Thursday, October 22, 2015

Spooky Movies for Halloween

It's that time of year where the days get shorter, the air gets cooler, and the world gets a little spookier. There is nothing better to watch at this time of year than a good scary movie! Here is a list of some great horror films to watch this Halloween season.

5. Trick 'R Treat

Trick 'R Treat is a Halloween anthology film that was released in 2007. Horror typically lends itself to anthology films, but there aren't many with the pedigree of Trick 'R Treat.

The film features four stories, all centered around Halloween and taking place on the same night. The intertwining thread is a character named Sam; a young trick-or-treater wearing orange pyjamas and a burlap sack over for a mask.

Trick 'R Treat is perfect to watch around Halloween, not only because it's set on Halloween night, but also because it features all the spooky stories that you think of around this time of year! There's jack-o-lanterns, tainted candy, urban legends, and monsters.

You can tell a lot of love and great talent went into making the film, which is unfortunate because it went through a development Hell taking two years to be released. As a result, it only saw a limited theatrical run before being released on DVD. The film has garnered a cult following, however, and as a result of great home video sales a sequel went into production in 2013. Hopefully this isn't the last we've seen of Trick 'R Treat and that creepy little costumed Sam!

4. Halloween III

Let's get the obligatory Halloween film out of the way!

The fact of the matter is that this is the time of year to watch Halloween films and there are several great entries that you can pick from that franchise to enjoy during the month of October. I've decided to switch things up a bit and feature the black sheep of the series, Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

Halloween III is a completely different tale from the other films in the franchise in that it doesn't feature the iconic slasher Michael Myers and there are no babysitters in sight! Instead we follow Dr. Dan Challis, portrayed by a mustachioed Tom Atkins, who is investigating a novelties company, famous for their signature Halloween masks.

If it sounds like a weird premise, you seriously don't know the half of it. Veering about as far away as possible from the themes and story of the first two films, John Carpenter (director of Halloween and Halloween II), Debra Hill, and Tommy Lee Wallace (long time collaborators of Carpenter's) went with a story that's about as Halloween-y as you can get! Halloween III blends a tale of witchcraft, science fiction, and Celtic religion.

About the only connection between this film and its two predecessors is the fact that it takes place during Halloween. Originally Carpenter, et al. wanted to make a series of films that would take place around Halloween, but would all have different stories. After the success of the first film the decision was made to make a direct sequel, sew that story up once and for all, and then move on. Halloween III was their attempt to take a new direction, however the film did not do well at the box office, pulling in the lowest gross of any Halloween film to date.

It is an absolutely crazy movie, but if you're looking for something interesting to watch this Halloween season, there's nothing like a movie featuring Druid robots, Stonehenge, and creepy Halloween masks! 

3. The Monster Squad

How could you have Halloween without Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein's Monster, The Wolfman, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon!? Well get this, 1987's The Monster Squad features all of these infamous characters in one film! Not only that, but this is a kid's adventure movie, not unlike The Goonies from 1985. There's just not enough of these movies!

The story follows a group of pre-teens and kids that have an after-school club known as The Monster Squad, where they get together and talk about their favourite monsters and horror movies.

Little do they know that their beloved creatures and tales are real! Count Dracula is anxiouisly waiting for the day when he can sacrifice a virgin and, with the help of a mystical amulet, take over the world. He was thwarted in his efforts 100 years previous by his arch nemesis, Van Helsing, but the famous vampire hunter was unsuccessful in destroying the amulet, so Dracula is back and the only ones that can stop him are the experts... The Monster Squad!

The special effects and monster makeup was handled by none other than Stan Winston, himself, and they looks awesome. They keep the classic look-and-feel you remember from the Universal horror films, but add a fresh and modern look, as well.

The Monster Squad was, sadly, a failure upon its release back in '87. I think it's because it straddled the line a little too much between a kid's movie and something for teenagers. Looking back at it, it definitely seems tame, but some people are just too stuffy!

You have some seriously funny moments and unforgettable dialogue. There are several characters in it that are very memorable, which I can't say about a lot of films I've seen. It's not only funny, but scary and at times even heartwarming. This movie has it all!

It's criminally underrated (a term I don't use often) and is on my Halloween watch list every year. It should be on yours, too!

2. Nosferatu

I would be remiss if I didn't suggest something classic in this list and since most people who know me would expect me to choose my favourite classic horror film, Frankenstein, I decided to switch it up and choose something even older: Nosferatu.

Nosferatu, originally titled Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens in its native German, is an expressionist film directed by FW Murnau in 1921, seeing its release in 1922. Murnau wanted to film an adaptation of Bram Stoker's infamous novel, Dracula, but could not obtain the rights. As a result, many of the terms and phrases of Stoker's novel were changed - vampire became Nosferatu, Count Dracula became Count Orlok - and the movie was made anyway, which didn't sit well with Stoker's widow.

Ultimately the Stoker family won in court and all copies of Nosferatu were ordered to be destroyed. By a little luck a few prints of Nosferatu managed to escape destruction and are now a part of the public domain.

The story is very much the same as that of Dracula, with only a few names changed; an old and reclusive Count in Transylvania is looking to buy real estate in the German town of Wisborg. Thomas Hutter is sent to meet the Count only to come face to face with Nosferatu! The "Bird of Death"! Count Orlok makes his way to Wisborg and the hunt is on to kill the evil Nosferatu.

As I mentioned previously, the film is expressionist, which in my opinion makes it creepy all on its own. To make things even scarier, Max Shreck portrays Orlok, who has got to be one of the scariest looking vampires ever seen in cinema.

Shreck's portrayal of Orlok became legendary in the film industry after Nosferatu was released, because of his own mysterious background and his incredible portrayal in the film. This rumour persisted for years and was the subject of the film Shadow of the Vampire, in which John Malkovich portrayed Max Schreck who was hired by Murnau to play Orlok because he was a real vampire.

The stark imagery, use of light, real Eastern European landscapes, coupled with Shreck's unprecedented portrayal of the Nosferatu make this film a very scary watch. The film is not only black and white but silent and when it was displayed at a theatre a musical track would be played live by a symphony. Most of the original music by Hans Erdmann has been lost, but many composers have created their own soundtracks to the film in its subsequent video releases. I'm not sure which soundtrack I've heard while watching the film, but I believe the release is called Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors (a translation of the film's original German title) and is composed by Hammer's James Bernard.

If you think an old black and white film can't be scary, I dare you to watch Nosferatu with the lights off this Halloween!

1. The Blair Witch Project

I think a lot of people overlook The Blair Witch Project as a great flick to watch at Halloween, but I watch it every year around this time. Not only is it actually set just before Halloween, but it involves a witch! I have watched this movie numerous times - as recently as last night - and I can honestly say that it still delivers the scares and the chills.

The film is infamous for being the mother of the Found Footage subgenre, but I think the thing that really makes it special is its experimental nature. The filmmakers, Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick, really put the actors in this film through their paces.

Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael Williams, although they were given direction by Sanchez and Myrick, were legitimately sent into the woods for several days, given very little to eat or drink, and were subjected to actual scare tactics during the night scenes. The film, in a lot of ways, was a real psychological experiment and I think that is what makes it makes it so compelling to this day.

The marketing for the film was ahead of its time, as well. The Internet was a burgeoning phenomenon in the late-90s and had taken hold in many homes in North America. The ad marketing for the film played it up as if it were a true story and the website was chock-full with information and documentation lending to the idea that the film was all real.

This was even coupled with a faux documentary, which aired on TV, that acted as a teaser for the film and gave some credence to the idea that it all really happened. I know I bought into the hype! I waited eagerly to get into a theatre and finally see the film, back in 1999.

If you're looking for a good scare this Halloween season, then give The Blair Witch Project a try. If you're outdoorsy, I guarantee the woods will never look the same!


orc145626 said...

pro. nothing else to see here

RyHo Magnifico said...

Like a big ol' bowl of gosoup.

cole d'arc said...

While I should hate The Blair Witch Project for starting the found footage horror movement, I don't, really. It's usually a pretty polarizing film for most people but I just find myself indifferent to it. I've never thought it was very effective in what it was trying to do but i guess it wasn't so bad either, especially when comparing it to later found footage horror offerings.
i LOVE Trick R Treat and it's kind of a crime that i don't actually own it - i may look for it this very week because i'm dying to watch it again, not having seen it in at least three Halloweens. As far as capturing the fun and the spirit of the holiday, nothing else really touches it except for It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, which is of course much shorter and not scary. But between the two I think you get everything Halloween should be.
Nosferatu is easily one of my favourite silent films, having only seen maybe fifteen or so and it's still one of the best vampire films ever made. I adore the 1979 Werner Herzog remake as well. Klaus Kinski is almost as good as Schreck in the title role.
Monster Squad is an undervalued classic, of course and I watch it every year.
Halloween III is a lot of fun to watch with friends but I don't feel it holds up too well if you're watching it alone. The plot isn't just weird, it's actually quite nonsensical and full of holes and the acting is cringeworthy. Still, because of its visual style and music it still has some pretty great atmosphere and feels very Carpenter-esque. It's a good addition to this list just because of how different it is and because it's mostly unknown outside the horror community.

RyHo Magnifico said...

I still don't quite get the whole Found Footage thing entirely. I think people looked at that as being the driving force behind The Blair Witch Project's success, but I still think it was the other attributes of the film-making that I mentioned in my post. Typical Hollywood missing the point.

Halloween III is growing on me. For years I just wrote it off as a not-so-good sequel. I still think it's crazy and you're right about the acting and writing, but I watch a lot of weird movies that have worse writing and acting and I'm enjoying Halloween III more and more.

Shane said...

I really enjoyed this list, and I think any of these are great recommendations for a Halloween viewing.

It's no secret that I love Monster Squad. I've watched it on the regular since I was young enough to find certain parts of the film actually scary. I even listed it as my number one favourite werewolf. God Bless you, Stan Winston! Now it makes for the perfect movie to watch with a group because of moments like Dracula grabbing a little girl by the face, hoisting her up to eye level, and calling her a bitch. What can I say? He really wants that amulet.

Trick R Treat is awesome, awesome, awesome. I haven't watched it for 5 years or more, so I'm way overdue to check it out again. It just perfectly captures the essence of Halloween, and is a hidden gem for anyone who cares about the horror genre and Halloween in general.

Blair Witch is an interesting top pick here. Despite the points you made here, I've never really associated it much with the Halloween season. The marketing campaign hooked me and my friends pretty well back in the day, and the experience of seeing it in the theatre was great. I remember distinctly thinking when the movie started that I couldn't believe I would be watching a whole film mostly from a first person perspective, with no score, in a grainy quality and a boxy aspect ratio. I paid full price to watch something that looks like a home movie? But the film delivered. It didn't have the typical group experience of jump scares and nervous laughter in the audience. Instead it was more like a unsettling and quiet focus. There was definite dread in the audience, especially in the final minutes of the film.

Anyway, the movie may have lost of lot of its effectiveness after repeat viewings, and I do blame it for lighting the fuse on found footage movies, I still think it's an iconic bit or horror cinema that any fan of the genre should check out. Great picks!

RyHo Magnifico said...

Yeah, like I said most people don't consider Blair Witch a Halloween movie, and other than the fact that it's set around Halloween, it really isn't. I think of Halloween when I think of the movie, though, and that's always when I watch it.

What's funny is my first viewing of Blair Witch at the theatre was awful. As Cole will recall, I had to sit in the "lower bowl" of the theatre and decided that Crispy M&Ms were a good treat idea. I got so sick to my stomach from the jerky camera motion that I ran to the bathroom to find that someone else was in the same boat and had puked all over the floor. It was a nightmare, haha.

To this day the thought of Crispy M&Ms makes me sick, but I managed to see Blair Witch again on video when it came out and I still enjoy it to this day.