The Most Spookiest Time of the Year: My Picks for Halloween

Tomorrow is All Hallow’s Eve. All Saints Eve. Samhain. You know–Halloween, the time of year when youngsters take to the streets in costume and seek out to reap a huge candy windfall from neighbors participating in the spooky celebration of ghouls, ghosts, gremlins, and other such unsavory creatures of the night. For some, it’s an excuse to eat candy; for others, an excuse to party and drink all night long; for others still, as good a reason to get up to mischief and mayhem as any. And for people like me, this holiday is defined by sitting in front of the TV and watching horror movies of all kinds– hardcore to campy, scary to silly– with a group of friends.

But when the candy has been put out for the ravenous hordes of trick-or-treaters, and the jack-o-lanterns have been lit to ward off the various denizens of the dark that may otherwise haunt your doorstep, what do you watch? If you aren’t sure what films should find their way into rotation on your DVD player, here are a few recommendations to get you started:

Halloween— Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. This is one of the most iconic horror movies of all time, a terrifying look at raw and inexplicable evil as it emerges from where you least expect it to. Admittedly the film’s only real tie to the holiday is that the events of the movie unfold on the last day of October, but really what Halloween exemplifies is our fear of being stalked by the dark shape, the kind of faceless and indescribable terror that, ages ago, people believed could walk the earth on this particular day. Michael Myers is the blank, expressionless, and utterly evil embodiment of that fear made manifest; he should be a mainstay at any All Hallows screening party.

Trick ‘r Treat— You perhaps have read, in this very blog that you are reading now, about this little gem of a horror flick. My review isn’t even a month old, so I will try to rehash it as little as I can here, but whereas Halloween occurs on the holiday, Trick ‘r Treat lifts it up and gives proper love to it. This film is a pure celebration of Halloween and is chock-full of passion for the various traditions that have come to make up the holiday that we know and love today. It’s creepy, atmospheric, and more than a little mean, with some black humor thrown in for good measure. It hasn’t had time to prove itself, but one viewing should be all it takes for this film to become an instant holiday classic for Halloween lovers everywhere.

Night of the Demons— Here we have what I consider a film that falls comfortably in between the former two; on Halloween, a group of kids decide to throw a party at a local mortuary that was abandoned years ago after the family that owned it was slaughtered by the family patriarch. Always a good idea. What happens when you don’t pay proper respect to the myths and tall tales (or are they?) that inevitably get told on the scariest night of the year? Night of the Demons has the answers (the shorthand version– all of your friends are gruesomely slaughtered and then possessed by demons). A great example of the “kids go to [location] to party, kids get dead,” horror archetype, and a great entry in sleazy 80’s horror.

The Midnight Hour— So it’s Halloween, and you and your friends are itching to find something fun and exciting to do. But you’re tired of TP’ing your neighbors’ lawns, you’re too old to trick-or-treat, and you don’t have any booze money. What do you do? Obviously, you steal artifacts and outfits from your town’s local historic museum and unwittingly unleash a curse that sets the wandering dead loose upon the town, led by a vampire who just so happens to be your friend’s great-grandmother. Oops! Well, at least you’re not drinking underage. The Midnight Hour sounds kind of hokey, but what we have here is a really fun and energetic Halloween horror film, filled with creeps and chills and boasting a pretty great dance number (really). After all, you need some silliness to really fill out your Halloween experience, don’t you?

The Evil Dead series (Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness)– How could I complete this list without mentioning the series that yielded the first horror movie I ever watched? Granted, on the Horror Spectrum, Army of Darkness is the gloriously campy entry in the series; it gets more hardcore as you backtrack to Evil Dead 2 and then finally to Evil Dead. But these films have held a special place in my heart and my DVD collection, and while including them here may be somewhat obvious, the series from start to finish perfectly encapsulates what people should look for in their Halloween movie-watching experience, running the entire gamut of Halloween requirements on its own. Laughs? Check. Gore? Check check. Scares? You betcha. Bruce Campbell? Yeah baby.

Mad Monster Party— And now we come to the last entry in the list, a Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated gem and a smorgasbord of classic Hollywood monsters engaging in over-the-top hijinx and numerous musical numbers– so in short, don’t pick this one  up if your evening’s billing is in need of some real scares.  Doctor Frankenstein (voiced by the legendary Boris Karloff) decides that it’s time to retire, and he leaves his work and legacy in the hands of his bumbling and good-hearted nephew, and he makes his announcement at a party to which all the most noteworthy monsters have been invited– the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Invisible Man, the Wolfman, Dracula, the Mummy, and more. Of course, they’re not happy about the change in management, and as to be expected chaos and hilarity soon follows. This is a film of uninhibited zaniness and exuberance, and a real tribute to the greatest screen monsters of all time; if nothing else, it’s worth catching for the excellent stop-motion animation.

Take ’em or leave ’em, these are the kinds of films I’d want in my DVD player on Halloween, providing me with all the boos and chuckles that I need to make my holiday a great one. If you check any of them out, let me know what you think! Happy haunting folks– I’ll see you next month!

2 thoughts on “The Most Spookiest Time of the Year: My Picks for Halloween

  1. I haven’t seen it yet, but have heard that Trick ‘r Treat was quite good from other fans too. Why in the world did studio sat on it for years and then release it on direct to DVD?

    • Mostly, I think it probably has to do with the SAW franchise; those films have done gangbusters at the box office for the last half a decade, and most likely studio suits didn’t think that a horror film like TRICK ‘R TREAT could attract the numbers needed to topple SAW. Of course, with clever marketing, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY did just that, so I think this is just a matter of studios being far too timid to realize what a sure-thing they were sitting on.

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