The staff at Cultural Transmogrifier really get into the Halloween spirit. Whether it’s a music playlist for parties (that list is coming next week), or movies to help us sleep less, let’s face it—Halloween is awesome and timeless. As a kid, it was a blast to stay up late on Halloween, eat endless amounts of candy, and dress in fun costumes; then we all became adults and got to truly appreciate all aspects of Halloween (scary movies, spooky cocktails, and parties). It’s in that spirit that we present some of our staff favorite movies to watch around Halloween. Let us know if we missed your favorite movie in the comments!
1. 28 Days Later – For me this is the ultimate scary movie and the easy top choice for my Halloween season films to watch. I remember seeing it for the first time and being absolutely terrified and amazed by the film. Danny Boyle managed to make the film more terrifying with isolation and desperation than actual fear of the infected (but let’s not forget that this film recharged zombie fever in pop culture with the running infected human). It’s scary because a population-decimating virus seems all too real and possible. The use of digital video gives it a raw and unsettling feeling throughout and it’s wonderfully acted by the cast. Easily the top choice every Halloween for me.
2. The Nightmare Before Christmas – You could watch this at Halloween or Christmas (just like Edward Scissorhands), but either season, this is a classic. Beautifully detailed and directed with wonderful songs by Danny Elfman, it’s a really fun movie for the family with plenty to enjoy for the adults.
3. Young Frankenstein – You could argue it’s the greatest parody movie of all time, but it deserves so much more praise than that. Young Frankenstein is my favorite Mel Brooks film, my favorite Gene Wilder film, and is just as silly as it is ingenious.
4. Alien – “In space, no one can hear you scream.” It continues to be one of Ridley Scott’s best movies and is a benchmark for sci-fi and horror movies alike. It’s dark, menacing, and captures the true fear of the unknown. Still scares the crap out of me every time I watch it.
5. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit – Another great family Halloween movie. There are plenty of jokes for the adults and as always, Wallace & Gromit are the best of friends which is all anyone can really ask for during the holidays.
1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show – “Hot patootie, bless my soul! I really love that rock n’ roll!” This may not be a scary movie, but it certainly contains elements of Halloween: aliens from outer space, a frozen Meat Loaf, and a Sweet Transvestite. This film is known for its midnight showings in which audiences act out and participate in the film, often trashing the theater. Each Halloween, cities all over the country show a midnight screening of this cult classic.
2. The Hills Have Eyes (2006) -“Ninety-seven percent of nationwide service, and we get stuck in the three percent.” Nuclear fallout produced Mutant Cannibal Freaks who terrorize a normal family during their vacation in the desert. The film is gory and the mutants are brutal, all the elements you want in a horror film.
3. Deliverance – “Goddamn, you play a mean banjo.” This may not seem like a typical horror film, but Deliverance has intensely frightening moments and one of the most grotesque rape scenes. What makes Deliverance frightening is the fact that the terrorizers are not zombies or monsters, but regular people.
4. Blue Velvet – “You put your disease in me.” Maybe not the gory movie you are looking for on Halloween, but this David Lynch film is sure to disturb. It starts with the discovery of a severed ear and uncovers the menacing world in which we live.
5. Hellraiser -“We will tear your soul apart.” This film has two very strange and frightening villains and, though a bit campy, certainly worth a view on Halloween. The sadomasochistic Cenobites, who torture anyone that opens their puzzle box, are led by one of the most visually horrific villains in film history. If that isn’t scary enough, an escaped victim of the Cenobites tries to regain his bodily form by drinking blood.
1. The Shining (1980) – When it comes to the usual “best of” lists for Halloween and horror movies in general, many titles simply go without saying. Although The Shining and many other Stephen King adaptations fit the bill, my intention with this list is to provide five movies that have genuinely scared me. Moments that stick with you and make you question all the small noises you hear when you’re alone at night are the ones that prove horror movies have been truly effective. In Stanley Kubrick’s supernatural haunted hotel story, the moment that really stays with you is everything that happens in Room 237. Mr. Halloran’s stern warning to Danny to stay out was foreboding enough. When Danny finally goes in, we don’t actually see what happens, but the bruises on his neck tell the real story. The eerie music that plays when Jack goes to investigate builds and builds to the real horror of the woman in the tub and her maniacal laughter.
2. The Blair Witch Project – As someone who lives in the pine barrens of New Jersey, ghost stories and folklore of creatures from the woods became a background to every Halloween. The setting of The Blair Witch Project strikes a particular chord and the idea of being lost in the woods is absolutely terrifying. Three filmmakers attempting to make a documentary about a witch from Burkittsville, Maryland slowly but inevitably realize that they will not get out of their project safe and sound. The subtlety of the warnings left at their campsites is ingenious. At first, piles of rocks begin showing up in front of their tents, clearly indicating that someone or something is following them. The real creepy factor here and in other movies on this list is that there is little explanation as to why each victim is targeted. In this case, it might simply have been a matter of trespassing where no one else dared to go.
3. Paranormal Activity – In the case of Paranormal Activity, another found-footage movie that redefined the genre, there is almost no reason at all given as to why the main characters are being terrorized. Although the sequels attempt to bring a mythology to the events, this film as a stand-alone story is much more scary without a rational explanation. The notion of a demon attaching itself to a person and not leaving them alone means that there isn’t anything that can be done. There is no curse to undo or wrongs to right; instead, it’s only a matter of time until evil triumphs.
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – Accept no imitations. The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre had an immensely suspenseful build-up to the slasher moments and chase scenes that come in the final half of the film. A blazing hot Texas afternoon in a van is an unlikely backdrop, a counterpoint to the usual dark and spooky house. The first appearance of the hitchhiker was certain to end poorly, his disheveled appearance and rambling about slaughterhouses is only a small indication of his deranged behavior. Upon seeing a knife, he is compelled to cut his own hand with it, as if he needs to do it. Shortly after taking a picture of the rest of the people in the van, he lights it on fire, cuts one of the passengers, then scrawls a message on the side of the vehicle as he is ejected from it. The others stop and look at the strange symbol, wondering if maybe they have been marked for something.
5. In the Mouth of Madness – An under-appreciated John Carpenter horror movie, In The Mouth of Madness portrays a Stephen King or Dean Koontz style writer living in a small town in New England. The twist is that everything supernatural that has happened in his books is taking place right there in his hometown. John Trent (Sam Neill), an insurance investigator sent to find writer Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) after he seemingly disappeared, finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into a Lovecraftian nightmare. The disturbing violence, the otherwordly creatures, and the slow descent into insanity reflect the masterful horror writing that the film pays tribute to.
1. The Halloween Tree – Adapted from Ray Bradbury’s 1972 fantasy novel of the same name, The Halloween Tree is an Emmy Award-winning animated film produced by Hanna-Barbera. The film tells the story of a group of trick-or-treaters who travel back in time to discover the origins of their respective costumes. Guided by Mr. Moundshroud (Leonard Nimoy), the children endeavor not only to learn about what their costumes symbolize, but to save their friend Pip, pursued by Moundshroud. The children meet with Celtic druids to learn of the myths of witches, travel from Egypt to discover the significance of mummification, explore Notre Dame Cathedral to learn of gargoyles and demons, and celebrate the Day of the Dead in Mexico.
The film was released on DVD for the first time on August 28 of this year.
2. Young Frankenstein – Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedy parodies not only the film adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but the genre of classical horror films as a whole. Discussing the film’s origins, Brooks explains:
“I was in the middle of shooting the last few weeks of Blazing Saddles somewhere in the Antelope Valley, and Gene Wilder and I were having a cup of coffee and he said, I have this idea that there could be another Frankenstein. I said not another—we’ve had the son of, the cousin of, the brother-in-law, we don’t need another Frankenstein. His idea was very simple: What if the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein wanted nothing to do with the family whatsoever. He was ashamed of those wackos. I said, ‘That’s funny.'”
3. The City of Lost Children – La Cité des Enfants Perdus (1995) – The City of Lost Children is a French fantasy film directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen & Amélie). Without the ability to dream himself, Krank, a demented scientist, kidnaps children in order to steal their pleasant dreams. The film, riddled with stylized arcane machinery, hosts a cast of the fantastical from a talking brain in a fish tank to an octopus guiding a group of orphaned thieves.
4. The Devil’s Backbone – El Espinazo del Diablo (2001) – “What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber. ”
Before Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy, Guillermo del Torro wrote and directed The Devil’s Backbone. Set in an early 19th century Spanish orphanage during the final year of the Spanish Civil War, the film serves as both a chilling ghost story and a political allegory. This psychological thriller focuses on a young boy, Carlos, abandoned by his parents and tormented by his peers, who begins having visions of a mysterious apparition.
5. Silence of the Lambs – “It puts the lotion on its skin.”
Based on the 1988 novel by Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs is an unsettling psychological thriller. I was five-years-old when I first encountered Hannibal Lecter, watching Silence of the Lambs in my grandparents’ basement with my cousin. When we tired of playing, one of us put on the film and spent the next two hours in a state of complete and utter terror. When my uncle found us, all I could say was “Uncle Pat . . . I’m . . . thcared”, complete with a five-year-old’s trademark lisp. My five-year-old self only focused on the horror of the film’s gore, but the conversations throughout Silence of the Lambs are far scarier, and certainly suitable for any horror movie marathon.