Ah yes, Halloween...the holiest of holidays! The one time a year it's widely accepted to celebrate the dead. Sure, it kind of sucks that Halloween falls on a Monday this year, but I'm determined - as always - to dedicate the entire day to all things ghoulish, ghastly, and morbidly macabre. How do I plan to go about it? Will I be rolling houses and pilfering candy from Bieber costumed tykes? Not likely. Truth be told, I'm headed out of state this year. Yup, this Halloween I will be taking part in what sounds like the plot-line of a bad horror film. That's right, I'm headed to my parents isolated abode in Oregon...watching over the place by my lonesome for two weeks. Coincidentally, Halloween falls in the dead of my trip. So how to I plan to combat the solitude and potential chill factor? Go back to the well and pop in some of my all time favorite horror films, that's how! Some need the comfort others to feel safe...not me. All need is this following lineup of horror doozies to get me by. Trick or treat motherf*ckers!
WARNING: MINOR TO MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW!
#10. SCREAM 4 (Wes Craven)
While I'm certainly dedicating my Halloween marathon to the movies I grew up watching, I think Wes Craven's guilty-pleasure curio SCREAM 4 will make a nice change of pace this year. Not only do I need some kind of Craven fix before the night is through, I'm a sucker for slasher-whodunits, and more importantly, I've yet to see just how well Wes handled his return to Woodsboro. I know the film has been qualitatively filed somewhere between parts 1 and 2 (definitely better than 3), but at the same time, I'm not expecting anything near as masterful as say the opening Drew Barrymore sequence. Basically, I know what I'm getting into, an expectation that has been cited as both a strength and weakness of the film as a whole. But really, with old favorites at the ready, I'm at some point going to pine for something I haven't seen before. Question is, will SCREAM 4 be as fresh a watch as I may need? Will let you know!
#9. THE LOST BOYS (Joel Schumacher)
With a profusion of blood-spill and bodies piling up to the ceiling, chances are I'm going to need a little horror levity as a much needed sensory respite. The anecdote? Joel Shcuhmacher's timeless teen vampire flick THE LOST BOYS. I f*ckin' grew up on this flick, and like most of you I'm sure, can recite it almost verbatim. Besides, I need to get my vampire fix on somehow...an even though Kiefer and his boys aren't the most intimidating bloodsuckers, compared to the newfangled TWILIGHT vampire - with all its emo alabaster glitterati - my dudes Michael and David look pretty damn hard! And as much as I dug on the Frog brothers as a kid, what I've come to realize with each pass year I watch the film, is that without the terrific support from Diane Wiest (mom), Ed Herman (Max) and Bernard Hughes (Grandpa)...the more outlandish, fantastical elements of the film would ring pretty damn hollow. A bit of trivia...my sister's father-in-law was a location scout for THE LOST BOYS, and without his involvement, the iconic Santa Cruz boardwalk (where I went to school by the way) would likely not be seen in the film. Props again to you, Hew!
#8. DONNIE DARKO (Richard Kelly)
Though Richard Kelly's subsequent films all but prove his 2001 debut, DONNIE DARKO, was an oddly mystical fluke of sorts...I still love the spooky tone and tenor of the films Reagan-era epoch. Along with yeoman second unit director turned DP Steven Poster, there's a strange brew of nostalgia for the past, and fear for the future, that underlies the entire film. It's like Kelly threw an angst-ridden high-school coming of age tale in a blender with an episode of "The Twilight Zone," seasoned with hints of Spielberg, sugared dashes of Lynch. Ambiguous ending aside, and the director's cut dismissed wholeheartedly (way to ruin a film, thereby trumping the profundity of the theatrical cut), DONNIE DARKO is a perfect film to watch on Halloween, as the entire film is set during the month of October. It even has a Halloween party denouement the night of, accompanied by an oh so sweet 80s soundtrack. Good performances from all around, particularly the youngsters (you ever spot a young Seth Rogen in the cast?)
#7. BLUE VELVET (David Lynch)
Not sure about you, but I can't really stomach the idea of Lynch-less Halloween. As the other films assault my senses with baleful bouts of butchery, I can't think of a better way to temper the onslaught than with a potent dose of the surreal. Yes, Lynch's 1986 masterwork BLUE VELVET is more straight forward than most of his work, but damn, Dennis Hopper still creeps me the f*ck out. Dude's swilling PBR like nobody's biz, huffing ether like Vince Wilfork does oxygen after a pick, weeping lustfully one minute, acting maniacally violent the next...dude's flat out frightening. And he's not a monster, a mutation, a masked-killer, a supernatural entity, any of those things. He's a mere man, a mortal...albeit a highly deranged and psychotic one. But that subtle connection to the real world, his inherent humanity, that really cuts to the bone in a way other horror villains simply cannot. Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how rad Dean Stockwell is singing Roy Orbison's "In Dreams"...I f*ckin' love that scene!
#6. RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (Dan O'Bannon)
BRAINS, BRAINS, BRAINS! For my zombie fill this Halloween I'm turning to not only one of my favorites of the subgenre, but one of my all time favorite movies period! I remember my friend Jared owning a copy, or at least stealing his dad's late night, and watching this shite at like 9 or 10 years old. It fast became a ritual whenever I'd sleepover. Obviously, the dark sense of humor permeated our senses (mine at least) in way that informs what I still find funny today. The half-zombie dog in the beginning of the film, for example...or how about Linnea Quigley's perversely twisted nightmare come true? My favorite though...the late scene where Miguel Nunez, replete with nasty 80s Jheri Curl mullet, in a hysterical tizzy, gets slapped across the grill by Don Calfa's character. It's a double forehand, backhander! On a more serious note, I'd contend RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is not only the best zom-com ever made, it's in the running for best all time horror-comedy. Great script, deft direction, highly durable F/X, believable acting...and all the brains you can eat!
#5. THE EXORCIST (William Friedkin)
Pea soup, anyone? Thus far in my ode to Halloween favorites, I've covered slashers, vampires, zombies, schizophrenics and deranged psychopaths. The inexcusably glaring absence? You got it, a demonically possessed little girl! The rectification? Bill Friendkin's Oscar winning 1973 magnum opus, THE EXORCIST. Here's a horror movie for grownups, one I'm not afraid admitting has grown more and more powerful with each year I grow older. As a kid, I gravitated toward the salacious and exploitative, but as the years have passed, I've come to appreciate all of the early setup exposition, an eerie shot here, a creepy line spoken there. No question, for me the movie just gets more profound with each successive viewing. Obviously, with Dick Smith hiring Rick Baker, the FX in the film are still first-rate. But seriously, it's the level of acting in the movie that elevates it far and above any contemporary or follower. Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb...these are some of the best to ever do it. I just feel lucky they embraced our beloved genre for a change!
#4. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (Jonathan Demme)
I really can't think of a better way to chomp down on a large candy-bowl than to do it watching one of the most genteel onscreen cannibals masticate human flesh. And that ladies and gents, is reason enough to kick it with my old pal Hannibal Lecter this Halloween. One of my all time favorite movies - in or out of genre - Jonathan Demmer's Oscar-sweeping powerhouse THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS still holds up twenty years later as a superlative piece of pop-art entertainment. From the script by Ted Tally, to the direction of Demme (the direct camera address of his characters), to the inimitably unmatched performances of Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster and Ted Levine...these facets all congeal to form an even more impressive and everlasting gestalt. Not only is the end result the first horror film to win Best Picture, it's still remains one of only three films in history to sweep the top five Oscar categories: Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor & Actress (the others are IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST).
#3. HALLOWEEN (John Carpenter)
Paint me predictable, but as I do with a Voorhees marathon every Friday the 13th, I must, repeat MUST, make a visit to Haddonfield to see my good friend Michael Meyers this Halloween. Can't blame me, can you? Besides, what's a horror marathon without the foundation of a Carpenter? Blasphemy! And even though I'm more of a Voorhees apologist (as far as characters go), I'd contend that, outside of maybe BLACK CHRISTMAS, HALLOWEEN has become, and still remains the all time preeminent slasher paradigm. Cheaply made, yes, but it's richly directed. Carpenter's more is less approach, his starkly memorable score for example, is one of the reasons the movie works so well. Of course, PJ Soles puffing herb and peeling panties off doesn't hurt either! We all know the now iconic Meyers mask being fashioned after a Bill Shatner/Captain Kirk facade, but over the years, I've found the scenes where we DON'T see Meyers, but simply feel his presence (him driving around for instance) just as unsettling as the ones we do.
#2. THE SHINING (Stanley Kubrick)
During this particular 2-week stretch, I highly doubt another film will take the art-imitating-life award away from Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING. A writer set to "overlook" an isolated abode in the country? Yeah, what could go wrong? Only difference here is, I won't be accompanied by a mousy wife and telepathic child. Nope, I'm busting a solo mission. Still, I plan to fight fire with fire by staring dead into the mirror. That's right, THE SHINING will act as a much needed fear-antidote, a spiritual vaccination of sorts. Hopefully, after watching it I don't morph into an axe-wielding hambone with a chronic drooling problem. Seriously though, I long for the days when A-list, Oscar caliber talent proudly undertook horror projects. THE SHINING, THE EXORCIST, ROSEMARY'S BABY, CARRIE...these were films made by some of the best directors in the biz, featuring the best actors. King and Kubrick are the absolute best at what they do, and though the latter ultimately denounced the final product, there's no denying the technological advancement Kubrick gave us in THE SHINING. The final shot still makes the goosebumps rise!
#1. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (Tobe Hooper)
Surprise surprise, the #1 slot goes to my all time favorite horror movie! For as long as I can remember, I've always been in the tank for Tobe Hooper's grittily foul, ultra-visceral 1974 masterpiece THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. What I love so much about this film is way the subject matter is directly paralleled by Hooper's direction. The scratchy, dirty, perversely claustrophobic visual aesthetic is essentially the exact same feeling we get emotionally while watching the film. This, in my opinion, is the true intention of filmmaking, as hard as it is to achieve...to aptly mirror the horrific scenario in the direction itself. Sounds simple, but takes an alignment of stars to fully realize. Narratively, by the third reel of the film, there's an emotional exhaustion you reach, and you're left with this sort of loopy hallucinatory effect you can't really escape. Eating supper with that f*cked family at the end, Grandpa sucking on Sally's bloody thumb like a newborn to a teat, Leatherface donning drag and makeup...the shite's alarming. The scuzzy verisimilitude, it never relents. Makes you wonder...are these really actors?