And just like that, another summer’s over. For some, this means looking for the nearest bag of leaves to kick over – awww, rats – in Charlie Brown-esque fashion. Can you blame them? Nine months of crummy weather, holidays spent with loudmouth relatives and having to watch the odometer as you cruise just within those impossible school zone speed restrictions would be enough to make even Sam Neil’s mind crack in spectacular fashion. But never fear! Diabolique is here for those downtrodden souls who happen to enjoy watching stories about axe murderers and radioactive comets that turn people into dust. If you feel the end of summer getting you down, curl up with one of these horror gems and just wait for the tears to turn into screams:
1. The Evil Dead (1981)
What better way to bury your nostalgia for those recently passed summer adventures than with the delicious madness that is Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead?
Sure, are probably already acquainted with this flick, but that doesn’t mean you need an excuse to re-watch this classic, “college kids on a trip that went hella wrong,” story that’s been inspiring both horror fans and countless amateur filmmakers for over thirty years. The Evil Dead is always a not-so-guilty pleasure, with plenty of twist, turns, and heaping servings of guts and gore to go around—where else will you see so many possessed women spouting cherry-colored blood and delicious Kraft marshmallow whip from their arm stumps?
When it comes to The Evil Dead, I stick to the original. Don’t get me wrong, the remake is worthy of a place on anyone’s Netflix queue, but when I sit back with a bowl of popcorn, ready to watch some ancient Sumerian demons do their business, I prefer the down and dirty DIY feel of Raimi’s 1981 version. You’ll never head up to the cabin without your chainsaw again.
2. Fright Night(1985)
That’s right, we’re all about the originals here. While I understand a few–very few– might question my choice not to include the 2011 remake,the original has just got the right mix of camp, teenage drama, crazy 80’s special effects, and genuine suspense that no imitation could ever hope to match.
For anyone unfamiliar, the story follows sexually frustrated high-schooler Charley Brewster, who discovers that his new neighbor is in fact a vampire ready to “suck his way across town.” With the help of his frigid girlfriend Amy, the annoying but sort of endearing—in a CP30 or Short-Round (but not Jar Jar Binks) sort of way—nerd friend “Evil Ed,” and Vincent Price-wannabe and Saturday night creature feature host, Peter Vincent, Charley takes on the vamp and his ghoulish thrall in a series of confrontations with enough tension and cheesy green flames to keep you grinning ‘til the sun rises.
Sure, they “borrowed” a lot of their ideas from Salem’s Lot, and yes, the young thespian portraying Ed went on to star in films with titles like Butt Blazer and Latin Crotch Rockets, but I think you’ll find there’s something so magical about this tale of sexual awakening and the supernatural that you’ll end up watching it again and again.
3. Rear Window
For many, the arrival of fall weather means more time spent indoors, but what if you had to spend all of your time inside—trapped in your room, immobilized, with only a narrow square of visual stimulation to keep your mind occupied?
But but what if 4chan or your beloved Hammer Horror titles suddenly disappeared? Huh? What then?
This Hitchcock masterpiece of suspense supplies a possible answer to that (and also appears to have supplied some inspiration for several scenes in the aforementioned Fright Night). Jimmy Stewart, chair-bound with a broken leg, begins to suspect the neighbor living in the apartment across the courtyard from his own has murdered and dismembered his wife, based only on what he’s seen and heard from his vantage point.
Rear Window exemplifies the tired cliché: ‘they don’t make ‘em like they used to.’ Every time I screen this for friends who’ve never seen, it never fails to put them on the edge of their seats. The fear, the mystery, and the dread are all still there, and they are real, due in large part because we actually care about these characters and what happens to them. Something that can’t often be said about the more recent crops of thrillers.
4. Boy Meets World Season 5 Ep. 17 “And Then There Was Shawn”
Hey, we don’t always have the attention span for a movie. That’s why there’s television.
Back in an era when William Jefferson Clinton was making us all reconsider what our definition of what the word “is” was, ABC’s Thank God It’s Friday was still a thing. And, what better way to celebrate the start of classes than with Boy Meets World.
True, the series is not exactly known for horror and bloody murder, and yeah, it does help if you’re already up to speed on the Corey-Topanga mytharc prior to watching, but this particular episode is a delightful escape into the murder mystery and slasher genres – albeit in parody form.
Our five teenage protagonists are stuck in detention when the words “No One Gets Out Alive!” appear in blood on the chalkboard. It isn’t long before one of them is dead with a pencil stuck through his skull (poor Kenny’s corpse slides down the wall, pencil tracing a line with it, leading to the immortal quip: “We’ll always know he was this tall.”) Can the kids figure out who the murderer is before they’re picked off one by one?
Anyway, if this classic episode of BMW isn’t your cup of char, you can always check out star Ben Savage in Little Monsters (Just kidding. Please don’t check out Little Monsters.)
5. “Nightmare Cafeteria” from the The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror V
Okay, maybe you are too old for Boy Meets World and its TGIF trip, so lets forget it. As Bart Simpson put it, “when you get a little older, you’ll learn that Friday is just another day between NBC’s Must See Thursday and CBS’ Saturday night Craporama.”
But, speaking of The Simpsons, you might check out “Nightmare Cafeteria,” the third vignette in “Treehouse of Horror V.,” which has come to be considered the best of The Simpsons Halloween specials. Preceding “Cafeteria” are “The Shinning,” an absolutely brilliant and funny parody of Kubrick’s The Shining, and “Time and Punishment,” where Homer’s haphazard repair of the family toaster accidentally makes him alter the space-time continuum (Homer: “Just remember the advice your father gave you on your wedding day.” Grandpa Simpson: “If you ever travel back in time, don’t step on anything.”).
“Nightmare Cafeteria,” while often rated as the weakest of the three shorts, has always held a special place in my black heart. What’s not to love about the idea of the Springfield Elementary faculty cannibalizing its students in a Swiftian solution to overcrowding and food service budget cuts? We also get to learn the ingredients of “Grade F meat.” For those heading back into classes, prepare with a little bit of Simpsons’ fright and fun.
Rednecks matching wits against spoiled high school kids, complete with a mutant gourd beast stalking around in a quest for blood vengeance? Sign me up!
While the source material for a series of unfortunate sequels, as well as a truly horrific—though not in the good sense of the word—computer game, Pumpkinhead is a nice occult revenge tale, very much in the vein of early, voodoo-inspired zombie films. The acting is…well acting, the special effects are a bit hokey, and Pumpkinhead himself looks like he owes much of his appearance to a certain Ridley Scott extraterrestrial, but one cannot deny that it is fun ride nonetheless. Paired with its distinct autumn feel, Pumpkinhead is the right kind of film to beacon forth Fall.
7. Mazes and Monsters
Not so good for actual scares, Mazes and Monsters is perfect for a few chuckles at the unintentional comedy stemming from the utter seriousness the film gives its ridiculous plot.
Mazes and Monsters, a Satanic panic-era, made-for-TV movie purports to give us a “ripped from the headlines” look at how fantasy roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons can drive young people insane–when, in fact, it serves a heavily fictionalized and sensational retelling of the James Dallas Egbert story, whom the media of the day portrayed as having committed suicide due to his involvement in the game.
Some college kids fresh to campus for fall semester, being away from home for the first time and all, take to binge drinking or promiscuous sex in order to deal with their emotions. Others like to toss oddly shaped dice and pretend to be Gnomish illusionists. You’d think that the latter would be the more harmless choice of pastime; Mazes shows just how wrong you’d be. So, cure those post-Summer blues by watching a young Tom Hanks try, unsuccessfully, to act his way out of a phone booth.
8. Carrie (1976 )
Many have said it before: No one would make a horror movie like this today. What, with its near total lack of jump scares—save one famous one—, its slow pace, and its reluctance to show us anything really gooshy until damn well near the end of the picture. On the other hand, I think many have failed to appreciate how this film has actually become more frightening with time. In an age of school shootings and psychopathic cyber bullying, Carrie’s telekinetic revenge against her school-aged tormentors feels more relevant than ever.
Two remakes, of dubious quality, have been produced since the original. Nothingwill beat the disco hair massacre—or, for that matter, the opening shower sequence alá Demi Moore—that made this feature famous. How we love you, Brian De Palma.
9. I Know What You Did Last Summer
For you in-betweeners getting ready for your first year at university, here’s a cautionary tale that shows you that not every peccadillo you committed back in high school is dead and buried. While not the most original horror concept out there (think the Boy Meets World episode without the laughs), I Know What You Did takes some time-worn slasher tropes and executes them well enough.
And if you getting nothing else from this film, at least remember these valuable words of advice: “When you leave a man for dead, make sure he’s really dead!”
10. Satan’s School for Girls
Post-Manson America briefly fell in love with the idea of black magic and Satanic cults hidden just below the surface of ordinary society, and the horror film industry happily indulged these fascinations. While many titles come to mind that fit within the subgenre, since we’re sticking to the back-to-school theme here, I recommend the 1973 ABC Movie of the Week Satan’s School for Girls.
Not just horror, but also a detective story, Satan’s School follows young co-ed Elizabeth Sayers in her quest to find the truth behind her sister’s suspicious death following a stint at an elite all-female school, only to discover it was none other than a (what else?) secret pack of devil-worshippers responsible for this and other murders. Sure, the ending’s dumb, but at least it’s better than The Covenant.
Continuing with the theme of evil boarding schools, I bring you this classic of 80’s Italian horror, Dario Argento’s Suspiria, a picture known as much for its lush Art Nouveau sets as it is for its utterly brutal murder scenes. There’s so much to love in this Argento masterpiece, from the wild chase scene inspired by Disney’s Snow White, to the maggot rain, to an incredibly creepy score –especially its unforgettable main theme, a song that, in this author’s opinion, deserves a place next to “Tubular Bells” and Psycho in the pantheon of iconic horror flick music tracks. It’s all enough to make you think twice about taking that junior year abroad.
Thrilling and chilling, Surpiria stars a doe-eyed Jessica Harper, who as it so happens also played Janet Weiss in Shock Treatment, the tenuously-connected “sequel” to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (though she probably doesn’t want anyone to know that).
Speaking of, that brings us to our final entry to the list…
12. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Ah, Rocky Horror, where self-respect and good taste come to die in spectacular fashion. (But damn if it doesn’t have an infectious soundtrack!). What could The Rocky Horror Picture Show possibly have to do with the end of summer theme, you ask?
Quite a bit, as it turns out. Every fall, particularly around Halloween, millions (okay, thousands) of high school and university students don the boas, paint, and golden briefs to see a certain science-fiction picture show (which, no shit, also happens to be one of the most profitable film in cinematic history). For many, those Friday nights misspent in front of the small screen at the local multiplex, drenched in sweat, B.O., and flavored Astroglide are some of their fondest memories–and if The Perks of Being a Wallflower didn’t ruin it for you, they can be yours, too.