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Halloween Movie Roundup!

October 31, 2009

trick-r-treat-1Happy Halloween everyone! As you probably know, this is the holiday when the barriers between the living and the dead are the most permeable, and supernatural creatures wander the earth. They’ll probably want to watch movies, so you’re gonna want to have some decent horror movies onhand. I mean, if you were a ghoul come over to this side of the veil, would you want to watch The Ugly Truth? I thought not. So here is a quick roundup of great scary movies to watch on Halloween. Many of these are movies that even scared me—and I have a protective layer of cynicism towards most horror films that keeps me insulated from their effects. Okay, so let’s get to it: Gunmonkey’s Best Movies for Halloween!

The Exorcist William Friedkin’s adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s bestselling novel unfolds fairly slowly at first (when watching it one Halloween with an ex-girlfriend, I was treated to repeated entreaties of “When’s the pea soup coming!”), but that makes the Satanic mayhem committed upon little Linda Blair all the more horrific. The film works as an enquiry into the nature of evil in the world and the viability of faith. But let’s face it: once Linda Blair crabwalks down the stairs at you, all you’re really thinking about is not freaking the hell out.

The Ring: Easy to forget amid the glut of American remakes of Asian-horror films is that the first one was actually very, very effective. Adapted from the Japanese film Ringu, The Ring tells the now-familiar story of the videotape which kills you after a week. It works a lot of Asian-horror tropes into its story—fear of technology, creepy little girl ghosts who walk in lock-step, the legacy of domestic violence being a catalyst for supernatural retribution—but surrounds it with such a prevailing sense of isolation and doom and the sense that they never seem rote.

The Thing John Carpenter’s remake of Howard Hawks’ classic is like a bad dream, which just keeps getting worse and worse. Carpenter exposes his isolated Antarctic research team to a seemingly endless stream of biological horrors visited upon the human body and an extra-terrestrial pathogen tears its way through their blood and tissue. The movie is shot through with a sense of fatalism in the knowledge that none of these men can ever return home.

Session 9 This little-seen hair-raiser puts to good use a tremendous set: the abandoned Danvers State Mental Institution.  A small crew of hazardous materials workers work against the clock to remove the asbestos from the place while slowly falling prey to the evil that whispers in the massive, empty corridors. Brilliantly interspersing rapid, disorienting moments of psychological horror with long, languid takes of the forbidding building and landscape, director Brad Anderson generates a mood of unbearable tension and never lets up.

Halloween: The original is still best. Much of the shock and novelty of a killer stalking nubile, young cuties has been lost as the “slasher” genre was done to death, buried, the reborn in hyper-violent fashion. Still, John Carpenter’s iconic horror film finds the horror in negative spaces and Rorschach blot that his iconic killer Michael Meyers. Best evidence of this is the crappy remake.

The Strangers—29 years later, Halloween has the sequel it deserves in a movie that’s just as simple and effective as Carpenter’s original . Director Bryan Bertino demonstrates that sheer horror can be wrung out of a trio of a trio of real creepy masks.

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The Last Winter—And ecological horror story, which employs many of the same atmospheric tricks as Carpenter’s The Thing, only to a very different end. As the isolated folk at an Antarctic research base begin to lose their shit, they see indications of an imminent environmental collapse and worse. Larry Fessenden makes his “go green” point without being obnoxious about it and even (nearly) manages to sell the prehistoric ghost caribou.

The Blair Witch Project—I was fortunate enough to see this when it was showing on only one screen in the U.S.—before the massive media overkill, and as a result it impact was never blunted by expectation. Seen without the promise of being the scariest movie in existence, it’s an effective, unsettling DIY project with a final scene that just gets more terrifying the more you think about it.

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Alien—Once more, it’s best to eschew everything that came in the past 30 years and just concentrate on the original. Ridley Scott lets the story unfold in leisurely fashion to hammer home the characters’ vulnerability and isolation, before having something burst out of John Hurt’s stomach. Three decades may have taken the abject horror out of that scene, but not the sheer cinematic chutzpah. The movie still stands up, and seems destined to until human civilization is overrun by the damn things.

The Shining—Is there anything scarier than those creepy twin girls? “Come play with us Danny…” Stanley Kubrick take a classic haunted house story and makes it his own. Stephen King hated it, naturally.

Trick ‘R Treat—An honorable mention goes to this DVD offering. A quartet of horror tales which unfold in an Anytown in Ohio, it weaves the stories of various characters punished for not giving Halloween its proper respect over the course of one Halloween night.  A mild-mannered school principal reveals himself to be a child-murdering psychopath. A nubile young virgin seeks a man to be her “first.” A group of teenagers confront the town’s dark secret. A grumpy old man is terrorized by something intent on showing him the true spirit of Halloween. All of this is connected by the appearance of “Sam,” a sack-masked child who blithely goes about enjoying his Halloween while spreading mayhem in his wake. It’s not all that scary or original, but writer/director Michael Dougherty has such affection for his material—and the holiday—that the movie can’t help but be fun.

So, that’s it for this round up. Enjoy your Halloween! Gorge yourself on candy and pumpkin pie for me (but don’t trust anyone giving out apples—they probably have razor blades in them). And if you run into any supernatural beasties…uh…well, I guess you’re just screwed.

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