Note: in honor of our 10th annual October Overflow, this year's list goes to 11!
11. Motel Hell (1980)
"It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent's fritters." I’ll level with you, I’m still not entirely sure what a fritter is, but the critters in question are the unfortunate guests of Vincent and sister Ida’s “Motel Hello.” The motel sits adjacent to Vincent’s farm and the secret garden where he plants his victims in the earth, severing their vocal cords and leaving them to “ripen” for harvest. As you can imagine, there’s plenty of dark humor as well as outright silliness. The methods Vincent uses to ensnare travelers range from cardboard cows to brutal motor accidents. When he takes a shine to Terry, one such victim, whose boyfriend he’s just maimed and planted, it sparks tension between Vincent and Ida. Meanwhile their brother, Sheriff Bruce, begins to pick up on the possible connection between all these disappearances and his batshit siblings. He's also drawn to Terry, but she's falling for the seemingly genteel Vincent. And on top of all this family drama, a bumper crop of zonked-out mutes is about ready for harvest. Considered by many to be a send-up of serious backwoods horror films, Motel Hell offers a heaping helping of twisted treats and plenty of (head) cheese to go around. (David Dunwoody)
Growing up, I stopped going to school on Halloween after they stopped having those cool ass parties with tons of wicked baked goods and fizzy punch with the obligatory plastic spider floaties. In my earliest memory of playing Halloween hooky I watched Blacula on MovieMax first thing in the morning in what I believe was my second foray into AIP territory, albeit in a much more unconventional film. I've amassed quite the collection of blaxploitation over the years, no doubt partially thanks to this gem that spins the vampire tale upside down that's much more entertaining than the cheesy title leads you to believe at first glance. If you want to add a little soul to the Halloween bash this year, pop in the DVD and let Blacula get a little groovy with you.(Brett H.)
Because Carpenter made The Thing from Another World synonymous with Halloween, I’ve always associated 50s monster movies with the holiday. Taking that slot this year is one of the era’s absolute best—or at least most indelible. And no, I’m not mistaken: Goke may have been released in 1968, but it’s imbued with the spirit of those matinee romps from a decade earlier and filtered through 60s psychedelia for good measure. Striking blood red skies announce the film’s unreal, vaguely apocalyptic intentions before it proceeds to unravel in the most unhinged manner imaginable. Before a plane can turn around following a bomb threat from one of its passengers (!), it’s swiped by screeching UFO (!!), causing it to crash land and strand its handful of survivors in a barren countryside. This ragtag group faces threats from within and without, as they squabble amongst themselves even as a vampiric extraterrestrial creature (!!!) feasts upon them.
Weird, arrestingly gorgeous, and hauntingly sublime, Goke marries atomic age paranoia with the Vietnam era’s growing nihilism, yielding a film that feels like a bizarre, garish companion piece to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. While it may be composed of familiar elements, you’ve never seen anything quite like Goke, an irresistible variety pack of a move offering the greatest pod people/vampire/alien invasion/Cold War anxiety/Vietnam protest jumble ever made. (Brett Gallman)
Every marathon needs a rowdy party movie to accompany your sugar rush and keep your blood pumping throughout the night. And who’s more fitting to fill up such a slot this year than John Fasano, the esteemed auteur behind the likes of Zombie Nightmare and Rock n Roll Nightmare? Black Roses completes a trilogy of sorts, as the twin banes of conservative small town Americana—heavy metal and Satan—conspire to corrupt the youth of sleepy, idyllic Mill Basin when the devilish Black Roses (fronted by enigmatic lead singer Damian) announce an extended tour stop. The town’s only hope is English teacher extraordinaire Matthew Moorhouse, who can’t understand why his students don’t give a shit about Ralph Waldo Emerson anymore. While my experience would just lead me to believe they’re just typical teenagers, Matthew senses something more sinister is afoot at the Black Roses shows, where the band is converting its audience to become one with Satan and do his bidding.
Sure enough, the town’s youth revolts against any and every authority figure, including their parents, which are sucked into stereos by rubbery demon hands, mowed over by cars, and tossed out of windows. Black Roses is a total hoot all the way through to a final confrontation that pits the robustly mustachioed Moorhouse against Damon’s true form, as the lead singer’s glorious, flowing locks give way to hideous demon. Flames engulf the stage, sending Black Roses right on the threshold of the kind of heavy metal hell only Fasano could conjure. (Brett Gallman)
So much of unsung director Gary Sherman’s oeuvre is suitable for an All Hallows Eve marathon, but Raw Meat (aka Death Line) is especially fitting, if only because it thrives off a macabre urban legend. As the story goes here, a group of Victorian-era railway workers were caught in a tunnel collapse years ago; because they presumably buried alive, the victims’ bodies were never recovered, and some insist they survived via cannibalism, propagating a clan of bloodthirsty maniacs in the years hence. Local inspector (and tea fanatic) Calhoun (Donald Pleasence in a delightfully sardonic turn) soon learns the story is all too real when numerous people disappear without a trace from the London Underground. Sherman masterfully (and patiently) weaves this ghastly tale through a police procedural, spilling details alongside drops of blood pouring from slit throats and cracked skulls. With its lively performances (including a cameo from Christopher Lee, always welcome to any marathon), ghoulish makeup effects, grisly gore, and suspenseful climax, Raw Meat achieves that certain Halloween Night je ne sais quoi. (Brett Gallman)
A conventional marathon would wisely reserve a spot for a genre titan like, say, The Exorcist, Halloween, or even Amityville. But what I’m supposing is maybe we’ve all seen those movies a bunch, and maybe we haven’t seen enough Ulli Lommel films. And maybe the only logical compromise is to watch him rip off all three of those classics in a way only Lommel can: with a cockeyed sense of human interaction, bizarre occurrences, and a downright bewildering plot involving two adult siblings being haunted by the homicidal spirit of their mother’s dead boyfriend, now trapped in the shards of a shattered mirror. Did I mention that the two conspired to butcher the guy when they were kids after watching him fool around with their mom? (To be fair, the asshole did tie up poor Willy to his bed, an ordeal that has left him a brute mute later in life—it’s like a brain-damaged riff on Halloween).
What a mouthful—and that isn’t the half of it when it comes to The Boogeyman, which will adequately fill up the marathon slot reserved for utterly strange nonsense. Highlights include quite possibly the most convoluted slasher shish kebab ever put on film, levitating pitchforks, and a potent reminder of the deadly potential of closing windows. As mean-spirited as this all sounds, it’s filtered through Lommel’s clumsy playfulness: like its title suggests, The Boogeyman evokes childhood memories of spooky, macabre stories that were also just silly enough to justify sharing with a child around a campfire. With its candy-colored freakout of a climax, The Boogeyman captures the spirit of Halloween night, even if something’s a little off about it, kind of like that one malformed treat you can’t help but stuff into your mouth. (Brett Gallman)
Unwittingly (or perhaps not), Z-movie maestro Ed Wood perfected the art of the “midnight movie” during the course of an incredible and improbable career to which Tim Burton paid the ultimate tribute in this heartfelt biopic. And while “heartfelt” isn’t usually the type of word you seen thrown around on a Halloween list, Ed Wood nonetheless makes the cut for its outgoing embrace of the type of outsider art that’s become entrenched in horror-thons over the years. The docudrama’s behind-the-scenes account of these productions not only captures the vibe of Wood’s films but also the spirit of reckless abandon guiding them. Sure, you could watch one of Wood’s actual films, but this one plays like a perfect compilation of iconic moments recreated through outstanding performances and Burton’s playful wit. Toss in Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi and Lisa Marie’s stellar turns as Bela Lugosi and Vampira, and Ed Wood becomes an odd resurrection of sorts, one that allows familiar genre faces to reach from the beyond to delight us one last Halloween night. Well, unless you’re one of the terrified, unsuspecting kids who dares to trick-or-treat at Lugosi’s door, only to be greeted by Dracula himself. (Brett Gallman)
Our annual anthology selection hails from the kings of the format in Amicus Productions, the British outfit responsible for the best portmanteau horrors of all-time. The last of the company’s historic anthology spree, From Beyond the Grave sent the run out on a high note. While it’s not the first (or second, or even third) title that comes to mind, it’s nonetheless a terrific representative of the general vibe. It weaves a quartet of macabre tales through a killer wraparound featuring Peter Cushing as a peddler of antique wares that bring doom upon greedy, immoral customers attempting to cheat the proprietor.
In the first—and for my money, the best—segment finds a man (David Warner) procuring a mirror that conjures an apparition intoning him to kill so the spirit can take on corporeal form. A classic Amicus tale of murder and comeuppance, it’s a wonderfully macabre opener haunted by the chilling presence of Marcel Steiner as the otherworldly apparition. Donald Pleasence does make for a hell of a follow-up act, though, as he appears as street merchant Jim Underwood, who takes an unhappy officer worker (Ian Bannen) into his good graces after a pleasant chat one day. Unfortunately, the latter man steals a medal of honor he doesn’t deserve from the antique store, an act that unlocks a karmic reckoning when Underwood and his daughter (Angela Pleasence) turn out to be sinister agents summoned from beyond in a gleefully twisted turn of events.
More supernatural comeuppance awaits in “The Elemental,” wherein businessman Reggie Warren’s attempt to swipe a snuff box at a cheaper price is met with a literal haunting. When a fellow train passenger (Margaret Leighton) insists he has an invisible “elemental” on his shoulder, he dismisses it as the ravings of a kooky old lady. Once the unseen force turns malevolent and attempts to choke his wife to death, he summons the lady for an exorcism, leading to a wicked resolution that proves you can’t outrun your sins. The proceedings loop back around, sort of ending where they began with another tale involving a man (Ian Ogilvy) who purchases an ornate door that leads to a mysterious blue room that’s trapped the spirit of an evil occultist (Jack Watson) looking to escape this purgatorial realm.
Unlike the damned soul in the opening tale, this man is equipped with the moral fiber necessary to escape such a grim fate—which is not to say From Beyond the Grave still doesn’t manage to end on a wry, ghoulish note when one last customer wanders into the proprietor’s store. Chock full of genre stalwarts and underpinned by Amicus’s macabre moralizing, From Beyond the Grave is more than appropriate for the Halloween season—just as its title implies. (Brett Gallman)
The disappointment surrounding Rob Zombie’s Halloween is only compounded by his clear affinity for the holiday itself. Few filmmakers have ever been able to capture that distinct, Americana-tinged flavor of Halloween as well as Zombie, whose debut effort is perched right on the threshold of a particularly unholy All Hallows Eve in 1977. It’s on that night that four damned souls happen upon the Fireflies, a clan of homicidal maniacs living out in some rural desolation. Insisting that Zombie arrived here might be an understatement here, as House of 1000 Corpses marks the definitive, gravely yawp of a distinct, unflinching genre voice. While this might be a familiar House—it’s essentially been relocated from the trappings of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre into a gorier, raucous neighborhood—Zombie’s trimmings give it a new vitality, much like a cheap Halloween decoration affixed to a ramshackle building. Zombie’s carnival spirit is on display early, when the four kids are coaxed into riding through Captain Spaulding’s delirious roadside haunt, and the rest of the film takes its cue from there. House of 1000 Corpses sends viewers down the rickety rails of Zombie’s fevered brain, where the likes of Universal monsters, The Munsters, and the undead, demonic Dr. Satan reside in one kaleidoscopic heap.(Brett Gallman)
Texas may have its massacres, but let's travel a bit further south for an absolute bloodbath! Alucarda was my first experience in Mexican horror and has stuck with me for nearly a decade thanks to what it does best - old school babes, blood and black magic. If your Halloween marathon starts to drag, bust out this one to kick it up a notch. Be prepared for a slow start until the shit hits the fan, and expect to take a little bit of everything from this little gem from south of the border. At its best, it's a bloodhound's wet dream. At its worst, it's still exactly what the horror doctor ordered when going into a sleazy 70s b-movie, flaws and all. If atmosphere is your thing, Alucarda, that crazy bitch of death has that too! (Brett H.)
What better way to mark Halloween—a night when the veil is lifted between the living and the dead—than with a viewing of an immortal lo-fi folk tale that blurs the line between life and death? A takeoff of the enduring ghostly hitchhiker urban legend, it’s a ghost story quite unlike any other, one that finds an oblivious, damned soul (Candace Hilligoss) wandering through a ghastly, empty netherworld. Demons and ghouls haunt her—no, stalk her, creating the impression that she’s been led to some inexorable doom. Nothing about her life following a car accident is comforting: not the seaside carnival, which lies strangely vacant, save for the wild-eyed phantasm she can’t shake. Not her boarding house, where she suddenly feels invisible to those around her. Not even daylight offers comfort in this existential nightmare, as director Herk Harvey warps bright, harsh sunshine and empty spaces into eerie, desolate dreamscapes. Everything about Carnival of Souls feels askew or upside down, making it a perfect midnight movie, when your eyelids grow heavy and your brain drifts off into the phantasmagoric zone between a nightmare and a daydream. (Brett Gallman)
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