As a horror fan, I have certain weaknesses, that if these tropes are used in a film, I’m almost always guaranteed to at least enjoy the movie. Out of these plot devices, one of my favorites is setting the movie either wholly, or partially, on Halloween.
Upon thinking about my best-loved films that exemplified this recurrent theme I came up with a list of my top 10 from the past eighteen years. I hope there are a few you haven’t heard of before. Happy Halloween!
10) THE GUEST (2014)
This film was a sleeper hit of 2014. I blame it on the marketing team. They should have pushed THE GUEST a bit harder as a horror movie. I repeatedly had a dear friend of mine tell me that I need to watch this film, but after watching the trailer and seeing the poster art, nothing about it grabbed me. When I finally watched THE GUEST, it completely blew me away. Director, Adam Wingard (YOU’RE NEXT), created such intense psychological horror movie that delved into the lives of the grieving Peterson family. David (Dan Stevens) introduces himself to the Petersons as a soldier and friend to their son who recently died in acton. David soon earns the family trust and they let him into their lives and even their home. As tension builds through the movie David’s mask of sanity slips away to reveal that he is a psychotic madman. The climax of THE GUEST culminates on Halloween night in an a cat and mouse chase, a no holds barred blood bath that has more a kin to retro slashers and classic Italian giallo than to any other modern American horror movie, which makes it a must see Halloween experience.
9) THE BARN (2016)
There is nothing I love more than an independent horror movie with so much heart and soul that it’s an instant classic. THE BARN is all of this and it takes place entirely on Halloween. Justin M. Seaman hit all the right notes with his full length directorial debut, and Zane Hershberger’s cinematography is so spot on.. THE BARN takes place in 1989 with best friends Sam (Mitchell Musolino) and Josh (Will Stout) enjoy one last Devil’s Night before graduating high school. They invite along some friends to go to a rock concert, and end up taking a detour. This divergence from the path leads this group of friends to a haunted barn and they awaken evil spirits. Between the campy special effects, the 80’s rock soundtrack, and cameos from Ari Lehman (FRIDAY THE 13TH) and Linnea Quigley (NIGHT OF THE DEMONS) THE BARN is a whole lot of retro Halloween fun!
8) GINGER SNAPS (2000)
I have never been a huge fan of werewolf movies. After so many of them, there isn’t many places that the story can go. When GINGER SNAPS hit the horror scene, all of that changed. GINGER SNAPS is a brilliant, feminist, coming-of-age movie that interjects plenty of intelligence and subtext to the werewolf mythos. Outcast sisters Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) are struggling to make it through high school in their small minded suburban town. Just to make life more complicated, Ginger is bitten by a ferocious werewolf. The third act of this movie is where the Halloween element comes in. Another full moon approaches, it’s Halloween night, and Ginger gets scarier than ever. Kudos to director John Fawcett for taking a chance on such an edgy movie. Subverting a traditional and expected story is the best possible way to make a movie. GINGER SNAPS is a deadly serious, female-centric version of TEEN-WOLF that is a guaranteed Halloween treat.
7) MURDER PARTY (2007)
I originally rented MURDER PARTY from one of the few remaining video rental stores when it first came out. I rented it specifically to make fun of it. I didn’t expect to be gifted with one of my favorite Halloween movies. Christopher Hawley (Chris Sharp) is an socially awkward guy that originally was going to settle in with his cat on Halloween and watch some movies. That is until he finds an invitation to a murder party. Chris figures it’s a regular Halloween costume party, gets dressed up, and heads out to have some spooky fun. Little does Chris know that the rest of the night he’ll be fighting for his life from a group of smarmy college kids that want to kill him in the name of art. MURDER PARTY is a truly smart, funny, and gruesome underdog of a movie that has enough winks and nods to movie fans to keep any Halloween party going all night long!
6) HELLBENT (2004)
My ex used to tell me that we must support the gay arts, and would drag me to every gay movie that would play the indie theater. HELLBENT was one of the few times I’m glad he did. This film is a great homage to ’80s slashers that takes place on Halloween. It’s Halloween night in West Hollywood, and two dudes are getting on in the back seat of their car, in the middle of the park. When out of nowhere a serial killer dressed as Satan kills both of them, decapitating one of them. Later on that night, a group of good looking gay dudes go to check out the sight of the murders. At this time, the red devil killer has found his next victims. HELLBENT really turns conventions on their head. Instead of a bland misogynistic shocker with gratuitous tits, what is served up is half naked muscle boys getting chopped up. The cast is amazing. Dylan Fergus is great as Eddie, the cop’s son, and final dude! I applaud director/writer Paul Etheredge in making his debut film be a gay slasher movie, and the best gay horror movie ever!
5) HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES (2003)
Rob Zombie’s full length motion picture debut is a controversial one. HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES is the type of film that you either love or hate. Personally, I love the heck out of this movie! I just love the classic set of the young people out on Halloween night chasing down urban legends and bizarre roadside attractions. The group get a flat tire and have to find shelter from the storm. They are taken in by a group of backwoods hillbillies, and think they can just play along with the Halloween festivities until their car gets fixed, but the Firefly family has other plans for them. Yes, I understand that Rob Zombie’s psychedelic, music video style isn’t for everyone, but I thought it was a lot of fun. That and the brutality of the torture and kills was superb. The whole cast is amazing, but Sid Haig as the unparalleled Captain Spaulding is one of my favorite cinematic characters of all time. HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES is the Halloween baby that was had when TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW got it on!
4) TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015)
If I was a sucker for any type of horror movies, it would be anthology films and movies that take place on Halloween. TALES OF HALLOWEEN combines this two deep routed loves of mine and creates a movie that I absolutely adore. The talent on this one is undeniable! It’s a venerable murder’s row of nine of what I would consider modern horror masters, including Darren Lynn Bousman (SAW), Axelle Carolyn (SOULMATE), Neil Marshall (THE DESCENT), Lucky McKee (MAY), and Mike Mendez (DON’T KILL IT). TALES OF HALLOWEEN contains ten stories. Most of them are funny or campy, some action packed, and some down right terrifying. There is literally something for everyone in this movie. If one of the stories doesn’t tickle your fancy, then skip it, believe me…the next one will. TALES OF HALLOWEEN should be a holiday tradition for horror fans to enjoy every year!
3) MAY (2002)
I had no idea of what to expect when I went to go see MAY in the theater. All I knew was that Clive Barker, who is a God to me, was talking about how amazing it was, and that meant I had to see it. MAY is one of the greatest feminist horror movies of all time. It’s the story of a lonely young woman named May who is superbly portrayed by Angela Bettis. The poor girl tries time and time again to make a real connection with people, but they always let her down. During the duration of the film she has a mental breakdown, and on Halloween night she turns into a full fledged psycho. There are a very few times in horror history when I can recall the antagonist in the film being a woman, and MAY is the finest example of a badass woman doing what she has to in order to achieve her ultimate goal. If I ever met director Lucky Mckee I would have to give him a great big kiss for creating such a fine movie!
2) TERRIFIER (2017)
Besides being a sucker for movies that take place on Halloween, I’m also a sucker for killer clown movies, and excessive gore. That being said, it’s only natural that I fucking love TERRIFIER. I’ve heard people complain that there isn’t enough story in this movie. If you are watching a movie like TERRIFIER for the story, then you’re watching the wrong movie. It’s Halloween night and a maniacal clown, named Art the clown (David Howard Thorton) is hunting down and disemboweling three young woman and anyone that gets in his way. TERRIFER is not for your casual horror fan. It is brutal, offensive, and bloody as fuck. This is definitely one for the gorehounds. If you have a sick sense of humor, and yearn for the old days of truly not giving a fuck, then TERRIFIER might just be the perfect Halloween trick for you!
1)TRICK R’ TREAT (2007)
TRICK R’ TREAT is singly the greatest Halloween movie ever! It’s a fantastic horror movie, but at the same time never loses it sense of fun and whimsy. I’ve seen my fair share of anthology films, but this is the first time I had viewed an anthology film where five stories are interwoven that all take place on Halloween. All the secrets and legends come out to play, and some to seek revenge. There is everything from a normal high school principal that turns out to be a serial killer, to a group of mean brats that pull a horrible prank, and even a group of female werewolves looking to feast on the town’s men. It’s sill hard for me to believe that when director Michael Dougherty created this masterpiece, Warner Brothers shelved it for two years, and then when they finally released it, it went straight to video. I was lucky enough to be at a film festival and see TRICK R’ TREAT in the theater before it’s release. Director Michael Dougherty was in attendance and it was a truly magical night.
Honorable mentions: GRAVY, SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER, CHAOS A.D., GRAVE WALKERS, AMERICAN FRIGHT FEST, and THE FUNHOUSE MASSACRE.