 90 minutes, in the dark. Turn it up loud, and let the movie work on you.
For Halloween movies, I'm under qualified. First, I like Dracula films (Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing might be my favorite of those, the Bela Lugosi film is better cinema but not as much fun).
I also like Army of Darkness, but it is as campy as they come... Does the Bride with White Hair count as horror? I thought that would be fun to watch on Halloween.
I'm so bad at Halloween movies. I guess I could go with the Nightmare before Christmas, or is that a Christmas movie? Maybe I'm not cut out for the Halloween retrospective.
The question that always comes back for me when I consider horror movies is -- "Does it stay with you?" Is there something about the scares that a movie delivers that finds it's way into your secret fears. What made Halloween so lasting in my opinion is not only the suspense factor that Satorical spoke about, but the scenes where you'd see a shadowed hallway and then suddenly a shaft of moonlight would reveal that The Shape was standing there the whole time with a huge knife -- and then the next afternoon you'd realize that there were plenty of dark corners in the place you lived, and the first thing that jumped into your mind was the idea that some silent maniac could be hiding in one of them.
It's the way that certain vulnerabilities are presented to us through horror films that make our skin crawl. This to me is also the reason the genre has taken such a dive lately, because it's all too easy to just present people with images of things that they dislike, and turn it into a deathtrap (there's a scene in SAW II involving a pit of used hypodermic needles that a person has to dig through to find a key. The idea creeps me out because I don't like needles, but luckily I don't have a pit of needles in my apartment, so the discomfort of the scene is over as soon as the movie ends).
The things that stay with me the most are the situations where the things you trust become the things you need to fear. Films where the killer is among you, or the threat is within. Which is why for my money, despite the fact that it's special effects are starting to look a little dated -- the psychological component of John Carpenter's The Thing cannot be topped for pure jump out of your seat fun. Parts of that movie are so subtle that they make the shocks that follow seem like deeper cuts.
Plenty of movies have tried to re-use this formula along the way, but all too often when the plot turns from "trying to figure out the problem" to the "team up to fight back against the bad guy" theme it becomes utterly unbelievable and over-actiony.
What this movie does so well is take characters who seem to have their stuff together and push them to a point where they can't be trusted -- even if they're not the alien. You never really know who to trust, exemplified by an ending that implies an even bigger battle for survival between the two toughest guys in the camp that Carpenter leaves hanging for us to consider, but never actually resolves -- leaving the door open not so much for a sequel, but for the worry that one of them actually made it out of that place alive -- meaning the thing might still be among us.
Of course there are many more great scare films to choose from out there -- so if we've left out your favorite, feel free to tell us about it in the comments!