My Take on Halloween movies by Jim Carl - October 30, 2012
If you’re like me, there’s only so many Friday the 13th and Evil Dead marathons I can take every Halloween, including 1978’s Halloween itself. Same thing goes for The Shining, Poltergeist, Child’s Play, The Exorcist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, and about a hundred other horror movies from the 1980s that appear on TV ‘round this time of the year. I like all of these movies, make no mistake, but I’m also a little sick of them.
If you’re looking for something different this Halloween and are underwhelmed by those AMC marathons, try one of the 10 films listed below. You can find most of them on Netflix. Some are scarier than others. One or two are controversial. They range from gory to bloodless. Big budget to no-budget. Mainstream to alternative. I’ve tried to pick a wide a range of films from the past 40 years. I think all of them are good horror movies. And come on, you’ve gotta be sick of hearing, “Heeere’s Johnny!”
DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972)
Here’s a brutal giallo movie about a series of child killings in a remote Italian village. If you’re easily offended, by all means skip this film. It was criticized by the Catholic Church, blacklisted and received a limited theatrical run throughout Europe and was never released in theaters in the United States. Now that’s controversy. The plot of this whodunit, including the killer’s identity, floored me.
ALICE, SWEET ALICE (1976)
This is the slasher flick with a very young Brooke Shields, but don’t let that stop you because she dies in the film’s first 10 minutes. It’s a whodunit with not-so-subtle religious overtones that includes several great plot twists and some very convincing stabbings. The early 70s included a slew of movies about creepy kids wearing yellow rain slickers and carrying butcher knives, but this is the best one. No offense to Don’t Look Now.
THE LEGACY (1979)
Here’s an almost entirely bloodless supernatural thriller that would probably get a PG-13 rating these days. If you’re squeamish, this is a good film to pick for Halloween. Six guests are invited to an English manor and begin dying, one by one, however this is not a stalker film. It’s very much like Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians. It’s not a whodunit either, but a throwback to the heyday of Hammer Studios. It’s written by Jimmy Sangster.
THE CHANGELING (1980)
After the death of his wife and daughter, composer George C. Scott moves into a great big mansion to work in solace. The house, however, is haunted by the ghost of a little boy who was murdered there. Moody and atmospheric, this is the kind of film where a door slowly creaking open gives you the chills. It has no gore. Martin Scorsese ranked this as one of the 11 best horror movies ever made. I agree.
DEAD AND BURIED (1981)
This one is brutally violent and bloody. I was quite surprised this got an R rather than X rating in 1981. It’s more than a little cruel toward animals and children, so careful if you’re easily hurt. A small-town sheriff investigates a series of horrendous crimes committed by seemingly innocent townsfolk. The local mortician may be reanimating dead people, but for what purpose? This has a great twist ending.
For pure visual style, it’s hard to beat Italy’s Dario Argento. The plot is unimportant. This is one of the prettiest-looking horror movies I’ve ever seen. A lot of people claim that Suspiria is his masterpiece, but I personally prefer this one. Pause the film at any point and you’ll probably be looking at a beautifully-composed frame. Be forewarned: It’s gory in that early 80’s Grindhouse style.
William Peter Blatty’s EXORCIST III (1990)
Never mind the III in its title. Like Psycho II and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, this is one of the best horror sequels ever made as long as you put the original entirely out of your mind and allow this new story to gain its footing. George C. Scott takes over Lee J. Cobb’s role from the original as a detective investigating a series of crimes in 1990 that seem to be religiously motivated. Hands down, this has one of the greatest “jump” moments in horror movie history.
Four gay buddies are stalked by a masked killer (ala Michael Meyers) through West Hollywood on Halloween night. After seeing so many countless slasher flicks in the wake of Scream, the gay angle in this one is surprisingly refreshing whilst not being exploitive or (worse) being played for camp. No pun intended, this is a straight-forward slasher film with some inventive kills, and just like Scream, once you strip away the gimmick, the storyline is a pretty good one.
I’ve read very little H.P. Lovecraft, so I’m not a good judge of whether this is a valid adaptation or not, and that’s probably a good thing. This low-budget movie blindsided me. It’s the story of a college professor who returns to his hometown to rectify his mother’s estate after her death. This is a creepy psychological horror film and not a special-effects extravaganza, but I give it extra points for trying so hard. Don’t worry about Tori Spelling being in the cast. She has a very small role, much like Drew Barrymore in Donnie Darko.
Christopher Smith’s TRIANGLE (2009)
A group of shipwreck survivors come across a derelict vessel in the Atlantic Ocean. You’ve seen this story a thousand times…or so you tell yourself. But the plot has something much, much more clever on its mind. If you like twisty narratives like Memento and Timecrimes, here’s a psychological horror movie for you. I saw this one on Netflix, expecting nothing, and instead found one of my favorite thrillers of the past decade.