10. The Barn (2016)
We’re headed to the 80s a few times this year, and our list starts there, at least in the spiritual sense. The Barn is the latest retro-tinged throwback looking to recapture cheap VHS-era thrills with an abundance of gratuitous nostalgia, abundant splatter, and excessive rock and roll. Luckily, it doesn’t lean too hard on either of these and strikes the perfect balance you want from this sort of thing. If it weren’t for the almost subconscious uncanny valley effect that tells you that this was produced in 2016, you’d almost mistake it for some lost movie your local video store never got in stock back during the 80s and 90s. It echoes staples of that bygone era like Night of the Demons and Trick or Treat with a twisted tale of Halloween night revelry that goes horribly awry for a good of friends who decide to party at an abandoned barn before heading off to an All Hallows Eve concert in 1989. Little do they know this is the barn, the one the locals whispered about throughout their childhood. Legend has it that a trio of ghouls haunts the place, waiting for unsuspecting trick-or-treaters to unleash hell on earth. Even Halloween fanatics Sam and Josh (Michell Musolino & Will Stout) realize that it’s not so cool that this legend turns out to be true.
But for the audience? It’s very cool, especially if you’re craving a brain-smashing, gut-munching, and limb-hacking start to your Halloween marathon. What’s more, The Barn plunges you head-first right into the sights and sounds of the season with vintage decorations, awesome costumes, and even a Halloween night horror-thon hosted by Ari Lehman himself. Writer/director Justin Seaman actually hatched this idea back in 1993, when it was 10 years old, and it shows. I mean that in the best way possible: this movie bursts with the exuberance of a kid on a sugar high fueled by only the raddest, goriest movies in his video store’s horror section. Some stilted performances aside (which never bothered us too much with actual 80s splatter movies), The Barn is pitch-perfect with its gorgeously grainy faux-16mm photography and its spectacularly gruesome practical effects. Even better? There’s more where that came from, as Seaman is currently at work on The Barn II: Zombie Railroad. Prepare for repeat visits to The Barn every Halloween from now on.
The gothic horror resurgence that would sweep across Europe during the 60s hits the shores of France with Mill of the Stone Women, a movie that fits the very definition of macabre. What starts as an innocuous journey into a local tourist trap ends with twisted romance and hidden secrets lurking in plain sight. Writer Hans von Arnim (Pierre Brice) thinks he’ll have an easy go of researching a rural mill that doubles as a bizarre tourist attraction; however, he eventually learns that the carousel of stone female statues that has attracted crowds for decades is only one of the weird sights waiting within the walls of this mill. A tale of mad science, desperate and forbidden love, and the blood-stained mayhem inspired by both, Mill of the Stone Women is a close cousin to the sort of twisted, gothic tales that emerged across the continent over the course of the decade. This one more than earns its place during the Halloween season with a killer climax that features moonlight, fog, a creepy windmill, and an unsettling mannequin carousel that finally spills its gruesome secrets.
Our annual Halloween list has routinely paid tribute to the icons of the genre, and this year, I’m reserving a spot for Ami Dolenz. Maybe she isn’t the first name you conjure up when you think about the illustrious history of this genre, but just know that you could have your pick of any four movies she did from 1993 alone. Each of the films she did that year—including two very solid sequels in Pumpkinhead II and Witchboard 2—would be suitable for Halloween viewing; officially speaking, however, we’re going with Ticks for this year’s list. For one, it’s my favorite among this trio; for two, I think any Halloween marathon deserves a silly, super gory creature feature; for three, it doesn’t get much sillier than the director of Hellraiser II helming a movie where marijuana chemicals mutate ticks into overgrown, bloodthirsty killing machines that terrorize a bunch of troubled kids. Toss in Seth Green, Alfonso Ribeiro, and Clint Howard alongside Dolenz, plus outrageously gruesome splatter effects, and you have everything you need when you arrive at that moment when you just need to tune out to totally ridiculous carnage on Halloween night.
Let’s hop on over the Spain for this October’s customary dalliance with witchcraft. Hailing from Euro-shock master Amadno de Ossorio, Night of the Sorcerers (aka Night of the Witches in some territories) is a voodoo-tinged schlock-fest eager to meet your marathon’s quotient for gratuitous gore and nudity. The plot here is pretty thin: a group of explorers heads to Africa, only to stumble upon the bizarre superstitions of the natives, who insist a malicious spirit lurks in the jungle. Only a long-deceased group of sorcerers can appease the spirit’s bloodlust with ritual sacrifice, and our oblivious interlopers prove to be the perfect prey. Essentially an adjacent take-off of Ossorio’s own Blind Dead pictures, Night of the Sorcerers clearly doesn’t lack for sleaze and violence, not when its prologue subjects viewers to a group of sorcerers beheading a scantily-clad virginal missionary within the first few minutes. Lurking beneath the schlock and the chintzy soap opera drama that emerges between the characters, however, is a monster mash of vampiric zombies, undead warlocks, and a killer atmosphere. I will forever be a sucker for any film that features the rotting undead slowly emerging from the ground, especially when they’re soaked in the Ossorio’s otherworldly moonlight.
John Carpenter forever immortalized The Thing From Another World by prominently featuring it as part of Doctor Dementia’s all-night horror-thon. A bit less prominent was the second entry of this six-hour triple bill, Fred M. Wilcox’s Forbidden Planet, which is briefly glimpsed amid Michael Myers’s rampage through Haddonfield. However, it’s just as apt for a Halloween night marathon, especially if you’re looking for 50s monster movie mayhem. Because even though the film thrives on the decade’s signature paranoiac vibes, Forbidden Planet ultimately bursts with monster movie spectacle. Boasting lush, Cinemascope photography and a lavish production design, it’s the bold, garish widescreen counterpart to Christian Nyby’s moody little chiller. Make no mistake, though: this one also has the power to unnerve, particularly when the secret of the distant, desolate planet of Altair IV emerges to remind us of the horror lurking within us all. Bebe and Louis Barron’s relentlessly eerie, ahead-of-its time electronic score accentuates the action, perfectly capturing the je ne said quois sound of Halloween night in the process.
Just as we did last year, we’re straying far from the beaten path for this year’s anthology selection. The elegance and grace of Amicus are left firmly in the rearview mirror with Campfire Tales, a southern-fried omnibus that may feature the greatest “let’s just go out in the woods and shoot a movie” wraparound story ever: a trio of hick teens gather ‘round a fire with copies of Fango and Gorezone in hand, their awful mullets just flowing as they shoot the breeze. Little do they know, something lurks nearby, just ready to lumber out of the tree line in the form of a shaggy vagrant (Gunnar Hansen), who offers to tell the kids some stories in exchange for a place next to their cozy fire. That’s it—that’s the movie.
And, much like the stories your drunk relatives used to tell you growing up, there’s the sense that this old coot is just making shit up as he goes along, as he delivers a grisly quartet of stories mostly inspired by the objects scattered around the campfire. A stray blunt inspires a tale about a killer strain of weed that’s best described as “Jordy Verrill meets middle school AV club Cronenberg”; a glimmering coin prompts a story involving a psychotic pirate’s hellish ordeal on a zombie-infested island. In between, he also regales the boys with a pair of grisly urban legend murders: one’s a riff on the old yarn about a hook-handed killer terrorizing a couple on Halloween night, while the other is a bleak Yuletide tale where a son goes off the deep end and receives a visit from Sant—er—Satan Claus himself. Imagine Krampus, only it’s a rendition by the troupe that puts on your local haunted house.
As a kid, I always idealized those types of haunts without ever actually going to one, and I have to imagine Campfire Tales captures the essence; best of all, it makes for natural Halloween night viewing considering it takes you from All Hallows Eve to Christmas Eve, with a disheveled, wild-eyed Gunnar Hansen providing narration as only he can. Truly, there is nothing else in the world like Campfire Tales.
No filmmaker was ever quite as playful as William Castle, whose run of gimmick-themed horror movies is the stuff of huckster legend. The “King of the Gimmicks” didn’t just set out to make a film but rather an entire experience to play up an unsung aspect of this genre: fun. And while most of these films’ gimmicks are lost or diminished by home video, they still play like gangbusters on the small screen. Don’t believe me? Grab a pair of 3D glasses and pop in 13 Ghosts this October and simply marvel at the showmanship on display here. It’d be fair to say that the plot of this one is more of a rickety frame for one of Castle’s signature spook shows, but, to be even more fair, it’s one hell of a display. Appearing in bookending segments like a carnival barker peddling his cheap thrills, Castle sends viewers hurtling through a darkened funhouse, where macabre spirits leap off the screen in delightful fashion. Maybe this makes 13 Ghosts the cinematic equivalent of a rickety, roadside haunt, but if you’ve been paying attention to this list at all for the past decade, you know there’s always a place for that in my Halloween lineup.
You also know there’s always room for total fucking nonsense at my marathon table—especially when it comes in that distinct 80s flavor. Taking this esteemed slot this year is Hellgate, a weirdo American-South African effort that takes the stuff of indelible urban legends—“did you hear the one about the spirit of the girl murdered by a biker gang that haunts a nearby ghost town?”—and blends it with the familiar tale of college students taking an ill-advised trek to a cabin in the woods. Nevermind that you’ve heard this one a time or two, and definitely nevermind that lead actor Ron Palilo was pushing 40 years old at this point (look, he’s a really late-blooming grad student); instead, kindly bask in the utterly batshit insanity on display throughout the duration of Hellgate. Magical laser crystals, unhinged papas, talking turtles, zombies, ghosts, 50s bikers, over-the-top abuse of slow motion: this one has a little bit of everything, and I haven’t even mentioned the kooky, off-kilter vibe of the whole thing. Just trust me when I say this is your go-to this year if you’re looking to inject your marathon with a movie that threatens to break Joe Bob Brigg’s drive-in totals counter as it bludgeons your brain.
As your marathon reaches the midnight hour, what’s more appropriate than the ultimate midnight movie? The perfect, raucous party entry on any list, Rocky Horror bursts with monster movie exuberance from the jump, when Richard O’Brien croons a tribute to genre luminaries in “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” a killer tune that name-drops several films that have featured in our annual Halloween list. While this one isn’t exactly an anthology, it has that sort of grab bag feeling all the same, as the script barrels through various genre tropes with a demented glimmer in its eye and a song always in its heart. Master of ceremonies Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) is part mad scientist, part UHF TV horror host, and all manic energy as he anchors a ridiculous plot that escalates from old dark house hysterics to extraterrestrial nonsense. Something about the devil-may-care approach feels like Halloween night, when you bound from house-to-house and neighborhood-to-neighborhood in search of tricks and treats.
Eventually, your marathon must come to a sobering close once midnight lumbers towards the witching hour. Few films are better suited for this final slot than Halloween II, the bleak, sinister underbelly to Carpenter’s original classic. Just as its opening credits imply, this is the rotting core of the holiday, laid bare and exposed in all its macabre glory. Halloween itself is over, and all that’s left is the cold, unfeeling vacuum of a dwindling party scattering into the night. Michael Myers reign of terror continues as October dwindles away, its harmless tricks and treats replaced with razor blades in apples and a rabid mob looking to avenge one of its butchered tribe. This is no longer Halloween but Samhain: a cruel violent blood ritual heralding the onset of winter as November 1st encroaches, bringing your revelry to a close for another year.
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