Forget Christmas, tomorrow is the big one! And since it falls on a Saturday this year, Halloween can last all weekend! This means that you have all weekend to binge on horror movies, comics, games or whatever you fancy – however you fancy getting your fix. For me, it’ll be movies. I’ll be watching some old favourites, some newly acquired favourites, and hoping to find some new as-yet-unseen favourites.
I like whenever someone gives me a tipoff about a great movie I’ve never seen before, so I thought I’d attempt to return the favour via this list. Chances are you’ll have seen some or most of these – but the one you’ve missed out on… you’re welcome!
1 – Day of the Dead (1985)
Follow up to Dawn of the Dead (which was a follow up to Night of the Living Dead), this entry is the best in the series. The dead have pretty much killed off civilisation and the “heroes” this time are soldiers and scientists, locked away in an underground facility. With hope for a cure to the zombie problem fading and relationships at breaking point, the undead draw ever closer to the bunker… The visual effects are just the best, the horrific imagination of the make-up department operating in overdrive – you can’t help but love being grossed out by them. The whole thing descends into an aesthetically satisfying bloodbath in the last act. The standout characters are Rhodes (the megalomaniac military man) and Logan (the disturbed lead scientist). And of course, the zombies themselves. Bless.
2 – Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
A great movie for getting into Halloween. Set on the ghoulish night itself, Trick ‘r Treat revolves around the fate of several residents of “small town America”, the sort of place you’d reckon Michael Myers calls home. There’s plenty of familiar faces in it, including True Blood’s Anna Paquin and the awesome Brain Cox (not the TV brainiac). The film is lush with Halloween atmosphere and colourful characters ranging from werewolves to crazy psycho-killers. All the good stuff, y’know. What sets this apart from the others is the structure of the storytelling. Some tales are set up gradually, while others are going on, and the timeline isn’t linear – think Pulp Fiction and you’ll be closer. Best story is that of Laurie (Pacquin) as she settles on finding the right guy for her first time…
3 – Silver Bullet (1985)
Or Gary Busey meets the Werewolf. Two awesome things about this movie. Gary Busey is crazy Uncle Red and Corey Haim is in it as cute-as-a-button Marty Coslaw. The story is once more set in Small Town America, this time in a town at the mercy of a werewolf with locals getting offed every full moon. In time, the beast is injured by young Marty as he sets off fireworks while completely alone in the woods. At night. During a spate of werewolf attacks. FFS. Anyway, like Steven Seagal, the beast is now out for justice and makes Marty his number one priority. Marty then tries to convince Uncle Red that he’s being stalked by a werewolf – then the real fun begins.
4 – Creepshow (1982)
A popular title that had the strength to bear two sequels, this is more fun than fearful. Leslie Nielsen is in it for a start… Guided by an on-form Romero (who would eventually peak a few years later with Day of the Dead) and with a screenplay by Stephen King, how could this NOT hit the mark. The best story is Something to Tide You Over which features the aforementioned Nielsen and Ted Danson. Danson’s character (Harry Wentworth) has been poking away at Nielsen’s (Richard Vickers) wife. With the mantra “Danson Must Die” ringing over and over in his head, Leslie decides to kill the pair of them in an elaborate buried-up-to-the-neck, TV watching fashion. It plays out like an episode of Columbo until the newlydeads resurface to wreak their vengeance Romero style.
5 – The Lost Boys (1987)
So, the chances are that this is most people’s favourite vampire film (unless you have Robert Pattinson as your wallpaper). It’s just the tonic for the October blues; set in Sunny California, it’s got a pumping rock n roll soundtrack, a cranky grandpa, a video store, an atmospheric water-pistol showdown, two Coreys and a muscular saxophone player. And the coolest vampires known to pop culture. You know the score, go watch it.
6 – Paranormal Activity (2007)
One of the most unsettling and genuinely creepy horror movies theres been in a long time. Just when you thought “found footage” films were done for, along comes Micah and Katie and their bothersome demon and we have ourselves a new standard in terror. It’s the usual tale, boy meets girl. Boy moves into house with girl. Demon terrorises the pair of them. But Paranormal Activity works on a few levels; the cast – unknowns with real chemistry and appeal, the director – shot the entire movie for about £9000, the set pieces – the tension builds and builds and there’s often little in the way of visual effects. You’ll sleep with the lights on for a few nights afterwards…
7 – The Amityville Horror (1979)
There’s been a lot written and said about whether or not this film was based on fact; the arguments and “evidence” swung back and forth – but even that there is a debate about the origins of this movie is enough to give it currency. It all might well have happened, you can believe that for 90 minutes or so, right? Amityville is the template for all other “family stalked by demons in their own house” movies – even the more recent The Conjuring feels very much like this. Here we have The Lutz family, and as we’ve come to expect, the malevolent forces in the house manifest themselves slowly upon the family until all that’s left to do its to scarper in the middle of the night. You might argue that this isn’t anything new – but at the time it was, it made the wave the others rode.
8 – Cabin in the Woods (2012)
If you haven’t seen this film – beware, there are spoilers ahead, so you must make this the next horror movie you see! The buzz around this movie as it was released was that it was much more than the usual horror film. The choice of film title, demonstrates that the “cabin in the woods” is almost a sub-genre itself, and an acknowledgement from the film-makers that the audience will have many pre-conceptions of what they think they’re going to see. From the opening sequence, you know its going to be different and as you watch it, you realise that there’s a lot going on which will keep you guessing (a rare element these days). Why am I recommending it as a monster movie? The last quarter of the film just explodes with monsters. Any kind you can think of. A Halloween treat, see it again or see it for the first time.
9 – The Thing (1982)
Finally, an entry from John Carpetner. The Thing deals with an alien which assimilates any living form by replicating it at a genetic level, destroying the host as it does so (David Cronenberg would no doubt have found The Thing an interesting project). This is a licence for the film-makers to let their imaginations run wild with some insane effects and gore and with Rob Bottin and Stan Winston on board, rest assured you see some crazy shit (you can read a short piece I did about the VFX here). The action is set at a remote Antarctic outpost and amongst the gore there’s a decent “whodunnit” at play as the alien conceals itself within one (or more) of the crew and the paranoia builds.
10 – An American Werewolf in London (1982)
Regarded as a classic amongst fanboys and general horror fans, An American Werewolf in London is still one of the very best in horror films. Horror and humour are an effective combination and director John Landis combines the two very well. Opening with two American students travelling through rural England, the film gathers pace as soon as they arrive in East Proctor – a small village terrorised by a werewolf every full moon. Upon being told to leave the local pub, the students are both attacked; one dies and one is bitten, cursed to become a werewolf. The story expands as the cursed student recovers in a London hospital, time getting closer to his monstrous transformation (which BTW is still the best transformation scene to date). Great scares and visual effects that are a real spectacle – enjoy!