Halloween Classics to Watch This Season
Posted by Kevin Hunter
“I enjoy playing the audience like a piano.”
— Alfred Hitchcock
“Halloween was the film that set off a long line of slasher movies to come inspired by Hitchcock’s Psycho. It’s much scarier for its dark spaces and ominous camera movements than for its explicit bloodletting. The movie’s freaky music sets the tone carrying one of the most fantastic Halloween soundtracks for any Haunted House. This is a classic horror visceral experience. We’re not seeing the movie. We’re having it happen to us. The camera establishes the situation, and then it pans to one side, and something unexpectedly looms up in the foreground. Usually it’s a tree or a door or a bush. Not always.”
“The film that started it all, directors would forever pay homage to the master of fright. Psycho is a chilling journey as an unsuspecting victim visits the Bates Motel and falls prey to one of cinema’s most notorious psychopaths – Norman Bates. Director, Alfred Hitchcock, skillfully seduces you into identifying with the main characters, then pulls the rug out from under you. Unlike modern horror films, Psycho never shows the knife striking flesh. There are no wounds. There is blood, but not gallons of it. The slashing chords of the soundtrack, substitute for more grisly sound effects. The closing shots are not graphic but symbolic, as blood and water spin down the drain, and the camera cuts to a close-up, the same size, of Marion’s unmoving eyeball.
Anthony Perkins who plays Bates does an eerie job of establishing the complex character of Norman, in a performance that has become a landmark. He shows us there is something fundamentally wrong with Norman, and yet he has a young man’s likability, jamming his hands into his jeans pockets, skipping onto the porch, grinning. Only when the conversation grows personal does he stammer and evade. At first he evokes our sympathy, but then things grow ominous. This film connects with our fears, our fears that we might impulsively commit a crime, our fears of the police, our fears of becoming the victim of a madman, and of course our fears of disappointing our mothers.”
THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
“Night of the Living Dead turned into the most influential horror film since Psycho. It was made on a shoestring budget and is about a group of people barricaded inside a farmhouse while an army of flesh-eating zombies roam the countryside trying to get in. It traded the expressionistic sets of the traditional fright flick for a neorealistic style. The use of natural locations and grainy black and white gave this gorefest the look and feel of a doc. And this was not Transylvania, but Pennsylvania—this was Middle America at war, and the zombie carnage seemed a grotesque echo of the conflict then raging in Vietnam. In this first-ever subversive horror movie, the resourceful black hero survives the zombies only to be killed by a redneck posse, and a young girl nibbles ravenously on her father’s severed arm—disillusionment with government and patriarchal nuclear family is total. This film gradually became a cult phenomenon, playing on the midnight movie circuit for more than a decade. Its success has spawned innumerable sequels, remakes, clones, and forgettable imitations, here and abroad, as zombies of all nations replaced vampires as the centerpiece of the world’s horror movies.”
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
“Texas Chainsaw Massacre exists in a stratosphere all its own, above and beyond any sequels or attempts to recapture the magic. You can write a script involving Leatherface and a chainsaw, and give him several fresh bodies to tear up; but the original film isn’t about that. It’s about heat and stench and madness. It’s about when it was made, and the conditions in which it was made. You can’t duplicate that, nor should you want to. In the summer of 1973, a bunch of crazy Texans got together and went for the throat. Unless you’re willing to shoot for 27 hours in a rancid-smelling, 125-degree house, you can’t hope to catch the vibe of grubby desperation that makes this movie truly unsettling.”
NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET
“The story revolves around several teenagers being terrorized in their nightmares by the ghost of a serial killer named Freddy Krueger. He was a pitiless child murderer who pursued the offspring of the parents who killed him through their dreams, and butchering them with a horrific knife-fingered glove whose wounds would be inflicted in the waking world as well as in their sleep.
His scarred face hidden mostly in shadows, his red-and-green sweater and the screeching of his handmade finger knives along metal take a visual and aural prominence.”
FRIDAY THE 13TH
“Few low-budget 80’s splatter movies can boast an influence as great as Friday The 13th. It takes place at Camp Crystal Lake, an ironically idyllic name for a run-down summer camp located deep in the primeval woods, where the nearest cross-street is 10 miles away, everyone in the closest town looks frightened when the camp is mentioned, and there’s even a local crazy who makes proclamations of doooooom. With its mix of sex, horror and violent death it’s blatantly exploitative, yet despite the cliche’s, it’s an efficient and effective exercise in fear.”
THE HILLS HAVE EYES
“In horror movies, the only gas station in the world is located on a desolate road in a godforsaken backwater. It is staffed by a degenerate who shuffles out in his coveralls and runs through a disgusting repertory of scratchings, spittings, chewings, twitchings and leerings, while thoughtfully shifting mucus up and down his throat.
Nobody in this movie has ever seen a Dead Teenager Movie, and so they don’t know (1) you never go off alone, (2) you especially never go off alone at night, and (3) you never follow your dog when it races off barking insanely, because you have more sense than the dog. It is also possibly not a good idea to walk back to the Wrong Gas Station to get help from the degenerate who sent you on the detour in the first place. This happens to a sweet family on their vacation, when they become stranded in the middle of the desert and are massacred one by one by those that hide in the hills.”
BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA
“Dracula here is the tragic romantic hero with Christ like overtones. We’re taken through a cinematic journey where the winds talk, where every subtle change in color, or music or scenery adds to the mystery and intensity of the story, and where the viewer is on the edge of their seat until the redemptive end. The movie descends into an orgy of visual decadence. The sets are grand opera run riot, a Gothic extravaganza inter-cut with the Victorian London of gaslights and fogbound streets, rogues in top hats and bad girls in bustiers. Dracula is a masterpiece. It’s a delight for the horror, theatre and classic movie freak. It’s operatic, the main draw of this movie is for the way it looks and feels, it’s complete sensory overload.”
TRICK R’ TREAT
“This unique narrative experience will instantly remind us of cold Fall nights, years ago, when October 31 was a date to be reckoned with. This is for everyone who loves Halloween and for what it means outside of the drunken parties and Goth gal/guy gloom merchandise. The most surprising thing about this love letter to ghosts, ghouls, and goblins is how accomplished it is. Visually draws you into the holiday in a campy, sometimes horrific, bloody way. Films like this are the reason for the season.”
“The director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Toby Hooper, teamed up with family-oriented producer Steven Spielberg to make Poltergeist. At first the odd happenings in the house are kind of amusing, but they grow gradually sinister until the film climaxes in a terrifying special-effects extravaganza when 5-year-old Carole Anne is kidnapped by ghosts and held hostage in another dimension. She disappears from this plane of existence and weird and petrifying events begin to happen in the house. Then all hell breaks loose, and the movie begins to operate on the same plane as Aliens, as a shocking special-effects sound-and-light show. The swimming pool is filled with grasping, despairing forms of the undead. The search for the missing little girl involves a professional psionics expert, and a lady who specializes in “cleaning” haunted homes.”
“A mother stands by in horror as her daughter’s body is wracked by Satanic disfiguration and the two priests that try to remove the demon. The climactic sequences assault the senses and our intellect with pure cinematic terror.
The film forces us to look inside, to experience horror and to confront the reality of human suffering. This is about a twelve-year-old girl who either is suffering from a severe neurological disorder or perhaps has been possessed by an evil spirit. Our objections, our questions, occur in an intellectual context after the movie has ended. During the movie there are no reservations, but only experiences. We feel shock, horror, nausea, fear, and some small measure of dogged hope. Rarely do movies affect us so deeply. This film doesn’t rest on the screen; it’s a frontal assault.
In the closing scenes were left little doubt that an actual evil spirit was in that room, and that it transferred bodies. This movie also transcends the genre of terror, horror, and the supernatural and it does so with furious vengeance. “The Exorcist” contains brutal shocks, almost indescribable obscenities. That it received an R rating and not the X is stupefying to me.”
“Instead of leaving it to the audience to anticipate the horror cliches, the characters talk about them openly. “Horror movies are always about some big-breasted blond who runs upstairs so the slasher can corner her,” says a character in “Scream.” “I hate it when characters are that stupid.” The movie begins, of course, with a young woman at home alone. She gets a threatening phone call from an evil soundalike. She is standing in front of patio doors with the dark night outside. She goes into a kitchen where there are lots of big knives around. You know the drill.
`Scream” is not about the plot. It is about itself. In other words, it is about characters who *know* they are in a plot. These characters read Fangoria magazine. They even use movie-style dialogue: “I was attacked and nearly filleted last night.” The heroine has been rejecting her boyfriend’s advances, and just as well: As another character points out, virgins are never victims in horror films. Only bad boys and girls get slashed to pieces. The movie itself, for all of its ironic in-jokes, also functions as a horror film–a bloody and gruesome one, that uses as many cliches as it mocks.
One old standby is the scene where someone unexpectedly enters the frame, frightening the heroine, while a sinister musical chord pounds on the soundtrack. I love these scenes, because (a) the chord carries a message of danger, but (b) of course the unexpected new person is always a harmless friend, and (c) although we can’t see the newcomer because the framing is so tight, in the real world the frightened person would of course be able to see the newcomer all the time.
“The films of Tim Burton shine through the muck like a jack-o-lantern on a foggy October night. Dark and moody, this film is a thrilling ride back to the turn of the 19th century. The film is occasionally gory, although not terribly frightening, it is suspenseful. It’s elevated by sheer style and elegance into something entertaining. It opens with a frightened lawyer being taken for a ride in a carriage by a driver who has lost his head along the way. It’s an amazing thing to see the carriage bouncing down roads that have been modeled from the Hudson River School. This is the best-looking horror film since Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
I loved the shot where mist extinguishes the torches that have been lit by the night watch. There is never a sunny day here. The faces of the village fathers are permanently frozen into disapproval. And the body count is mounting, while the head count stays at zero. The Horseman, it appears, not only decapitates his victims, but takes their skulls with him.
Johnny Depp is an actor able to disappear into characters, never more than in one of Burton’s films. Tim Burton has a natural affinity for the Gothic, moody set-ups, and this remains one of the most visually beautiful films I’ve seen. He likes moonlight and dreary places, trees forming ominous shapes in the gloom, eyes peering uneasily into the overcast world of complex menace.”
WHAT LIES BENEATH
“What Lies Beneath” is pretty much Michelle Pfeiffer’s movie all the way, and she carries the film on her not-so-fragile shoulders. I’ve told her that she’s really good in this movie, convincing and sympathetic and avoids the common problems that actors tend to do in horror films…she doesn’t overreact! The camera hadn’t fetish-ized her this much since she cracked the whips and licked Batman’s lips as Catwoman. With its long drawn out takes before the director cuts you couldn’t do that with inexperienced actors. She said everyday was like dancing with the camera.
The third act is a suspense tour de force, complete with a breathtaking sequence featuring her and that menacing bathtub. In a time of obvious horror films,What Lies Beneath is an intelligent, fun thrill ride that will leave you breathless. An exciting, ominous and supernatural thriller that wears its Alfred Hitchcock pedigree proudly on its sleeve. Yes, it’s a blatant Hitchcock homage to movies such as Rear Window and Suspicion, but it’s sleekly made, entertaining and engrossing. Plus, it’s rare in today’s movie world to see two movie stars of a major caliber sharing the same screen, it harks back to the good old days. Harrison Ford plays a bad guy for once! This is a moody, dark chiller where things really do go bump in the night. Staged throughout the picture are very technically accomplished suspense scenes, it walks that fine line between psychological suspense and flat-out supernatural horror.”
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE
“This movie never makes vampirism look like anything but an endless sadness. That is its greatest strength. The initial meeting between Louis and Lestat takes the form of a seduction. The vampire seems to be courting the younger man, and there is a strong element of homoeroticism in the way the neck is bared and the blood is engorged. Parallels between vampirism and sex, both gay and straight, are always there in all of Rice’s novels. The good news is that you can indulge your lusts night after night, but the bad news is that if you stop, you die.
One of the creepier aspects of the story is the creation of the child vampire, Claudia, played by Kirsten Dunst. She is disturbing, trapped in her child’s body as she ages, decade after decade. Dunst is somehow able to convey the notion of great age inside apparent youth. The movie’s unique glory is in its look, and this one combines elegance and fantastic images into a vampire world of eerie beauty. The action largely takes place at night, in old Southern plantations and French Quarter dives, along gloomy back streets and in decadent boudoirs. The film truly takes flight after the action moves on board a transatlantic sailing ship, and then into the catacombs of Paris. There are scenes set in a vast underground columbarium, where the vampires sleep on shelves reaching up into the gloom, that is one of the great sets of movie history.
There is a dark, sadness to the characters, although you would think being a vampire would be cool, here it gives you an honest depictorial of how tragic the life really is. Vampires of course need regular supplies of fresh blood, and the details involving its procurement are dismaying to the creatures, who, to live, must constantly feed off the lives of others. This is a skillful exercise in macabre imagination.”
SOME LIGHTER HALLOWEEN VIEWING
NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
“One of the many pleasures of “Tim Burton’s the Nightmare Before Christmas” is that there is not a single recognizable landscape within it. Everything looks strange and haunting. Even Santa Claus would be difficult to recognize without his red-and-white uniform. The movie begins with the information that each holiday has its own town. Halloweentown, for example, is in charge of all the preparations for Halloween, and its most prominent citizen is a bony skeleton named Jack Skellington, whose moves and wardrobe seem influenced by Fred Astaire. First, go for the story. Then go back just to look in the corners of the screen, and appreciate the little visual surprises and inspirations that are tucked into every nook and cranny.”
“I don’t watch TV, but I did watch the Roseanne show religiously when it was on. Anyone that watched the show knows that some of the best episodes were the Halloween ones. Year after year, the creativity of the plots, the costumes, and the gags were stellar. It is a stroke of pure brilliance that this DVD features all eight Halloween episodes in one collection along with audio commentary from Roseanne herself.”
The Old Classics
Paint the Silence. Just in time for Halloween. Axe Murderers. Investigative Researchers. Polygamy.
About Kevin HunterAuthor
Posted on October 13, 2012, in Kevin Hunter Author Writer and tagged Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Perkins, bates motel, entertainment, freaky music, Halloween, halloween soundtracks, Hitchcock, Horror film, Night of the Living Dead, Norman Bates, Psycho. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.