Happy Halloween to all our readers! Join with us, on tonight the spookiest of nights, as the Diabolique Magazine team share with you our favourite films to watch on Halloween:
Kat Ellinger— Editor-in-Chief: Halloween III (1983)
Growing up in Britain in the seventies and eighties, we didn’t really have “Halloween”, not in a commercialized sense. Leftover pagan tradition yes, whispers of witchcraft and old country customs, folk stories, plenty. But Halloween as an all singing, all dancing, masks, candy and horror films entity: no, definitely not. My first brush with the season was via a cinema trip to see E.T, Christmas 1982 (I was eight). I wanted more. I wanted to know this Halloween, to really experience it. I wanted to go trick or treating (American kids get free sweets?!). I wanted masks. I wanted a pumpkin! And so, and for this I make no apologies, I have always had an unhealthy fascination with Halloween ephemera, with Halloween things. To me they are like sacred items.
On this note, for me, Halloween III is Halloween. It is about all the crap people buy, and love because it is crap. It has the world’s most impressive off the peg masks; believe me if I had seen those masks in 1982, I would have been all over them and wouldn’t have given two hoots if I risked my head being eaten by snakes. It has the wonderful jingle. It has Tom Atkins as a super slick doctor with that moustache. It has robots for crying out loud. And it has a crazy old Irish pagan who has stolen part of Stonehenge. If you know me, or have read even a small sample of my work, you will also know I have another fervent obsession with all things witchcraft associated too. It doesn’t get much better than this. At least not for me. I think if you cut open my chest, you would hear my heart beats to the rhythm of the Silver Shamrock theme. Or at least I like to think so.
My only regret, they didn’t make more of these. Don’t get me wrong, I am rather partial to the original. Laurie Strode is one of my favourite final girls, and the soundtrack is sublime. But I am not sure if we really needed 500 more, or however many, too many at least. What we did need was a series that ran on and on and on, with a different Halloween theme every year. That, and more Halloween things, always more.
Samm Deighan— Associate Editor: Exorcist III (1990)
Get ready for some fighting words: Exorcist III (1990) is scarier than The Exorcist (1973). There, I said it and I’m not taking it back. Directed by The Exorcist novelist William Peter Blatty, based off his own novel, Legion, it picks up nearly two decades after the events of the original film, when a deceased serial killer, the Gemini, is somehow haunting the streets of DC again with a series of sacrilegious, possibly satanic murders. Lieutenant Kinderman (the majestic George C. Scott) is on the case when he finds a strange connection to Father Damien Karras that leads him to the closed psychiatric ward of a local hospital.
Though it’s admittedly a bit of a mess — thanks mostly to the production company — it has one of the single scariest sequences in all of genre cinema, some really solid performances (don’t blink or you might miss Zohra Lampert from Let’s Scare Jessica to Death), and some scenery chewing from Brad Dourif that would make Exorcist II: The Heretic-era Richard Burton blush. Fuck it, I’m not afraid to admit that I also love Exorcist II. And if you won’t give Exorcist III a chance, then all I can say is, “Dimi, why you do this to me?”
Rebecca Booth— Assistant Editor: The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining (1980) is simultaneously revered and hated by lovers of horror cinema, especially by fans of both men. Kubrick, a filmmaker who continues to inspire almost divine levels of admiration, courted controversy via his distinctive, and arguably disloyal, interpretation of the source material. King was not impressed, penning the teleplay for director Mick Garris’ serialised film for television in 1997, an adaptation preferred by many followers of the writer’s work.
There is, however, something very special about Kubrick’s The Shining. King’s simple premise – a dysfunctional family forced to spend a winter alone in a hotel haunted by ghosts of the past and the mind – is cinematically reduced to powerful, primal images and sinister subtext by Kubrick, both of which have been analysed to excess. The most notable example is Rodney Ascher’s conspiracy documentary Room 237 (2012), which mythologises the film (some would argue to its detriment) and, in doing so, perfectly illustrates its appeal in regards to repeat viewings. The film is an oxymoron, portraying archetypal personalities – with outstanding performances by Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall and Scatman Crothers – that are simultaneously, in a strangely ethereal way, intricate character studies. This is the point missed by most haters who claim that the film veered too far from the original novel: the film successfully takes as its subject what makes King’s writing so powerful, namely the full spectrum of human emotion, psychology and nature.
Kubrick’s The Shining is uncanny, unique and ubiquitously haunting in its exploration of the maze of human darkness, and this is why I would argue it is the perfect Halloween horror.
Aaron Carruthers— Contributing Writer: The Evil Dead (1981)
My choice for Halloween viewing would be the former video nasty Sam Raimis industry calling card 1981 classic The Evil Dead. I can remember the first time I saw it like it was yesterday; if yesterday was 1998 and I was the spotty 13 year old high school pupil with a bad hair cut that was given the video by a classmate under the table who said “You’ve gotta see this”After being genuinely traumatised by the events which took place, in the now cliched cabin in the woods, I could see that The Evil Dead was a lot different from other horror movies I had previously watched. It got me interested in filmmaking as a possible career path.
The film sure has some equally ropey acting, narrative and special effects, but what comes off the screen is the unique charm of childhood friends coming together to make a movie.
The Evil Dead franchise spawned two sequels, a remake ,various video games, countless items of merchandise and a two season strong television series with, thirty five years on, Bruce Campbell still playing the role that made him famous .
But it’s the original film I’ll be viewing this year for the 101st time.
Pretty Groovy eh?
Anthony Bradley— Contributing Writer: Alice, Sweet Alice AKA Communion (1976)
For me there’s a distinct difference between Seventies and Eighties sleaze. Where the latter is often cartoonish (supported by an omnipresent supply of colorful gangs), Seventies sleaze has a realism because oftentimes it’s just so odd and mean-spirited, encapsulating the Sixties love culture going off the rails into perversion. Alice, Sweet Alice is genuinely creepy at moments, but it is above all gross. The translucent mask is unnerving and always makes my stomach roll, same as it did when I was ten years old and watching it for the first time. The film’s Catholic imagery is juxtaposed with truly repugnant characters, particularly the neighbor played by Alphonso De Noble. On top of possibly being a pedophile, this character is covered in stains and smells like cat piss. For me, this makes the rest of the film disgusting by extension because the suffocating atmosphere is inescapable. When the killer clumsily beats a man’s face in with a brick I feel like I’m suddenly watching LiveLeak. Alice succeeds in building a world that I want to run from, which taps into my own upbringing. I go back to Alice, Sweet Alice because it’s a film that gets to me in a way that other horror films never will: the fear that your community is rotting on the inside.
Chris Hallock— Contributing Writer: Phenomena (1985)
Detractors dismiss Dario Argento’s Phenomena (1985) as “the bug movie with Jennifer Connelly in it”. Harsher critics cite it as a low point marking his artistic decline (Argento confident Alan Jones calls it an atrocity). The film is contentious among even his most loyal fanatics, driving a wedge between those who share tremendous love for his prior work, some of whom have difficulty reconciling the odd amalgam of parts assembled by Argento. The commonly used terms used to describe it are convoluted, confusing, illogical. I have a lifelong infatuation with Phenomena; to me it’s a brilliant blend of supernatural and visceral horror removed from classic Argento, but still peppered with his recognizable traits. How could it be that this film I love so dearly draws such ire?
The story takes place at a boarding school in the Swiss Alps where a new arrival, Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly), a sensitive teen with the uncanny ability to communicate with insects, helps a renown entomologist (Donald Pleasance) investigate a series of gruesome murders taking place around the countryside. It doesn’t sound that weird on paper, but Argento’s tendency to overlook logic keeps it from total coherency when surreal sleepwalking sequences, a chimpanzee, and a monstrous child are free to roam. For this reason, the film is marked as a confusing and convoluted attempt by Argento to make a more personal film. Those of us utterly obsessed with Phenomena hold a different point-of-view; the disparate components, remoteness, and Argento’s steadfast dedication to supernatural weirdness are not a detriment; they are what attract me as my choice for a Halloween go-to-film.
Aesthetically, Phenomena subverts the expectations we have from one of giallo’s great visionaries. Gone are the magnificent camera sweeps over stylish Baroque architecture offered by Suspiria (1977) exchanged here for bird’s (or insect’s) eye view of the Swiss Alps. It’s the picturesque setting, however, that lends a stark feeling of foreboding, compounding Jennifer’s loneliness as an outsider, accompanied by an ominous wind that sings through an area dubbed the “Swiss Transylvania”. The environment, as unremarkable as it may be when compared to Argento’s previous films, is integral to an atmosphere of dread orchestrated by Argento and cinematographer Romano Albani (Inferno); the film is terrifying in its mundane seclusion.
The location isn’t the only difference, either, as the film adopts a much darker tone than its predecessors. Much of Argento’s trademark black humor is dampened making Phenomena feel more nihilistic in its approach. Conversely, Jennifer Connelly’s portrayal of Jennifer Corvino is sympathetic and fearless, while Pleasance adds warmth and understanding as Dr. John McGregor, and the relationship between the two helps balance the nastier aspects of a film littered with rotting corpses.
The other striking characteristic of Phenomena is an undercurrent of psychology, namely the argument of nature vs. nurture. Argento juxtaposes displays of immense cruelty by the human characters with the tenderness shared between Jennifer and McGregor with their non-human companions. The disabled McGregor’s relationship with his chimpanzee caretaker Inga in particular is built upon mutual kindness; Inga is clearly protective of her vulnerable ward. True, also, is Jennifer’s relationship with the insects based on cooperation and admiration, when she could easily share the disgust everyone around her (including the viewer) has for the insect kingdom. Argento absolutely convinces us these relationships are genuine, and the non-human characters share in the heroism. These contrast quite strikingly with Frau Brückner (Daria Nicolodi) who first reveals a violent temperament when she and Jennifer encounter a bee in the car. It’s later demonstrated that her own revulsion and trauma may be responsible for turning her deformed son, whom she keeps chained in a basement away from society, into a murderous monster.
Love it or hate it, Phenomena leaves a deep impression. It has a wondrous 80’s infused Goblin score (with guests like Bill Wyman), revolting practical effects by Sergio Stivalleti, and maintains a semblance of gravity despite itself. It’s a much deeper film than superficial readings allow, and once fairly interpreted, reveals Argento’s love of fairy tales, mystery, and science. Argento himself seems at peace with it, and has declared it his favorite among his own work. I, too, share his enthusiasm, and heartily recommend putting Phenomena on for a spin this Halloween.
Cody Noble— Contributing Writer: Fright Night (1985)
Deciding which film to write about for this list proved to be somewhat of a challenge. There are plenty of films that I would recommend to be watched in honor of the holiday. For me, Halloween isn’t about being scared or scaring others. It’s about having fun and celebrating the things that we traditionally deem terrifying. For my choice I considered films that embody the spirit of Halloween — that is, films that straddle the line between being playful and being frightening. Tom Holland’s Fright Night from 1985 is one such film.
Essentially the story of a boy who cried wolf, Fright Night follows Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), a teenage horror enthusiast who accidentally discovers his new neighbor Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) is an actual vampire. Fearful for his life and without anyone to believe him, Charley does the only sensible thing: turn to aging horror host and actor Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) for help. Although skeptical of Charley’s accusations, Peter, too, comes to suspect the worst of the smooth and confident Jerry. With no one else to help them, it’s up to both Charley and Peter do what they can to vanquish the evil or else perish in the night.
The greatness of Fright Night is its tone, balancing fun and, well, fright. While not an outright horror-comedy, Fright Night has a certain playfulness and humor to it, manifested partially through the character of Peter Vincent. No doubt a tribute to actors Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, McDowall plays the character with a certain pride and theatrical expressiveness despite being just a washed-out actor. Likewise, Charley’s friend, the eccentric “Evil” Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), also provides the film with some comical relief through his high-pitched and animated cackle. However, Fright Night is first and foremost a horror movie, one with the menacing Jerry at its center. Sarandon in the role is excellent, proving to be collected, intimidating and even slightly sympathetic, but ultimately monstrous — just as a vampire should be. Accentuated by plenty of fog a plenty of monstrous practical effects, Fright Night is worthy of its title.
While I enjoyed the 2011 remake with Colin Farrell and the late Anton Yelchin, there is no topping the original. Spooky and atmospheric, yet charming and sensible enough not to take itself too seriously, Fright Night is a must-watch for Halloween. Just as Jerry mocks Peter Vincent during the film’s final act, I say to you, “Welcome to Fright Night!”
Erin Miskell— Contributing Writer: Black Christmas (1974)
Let’s clear one thing up right now: there is only one Black Christmas, and it was made in 1974. I don’t care if someone came along in 2006 and took a crack at it; it didn’t happen. Nope. No way. Nuh-uh.
Why is this horror film something I love so dearly around Halloween? After all, it’s covered in Christmas, from the bright lights to the trees to the carollers. However, there are two hard facts of life in Rochester, NY, that make this applicable to Halloween:
- It snows in Rochester on Halloween more often than you’d like.
- Santa’s ass has been sneaking into this holiday steadily for the past dozen years at the very least.
I say if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em in the best possible way. In the world of horror, that means going big and making someone uncomfortable. So in Bob Clark’s 1974 chiller (sidenote: yes, the same Bob Clark that brought us A Christmas Story), we get the tale of a sorority house that’s being stalked by a serial killer in the attic. Against the backdrop of obscene phone calls and building dread of realizing that someone is missing, you also get a couple imploding, an unplanned pregnancy, and a coed with a serious alcohol problem. It’s creepy as shit and has a score that consisted of warped piano wires.
So yes, one of my favorite movies to watch on Halloween is Black Christmas, due in part to the fact that it’s one of the best ponies in the stable. It’s a reminder of the Christmas onslaught we’re about to get, mixed with a night when it’s fun to be terrified. It’s perfect.
And it was never remade in my book.
Felicity Burton—Contributing Writer: Halloween (1978)
Although the horror genre is often beset by them, there is occasionally something to be said for clichés. And one of my favourites is to sit in a room with all the lights off and watch John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 horror classic Halloween, on October the 31st every year (the darkened room also has the bonus effect of leading Trick or Treaters to think we’re not home!). Although it is a film I will happily watch at any time of the year, there is something different about watching it on the night itself, when the streetlights cutting through the gloom of the night and swirling Autumn leaves outside one’s house could easily be straight out of Haddonfield. I am aware that Halloween was filmed in the summer in California, but the fact that is manages to feel so Autumnal in spite of that is testament to the talents of John Carpenter, who co-wrote, directed, and also gifted us with one of the most iconic of horror scores. Simple and jarring, that melody combined with the garish grinning pumpkin in the opening credits is still vastly unsettling; it promises of death and terror before the night is out, and it delivers in spades. Halloween is a masterclass in slow burn horror, from the four minute single shot opening scene where young Michael Myers kills his sister, to the nerve shredding drawn out final chase between adult Myers and final girl Laurie Strode, Carpenter never relinquishes his hold on the audience’s senses for a second. While its power may be diluted to the diminishing returns of the many sequels, remakes and rip-offs, for me there will always be something particularly visceral about the original ‘Night he came home’.
Graham Rae— Contributing Writer: Nekromantik (1987)
My Halloween film is Nekromantik. After first seeing it nearly 30 years ago in London, it’s still a film that I find poetic, funny, sick, and oddly devastating. A cold, brutal, melancholic meditation on life, death, and sex life after death, this made necrophilia notorious long before Jimmy Savile came along and stole its perverse underground thunder decades later. It’s still a powerful blackhearted, bleak force to be reckoned with. I just got back yesterday from spending the weekend in Manchester with Jorg Buttegereit at The Festival of Fantastic Films. This man’s work has resonated and reverberated throughout my life for nearly three decades, and all because of this deranged, seminal work. A perfect dark season flickershow. Watch it with somebody you love, dead or alive.
Heather Drain— Contributing Writer: The Uncle Floyd Halloween Special
Celebrating the holiday that is nearest and dearest to the hearts of those of us who revel in the mysterious, ghoulish, monstrous and weird, is a ritual, if not a full blown event! When asked to write a little blurb about movies that I love to throw on for Halloween, my brain was flooded. Films that are primed for this kind of celebration are ones that I usually indulge in year around, because I am 2/3 cliched monster kid and pseudo-goth. (Yes, Ministry are right and Everyday really is Halloween.) I had thought of Count Yorga, Vampire or the 1987 film, Night of the Demons. Both wickedly different but supreme titles for ushering in feasts of candy, atmosphere and blood. However, my pick is not even a film at all but is something I must throw on for the season.
“The Uncle Floyd Halloween Special” of New Jersey’s The Uncle Floyd Show is a thing of sheer seasonal wonder. Originally airing in the early 1980’s, possibly 1982, though my copy might have been a compilation from other Halloween episodes, this creation has so much that I treasure. Canadian Rock God Thor blowing up a hot water bottle and cameos from punk icons like David Johansen and Joey Ramone already sealed it in my heart. (In addition to the omnipresent charm, Jersey wit and whimsy of the cast and crew of the show, of course.) But it is the appearance from the Cool Ghoul himself, the late John Zacherle (and lord, it breaks my heart having to write “late” with this one), that is the supreme highlight. He cuts it up with the cast, makes some mildly saucy remarks that are hilarious and even sings his classic song of monster romance, “Come With Me to Transylvania.” I will never need Prozac as long as I have access to Zacherle singing and laughing. While I never got to see this when it originally aired, since I was too young and none of the local TV stations carried Uncle Floyd, I fully revel in it now as an adult. Halloween is a holiday that isn’t just about pure scares, but is also about silliness, surrealism and a do-it-yourself-let’s-put-on-a-show attitude, all of which glows Jack-O-Lantern bright with this special.
James Gracey— Contributing Writer: The Haunting (1963)
The Haunting (1963) is a masterfully constructed chiller that still retains its power to unsettle; perfect viewing for this, the spookiest time of year. Based on the novel by Shirley Jackson, it tells of a group of people invited to stay at the reputedly haunted Hill House in an effort to prove the existence of the supernatural. Once there, the group experiences sinister events that not only threaten their sanity, but their very lives. Are these occurrences the result of a genuine haunting, or are they conjured by the unstable mind of one of the guests?
I like to watch The Haunting alone in the dark, the light cast by the TV screen throwing flickering shadows from Hill House itself into my living room. The initially suggestive approach adopted by director Robert Wise creates creeping tension that eventually gives way to an all out assault on the senses. Like Jackson’s novel it contains a perfect blend of understated horror, icy atmospherics and unsettling ambiguity. The internal monologue of protagonist Eleanor (Julie Harris), a lonely, neurotic young woman, affords the audience a glimpse into her fragile psychology. No one writes neurotic characters better than Shirley Jackson, and the intrusion of the supernatural, or what is perceived to be supernatural, upon the mundane, insular world of characters like Eleanor is what makes Jackson’s stories, and this adaptation, so effective. As author Donna Tartt once said of Jackson ‘the more quietly she speaks, the more terrifying she is, and the closer we lean in to listen.’ Wise, a protégé of producer Val Lewton, mimics Jackson’s quietness and his subtle approach was not only a tribute to her, but also to Lewton; it heightens the impact of the horror conjured in later scenes and adds to the complexity of the film.
Like most classic haunted house films, the imposing house in The Haunting is also a character in its own right. Dialogue works to personify the house; Eleanor frequently confesses that she believes it is looking at her and that it has been waiting for her. The foreboding mood continues with talk of phantom dogs, ghostly mutterings heard in the night and the suggestion that whatever stalks throughout the house is actively trying to separate the group. Odd camera angles create the impression that something is always present and watching the guests, particularly Eleanor, and the use of creepy sound effects elicits further moodiness. One to watch with the lights off…
Jay Kay— Contributing Writer: Ab-Normal Beauty / Sei mong se jun (2004)
In the mid-2000’s video stores began to close in New Jersey. At that time in my life, relationships and horror went hand in hand. For me, I was lost in a world where I felt disconnected from just about everything and everyone. I found solace in photography, films and very little else. While video stores liquidated, I was looking to expand my boundaries of horror film. While I was aware of the Asian horror filmmaking movement, I had very little to watch, collect or reflect on. I made trips to the video stores and consumed all I could. It began to fill that void for me as other than responsibilities, I watched non-stop film I bought moving into the macabre beauty of Asian cinema and horror. Sweeping and engrossing visuals, historic storytelling, cultivating of tension and a style that no mainstream could ever rival.
These beautiful nightmares about ghosts, revenge and obsession fueled and helped me on the path to calm in my life. Along the way, I came upon a title that not only connected deep inside and was my bridge that showed me how truly terrifying depths obsession could be in Ab-Normal Beauty. Directed by Oxide Pang and starring Race Wong, this film showed me a world where death became that rabbit hole and how our last moment was art for the tortured soul. Focusing on the character Jiney capturing those moments and falling deeper into a world of stalkers, morbid art and the filling the void, I felt that someone understood how the darkness can be embraced down the barrel of a camera and how there are worse things that dwell in the shadows. Every time I watch this film, I marvel at the focus on photography, art direction, theme of obsession and the performances that frame you like a photo on a psycho’s board.
Jeremy Kibler— Contributing Writer: Drag Me To Hell (2009)
I easily could have chosen any number of great Halloween-themed gems for this piece, but around this time of year, I just can’t get enough of Sam Raimi’s 2009 tongue-in-cheek horror tale Drag Me to Hell. For me, it encapsulates that spooky, mischievous mood of the holiday and acts as a reminder of why the horror genre is the most inventive one around — and it’s just the most fun audiences will ever have going to hell, full stop. Returning to his Evil Dead roots, Raimi seamlessly blends ghoulish chills and macabre giggles like a pro. As timid loan officer Christine Brown (played with the right amount of sweetness and backbone by Alison Lohan) learns the hard way, never cross a Slavic gypsy crone like Mrs. Ganusch (Lorna Raver, wonderfully grotesque and memorably chilling), no matter how badly she wants a job promotion. One can just picture Raimi cackling behind the camera with glee, his enthusiasm so contagious that it extends to the audience. There are so many wickedly inspired set-pieces, best of all being a crowd-pleasing brawl in a parking garage, that I would love to mention all of them, but frankly, words won’t do them justice. Oh, and that ending is grim perfection. Finally, all I’ll say is, never has a horror heroine been so slimed and hit with so much goo—projectile vomit of maggots, embalming fluid, what have you—since Jennifer Connelly in Dario Argento’s Phenomena. Take my word for it: Drag Me to Hell is a blast.
Joseph Dwyer— Contributing Writer: Friday the 13th part III in 3D
Having been born on a Friday the 13th, I always treat them as if they are holidays, or something to be celebrated, very much like Halloween. There aren’t many other creepy calendar days. I like to imagine August 13, 1982, having a dark and stormy night in the dead of summer, but it appears that the weather was actually quite mild that fateful day in Newport, Rhode Island. I also like to imagine van-loads of stoned teenagers piling into the Opera House or Holiday cinemas a few miles away from the hospital. As I was being ushered into the horror of existence, young horror fans down the street were watching the third installment of the Friday the 13th franchise on opening night, in 3D no less.
Part III is the sequel in which the franchise reached its maturity–people only vaguely familiar with one of the most iconic American slasher series’ wouldn’t realize that Jason Voorhees doesn’t start wearing a hockey mask until the third damn movie! There was actually some half-way well thought out plot exposition in the first three films, until things begin to get hazy in part IV (memorable mainly for young Crispin Glover’s weird dance scene and younger Corey Feldman acting even stranger). Usually considered a conservative genre of the 1980’s, Friday the 13th part III in 3D gave the slasher filmmakers a great excuse to make a stoner film just as Reagan was ramping up the war on drugs throughout America. Even if you don’t have 3D glasses, there is a noticeable shot where one of the characters hands a joint out to the audience. Part III is the one that also includes a seemingly random biker gang led by a black man named Ali, one of the few times you ever see a non-white person in an 80’s slasher film.
Since the only Friday the 13th of 2016 already passed in May, I suggest you to put Part III on your Halloween to-watch list, if not the first two in the series as well.
Joseph Perry— Contributing Writer: The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
The first two monster movies I remember seeing as a very young boy were The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Godzilla Vs. the Thing. I was so drawn to these films that I instantly became a monster kid, and creature features have always remained my favorite subgenre of horror films. The Creature from the Black Lagoon has also remained my favorite movie monster since those days as a youngster, and the movie — along with its two sequels — are my go-to Halloween movies each year.
I loved the Gill-Man so much that, after the first time I finished watching The Creature from the Black Lagoon on TV, I cracked open the book nearest to me and drew a fanciful picture of him being pursued by scuba divers and skin divers alike, shooting at him with spear guns and ray guns. In my mind, he got away. Whenever I watch one of those three Universal films featuring the Gill-Man, I’m instantly transported back to a simpler time.
The Gill-Man’s costume design is still a marvel. I’m as transfixed by it today as much as I was when I was a kid. The suit actors were fantastic, and the underwater scenes and cinematography are always a joy to behold.
When I was in junior high school, a local television station in northern California showed The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D. The only way to get the proper glasses to watch it was to go to 7-11 and get a free pair when you bought a Slurpee; what kid would argue with that type of bargain? All of my friends were abuzz about the airing for the week before it happened, and it was the main topic on the schoolyard the day of the showing, and of course the next day, as well. As I recall, the 3D effect was less than stellar but enough to further my love for the film.
Thankfully, I had the opportunity to see The Creature from the Black Lagoon on the big screen in 3D while in high school and then again in university with the good old-fashioned white cardboard glasses featuring red and green lenses. Another fond memory I have of seeing the Gill-Man in 3D is when I took mythen-elementary-school-age son to see Revenge of the Creature at an outdoor screening at a local university. My son became a Gill-Man fan himself, and my work as a father was done. Well, not really, but I was thrilled that I had passed my love of this iconic Universal monster down to him.
The Gill-Man and I have a special connection, as you can see, and though any day of the year is a fine day to watch The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Halloween offers a perfect extra dose of nostalgia that makes rewatching the film then just a bit more special.
Contributing Writer—Kieran Fisher: Casper (1995)
Casper has been a tradition for me every Halloween season since the age of five. In fact, it’s the film that set me on my path to becoming a film buff fascinated by all things spooky in the first place. There was even a time where I’d watch it every couple of days, hogging the VHS player much to the disgruntled acceptance and feigned enjoyment of my grandparents. Then, as I entered my teen years and discovered the gruesome stuff, I’d still revisit it when I fancied something light.
Halloween season is the time of year where I reconnect with my inner child. A large portion of my movie diet consists of films that are fun, innocent and winsomely strange. This is Casper in a nutshell, and it has that wonderful autumnal feeling that just hits the sweet spot when the world around you is that perfect blend of dark nights, dead leaves and cold air.
Yet, often is the case with films from our childhood they don’t hold up as we get older; they’re nothing more than time capsules from our formative years, when our minds were gullible and our daydreams were steeped in adventure. But Casper is a film I’ve never outgrown; not only is it ridiculously entertaining, but it confronts death in a way I find comforting and touching.
Casper is a film which encapsulates an exuberant Halloween spirit I find irresistible. It also evokes personal happy memories of the glory days of watching VHS tapes and sinking into the sofa. More importantly, it represents simple cherished moments with my grandparents who meant the world to me. It’s a film with spooky shenanigans and a positive message at its core – and of course, the almighty Bill Pullman.
Marek Zacharkiw— Contributing Writer: Hocus Pocus (1993)
Every Halloween horror fans start planning movie marathons and while we all have our favourites in my household there is one film that stands above all others and is guaranteed a viewing every year – Hocus Pocus!
I just can’t get enough of this Disney classic. To me it’s a terrific gateway film that can be enjoyed by everyone, thanks to having kids as the main protagonists, the way that comedy helps frame the action and, no doubt due to the writing involvement of Mick Garris, just enough danger adding a little authenticity and quality to its genre credentials. Not to mention it being set at Halloween making it all the more appropriate.
The film itself is relatively straight forward pitching our hero’s (Virgin Max, his love interest Alison and his little sister Dani ) against three witches who have returned from beyond for just one night unless they can steal the souls of children to make them live forever. While its structure is familiar, never straying from the textbook cinematic formula, this for me allows an easy and comfortable watch which when combined with the decent cast performances and a strong script keep me coming back every year.
For me, Hocus Pocus just works and away from the gory slashing, the cattle prod ghost scares and brutal creature features it just adds a lighter touch to my Halloween and is the one time of the year where I can freely admit I love a Disney movie.
Shane Dover— Contributing Writer: Kill Me Now (2012)
Kill Me Now may not be all that scary, but as a comedic love letter to slasher films it excels. I know that horror-comedies aren’t always best for Halloween, but this one has a nice enough atmosphere and more than enough great jokes to carry a movie night, put it up first to get the night off to a great start. I find myself quoting the movie for weeks after every time I watch it, and the serial killer story poses a pretty dark background amidst the laughs. It’s the standard slasher affair, teens at a party in the middle of nowhere, sadistic killer, drugs and booze, but the way events play out can often be quite surprising.
The highlight of the film I’d say is the writing, brilliant jokes and a solid narrative that thrives in the cliche it’s based in. Almost everyone attached to this film have their roots in internet sketch comedy, and Michael Swaim (who portrays Dennis in the film, and is also the writer) shines as the main funny man, and he and Jacob Reed (who portrays Noah) play perfectly off each other. Don’t be fooled by the comedy however, the film has some quite dark implications and scenes, and the ‘Driller Killer’ has an incredibly creepy aura around him, seemingly channeling his inner Hannibal Lecter at times, being his own crazy self in others. The comedy gets dark when the body count starts up, mixing the hilarious dialogue and characters with very suspenseful situations. Calls to Ash Williams, Jason Voorhees and even some real life serial killers, the writers and director definitely want their audience to understand and appreciate the object of their humour.
Definitely one to check out, Kill Me Now is hilarious, made by horror fans, for horror fans, and I love it more every time I see it.
Contributing Writer—Sheila M. Merritt: The Changeling (1980)
For me, Halloween is synonymous with a haunted house. One of the finest films to feature such an edifice is The Changeling. Masterfully directed by Peter Medak, The Changeling stars the brilliant George C. Scott, and features bravura acting by Melvyn Douglas. Martin Scorsese lists it as one of 11 scariest movies of all time.
The film deftly employs inanimate objects to disquiet: a wheelchair, a child’s ball, a medal, a tape recorder, and a music box are used to heighten the fright factor. The music box works beautifully with Scott’s character, who is a composer. Newly ensconced in an historic mansion, the protagonist composes a piano piece. He subsequently discovers a music box that plays the same melody. The haunting tune written by Howard Blake is a part of a sublime score he composed with Rick Wilkins and Kenneth Wannberg, and is performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra of London.
The use of the tape recorder is profoundly clever: A séance is recorded, and when the protagonist plays back the tape he hears a voice that wasn’t audible during the session. The séance sequence is a stunner; extremely atmospheric and chilling.
The story and screenplay, written by Russell Hunter and William Gray, respectively, is about relationships and injustices. Scott’s character is grieving over the sudden death of his wife and young daughter. The cavernous abode he now rents is inhabited by an unquiet angry spirit; a boy who also died too soon. The ghost seizes upon the tenant’s emotional vulnerability; plaguing the man to act as his earthly advocate.
Elegiac, touching, and terrifying, The Changeling is horror cinema at its best.
Simon Ball— Contributing Writer: Night of the Eagle (1962)
My favourite Halloween movie has to be the 1962 British witchcraft chiller Night of the Eagle. Why? Because it starts with psychology lecturer Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) chalking the words ‘I Do Not Believe’ up on the blackboard. You can’t get a much bolder opening statement in a horror movie than that.
We now know for certain that Norman’s comfortable world academic success and bridge parties is about to fall apart. So when Norman throws all of his wife’s ‘superstitious’ talismans and charms on the fire it really isn’t a surprise when the spooky stuff starts happening, because his wife Tansy (Janet Blair) isn’t the only witch on the campus.
I think Night of the Eagle is a great witchcraft horror because it eschews clichéd black masses and human sacrifices for a magic far more personal and intimate. Eagle’s witches act alone, working sympathetic enchantments through objects. The use of (what was then) modern communications technology as the medium for the wicked witch Flora’s (Margaret Johnston) spells to infiltrate Norman’s home is really clever. No stray hairs or toenail clippings for this modern witch, Flora plays one of Norman’s taped lectures down his telephone line. This updating of the parameters of ancient beliefs through technology combined with the trashing of Norman’s logical ordered modern world is, for me, what makes Night of the Eagle such a fascinating film.
Steven Thrash— Contributing Writer: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
I lurked in the dark and gloomy confines of my bedroom, as my mother locked the front door on her way out. I suspect she was pleased she did not have to drive me to school that morning, but I didn’t give the matter much thought. There were a billion other possibilities dancing through my imagination. Bottom line: everyone was gone. The house was mine and I was fixing to embark on what would become my enduring love affair with horror films. And it all began with that guy in the dirty brown hat – Freddy Krueger.
At 12-years old, I was, as I’m sure most kids were, forbidden to watch scary movies. But I had already become infatuated with them like a teenager falling in love for the first time. When I was 10-years-old, I pulled a Ferris Bueller so I could stay home to secretly watch the Stephen King marathon on HBO. I was nervy the whole day, as I feared the warden would certainly bust through the front door, catch me in the act and take away my television privileges – forever! Luckily, I made it through all three pictures unscathed, and after watching Carrie (1976), Salem’s Lot (1979) and The Dead Zone (1983) I was hooked.
My thirteenth birthday took its sweet time arriving, as it crept slowly toward its terminus like a thick molasses. I had bargained with my mother to let me finally watch horror movies when I became a teenager. She agreed, if I kept my grades up. You never met a kid with more A’s on his report card. And, as a bonus, she allowed me to skip school on my birthday, if I kept my attendance in check. I didn’t miss a day of class that semester.
The yellow brick road led to the Emerald City, as I was finally allowed to watch as many horror movies as I wanted. When mom left for work that morning, I was up and ready to explode out of the starting blocks. She had rented two VHS video tapes for me that day: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985).
My adventure and education in the macabre was underway, and the first Elm Street became and remains one of my favorites to this day. That pivotal moment led me to dozens of late fees at the local video stores, the creation of a haunted yard at my folks’ house during my high school years and to studying horror films in college and beyond.
My birthday is November 2nd, so it and Halloween have always been intertwined – one doesn’t happen without the other in my world. So, I make it a point to watch the first Elm Street venture every year on Halloween, as a nod to that peculiar 13-year-old kid that sent me on this amazing adventure. I highly recommend A Nightmare on Elm Street to those of you not fortunate enough to have seen it yet. It’s the perfect blend of fantasy, gore and storytelling. And, it’s the film debut of Johnny Depp. “Not a bad gig.” *Quote source: Johnny Depp’s quote “Not a bad gig” is from his appearance on The Actor’s Studio.