Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Horror Night: My Scariest Flicks

This is one of the best night's of the year. According to my son Halloween is second only to Christmas as far as fun holidays go. But after he is safely tucked in bed with a morning stomach ache waiting to happen, the wife and I do what we like to do best on this evening: watch a scary movie. I mean she's been geeked up about this for weeks. But it is up to me to pick the frightfest that will please her and set the proper spooky tempo for late Old Hallows Eve.

A year or so ago I made a huge faux pas in this department: I went with Italian horror master Dario Argento's Suspiria; you know throw a little foreign culture in there to broaden our viewing horizons. That went over like Snakes on a Plane at the Oscars. Although I loved the moody atmosphere, grisly slayings and ultra-creepy score, she was annoyed by the whole pretentious, confusing, weird thing.

So tonight I've picked out something a little more closer to home: the bloody, Appalachian cave dwelling chiller The Descent. That should do the trick. I'll have a full review of it tomorrow.

But all of this got me thinking about my all-time favorite Halloween Night choices. So here is my List in no specific order other than by genre, with my No. 1 choice at the end. As usual, this list is entirely subjective; if you have any different suggestions or comments on my choices, let me know.


Halloween (1978)
John Carpenter's seminal Halloween night flick stands masked head and shoulders above the rest. From the brilliant, tingly theme music to Michael Myers, the killer who spawned the first movie trick-or-treat costume- a spooky hockey mask- this flick has it all as far as horror movies are concerned. Want more? Okay, what about babysitters getting slaughtered, stupid, horny teens having sex then getting slaughtered, and Jamie Lee Curtis in her scream queen, jeans- creaming heyday. It simply doesn't get any better than this one. I must watch it every year- it's like a tradition.

Carrie (1976)
Sissy Spacek truly brought Stephen King's creeped-out clairvoyant to life with her silent-but-sinister portrayal of Carrie White. Tormented by classmates and tortured by her mother, Carrie lashes out at her bullies in the best payback scene in horror movie history. The flick is filled with indelible horror images: Carrie covered in pig blood; the doors of the gymnasium slamming shut, trapping the helpless students inside; and most disturbing of all, the end where the hand...let's just say I still never walk by a cemetery without envisioning that final image in my head. Now that's a powerful horror movie. The film was one the first of King's novels to be adapted for the screen and remains one of the best; it also launched the careers of Spacek, John Travolta, William Katt, Amy Irving and others.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Tobe Hooper's violent & disturbing groundbreaking original film is still to this day recognized as one of the best horror films in the history of the genre. It not only has been copied hundreds of times, but it has also spawned a remake plus a sequel & prequel to the remake. The driving force behind the terrifying aspect of the film is the ghoulish decapitator himself, Leatherface, one of the scariest villains ever to be put on film. Sporting a mask made of victims' flesh, standing about 7' tall and wielding a bloody chainsaw, the first time I saw him coming out of the woods and chasing down his victim I nearly shit my pants. Confession: I still do- well would, if I ever get up the guts to watch it again. Bloody, psychotic, horrific and nerve-racking, mainly due to the fact that the viewer believes that these backwoods cannibalistic freaks could be real, because according to the trailers, it was.

Honorable Mention: Rosemary's Baby;The Omen; The Amityville Horror (all original versions)


Saw (2004)
The original of the now seemingly interminable Halloween franchise was a landmark movie for its genre in that it not only grossed the viewer out of his snacks but it also kept you thinking right up till the very end. many movies had done either/or, and some did a little bit of both. But this reality game show/serial killer flick took it to another level. A mastermind locks victims in a room and tells them to find their way out. But the only way out of the trap is through self-mutilation or murder. Brilliant! Head-size bear traps, eyeball slicing and a CREEEPPPYYY clown doll set the tone, and an "I never saw that coming" ending was the bloody icing on the cake. It has often been imitated (especially by its own creators) but it will never be duplicated; Saw was the Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the XY Generation.

Devil's Rejects (2005)
With his second directorial effort, hardcore rocker Rob Zombie showed the world that yes, he could do horror with the best of them. This sequel to the overrated but sloppy House of 1000 Corpses tells a tight story about a group of societal rejects who kill for sport and torture for fun. The three main characters form a trio of most memorable screen villains, including homicidal Otis (Bill Moseley), beautiful & psychotic Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie, Rob's wife) and the killer clown, Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig.) These three carve a path of death miles wide as they try to run from the law (a terrific William Forsythe), all while capturing & slaying helpless victims along the way to vengeance. The mesmerizing, eerie cinematography, awesome soundtrack, and gritty, Chainsaw-like realism sends chills down my spine every time I watch it. Oh, and the ending- set in a old car blazing down a highway to disaster with the classic Lynyrd Skynyrd tune Freebird blaring in the background, is one of the best horror movie finales of all time.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)
The only remake on my list is there because it takes the George Romero original and expands on it, actually improving that timeless classic. I'm not usually one for zombie flicks, because they are slow & predictable (both the creatures & the films), but this new edition ramped up the terror by making the flesh eaters super-fast, and with a modern civilization constantly worried about infectious diseases like AIDS, bird flu and mad cow, the theme hit on a timely national topic. But it is the opening 20 minutes or so that hooked me and made me convinced that this was a classic: as Sarah Polley's nurse character comes to grips with the fact that not only is her husband infected by the deadly cannibal virus, but that the rest of her town, state, and the entire country are as well, we get to see a panoramic overhead shot of the wake of death & destruction caused by the newly formed army of undead killing machines. Shots of dead bodies, screaming victims and smoking cars & buildings portray a chilling vision of what our world could really look like if some kind of deadly virus were to infect our society. Plus there are some terrific-looking zombie kill-shots.

High Tension (Haute Tension, 2003)
Rarely has there been a more accurate title for a horror film, because this little French indie sleeper was honestly one of the scariest, most nerve-racking movies from start to finish that I have ever seen. It starts out slow-for about 5 minutes- as two French girlfriends travel to the country for one last summer together before they go their separate ways in life. But after they arrive at the home of one girls' parents things go downhill from there. It may have copped elements from various American slasher flicks, like TCM and Silence of the Lambs (i.e. the killer's van), but the brutal slayings, non-stop action and surprise ending make this one a must-see hidden gem for horror lovers. The villian is extremely unsettling, like a cross between Leatherface & Tiny from House of 1000 Corpses, and the foreign cinematic touches only make it that much more eerie (something about foreign horror flicks just do it for me- I might have to do a whole other post on my foreign faves.) Oh and don't worry,the movie still kicks ass whether you like the twist ending or not.

Honorable Mention: Wolf Creek; 28 Days Later


The Others(2001)
Not really a horror movie, but more like a spooky ghost story, this tale about a woman, played by Nicole Kidman (an obvious plus right there), who lives in a creepy old mansion with her two hyper-light sensitive kids. Much like the more publicized "I see dead people" flick, The Sixth Sense, things aren't always what they seem in the house, or with the main characters. When a trio of servants arrive to help care for the kids secrets are revealed that make for unnerving viewing. A big ole haunted house is always excellent fodder for terrific horror, and the performances of the two children plus Kidman's best outing since Dead Calm make this ghost story click. Oh and a surprise ending always does the trick as well.

Silence of the Lambs(1991)
No question one of the most disturbingly scary film of all time, not for the gore quotient or the "jump-out-of-your-seat moments, but just the sheer terror & believability that there could be a serial killer out there as evil as Anthony Hopkins' Dr. Hannibal Lecter. But as if that character weren't terrifying enough there is a serial killer within the serial killer flick- Buffalo Bill, an enormous, evil hulk of a man who captures innocent women and does unspeakable things to them. Top notch performances from Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, the FBI agent who must go through Lecter to get to Bill, and of course Sir Anthony, who redefined the role of screen villain as an intelligent, savvy, Renaissance man with a heart of stone & mind of a madman make this film work. But it's the scene of Buffalo Bill trapping that innocent woman in his van by pretending to need help loading a couch that is giving me gooseflesh as I write this.

My Number 1 Horror Flick of All Time:

The Shining(1980)
Directorial mastermind Stanley Kubrick and horror writer Stephen King combined their ample talents to bring one of the creepiest, scariest, straight forward horror tales to the big screen, and to this day 26 years later it still stands as a masterpiece of modern horror. Where to begin with the elements that make this story spooktacularly great? How about a huge, unoccupied hotel on the side of a mountain in the middle of a spectacular Colorado winter. Throw in the fragile Torrance family, writer/father Jack (Jack Nicholson, at his eyebrow-raising best), nervous mother Wendy(Shelly Duvall) and young disturbed son Danny and you have a recipe for a horribly wrong winter. As the unending days trapped in the lodge creep by, Jack sees visions of the past caretaker of the Overlook, and those visions and conversations with people from the 'other side' turn Jack into a very demented family man. Numerous hair-raising images abound in this visual tour-de-force: elevators filled with blood, a sinister hedge maze where Danny runs from his twisted dad, twin little girls locked together in a death stare, and little Danny riding his Big Wheel all around the empty hotel corridors are enough to bring grownups to their knees. But the scene with Nicholson chopping at the bathroom door where Wendy has barricaded herself, and he breaks through and utters the infamous line "Hereeee's Johnny" is worth the price of admission alone. Perhaps I am biased towards this film because I actually visited the inspiration for the Overlook, a hotel in Greeley, Colorado where King stayed and got the idea for the story (although the actual filming took place in Oregon due to creative differences with the owners & the writer.) But let me tell you, while I was there they had a miniature version of the place on the massive front lawn, a mock-up that was being used for the ABC-TV remake, and damned if the hairs all over my body didn't stand on end as I imagined that mini-haunted house as a playset for the dead twins. Cree-py to the max, and my favorite all-time scary film.
Oh yeah, I nearly forgot to mention "Redrum"

Hope you enjoyed my list. Now find someone to cuddle with, pop one of these in, and get creeped out!

Happy Halloween!

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