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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Essential October Viewing

     So it may seem a bit early to you to be already thinking about Halloween.  Here's the way I see it.  Once August is over, summer is over to me.  September means fall, which means Halloween.  I love Halloween.  It is truly my favorite time of the year.  There is just something magical about October.  As much as I love summertime, I especially love those first gray, overcast days of autumn.  Bright orange, crimson, yellow, and purple color the trees.  There becomes a heaviness in the air, as if the temperature doesn't quite know to hurry and turn cold or try to stay warm.  A smell of dampness and mildew permeates, a smell of wet leaves.  The days grow shorter.  Pumpkins start appearing, along with witches, black cats, and ghosts.  Yes, Halloween is magical.     Luckily, growing up, we took Halloween and every other holiday of the year very seriously.  And I still do.
     Halloween also means scary movies.  Lots of them.  I've compiled a list of  the best Halloween viewing imaginable, in me humble opinion.  Many I grew up watching every year, and some I've recently discovered and added to my Shock-tober repertoire.  So these are my favorite movies to curl up on the sofa to on one of those drizzling, gray afternoons.

     1.  "Halloween"     The quintessential movie to watch on Halloween night.  John Carpenter's undying classic has never looked better, and I just can't imagine October without the lovely screams of Jamie Lee Curtis mixed with Carpenter's iconic score.  This is as good as it gets, and it's a movie that no matter how many times I've seen it, it never fails to fascinate me.  





     2.  "Halloween 2"     A perfect back-to-back double feature with the original.  Many dismiss this sequel, but I will always vehemently defend every minute of it.  I couldn't not love "Halloween 2" if I tried.  Many great, creepy moments abound, and the score almost rivals the original.  The fact that it's from 1981 only makes "Halloween 2" even that much cooler.  Oh and by the way, this is the last time we see Michael before his mask inexplicably changes.  The masks, and the movies, for that matter, suck after this.



3.  "Halloween 3: Season of the Witch"     The most underrated of all "Halloween" movies, the third installment is in my opinion the most creative of all the sequels.  Many fans dismiss "Season of the Witch" as a piece of shit, and while it's no Oscar-winner by any means, it's still a hoot to watch.  "Halloween 3" has a delicious "Twilight Zone/Tales From the Darkside" vibe going on, and I honestly love this movie.  While never really out and out scary, it still boasts some incredible Halloween atmosphere.  Hopefully we all know by now that the story of Michael Myers was never meant to go past part one.  If you don't know that, go to my review of  "Halloween 3: Season of the Witch" and it will all be explained to you.  A great B-movie.  





4.  "The Changeling"     Superb and utterly chilling ghost story with an appropriate fall setting- lots of windswept leaves and gray skies.  Awesome atmosphere.  This is a strangely underrated horror movie.  I find it to be one of the best of its time- actually, I would go on record to say "The Changeling" is one of the best ghost stories of all time.  How do ya like them apples?  I was absolutely petrified the first time I caught this shit on the late show, I can tell you that.   Needs to be seen NOW if you have not.  





5.  "Carrie"     Although great anytime of the year, it always seemed to be around October when I would stumble upon "Carrie" on TV.  Actually the first time I saw it was on the late show the night before Halloween, I guess around 1985 or so.  I personally found it horrifying- "Carrie" is a classic because the horror of it all reaches much deeper than just your average psychopath running around killing everybody.  By the time we reach that KICK-ASS ending, Carrie herself has been through so much, that the viewer is not only scared but emotionally exhausted.  I found myself truly disturbed.  This is one of the best movies to come out of the 1970's, horror or otherwise in my opinion.  "Carrie" hasn't lost one ounce of its power either.  Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie own their roles.  





     6.  "The Exorcist"     This also always seemed to be on TV around October, although I definitely wouldn't recommend watching an edited-for-television version of "The Exorcist".  No.  This movie must be seen in all its uncut and unflinching glory.  Still one of the most shocking and infamous movies of all time, "The Exorcist" is prime Halloween viewing.  Oozing with prime 70's magic.  Not to be a downer, but we will never again see the cinematic likes of the 70's and 80's in horror.  Face it.



     7.  "The House of the Devil"     Already considered a modern classic by myself, "The House of the Devil" is truly a one-of-a-kind horror movie.  Some found it boring.  Some say not much happens.  Others say it was overrated.  I say one word.  Brilliant.  I told myself I was NOT going to get excited about this, because I had been hearing rave things about this movie for a year or so prior to actually watching.  Yeah right.  I was literally hyperventillating by the time it arrived in one of those wonderful red envelopes sent from my nearest Netflix warehouse.  I mean, Dee Wallace-Stone and Mary Woronov alone would have been enough for me- but by 45 minutes into "The House of the Devil", I found myself on the edge of my seat, barely breathing- and loving every minute of it, as Loverboy would say.  It was a breath of fresh air, because it most definitely does NOT pander to the usual young, "Scream" audience.  "The House of the Devil" is a slow burn- and it requires the viewer to GASP! use their imaginations.  Truly shocking for a horror movie, right?  This is a perfect choice for Halloween.



8.  "Night of the Living Dead"     Almost as much as John Carpenter's "Halloween", it's hard to imagine Halloween night without "Night of the Living Dead" playing somewhere, which is usually pretty much everywhere.  I read somewhere that "Living Dead" is the most played horror movie of the season on television.  Something about the hoary, black-and-white film just perfectly lends itself to the time of the year.  This movie is as Halloween as black cats and pumpkins, and still packs a punch.  An undying (pardon the pun) cult classic, "Night of the Living Dead" will continue to shamble its way through many Octobers to come.



 9.  "The Omen"     This is horror supreme.  The 1976 shock classic is just as delicious and creepy now as when it first hit theaters back in the day.  "The Omen" is exactly how a scary movie should be made.  Rarely does everything fall together as perfect as they did with this movie.  The music, the ultimate nanny from hell, and one of the creepiest kids in horror history all make "The Omen" one of the greatest scary movies of all time.  It's an insult to even mention the tragic 2006 update in the same sentence as this masterpiece of cinematic terror.  The score rivals that of "Psycho", "JAWS", "Halloween", and "Friday the 13th" as some of the most iconic and instantly recognizable horror movie scores in history.





     10.  "The Strangers"     Once again I'm in the minority here, but I loved every moment of "The Strangers".  I loved that it didn't smack of modernicity... wait, is that a word?  Modernic... never mind.  You know what I mean, right?  It looks as if it could almost have been filmed in the 80's. Great mood too- the darkness, the graininess of the filmstock, and the sets all offer incredible atmosphere.  To me this was a definite throwback to late 70's/early 80's slashers, and I loved every minute of this underrated slasher.  This movie scared the shit out of the entire theater watching it, and it was even better watching it on DVD the second time.  





11.  "Salem's Lot: The Movie"     One of Stephen King's greatest novels vividly comes to life in Tobe Hooper's made-for-TV vampire fest.  These are vampires- they have no interest in love or lust, and they're certainly not pretty.  They only want to scare the holy crap out of you before they kill you.  "Salem's Lot" is perfect to pop in this time of the year because it's chock full of classic horror imagery.  A perfect mixture of terror and camp, but I would definitely recommend watching the full, unedited version.  There is a nasty two hour edit floating around that's not worth the time or effort.  Still some of the scariest vampires ever put on film.  





12.  "Hell Night"     Oh-so-campy, yet still a pretty decent little slasher from '81.  Linda Blair is definitely no Jamie Lee Curtis here, but who gives a rip.  "Hell Night" has that certain it, that certain vibe that makes it magical, and A-OK in my book.  I vividly remember the VHS box cover of this, sitting spookily on the shelf right after the "Halloween" movies in Totally Tape. (Yes, it really was called Totally Tape.  I swear.) This is classic slasher fare here- at this point plot and acting were hardly even needed.  Just a spooky setting with a spooky story and a spooky killer killing kids.  And it works.  This is one of the most fun scary movies I've ever seen, and proudly occupies a space in my revered Horror Hall of Fame.






     13.  "The Blair Witch Project"      Just the mere mention of the Blair Witch seems to send many people into a downright tizzy, which to this day leaves me scratching my head in puzzlement.  As I've said before, I've still never seen an audience react psychologically to a horror movie as that packed house did opening night for "The Blair Witch Project".  Girls were sliding down in their chairs whimpering, guys were sitting on their hands to keep from wringing them.  People were talking back to the screen and walking around... It was completely APESHIT.  I was amazed at what I was seeing.  It was doing exactly what a scary movie is supposed to do to a huge bunch of people.  Scare the shit out of them.  When we saw people walking out into the light crying afterwards, I knew we had just witnessed something special.  And everybody hates this movie!  I'll never understand that.  This is horror totally on a sub-conscious level-  a perfect tale to tell around a campfire.  Yet many folks just didn't seem to understand it- either they thought it was all real in the first place (I knew a year prior that it was not real) or they didn't understand the low-budget of it all. I've heard many people over the years say"The special effects sucked!  They didn't even show anything!"  That was exactly the point.   "Blair Witch" brilliantly tapped into our fears of the dark and of the unknown, and did it on a dime.  It didn't need big-name stars or budgets to create simple tension and fear.  That's why I love "The Blair Witch Project".





     14.  "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark"     Another gem of a TV-movie, "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" also plays with our fears of the dark, and does it so simple.  This is one of the best made-for-TV horror movies, if you ask me.  It's so good, in fact, that it's being remade with Katie Holmes.  Not sure exactly how I feel about all that, but I do know that this little TV chiller rivals a big-screen production for sheer chills and atmoshphere.  This is a big part of why I'm so obsessed with horror in general.  I simply grew up watching this stuff.  Chiller sometimes shows shit like this, so if you happen to stumble across this late one October night, pull that blanket up to your chin and snuggle down for a deliciously creepy funfest.





     15.  "Prom Night"     Spare me the typical "Prom Night sucks" rigamarole.  It's my blog and I say it's included.  Gotta problem with that, piss off.  It's one of my all-time favorites- even with all its flaws, and there are many, I adore this movie.  I really, really do.  It's campy, it's creepy, and it throws in that fantabulous disco dance-off scene with Jame Lee.  Sigh.... I love "Prom Night".  Far superior to the remake.  This is Jamie Lee in her legendary scream queen mode.  





     16.  "The Amityville Horror"     Yet another time-honored movie that has earned a yearly screening around Halloween,  "The Amityville Horror" is another great tale to be told late at night, while sitting around a lit  Jack-O-Lantern, with a crisp fall breeze blowing leaves against the windows...   I honestly believe the book is  better, only because the movie did leave out quite a bit of eerie details, and was sort of anti-climactic.  But don't get the wrong idea.  I'll take Margot Kidder any way I can get her, and let's be real here.  The movie version is a hell of a lot of fun.  Seriously.  Throw in a puking nun, black goo spewing up from the toilets, and those damn scary-ass red eyes in the window, and you my friend have yourself a 70's classic.   Plus you can't beat that haunting, child-like score by Lalo Schifrin.  





     17.  "Amityville II: The Possession"     Another underrated scary movie, "Amityville II" is actually a pretty nifty little "Exorcist" rip-off.  There are some genuinely unnerving scenes in this installment, and it's really the last good one, although I'm quite fond of "Amityville 3-D", as horrible as it is.  The wonderfully bad Rutanya Alda is always a treat for those of us who loves some good old-fashioned overacting, and this installment throws in an extra dose of kink to liven things up.  Loosely based on the actual DeFeo murder case, it's a good, solid prequel, I think.  Anyway, it was a time-honored tradition growing up in my house to have an "Amityville" double feature in the fall.  A rollicking good time.  





     18.  "Phantasm"     As weird as this movie is, "Phantasm" still has some great, eerie moments.  I've never been a huge "Phantasm" fan, but I've been known to have quite a bit of fun with the original installment.  Piss on the rest.  The Tall Man is a great horror character, and that mortuary is downright creepy.  Love it or hate it, "Phantasm" has become a Halloween staple, and you should have no problem finding it airing somewhere around that time of the year.  








     19.  "The Haunting"     I dare you to stay up late alone one windy, October night and watch "The Haunting".  Then tell me that you didn't come down with at least a slight case of the creeps.  This is a supreme ghost story- a great movie made from a great book.  Shirley Jackson's Hill House gets under our skin- it's truly frightening.  I sincerely feel sorry for those of you who don't have the capability to enjoy an older movie- this is one of the best and far surpasses most horror movies released today.  You can bet I'll be giving it a whirl the week of Halloween this year.





     20.  "The Fog"     If the combination of John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Janet Leigh, Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Nancy Loomis, and Hal Holbrook aren't enough to warrant a viewing of "The Fog", then how about a true, old school ghost story told the way they used to tell them?  How about a sumptously sinister score that rivals that of "Halloween"?  How about some spectacular camerawork and editing?  I could go on for days about the merits of "The Fog", but honestly I think it's just more fun to pop it in and discover a magical movie that could never be redone properly.  It doesn't need to be.  Sadly, this type of movie is long gone.  They definitely don't make these like they used to.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Innocents

  
     Deborah Kerr plays Miss Giddens, who takes a job at a huge English country estate as governess to two young children.  Miss Giddens soon begins having strange experiences at the estate.  She hears whispers.  She begins to see strange people.  Even better, something sinister seems to be going on with the children- they seem to harbor some deep, dark secret- sly glances, conspiratorial grins- you can't beat a good old creepy kid in a horror movie, and "The Innocents" offers up two of them.  Miss Giddens starts to suspect that the children are possessed by the former caretaker and governess... or is it all in her mind?



      Based on "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James, "The Innocents" ranks alongside "The Haunting" as one of the best ghost stories of the 1960's.  And almost as scary, in its own way.  It proves once again that a movie can be chilling without ever shedding a drop of blood or showering us with special effects.  Instead what makes "The Innocents" such a surprisingly effective ghost story is the silence, darkness, and atmosphere of the movie.  It's claustrophobic and creepy, especially with the wonderful black and white cinematography.   For a movie released in 1961, there is a truly disturbing tone throughout.  Like "The Haunting", the movie seems almost diseased.  Dark secrets and even darker shadows abound, and the movie offers many rather unsettling scenes.  To me the lady standing by the lake will always haunt my mind.  She totally creeped me out.


     The strange and inexplicable noises and apparitions begin almost immediately, and it becomes almost dreamlike to the viewer.  We truly never know if what we're seeing is really happening, or if its all in poor Deborah Kerr's mind.  I guess technically, "The Innocents" isn't really a ghost story per se- the actual presence of any supernatural being is never actually confirmed or denied.  That is the brilliance of this movie.  It's completely ambiguous, and we're left to come to our own conclusions about what we've just seen.  We see strange and scary beings, but we're still just never quite sure if they are real.



     Regardless of whether you come away from "The Innocents" calling it a dark psychological thriller or a classic ghost story, you cannot deny its power to get under your skin.  It's an extremely well-made movie, and it did take me by surprise, I must say.  I have always been a huge fan of "The Haunting", and somehow never saw "The Innocents" as a child.  I'm glad I finally saw it, and I highly recommend it.  This is a perfect movie for a windy October afternoon.  And it's also a movie that requires repeat viewings.  I got much more out of it the second time.



THIS IS MY SHRINE TO ALL THINGS SCARY- MOVIES, BOOKS, MADE FOR TV, SOUNDTRACKS- I LOVE IT ALL.
I in no way claim ownership of any image or video used on this blog.