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Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween Films – Go To List For Chills and Thrills

First appeared on Blogcritics.

zombies Okay, it is the night before Halloween, and all through the house, many creatures are stirring, especially a living dead mouse. With apologies to Santa Claus, thus begins my favorite holiday of the year.

Besides all the scary costumes, the trick o’ treaters, and houses decorated better than 1313 Mockingbird Lane or the Bates Motel, many of us need to get into the spooky spirit by watching our favorite films for the holiday. 

Over the last 30 years I have managed to record (mostly on VCR) the films that are my go to ones for getting me into a ghastly frame of mind. While I have provided lists like these before, I find that I change my mind over time and add and subtract films along the way.

This is a very subjective list of my current horror favorites, and it wouldn’t feel like Halloween this year if I didn’t get a chance to view as many of these flicks as possible before the goblins, ghouls, and ghosts start their sinister shenanigans.  

10. Basket Case (1982)
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Starring: Kevin Van Heneteryck, Beverly Bonner, Robert Vogel 

A-Tisket, A-Tasket, I got my freak-a-zoid brother in a basket. Rather clueless country boy Duane comes to New York City with his surgically removed Siamese twin brother Belial wanting to get revenge on those who performed the operation (and inspiring laughter). Duane even describes his bro as a “squashed octopus.” While the acting and directing are sub-par, it is still the best worst film to get me in the mood for All Hallow’s Eve.

9. Halloween (1978)
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis

This definitive “slasher” film is one-of-a-kind (and much duplicated). Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis may be almost as frightening as killer Michael Myers (wearing signature white Halloween mask that looks something like William Shatner), and just as maniacal in his pursuit of the escaped patient who is determined on killing his sister Laurie (Curtis) and anyone and everyone who gets in his way. Curtis rightly earns her crown as Scream Queen in this one.

8. Halloween II (1981)
Director: Rick Rosenthal
Starring: Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis

This follow-up to the original stands the test of time, and eerie scenes in an almost deserted hospital up the ante. All the action takes place on the same night as the first film, as Michael continues his quest for blood and Loomis his desire to finish the job (after shooting Michael six times in the first film to no avail). Curtis cements her regal reputation here, and we’re rooting for her all the way.

7. Scream (1996)
Director: Wes Craven
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox

 Meant to be Craven’s homage to the genre Carpenter started, Scream is a tongue-in-cheek slasher film that establishes its own sub-species of blood and gore and laughs. Self-referential to the tenth degree, we get yet another signature mask that will endure in too many sequels and costume stores. The cold opening featuring Drew Barrymore as a doomed girl alone in the house is as scary as it is memorable.

MV5BNTg5NjkxMjUxNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzk1NDc2MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_ 6. Dracula (1931)
Director: Tod Browning
Starring Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler

When I first saw this film late at night on TV at 12 years old, I shivered me timbers. All these years later it still gives me goosebumps. Lugosi’s crazed eyes are enough to make your head spin, and the stark sets and eerie music all add to the mystique of the famous Count who admits to never drinking wine. Lugosi’s Dracula defines the film vampire – he gets to be the King of All Blood Suckers forevermore.

 5. Frankenstein (1931)
Director: James Whale
Starring: Colin Clive, Boris Karloff

Perhaps something was in the water in 1931, but whatever it was director James Whale no doubt imbibed. He creates a similar startling and frightening atmosphere in a different castle with a villain just as horrifying. Karloff’s monster sets the standard for screen creatures of the night, and Colin Clive has the right amount of madness as the less than good doctor whose drive for scientific discovery ends in disaster.

4. Young Frankenstein (1974)
Director: Mel Brooks
Starring: Gene Wilder,

Madeline Kahn Director Brooks provides his usual comedic gems while evoking the atmosphere of the original film. Wilder is simply brilliant as the mad young ancestor of the nutty old scientist, and an exceptional cast of characters brings zest to the proceedings (especially Peter Boyle as the creature who can tap dance like Fred Astaire). Can anyone say “Frau Blucher” without thinking about the frightened horses and laughing?

MV5BMjI1OTI1NDY0MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjU2NzcyMjE@._V1._CR9.883331298828125,8.533340454101562,378,482_SY317_CR17,0,214,317_AL_3. Carnival of Souls (1962)

Director: Herk Harvey
Starring: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist

This is a positively spooky tale made on a beer budget but with champagne results. Mary Henry (Hilligoss) is a church organist who survives a car accident that kills her friends. After moving to a new town, Mary is haunted by a specter (Harvey) and is increasingly drawn to an abandoned carnival ground. What others fail to achieve with huge studio backing and big stars, Harvey accomplishes with unknown actors and stark sets. You won’t forget this one!






2. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Director: George Romero
Starring: David Emge, Ken Foree

MV5BMjE1NzI5OTA1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjg1MDUyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_AL_Take the farmhouse of the original and make it a shopping mall, put all the blood and gore in living dead color, and up the ante with a much bigger budget for special effects, and you have Romero’s sequel to the original. There is something much less sinister in this film but no less devastating when characters we care about meet grisly deaths. The arrival of a biker gang that invades the mall is slam-bang ride toward a bloody but still much more hopeful ending than in the first film.

1. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Director: George Romero
Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea

“Definitive” is an overused word when it comes to film, but the word more than applies here. Romero works with an unknown cast and, like Harvey, a basement budget, but all the snaps, crackles, and pops on the soundtrack only lend to the authenticity of this tale of people trapped in a farmhouse as flesh eating ghouls surround them. A few flashes of humor notwithstanding (such as the police chief describing the zombies “They’re dead; they’re all messed up.), this is a gruesome, gritty, and relentless black and white film with an honest but brutal ending. If you can see only one of the films on the list, this is it!

While this is my list, I am certain you have different ones that would make up a top-ten Halloween flick list. I am looking forward to seeing your lists in the comments section if you are willing to share them.

Photo credits: IMDb, wikipedia

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