It’s 2018 and American culture feels at war with itself. Some of this is no doubt a spilling over of the bitter partisan division currently ripping at the fabric of the country. I think another aspect, however, comes from the rapid pace of technological and social change. The world is not the same one it was ten years ago – and who knows what things will look like a decade into the future. This uncertainty is reflected in our art, namely in the incredible popularity of nostalgia.
It’s October again (or close enough) so get ready for a whole month of horror-themed content. I begin by easing into it. Not everyone likes being scared after all. As a fan of horror, I cannot tell you how many times my suggestion to watch a horror movie has been voted do by “Is it scary? I don’t like being scared!”
Well… of course all the absolute best “pure” horror movies are scary. They wouldn’t be good if they weren’t. Yet I feel that there is a sub-genre to horror that is rarely talked about. Those films that give the chills but also excite us as audiences. After all, it was films like the original Dawn of the Dead that got people asking: “So what would you do in a zombie apocalypse?”
So if you’re looking to get into the Halloween spirit but still wish to sleep fairly soundly at night, I have some ideas for you. Keep in mind, art is subjective – so if you frighten easily: fair warning.
Seriously, for those that haven’t heard, M. Night’s newest sends two kids to meet their long-lost grandparents. Shot in “found footage” style, The Visit treats its audiences to a mix of jolts and laughs. Sounds like a hard combo to pull off because it is.
What makes The Visit more impressive is that, while balancing these two difficult moods, the film remains fairly grounded and subdued. The films highlighted after this one make no such effort and often reach wacky, near cartoon levels of physical humor. M. Night is able to perfectly capture that level of awkward, tension-relieving laughter that comes when the film’s characters (and audience) realize that the situation is just going from bad to worse.
For those out there getting sick of “found footage” and all its overdone trappings, The Visit has you covered as well; with many scenes intentionally poking fun at the more commonplace jump scares.
Is it creepy: yeah (especially if old people weird you out), but it’s also a lot of fun! Also, there’s very little gore – although it does get kind of gross in certain spots.
Cabin in the Woods
For a long time, the late great Wes Craven‘s Scream was at the top film for meta-horror movie experiences. It still is… but Cabin in the Woods blows it out of the water as a deconstruction of the slasher horror genre. Where Scream merely pointed out where conventions lay, Cabin in the Woods works its entire premise around it.
The film is, you guessed it, about a group of young, attractive college kids renting a cabin in the woods. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that there is a little bit more going on. Soon the kids are up against a family of murderous zombies and things are getting increasingly dangerous and bizarre.
This is a perfect film for anyone who has ever watched a teen horror film and wondered: “Why is everyone acting like a complete idiot? Why would they do that?”
It’s gory for sure, but there’s a lot of comedy interwoven into the horror formula. All the actors perform like they had a blast making this film. Surprisingly (or not) this movie was written by none other than Joss Whedon (The Avengers) and his friend Drew Goddard and serves as their letter to the horror genre.
Wow, Minions has sure grossed a lot of money recently huh? I wonder where the creators ever got that idea for little, semi-evil, funny monsters that run around causing mischief and spouting gibberish?
Oh yeah, these hyper assh*les.
When Gremlins was first conceived, it was intended to be a much darker, more serious horror film. The gremlins weren’t going to be as funny and were going to kill a lot more people. Luckily, none other than Steven Spielberg came along and was like nah, let’s lighten it up. The result is arguably the most fun creature invasion movie of all time.
This film creeped me out as a kid, but since then I have come to view it as one of the most fun horror films I have. It can ever count as a Christmas movie (as much as Die Hard) since it takes place around that holiday. Is there gore? Yeah, but only if you count putting a gremlin in a blender. And oh that theme song:
Evil Dead II/ Army of Darkness
I’m kind of cheating here but they are both films in the same Evil Dead series. While the first and fourth (or remake if you will) films are straight horror, the second and third are something else entirely. Watching Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness is like watching live action cartoons… that are adult-oriented. I mean, just watch this:
Yeah, it’s ridiculous. The first three films can be viewed as Ash (the protagonist)’s descent into madness, as he is thrown into a world of demons and other horrors that defy reason. Don’t watch if you can’t stand dismemberment, but otherwise you may never laugh harder at a horror film. Here’s hoping the upcoming Ash vs. Evil Dead can deliver the same level of zany quality.
Trick ‘R Treat
When Krampus comes out: see it. Take your friends, maybe have a drink or two first, and prepare to have a good time. Why do I say that? Because Krampus is directed by Michael Dougherty, the mastermind behind Trick ‘R Treat.
Trick ‘R Treat may be the definitive Halloween film, since it is all about Halloween! The film is an anthology collection of stories centered around the holiday. The importance of checking your candy: check. The importance of decorating a pumpkin: check. The importance of having a great costume: it’s all there. Every rule of Halloween must be followed, and those that break them suffer dire consequences.
There is nothing more to be said than this film IS Halloween. It’s essential viewing. Not too gory, not too scary, it’s just right. Darn shame it never earned a theatrical release, but there’s hope for the sequel!
There you are, six films to sink your fangs into. In my opinion, they won’t terrify so much as entertain, making them excellent choices for those trying to get into horror this Halloween.
That’s right, just the original eight films. No Rob Zombie here. To be honest, the main reason that the Rob Zombie remake series is not being included is due to the fact that I have not seen Halloween II. Also, with the immanent announcement of Halloween III, that is not a series that has yet been completed. The first series however, the one that began in 1978 with John Carpenter and ended in 2002 with Busta Rhymes (not joking); that series has come and gone and can be looked at with a sense of completion. Everyone (or at least every horror fan) knows what a classic the original is. Spoiler warning: it is my number one. What of the rest of the series? Are they even worth watching? Let’s get into it, going best to worst.
1. Halloween (1978)
What a shocker. In previous posts over this past month, I have made no secret what a masterpiece I personally feel this film is. There is perhaps no better movie that illustrates the difference that an excellent soundtrack can make with a film. It is not simply score either, throughout the film director John Carpenter uses little sound queues to add the element of the supernatural into Michael Myers’ character. While some of the dialogue is not strong, Jamie Lee Curtis shows her acting chops as a leading lady. She is so perfect at being normal, so easy to understand. It sets up an excellent contrast between her and Myers. Donald Pleasence is also excellent and Dr. Samuel Loomis, sort of the modern-day Van Helsing foil to Myers’ evil. The film works without a lot of blood, without a ton of kills, without having to go to any extremes at all (take a lesson, Rob Zombie). Halloween is driven by pure talent at every level. Essential viewing during the October horror season.
2. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
The fact that this film is number two is a testament to how much the series’ quality drops off after the original. Do not feel that my placing this film second is in any way an endorsement of it as a good film. Halloween H20 (stop snickering, it is a serious title!) picks up twenty years after the events of the first two movies. It completely ignores the continuity set in the three films before it in an effort to return to the roots of the franchise. Jamie Lee Curtis even returns to star in the film. The reason this movie places second is due to its short run time (86 minutes) and its fun, over-the-top ending. That said, this is a film that suffers from multiple false jump scares. It is strongly debatable whether a single false jump is too many, but this movie features ten in about as many minutes. The resulting effect strips the film of any sense of tension and leaves the audience feeling bored and actually, kinda chuckling along at how many there are. Maybe this was the director’s intention. In any case, if you can survive the first half: H2o pulls a fun ending that somehow managed to feel like a satisfying end to the series. Being the 7th film, Michael Myers was getting pretty old at this point.
3. Halloween III: The Season of the Witch (1982)
In truth, this film is consistently a better film than H2o, yet this is the sequel most hated by many Halloween fans. The reason: Michael Myers is not in it. Well, he sort of is, but only on TV. This is the only Halloween sequel to attempt to branch off and do something original. For the record, it is still not a particularly good movie. The plot, which involving an evil attempt to kill kids via Halloween masks, is interesting but resolved in a rushed way that does not feel satisfying. The characters work fairly well but they wear thin by movie’s end. Looking back, this film may have been more successful with a different name. It should not have included a “3” as that set up the expectations of a direct sequel. There are also zero witches in this movie… just saying. Another problem this movie has is Trick ‘R Treat. This 2007 movie does what Season of the Witch was trying to do… only much better.
4. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Oh man, we’re getting int the pure cinematic crap territory now. Halloween 5 is a mess. This is the second film that follows Laurie Strode’s daughter (A.K.A. Michael Myers’ niece) as she tries to survive her psychotic uncle. The film is a direct continuation of four but kills the other surviving character really quickly. This is a shame because this character was older and linked the niece with the rest of the teenage characters. Also, the audience was treated to the character “Tina” instead. Tina is not likeable, Tina is not smart or clever… in fact Tina purposely does things that the character acknowledges will get her killed. Sounds like a fun protagonist right? The plot is everywhere with a cliffhanger ending that makes no sense. The only reason this film is this high on my list is due to the over-the-top stupid nature of some of the scenes. It makes parts of the movie really fun to watch… and it also allowed me to remember parts of it. More than I can say for the next film down.
Watching Michael Myers slowly drive after a child with John Carpenter’s iconic theme blaring is nothing short of magical.
5. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
This movie is really boring. I should end the synopsis there. I will simply say that any “Halloween fan” who complained about Michael Myers’ absence in Season of the Witch got exactly what they deserved. A retread that brought nothing new or memorable to the series. Watch it or don’t: you won’t remember it anyway.
6. Halloween II (1981)
The direct sequel and follow-up to Carpenter’s classic… is really poorly constructed. This is the only sequel that John Carpenter had anything to do with. While he did not direct, he did help write the script. Unfortunately, the script is the main problem. Most story experts will tell you that a protagonist is needed to give the audience a person to root for. Halloween II does not have a protagonist until the final act. Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie returns from the original, but is unconscious through most of the movie. Dr. Loomis also returns but does little to impact the plot in the beginning. The result: Michael Myers killing a bunch of people no one cares about. I would have included this movie higher (than 4) if not for one thing: this is the movie that adds in the family motivation. Michael Myers is after Laurie because he is her older brother. Gone is the random killing of the Boogeyman, this Michael now has a human motivation. I never understood why Carpenter would write this for a man he made increasingly supernatural as the first film progressed. All the Halloween sequels and remakes would follow this narrative. I hate it. The Boogeyman should not care about his little sister.
7. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
If 5 was a mess, Halloween: the Curse of Michael Myers is a catastrophe. It does not help that there are two versions of this movie out there. The theatrical cut and a Producers Cut. I have never seen the Producers Cut, but it is hard to imagine salvaging a good movie out of what was presented in theaters. Nothing makes sense. There are characters who go nowhere (in both cuts) and plot lines that are hastily tied up from the previous movies. The only reason I could give to watch this movie is to see Paul Rudd beat up Michael Myers with a pipe. I’m not kidding – that’s how he dies this time around. This is also the last film to feature Donald Pleasence, but really it is just sad to see him in a film of this quality. I have no clue if John Carpenter ever saw this movie, but I imagine his reaction would be similar to one of the first lines of the film: “Enough of this Michael Myers bullshit!”
8. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
I know, it’s hard to believe the one starring Busta Rhymes is the worst. Rick Rosenthal returns to direct Halloween: Resurrection after thoroughly underwhelming audiences with Halloween II. His directing talent did not improve in the twenty years between movies. What makes it sooooo bad? Apart from another stupid and nonsensical plot, Resurrection manages to undo all of the best parts of H20, namely the ending. Jamie Lee Curtis does not get to kill Michael Myers. Instead, she is offed very unceremoniously fifteen minutes into this film. The rest is done in reality TV show and contains roughly the same quality. Even the over-the-top, one-liner spouting Busta Rhymes can’t redeem this crap. Just how bad was it: bad enough to put the original Michael Myers in the ground for good.
So there you have it. Really. This is all the original series had to offer. Were there some great moments? Sure… all of them coming in 1978. Halloween has left a legacy that continues to live to this day. That is a mark of how great a film it was. You cannot judge a film by its sequels. John Carpenter is not responsible for what came after… although I’m sure he would agree that it could – at the very least – have been a little better than this.
Happy Halloween everyone!