Top 13: Halloween Picks 2020

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2020-10-12 15:41
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This year marks the 13th annual Halloween list, so it only makes sense that this list goes to 13 for a true, all-day dusk to dawn marathon...if you dare!

13. Full Eclipse (1993)
    Before there was Wolfcop or Dog Soldiers, there was Full Eclipse. This Anthony Hickox ass-whipper lets your marathon hit the ground running with rad effects and badass action as Mario Van Peebles uncovers a shadowy conspiracy within his own police force. Led by an enigmatic officer (Bruce Payne), an elite task force harnesses the powers of lycanthropy to topple criminalsóbut it might come at the cost of their bodies and souls. Basically Lost Boys but with crooked wolf cops instead of bloodsucking punks, Full Eclipse is 90s action movie bliss (read: lots of explosions and one-liners) cast in the glow of a full moon.

12. Destroy All Monsters (1969)
    Monsters will feature heavily on this yearís list, and what better way to celebrate them than with this kaiju-sized monster mash. Released in the epoch of the Showa era, Destroy All Monsters unleashes Tohoís colorful stable on an unsuspecting globe when theyíre manipulated by the Kilaaks, an extraterrestrial species capable of mind-control. A monster rally unlike any other, Destroy All Monsters lets Ishiro Honda smash all of Godzillaís friends and foes together inside a candy-colored sandbox, effectively distilling this franchise down to its very essence: this is the Godzilla entry to turn to for pure special effects mayhem. Cities crumble in the wake of each monster as mankind desperately attempts to thwart the Kilaaks, giving Destroy All Monsters the feel of a grandiose, breathless comic book crossover event that climaxes with an incredible battle royal.

11. Weird Woman (1944)
    The second film in the Inner Sanctum series, Weird Woman brings the first bout of witchcraft and mysticism to this yearís marathon. When professor Norman Reed (Lon Chaney Jr.) marries a woman (Anne Gwynne) he encounters among an indigenous tribe in the South Seas, his colleagues and cohorts are a bit bewildered. Jilted lover Ilona (Evelyn Akers) is downright suspicious of the woman, going so far as to implicate her witchy ways have something to do with Normanís newfound success. But it turns out that Ilona might be the true weird woman here, as she orchestrates a fiendish plot that can only be undone with the threat of an actual curse. Weird Womanís playful climax weaves a noirish conspiracy through a bewitching plot to give Ilona some well-deserved comeuppance with 13 days of agony and anguish.

10. Viy (1967)
    Speaking of weird women, they donít come much stranger than the sorceress in Viy, an offbeat Russian tale that doubles down on witchcraft and trickery. When knucklehead seminary student Khoma (Leonid Kuravlyov) crosses paths with an eccentric old woman during vacation, he unwittingly touches off a chain of events that ends with him under her spell. When he assaults her and leaves her for dead, he assumes their entanglement is over until heís summoned back to her hometown, where she has requested she preside over her body during her final few days. The tables turn as the witch subjects Khoma to a slow drip of suggestive torture: he begins to suspect something is amiss when he experiences strange (but subtle) sights and sounds. Eventually, these swell into a crescendo of madness when the witch conjures ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and other spirits from the beyond to exact her final revenge on Khoma. Whether it unfolds during the witching hour or not, Viyís climax makes for a spellbinding Halloween night display, as directors Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov helm an entrancing adaptation of this folktale. Whimsical and spooky in equal measure, Viy delivers plenty of tricks and treats.

9. Noroi: The Curse (2004)
    Our marathon takes a decidedly somber and unnerving turn with Noroi, the deeply disturbing tale of a documentary filmmakerís (Jin Muraki) investigation a string of supernatural events connected by an alleged curse. His art begins to imitate life when his own production becomes haunted by his discovery of the demonic forces plaguing his subjects. A masterclass in found footage filmmaking, Noroi is a collection of loose ends, dangling threads, cold leads, and phantasmal suggestions that leave the audience with more questions than answers. One mystery dovetails into another as viewers descend through layers of investigation, only to arrive at the only constant, unsettling truth of Noroi: some mysteries canít be solved. The only certainty is that at least five images from this film will haunt your psyche forever.

8. Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959)
    After the brooding, disturbing horrors of Noroi, itís time to hang loose and party, and nobody knew how to party quite like the teenage gangs at American International Pictures. While Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicelloís crew would popularize the teen movie genre with Beach Party in 1963, this precursor reveals that AIP already had the blueprint more or less intact a few years earlier. Clocking in at a brisk 65 minutes, Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow is a hangout movie in every sense of the word, as its plot essentially boils down to a group of drag racing buddies holding a Halloween party in a deserted mansion that may or may not be haunted. AIPís later teen productions often paid homage to the studioís horror fare, featuring appearances from the likes of Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, and Peter Lorre. Dragstrip Hollow goes all-in, though: not only does it also boast a cameo from a B-movie star, but most of the film is one big Halloween bash. Featuring chintzy decorations and ghoulish costumes, itís full of vintage, light-hearted holiday frights. And letís face it: this is the closest any of us should come to attending a Halloween party in 2020.

7. Dr. Terrorís House of Horrors (1965)
    After spending the last couple of years off the beaten path in search of oddball anthology efforts, we come back home to Amicus, the undisputed masters of the format. They came roaring out of the gate with this maiden voyage, which effectively set the template for the omnibus successes to come. In the frame story, a quintet of damned train passengers share a coach with Dr. Schreck (Peter Cushing), a fortune teller whose tarot cards foretell doom for each of them. His ominous readings of the future form the filmís segments, revealing the grisly fate of his coachmates at the hands of supernatural forces, be it sentient plants, vodou, or fiendish revenge plots hatched from beyond the grave. Featuring a veritable hall of fame of performers (Roy Castle, Alan Freeman, Michael Gough, Ursula Howells, Christopher Lee, Neil McColumn, Donald Sutherland), Dr. Terrorís House of Horrors is a delightful grab bag thatís delectable down to the last, grisly morsel. The centerpiece of this marathon, it ties your night together, as youíll feel echoes of the other films in its seductive vampires, wrathful curses, and howling wolves.

6. Franky and His Pals (1991)
    Keep the party on Dragstrip Hollow going with this SOV brain-scrambler hatched in the weird, rugged wilds of backyard, DIY filmmaking. Itís another monster mash, but itís also quite unlike any of the others on this listóor any list for that matter. Franky and His Pals is a singular fit of madness that finds our monsters trapped in a cave until Franky downs multiple cans of chili beans and unleashes a tremendous fart that frees himself and his fellow captives. Their first instinct is to hunt down the legendary hidden gold of nearby French Gulch, but our boys get distracted by a costume party at a local bar thatís being put on in celebration of...well, nothing, apparently, but weíre going to pretend itís a Halloween bonanza. Most of the film amounts to the monsters literally and figuratively farting around the bar, mingling with women and telling bad jokes. Calling the humor ďsophomoricĒ is charitable, and calling the filmmaking ďamateurĒ is probably being even more kind, but thereís no denying the audacious, ďwhat the hell are we even doing?Ē charm that can only come when a bunch of buddies decide to make a no-budget homage to classic monsters. An assortment of homemade tunes, easily-scared gravediggers, and a scientistís experiment with a time machine only add to the chaotic nonsense thatíll leave you wondering if this 90-minute stretch of Halloween night was just a candy-fueled fever dream.

5. The Black Cat (1989)
    If your marathon requires another injection of complete, otherworldly lunacy (and it absolutely does), the absolute best source for this sort of thing rests in Italian horror. Specifically, you need to go to the eraís dying days, which I know sounds suspect, but hear me out. This was the point where the industry had given out of whatever fucks it had left to give and started to unleash pure nonsense. Itís how we ended up with The Black Cat, aka Demons 6, a movie that has nothing to do with Edgar Allan Poe or the Demons franchise. Instead, itís actually Luigi Cozziís unofficial follow-up to Dario Argentoís Three Mothers duo. At this point, Argento was still nearly 20 years away from making The Mother of Tears, so Cozzi took it upon himself to deliver the trilogy ďfinale.Ē Itís not as shameless as it sounds, either, as the characters themselves are producing a movie about the Mother of Tears and namedrop Argento and Suspiria in the process. Audiences even get a little history lesson from the filmmakers and an occultist, who explain Argento himself took inspiration from Suspiria de Profundis, a tome full of witchcraft and devilry that they can exploit. And, boy, does Cozzi prove them right by going completely wild with The Black Cat, the tale of the resurrected witch Levana, who isnít content to just have her name invoked for a movie. She sets out to make reality imitate art, conjuring a legion of nonsense with her, including but not limited to a phantom child and a haunted refrigerator. Cozzi explodes bodies and expands narrative consciousness, bending space and time in a gore-soaked laser-light spectacular. Maybe it doesnít make sense, but it doesnít have to at this hour, when your marathon just needs a complete skull-basher.

4. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
    Another round of cinematic trick or treating awaits in The Autopsy of Jane Doe, a clever puzzle box freakout thatís more playful than its premise suggests. When authorities uncover an impossibly preserved corpse at a gruesome crime scene, they promptly send it over to the town coroner and his son (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch). As the autopsy unfolds, each new discovery is more inexplicable than the last: even though the elder Tilden insists itís not their job to determine the context of even the most mysterious deaths, the two canít help but speculate how this cadaver and even exist in its current state. The answer to that mystery unfolds rather delightfully: yes, this is a movie that hinges on a couple of coroners essentially dissecting a young womanís body, but itís a fiendishly fun time, especially when Jane Doeís secrets are revealed, allowing her to conjure dark forces to torment her unsuspecting victims. This is one of the best horror movies of the previous decade, and, if you still havenít gotten around to it, thereís no better time than Halloween night.

3. Dark August (1976)
    Cast one final bewitching spell over the nightís festivities with this fit of backwoods black magic. Hailing from the regional haunts of 70s rural New England, Dark August lives up to its name: the sun seems to be perpetually setting over an increasingly somber scene, where guilt-riddled New York artist Sal Devito (J.J. Barry) grapples with a car accident that left a young girl dead. Now, the slain girlís father resorts to witchcraft to take his revenge. Devito initially scoffs at the notion until his own madness and paranoia drive him headlong into the occult in this gripping, autumnal freakout. Classic folk horror shaded by the slightest twinge of 70s Americana, Dark August is one of those perfect midnight movies, where youíre drifting in and out of consciousness as Halloween night creeps closer to the witching hour.

2. Assignment Terror (1970)
    Franky and his pals return one more time tonight in Paul Naschyís second (or third, depending on what you believe about Nights of the Wolfman) outing as the ill-fated Waldemar Daninsky. This time out, the cursed count is resurrected as part of a fiendish extraterrestrial plot when aliens descend on earth and decide to take it for themselves. Consulting the research of the infamous professor Frankenstein, the beings conjure up humanityís most feared creatures: a vampire, a mummy, Frankensteinís monster, and, eventually Daninskyís werewolf. Another one of Naschyís homages to the Universal classics, Assignment Terror might also be the closest the world ever came to Hammer Films staging their own monster rally movies. While the direction here lacks the elegance and restraint of those stalwart British productions, the film retains Hammerís garish grisliness. Naschy, too, often felt like a child smashing his childhood favorites together in a sandbox, and Assignment Terror endures as one of the most infectious efforts of pseudo fan-fiction.

1. Silver Bullet (1985)
    Halloween 2020 will unfold under the glow of the full moon for the first time since 1944, so itís fitting that we close the night with one last cycle of the werewolf. Dan Attiasís adaptation of Kingís novella is a killer monster movie, yes, but thereís also something appropriately valedictory about it. A sense of an ending hangs over it all: both Marty Coslawís (Corey Haim) childhood innocence and the sleepy, idyllic existence of Tarkerís Mills are shattered when a werewolf preys upon the town, claiming victims with each full moon. But more than that, Silver Bullet also feels like the end of the carefree stretch of the year that dawns with the end of a school year and stretches into the dog days of summer. Even this must come to an end, however, and Silver Bullet appropriately climaxes on All Hallowís Eve. Start this one late enough and you might find yourself in the same place as Marty, his sister (Megan Follows), and his uncle Red (Gary Busey): languidly snoozing in front of the TV as Halloween night slips away and winter begins to creep in like a frigid ferryman escorting us to the end of another year.


Previous Halloween lists: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019


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