Halloween is a very special time of year. The temperature gets a little more chilly, the leaves turn colors, everything is either pumpkin-spice- or apple-cider-flavored, and most importantly, horror movies become a number-one priority.
True horror fans don’t need a reason to watch a good scary movie, but we kind of go nuts around this time of year. Out of the hundreds that will be gazed upon and enjoyed this Halloween season, there is always that one special film that each one of us must watch to truly make the season complete.
All Hallow’s Eve is quickly approaching, and what better time to reach out to others and find out what movies are a must watch for them on the holiest of holy days. I talked with different creative professionals to find out what their favorites are, and why. Here are their responses.
ADAM MARCUS (director, SECRET SANTA)
My favorite movie to watch on Halloween is, THE OTHER by Robert Mulligan, based on the novel by Thomas Tryon. Now this is not to be confused with THE OTHERS, the Nicole Kidman starrer about a ghost family (that’s a favorite as well). No, this is the 1972 film made by one of the great American directors, Mulligan (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE MAN IN THE MOON) about identical twin brothers, Niles and Holland Perry, who live on a small rural farm in 1935. It is the kind of American Gothic Horror that I grew to adore as a child. It is perverse and evil, but set in such a bucolic world that it all sneaks up on you. It also has an amazing performance by the legendary Uta Hagen (one of the true authors of modern acting). But the reason I love it so is because…
IT SCARED THE PISS OUT OF ME AS A CHILD! Holy crap, did it scare me! So simple and terrifying. And where I grew up there were tons of places that looked just like the farm setting of the film. In fact, the author had lived close by when he wrote the book the film was based on, and his follow-up was HARVEST HOME, which happens to be my favorite book to read during this season. The greatness of THE OTHER is that it is quiet and menacing without a lot of tricks. It feels like the end of summer, coming into the crispness of fall. You can almost smell the leaves dying as they fall from the trees. Also, most of it takes place during daylight hours in almost blinding sunshine. Now here’s the thing, making something scary in the dark is easy. Making the day scary takes insane skills, and Mulligan and Tryon had the goods. This is a quiet nightmare that fits the season.
TRISTIAN MONGOMERY (director, BROWN WRECK-LOOSE)
My favorite movie to watch during the Halloween season is THE THING. I love a good horror set in a remote snowy area. The desolation and harsh conditions adds an extra obstacle. It aids the sense of helpless for the characters and the supernatural thing that they are up against, especially in the case of THE THING. This film was definitely before its time with its gory and inventive practical effects and makeup. The creatures that THE THING conjured up were so otherworldly that there was no other word for them. This film is just always a pleasure to watch and it never gets old. As a side note, I’d also like to add that I appreciated the fact that we never saw any of the black characters in the film die. Yes, everyone in this film did die but the death of the two black characters, Childs and Nauls, was never shown visually, for some reason. We were always left to fill in the blanks. For a film was made in 1982, that was a shocker and that is what makes this film a subconscious draw for me.
AISLINN CLARKE (director, THE DEVIL’S DOORWAY)
In Ireland, Oct. 31st marks Samhain, the end of the harvest and the start of the year’s dark half. Traditionally, it is the time when the veil between this and the other side is at its thinnest. We’re not surprised then when small strange creatures appear at our doors holding hollowed turnips with candles inside. Or that’s what used to happen. They’re mostly carrying pumpkins these years.
My own Samhain tradition is for anything that bridges that gap between the worlds, anything that seems like the monstrous is intruding on the mundane: fake news, hoaxes, and practical jokes. Orson Welles’ WAR OF THE WORLDS went out on Hallowe’en and I love to listen to it and it’s Irish equivalent, a radio-play called NOT ONE RETURNS TO TELL, a pretend programme from a haunted hotel on the Antrim coast, which pre-dates Welles’ effort by a year. I directed a re-enacted broadcast production of it, with a live studio audience, for BBC radio last year.
However, my favourite and the thing that I watch every year is GHOSTWATCH, the BBC’s long-con, broadcast on Hallowe’en 1992. Written by Stephen Volk and directed by Lesley Manning, it purported to be an outside broadcast from a London council estate where a family is tormented by a malevolent spirit. Its use of recognizable BBC personalities of the time made it totally believe then and, even more so now, with the slake of paranormal investigation shows hosted by minor celebrities that unintentionally imitate it. I watch it every year and, even my son, who has no idea who Sarah Greene and Michael Smith, the hosts, are and who never saw it broadcast in real-time, gets a deep Samhain scare out of it. Because the strength is the writing — the unsettling backstory behind everything -– the attention given in the direction, and our willingness to believe that, on Hallowe’en, such things are really more likely.
KAYCIE DANNIEL (writer/illustrator, ELLO MIDNIGHT…)
Every Halloween I can’t wait to watch my favorite movie series FEAST. All three movies: FEAST, FEAST II: SLOPPY SECONDS and FEAST III: THE HAPPY FINISH are directed by John Gulager, written by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton. (And produced by Wes Craven might I add. That should be a horror fan seal of approval right?) Of course there’re grotesque creatures and gore, but you’ll get a chance to see creatives ingeniously break and exploit character (cough–Hero–cough) arcs and offer heavy doses of humor that challenges the horror genre cannon, fan expectations, and babies. Seriously, these movies test morals and will drag you outside the norm with it!
RICHARD TANNER (director, FRANKENTHUG)
Halloween is the holiest of days for people like me. All year leads up to that one night of excessive candy and spooky stories and always top it off with a scary movie. I have my favorites that I watch year round but Halloween is a day to make me feel like a kid again.
This means I have to watch ERNEST SCARED STUPID: “How about a bumper sandwich, booger lips?” Maybe it has to deal with me being a dude in his 30s, or maybe it has to do with the familiar feeling of Jim Varney and a troll… Either way, Halloween isn’t the same without that flick lighting up my screen.
ANTHONY BROWNLEE (producer, FREDHEADS: THE DOCUMENTARY)
My favorite time of the year — the changing color of the trees, the weather cooling down, the continuous play of horror films and of course, the arrival of Halloween, which is my favorite holiday. During this time of tricks and treats, I love watching WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, I consider the film to be my favorite horror film of all time. The film has a different vibe to it than any other horror movie I’ve ever watched and having my idol, Wes Craven, return to the franchise for this installment makes it sweeter than candy. I remember being nine years old and watching it for the first time on VHS, being so captivated by the turn of Heather Langenkamp, playing another version of herself while keeping the essence of Nancy Thompson with her, and watching her battle a more sinister incarnation of Freddy Krueger. This film takes me back to a great place of being a kid and discovering this world of horror films; NEW NIGHTMARE had all the elements of telling a great in-depth story, having a strong heroine, and returning to those elements that made the original film amazing.
DANIEL W. KELLY (author, COMFORT COVE series)
There isn’t enough time in October to watch all the films that could fill my home with holiday spirit on Halloween. But here are three that many might overlook…or just ignore while watching HALLOWEEN for the millionth time.
I myself overlooked SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER for years. Like…looked right past it every time I saw it on the shelves at Best Buy. That’s because the larger than life cover art could either signify a pretty insane flick or a really desperate attempt to make a weak movie appear better than it is…and we all know which way that toss-up usually goes. Unintentionally, the film ended up in my movie collection due to one of those multi-movie boxed sets. My first surprise upon watching SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER was that it’s a Halloween movie. Second surprise, it’s from the director of the 1981 slasher JUST BEFORE DAWN. And the biggest surprise? This is a darkly humorous and creepy film loaded with Halloween spirit as a little boy innocently joins an adult in a freaky devil mask on a killing spree around town.
Next there’s TORMENTED, which I first saw at a film festival under the title Berkshire County. HALLOWEEN meets THE STRANGERS when a young woman babysitting two children on Halloween night is terrorized by “trick or treaters” in masks. EEK! Super suspenseful from start to finish.
Finally, there’s the indie film THE WICKED ONE, which blends aspects of the original HALLOWEEN, Zombie’s white trash HALLOWEEN II, and FRIDAY THE 13TH with a bit of camp, the grit and gratuitous sex of ’80s slashers, and brutal kills more in keeping with modern slashers. The plot is simple enough — a killer escapes a mental institution and stalks rednecks at a Halloween party in a barn. It’s so damn entertaining to me because the director is clearly a fan of the genre and manages to incorporate elements from some of my favorite classics.
DEBBIE ROCHON (actress, DEATH HOUSE)
While I often say THE SHINING is my favorite horror movie of all time, I am driven to write about SESSION 9.
Kubrick’s masterpiece has been dissected by countless authors, has entire books dedicated to it, and many, many documentaries. There’s more than a couple conspiracy theorists who would like to read far too much into it; tying it in with Kubrick’s apparent moon-landing hoax film, etc. So, I will focus on SESSION 9.
Brad Anderson’s intellectual and artistic instant classic SESSION 9 is as much a horror film as film school. The layers laid down from the script, the actors, the framing and sound are all, each and every aspect of this film, waiting to be discovered by the audience who is willing to peel. On the surface it’s a terrific movie. However, the more viewings the more insight. The more you peel and dig in the more there is to appreciate and enjoy. I am not going into a plot description with this. I feel that this movie doesn’t need it, and if you haven’t seen it yet, watch it without reading a ton of opinions about it. Hell, mine isn’t needed. But the complexity of this true horror gem makes it a must-watch every October, and with every viewing, I find another reason why it’s at the very top of my favorite-horror-movies-of-all-time list. It even has the capacity to make you teary-eyed, but you can blame that on the onion.
JT HABERSAAT (comedian, ALTERCATION PUNK COMEDY TOUR)
Most of my favorite Halloween flicks are completely rooted in nostalgia vs specific to the season. I’ll always watch IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN if I can find it, and the GARFIELD’S HALLOWEEN ADVENTURE freaked me out as a tyke. But my primary faves are the animated THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW… the headless horseman scared the bejesus out of me as an 8 year old…. and THE HITCHER, which I watched with my dad one Halloween night when it was too rainy to go trick or treating. Rutger Hauer is batshit insane in that flick, and the scene where Jennifer Jason Leigh is pulled apart by two opposing cars seriously fucked me up. No, I didn’t see the remake! Rutger forever.
ANGUS MAPLE (adult film star, SWINEY’S PRO-AM)
PRINCE OF DARKNESS! On the surface, PRINCE OF DARKNESS seems like a rote “base under siege” story that Carpenter just kills (almost) every time he’s tackled it. In fact, it is at first glance, and he kills it again. It’s when you shut up and pay attention to the IDEAS at work: quantum physics explaining the basic underpinnings of religious doctrine, demonic possession through ingested liquid… warnings in dreams!
Oh, that dream sequence! It escalates every time we see it; one number at a time… another tiny bit of information about the return of Satan fed to us… Shaky, hand held, high contrast video signal of a dark, distorted figure, cloaked in silhouette, emerging from otherworldly light. A crackling voice, drenched in static, saying “This is not a dream we are broadcasting actual events from the future…” Even describing the scene still makes my hair stand on end thirty years on! Go to YouTube and search “PRINCE OF DARKNESS dream sequences,” crank up the volume on your headphones and feel every subconscious warning alarm in your head kick into high gear!
Yeah, it’s territory Carpenter has covered before, but if you pay attention and soak in the concepts presented, this movie becomes a razor-thin slice of a terrifying cosmic horror story that’s been going on since the beginning of time.
HAPPY HALLOWEEN ALL!
MIKE VAUGHN (author, THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO STRANGE CINEMA)
When asked what my favorite movie to watch on Halloween is, wow… it’s tough to pick just one. However, there is one film that always makes a ghoulish appearance on my TV set drenched in Jack-O-Lantern glow. William Castle, for all his big bold showmanship and legendary gimmicks, did manage to make some good, even great, romps, and the film I chose is his most successful and well known. HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is without a doubt my favorite film to watch on the spookiest time of year. It has everything you would ever want: a haunted house…check, tongue-in-cheek murder…check, a suave-as-hell Vincent Price in his prime… double-check, and don’t forget the groovy skeleton. It still holds up as entertaining, and I dare you not to be freaked out by the gliding witch-looking servant, that scene still manages to give me chills. To some, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL might be terribly dated and silly and of course not-scary, but those people are just dead inside — stay away from “those people.” The way I feel about the film is like riding one of those wonderful spook houses at the carnival, they are hooky, yes, but they are always great for a howling good time, and you might even jump once or twice. It’s no wonder that Elvira herself has stated in interviews that this is her favorite horror film, and I am sure that goes for many others out there. So, when thinking about what film you want to watch on the greatest holiday — you will of course watch the knife-wielding Michael Myers in HALLOWEEN, but if you want some different kind of thrills, do stop by the HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL.
JARED M. COHN (director, THE HORDE)
HALLOWEEN PUSSY TRAP KILL KILL is a film I wrote and directed, and it’s perfect for the holiday. We had Academy Award winner Margaret O’Brien and Richard Grieco in it. It’s a fun SAW-like scary Halloween movie.
ELLIE CHURCH (actress, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS)
My favorite Halloween-time movie is the original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (really any of them, but mostly the O.G.) As a kid , nothing scared me more than Freddy — nothing. I would run and jump onto my bed at night so he wouldn’t grab my feet … for YEARS. And nothing goes hand-in-hand with Halloween to me, like being a kid and being terrified.
A huge thank-you to all our distinguished participants!
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Tags: Adam Marcus, Aislinn Clarke, Angus Maple, Anthony Brownlee, Daniel Kelly, debbie rochon, Ellie Church, halloween, Jared Cohn, JT Habersaat, Kaycie Danniel, Mike Vaughn, Richard Tanner, Tristian Montgomery