Top Ten: Halloween Picks 2018

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2018-10-11 13:10
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10. Doom Asylum (1987)

    Doom Asylum is what I would consider a 'daytime' horror movie. A lot of the scenes take place in the sun, not exactly lending itself towards mood and atmosphere as much as I would like. But at 11 AM on a Halloween morning, a film such as this ribald slasher comedy works perfectly, especially with the gruesomely disfigured Coroner's innovate slicing and dicing techniques that are on par with the best of the B... or C-movie icons. Between family, friends, trick or treaters or even just re-supplying the snacks, I like to pick a good-bad, memorable film (or films) to watch that I am familiar with where I can pick right up where I left off between distractions, fast paced and goofy packed with ample gory chicanery. All of which Doom Asylum will certainly deliver on near the beginning of your Halloween marathon. Like the wet, limp spaghetti used in children's Halloween games to mimic brains or guts, Doom Asylum is nothing fancy, but it gets the job done. (Brett H.)

9. The Black Scorpion (1957)

    Vintage monster movies are essential during this time of the year, and this effort finds genre godfather Willis O’Brien crafting some of his most imaginative, elaborate effects work. A volcanic eruption in Mexico spews forth more than ash and lava here, as it frees a species of giant, prehistoric scorpions that proceed to wreak havoc on nearby towns and villages. Despite the cookie-cutter nature of both the plot and characters, The Black Scorpion is a feast of outlandish special effects sequences, as the script provides ample opportunity to indulge O’Brien’s craft, like a show-stopping train attack sequence and an extended trek into the heart of the scorpions’ lair, where other creepy, crawly horrors awake. To piggyback on Brett H.’s comparison in the previous entry, the latter sequence is akin to traipsing through a funhouse, eagerly awaiting what dreadful shocks and frights lurk around the corner. (Brett Gallman)

8. The Eerie Midnight Horror Show (1974)

    With a title like this, The Eerie Midnight Horror Show was destined for marathon greatness—so long as your all-nighter absolutely, positively must make room for an Italian Exorcist rip-off. And what self-respecting marathon wouldn’t? This scene—and perhaps only this scene—can adequately meet your quota for blasphemy, incest, and globs of puke. Eerie Midnight delivers all of this and more: adultery, an S&M subplot, and a cave that doubles as a gateway to hell, where scantily-clad women perform demonic rituals. The thrust of the film (which includes a lot of thrusting,if you know what I mean, and I think you do) involves art student Daniella (Stella Carnacina) stumbling upon a life-sized statue of a crucified figure that subsequently comes to life and assaults her, sending her down a demonic path of masturbating, hair-chewing madness. Only a priest can save her, thus ensuring that The Eerie Midnight Horror Show features an obligatory, hellraising exorcism where clumps of extremely thick pea soup spill from Daniella’s mouth, adequately filling your marathon’s gross-out quotient on its own—not that our further entries won’t put you over the top, of course. (Brett Gallman)

7. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

    Allow the master himself, Wes Craven, to inject your marathon with voodoo, witchcraft, and revolutionary upheaval. After nearly two decades of the zombie genre taking a detour through Romero’s vision of undead, flesh-eating ghouls, Craven returns to the lore’s original roots with this loose adaptation of Wade Davis’s exploits in Haiti. It’s a nightmarish journey into the unknown, as an American pharmaceutical company dispatches anthropologist Dennis Allen (Bill Pullman) to investigate the bizarre tale of a man who reportedly returned to life thanks to a potent drug. Allen discovers this and much more, including a sinister plot involving a mysterious voodoo priest’s attempt to seize power by horrific, supernatural means. During this ordeal, Allen endures an unholy cocktail of murder, conspiracy, and a nightmarish sequence where he’s buried alive. Don’t let the film’s literary background and its political musings fool you: at its heart, The Serpent and the Rainbow is one of Craven’s most terrifying and rousing films, full of gruesome effects realized with a sense of bombast and showmanship that makes it ideal Halloween season viewing. (Brett Gallman)

6. Alien Zone (1978)

    Our annual anthology trek takes us not to the elegant halls of Amicus and other similarly refined outfits, but rather to the dusty, shaggy corners of Stillwater Oklahoma, where Sharon Miller hatched this homespun omnibus. While you’d never mistake it for one of those more high-profile efforts, it certainly takes its cue from the mean-spirited pages of EC Comics, as it’s stuffed with an adulterous husband, a cruel teacher, a psychotic pervert, an arrogant office worker, and obsessive, rival detectives, all of whom meet with a grisly comeuppance. In fact, we meet most of them as corpses, as the frame story finds our unfaithful husband encountering a bizarre old mortician who’s eager to show off his latest cadavers.

    It’s a hook straight out of Tales from the Crypt, only it’s realized with that distinct, off-kilter vision of regional filmmaking, where filmmakers like Miller were able to operate without the safety net of decency and good taste. If the likes of Tales and Vault of Horror are the equivalent of the extravagant, professional haunted attractions, then Alien Zone (aka House of the Dead) is like those quaint, rickety homegrown affairs that pop up out in the middle of nowhere. You tread with cautious skepticism but eventually yield to its low-budget charms, taking the form here of cheap photography tricks, demented children, and a building inexplicably lined with deathtraps. (Brett Gallman)

5. The Funhouse (1981)

    In my mind, Halloween is synonymous with carnivals and roadside haunts that appear from the haze of late-summer and thrive in the mists of early fall. As a kid, this was one of the few traditional Halloween experiences I could claim, and there was always something slightly spooky and unsettling about them, especially in retrospect: visiting these places and enjoying their sketchy food and ramshackle attractions was an act of sheer faith because who really knew where these haunts would come and go? There’s an inherent, almost subconscious fear lurking within these fairgrounds: “what if something goes wrong?” Enter Tobe Hooper with perhaps the definitive answer of on the subject with The Funhouse, a curious—if not overlooked—effort falling between twin masterpieces The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist. Its clever hook is the stuff urban legends are made of: “did you hear the one about how a group of kids got trapped in the funhouse overnight with a maniac?”

    Arriving at the forefront of the American slasher boom, The Funhouse does eventually indulge those splattery thrills that would define the decade; however, what’s more striking is how restrained and atmospheric it is. Hooper grounds it in a more classical era with early references to Universal’s Frankenstein and Psycho, then proceeds to make it a moonlit companion to his own Chain Saw Massacre: a tale of doomed youth who happen upon the wrong place at the wrong time. Along the way, the film serves as a surrogate trip through these thrilling fairgrounds, as Hooper lingers on the group’s carefree night—the bad food, the carnival games, the unsettlingly weird freakshow, the lo-fi but irresistibly charming dark ride—before sending them through the meat-grinder. Honestly, this one never quite grabbed me until a recent viewing, when its demented, warped Americana vibes won me over in a way they hadn’t before: The Funhouse is essentially those seemingly harmless thrills and chills of autumn twisted into a nightmare—albeit one that still lands just on the right side of harmless, 80s horror fun, thus keeping it ideal for a Halloween marathon. (Brett Gallman)

4. And Now the Screaming Starts (1973)

    Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t actually pay some kind of visit to Amicus. No October is truly complete without the familiar faces that often appeared in these gothic chillers, many of which were readymade for this time of the year. And Now the Screaming Starts is certainly no exception, sporting the likes of genre stalwarts Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, and Patrick Magee. While it eschews the studio’s famous omnibus format, it’s a mean-spirited bodice-ripper that transports the audience to Fengriffen, an 18th-century English estate that becomes a house of horrors for a couple of newlyweds. Poor Catherine (Stephanie Beacham, sporting an incredible, blood-curdling scream) endures the worst of it, as a lucid, disturbing dream of being raped by a monstrous spirit haunts her wedding night.

    As the days roll on, it becomes obvious that it was no dream after all, as Fengriffen’s lurid history has roared back to life to make its inhabitants’ lives a living hell. One by one, servants and doctors die, either from freak accidents or by the blade of an unseen axe-murderer. A severed hand impossibly lurks the grounds, while a mysterious woodsman (Geoffrey Whitehead) prowls about, hoarding the secrets of Fengriffen’s sordid past. An unexpectedly scummy flashback provides the key, at which point the film abandons any sense of period-era tact and refinement. Indeed, And Now the Screaming Starts is arguably the meanest, downright nastiest Amicus effort and remains demented to the final frame. (Brett Gallman)

3. Demon Wind (1990)

    Your marathon is slipping into the late hours of the night, or perhaps the early morning. Your sugar rush has worn off, putting you in need of a jolt that mere candy corn or chocolate simply can’t provide. What you need is a total brain-smasher that will force your eyes to widen at the sheer, unhinged lunacy on display. Your eyes will need to scan to the rarefied air of your collection (or streaming platforms), that space reserved for the truly absurd, out-of-body experiences that only be produced by people with no regard for usual sensibilities. Residing there is Demon Wind, a completely bonkers production bearing a 1990 release date but a thoroughly 1980s mentality. Perhaps best described as “The Evil Dead reimagined by brain-damaged, paint-huffing aliens,” it features a group of friends scoping out an old, abandoned family farm that’s been cursed for decades.

    It’s comically overstuffed, as characters continue to join the bunch, each a little sillier than the last, and each new arrival is delightful because you know they’re just walking mincemeat being led to the slaughter. Most importantly, that slaughter is never dull, as Demon Wind will inspire your most eclectic rundown of marathon totals: demonic zombie hordes, karate, a wannabe magician, actual magic daggers, oozing bodies, homicidal grandparents, the most ethereal vapor a fog machine can provide, and one soul-snatching sequence that must be seen to be believed. In fact, just assume that’s true for the entirety of Demon Wind, a film that once arrived in video stores bearing a lenticular cover, and, unlike so many of its VHS-era counterparts, absolutely lived up to it—and then some. (Brett Gallman)

2. Ghostwatch (1992)

    Many of Ghostwatch’s techniques—particularly its faux-documentary approach—might seem overly familiar now, in the wake of an entire spree of found footage movies. However, in 1992, this Halloween night BBC broadcast was positively astounding, so much so that it caused an honest-to-god furor amongst terrified viewers convinced of its authenticity. Over 25 years later, it’s still easy to how it might have incited a panic, as Ghostwatch is utterly committed to being the genuine article: for all intents and purposes, it looks and feels like an actual Halloween night broadcast, complete with bad news anchor jokes and dead air. That latter point is crucial: for the first 30 minutes or so, the tale—which involves a news crew investigating reports of a haunted house in Northolt—simmers in the background, as everyone involved (the news crew, the special guests, the afflicted family) waits for the cameras to capture some kind of evidence.

    It’s a daring move, one that asks viewers to invest and suggestion and possibilities as we hear firsthand accounts of the haunting, plus nebulous video evidence where shadows are mistaken as specters. Equally frustrating and crucial, this approach disarms the audience, allowing them to settle into this unconventional but wholly convincing tale. Eventually, the lore of “Pipes”—the malicious entity haunting the home—becomes to alluring to resist, and the filmmakers reach into a bag of usual ghost story tricks to create an utter freak-out: disembodied voices, moving objects, fleeting, subtle glimpses, and unnerving possessions. Ghostwatch is one of the season’s greatest tricks and treats all at once and deserves rightful praise for anticipating an entire mode of horror filmmaking. (Brett Gallman)

1. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

    If our marathon is to begin with a sun-splashed, daytime slasher, then it can only end here, with the ultimate midnight movie. 50 years has done nothing to dilute its power: if anything, it’s even more unsettling now than ever before, as the turmoil that inspired George Romero’s nihilistic shocker has only grown during that time period. Night of the Living Dead endures as a bleak, uncompromising indictment of human nature, making it a sharp, timeless allegory of mankind's self-destruction. Beyond that, though, it’s also just a damn scary piece of work, one where the bright daylight of a lazy Sunday afternoon soon fades into the desolate, unfeeling void of night. Ghouls roam free, reminding the film’s characters—and its audience—of the unrelenting march of time and death: sooner or later, your time is up. Morning may come, but the darkness lingers. Thanks to a copyright snafu, Night of the Living Dead has been immortalized as the go-to midnight movie, most notably in Halloween II, where it drones on amidst a lethargic suburban landscape whose Halloween night festivities have faded into a bleak, cold November morning. Who are we to argue against its placement as the final, ominous grace note for an All Hallows Eve marathon? (Brett Gallman)


Previous Halloween lists: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017


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