Tis’ the season to be scary! Break out your best carving knife, wrap yourself up in your favorite heated straightjacket, and warm up some tart cider. We’re about to settle in for a few evenings of the most essential and Halloween appropriate films the horror genre has to offer. I watch each and everyone of these in October WITHOUT EXCEPTION. No excuses, no bullshit…these are required viewing. I feel that they all offer something slightly different and satisfying. Most importantly, they take place on or around the holiday itself. They capture the spirit of Halloween and that fills my black heart with joy. Many of these won’t come as a surprise, but I hope my words will make you want to watch them regardless.
John Carpenter’s Halloween
Halloween is sacred. Halloween is hallowed ground. Halloween is perfect. This, my friends, is pure horror. I don’t care how many times I’ve seen it, or how many times it’s been imitated, or how often the franchise has been dragged through the mud. Halloween will always remain a damn near flawless experience.
Part of the allure is that I only view it once a year. When I do, the viewing is completely and utterly alone. I make sure the house is empty. No salty snacks are consumed. The entire house is dark and foreboding except the eerily lit TV room. I set the surround sound to dangerous levels. Halloween is practically a religious experience and my viewing feels like some kind of new-age, Pagan ritual. I relish the entire event. While watching the film, Michael Myers feels like a smothering presence that is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. He is like watching a force of nature at work. It’s truly frightening and when you let this movie take you along on its journey it works very effectively. It gets under my skin in all the right ways. Yet, its sleepy, autumn, atmosphere, and Halloween setting makes me relish that it’s finally Fall. When it’s over and the credits are rolling I feel completely satisfied. That, my dear readers, is the power of John Carpenter’s Halloween.
Night of the Demons
On the other hand, we have this silly, shitty movie about demonic possession! From the second its charming, animated opening credits, complete with totally rad synthesizer music, pop onscreen, you know that Night of the Demons is going to be a hell of a ride. It’s full on 1980s “B movie” trash and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The basic premise is that a small group of friends sneak into a Haunted House for a Halloween party and accidentally unleash a demon. That’s always a bitch when it happens. I lost a good friend back in ’93 to the exact same plot device. Seriously though, this movie is everything I love about FUN horror flicks. It has excellent special effects, inventive kills, a goofy/lovable cast of characters, TERRIBLE acting, and Angela. Angela is the goth chick who becomes the head demon in the film. She is just the best and one of the all time great horror villains.
You never quite know what to expect with Night of the Demons and director Kevin Tennney goes for broke with some inventive camera tricks. One moment it’s a wild party, and then it suddenly gets grotesque and uncomfortable. At times it feels like a trashy Evil Dead knock-off and I’m totally OK with that. Night of the Demons is my Halloween party film. It’s the opposite of John Carpenter’s Halloween in that I want to watch it drunk and with as many friends as possible. While I adore the first film, I’ll gladly watch any of the original three. Also, the remake isn’t completely terrible either. “Eat a bowl of fuck! I came here to party!!!”
Halloween III: Season of the Witch
If your primary complaint about this movie is that it doesn’t have anything to do with Michael Myers then you’re a moron. It’s been twenty something years and Mikey returned time and time again to sully his own franchise in ways worse than Halloween III EVER COULD. In fact, besides the original film, I’ll stake my claim that Halloween III is the only other film in the series worth a damn! The original premise, after the death of Myers in Part II, was to have a new movie come out each October with a totally original plot/idea based on the holiday itself. This would have absolutely ruled. Clearly, this movie’s box office failure and it’s subsequent angering of audiences meant that we didn’t get to have those nice things. If you can’t tell…I’m still fucking bitter. Alright, let me count to ten real quick and take a few deep breathes.
OK, I’m good now. Let me sing this movie’s praises by saying I LOVE HALLOWEEN III. First off, its plot totally goes for broke. It focuses on the actual holiday of Halloween like no other film ever has before, and its execution is cruel and unusual. Sure, not everything in its Halloween-season-laced mystery plays out perfectly, but I can let the film’s pacing and plot flaws slide. Besides, it’s got those amazing masks which perfectly represent the childlike innocence as well as overindulgent consumerism that (still) plagues the holiday. Then, it’s got the “Silver Shamrock” jingle which is completely annoying AND the best thing ever all rolled into one. Finally, you’ve got Tom Atkins being a complete badass. Oh, did I mention that this is John Carpenter’s magnum opus on the synthesizer? It’s easily his best soundtrack score. Even though Mr. Carpenter didn’t direct it, it FEELS like one of his films and that’s probably why I hold it in such high regard. Plus, I love the bleak, horrific ending. In some ways this movie represents ALL of my favorite things about Halloween. Open your mind folks. Open. Your. Goddamn. Minds.
Trick ‘r Treat
Alright, it’s confession time. The first time I sat through Trick ‘r Treat I didn’t really understand what the big fuss what all about. Trick ‘r Treat was being hyped as the best horror movie in years. The fact that Warner Bros kept delaying the film before finally condemning it to an unceremoniously DVD release only created more frothy anticipation. Yet, when I first finished watching it I sort of shrugged my shoulders. I spent $34.99 on the Blu Ray so a few weeks later I re-watched it. Then, it hit me.
What I missed the first time around was the subtle use of time and chronology that weaved the anthology stories together. It REALLY impressed me how the different tales were threaded together with a Swiss wristwatch level of proficiency. The whole premise of the film is that yes, Halloween is a fun time of year, but beyond its rampant commercialization hides something dark and augural. What Trick ‘r Treat completely represents is how one must treat the holiday with respect and follow its ancient traditions. Sure, we give out candy to children each year, but originally there was a hopeful purpose to this quaint offering. Trick ‘r Treat makes it clear that if you don’t adhere to the Holiday’s rules then you might just get a visit from Sam. This little guy, in his modest sack-like costume, is the Pumpkin Prince of Halloween. He is the judge, jury, and executioner of Halloween tradition and if you pay close attention he is always watching.
A big part of what made Trick ‘r Treat such a breath of fresh air was just how different it was at the time. Anthology films were all but dead, and horror had slid into a miasma of bleak grey filters without the slightest modicum of fun. The dreaded “torture porn” period was in full effect and many considered it one of the worst eras of horror. Then, like a traveling carnival stepping out from the fog with it’s bright lights, playful orange hues, and gleeful atmosphere, Trick ‘r Treat changed everything. Make no mistake, even if you don’t like this film it was incredibly important to the genre. It ushered in a return to practical effects, a sense of fun, excellent writing, the return of creatures/monsters, and great performances. Is Trick ‘r Treat perfect? No. Far from it. It has some dated musical queues, and at least one its stories is bound to land with a thud for some of you. Plus, I think it really takes a few viewings to completely appreciate. Still, it is a gorgeously shot movie…pure visual candy for Halloween Season lovers. It also takes you by surprise because it does the whole Tales from the Crypt thing and pulls the rug out from under the viewer with each story’s ending. I like that nothing about its execution as a film is traditional. I think horror films are in a much better place in 2017 and Trick ‘r Treat is a big part of that. So, I happily salute Sam each and every Halloween Season!
This pick isn’t for me. Hocus Pocus is my wife’s favorite Halloween movie. I feel that Halloween is really about experiencing the season with others. In that regard I try to be completely inclusive. As horror fans it’s paramount that we share the joy with as many people as we can. Especially those closest to us. My wife is a trooper and has sat through an ENDLESS PARADE of horror films. Shitty. Terrible. Horror films. The very least I can do to repay her is sit down and enjoy this fun, witchy, romp during October. Plus, I’ll admit that this one brings me back to my childhood and waves of nostalgia wash over me while we watch it. I think part of the reason it’s aged so well is that this came out prior to the big CGI boom of the 90s. This means that many of the special effects were still done using “movie magic” and practical effects. That always gets two big thumbs up from me. Plus, it’s hard not to savor the intense Halloween flavor that the film cooks up. Watching it transports me back to a time when trick or treating was all that I lived for and coming up with the creepiest costume was paramount to a successful October. Rather than listen to me try to explain its appeal, I’m handing the keyboard over to the one and only Mrs. Wolfman. She can elucidate its charm far better than I ever could!
Mike asked me to sit down and proofread this article, as is typical, and to my surprise, Hocus Pocus was listed as number 5. I thought to myself, “WTF? He must have some really stupid movie in store for me later and is going to use this as leverage.” He’s also obsessed with Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in this film so that might also have something to do with it. But he is right, it SO brings back waves of nostalgia and who doesn’t love the 90s? The movie takes place on Halloween night where Max, who is new to the neighborhood, has to take his annoying, little sister Dani out trick or treating. I was, and still am, that annoying little kid who loved hanging out with her older sister. Also, for me, it brings back memories of growing up in the best neighborhood with the best neighborhood kids. We made the most of Halloween Night even up into our early high school years. I mean, we even had a neighborhood graveyard with a “mausoleum” that occasionally would be entered upon a dare. I always secretly wished something similar to the plot of this film would happen to my friends and me.
Back to the plot…while trick or treating Max and Dani end up at Allison’s front door and in an attempt to impress her, Max suggests they go to the old Sanderson House that is now a museum. Max lights the black flame candle (which only a virgin can do) and resurrects the three witch sisters who attempt to continue their plan to take the souls from all of Salem’s children. This leads the three kids, along with Binx, a talking cat, on a wild chase throughout the town to prevent the sisters from succeeding before sunrise. Sidenote, I frickin’ loved Binx. One, because I always wished my cat, Patches, would just get up and start talking to me, and two, when you actually see Binx as a human, my 11 year old self thought he was pretty cute. Also, the whole black flame thing has been a running joke in my family since. I think every year we ask my cousin Eric if he can still light the candle. He’s never amused…But anyway, this Halloween, make sure you watch Hocus Pocus. It has Salem Massachusetts, witches, trick or treating, a talking black cat, a musical number, and some pretty cool costumes. What else do you need?
Perfectly stated! And yes…there is a stupid movie in store for you later. There is ALWAYS a stupid movie in your future!
Bonus – The Monster Squad
For me Halloween simply doesn’t begin until I pop in and watch the The Monster Squad. It’s one of my favorite films of all time and it’s aged like the finest of wines. It’s an 80s cult classic that sings out to my inner monster kid. If you took equal parts The Goonies and Universal Monster movies, the end result would be The Monster Squad. Josh and I talk about this one at length on the Podcast, so please give that a listen. I just wanted to add it to the list because it’s a movie that gets watched each year around this time.
Thanks for reading. What are your must watch films of Halloween? Let me know in the comments! Keep howling!