Top Five Halloween Movies

I have read far too many blog posts of “the best Halloween movies” that are totally uncreative lists of classic horror films that have nothing whatsoever to do with Halloween. Come on, is it really that hard? Here are five of my favorite horror movies that actually take place on or around Halloween:

  1. Halloween (1978). Well, of course this one has to go on the list. Halloween has long been considered to be the first true slasher film, and laid down several of the genre’s “ground rules”: teenage sex = death; tomboyish Final Girl (“Laurie”) saves the day; killer POV shots a-plenty; and probably a few more elements that aren’t coming immediately to mind.

    When John Carpenter made Halloween, he never intended it to become a franchise centered around the character of Michael Meyers. Instead, he wanted to do a series of films that all took place on Halloween—hence Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which has nothing to do with the previous two but does have a lot to do with Halloween itself.

    When I watched this as a kid, what most scared me was a memorable scene in which Jamie Lee Curtis actually makes it out of the house and runs down the middle of the empty suburban street screaming for people to help her; nobody answers, leaving her alone to fight back against the killer.

  2. Trick or Treat (1986). High school outcast Eddie Weinbauer worships heavy metal musician Sammi Curr. After Curr dies in a mysterious hotel fire, Eddie is given a demo copy of Curr’s last—unreleased—album by his friend “Nuke” (played by Gene Simmons). When Eddie plays the record backwards (of course he does), he unleashes the evil spirit of Sammi Curr himself, who takes revenge on all the jocks and jerks who torment Eddie, his biggest fan. Also features Ozzy Ozbourne as a TV evangelist! It’s a really well-done little horror flick, with above-average acting and effects. Oh, right—the climax of the movie takes place on Halloween at the high-school dance.

  3. Night of the Demons (1988). Ten high school kids have a Halloween party in a creepy old mortuary. A seance awakens the demon within the house, and the body count rises as the night goes on. It’s your classic dumb-teens-get-killed film, with plenty of gore (enough that the filmmakers had a hard time finding a U.S. distributor) and scream queen Linnea “Trash” Quigley! This is also one of the only horror films I’ve seen in which the token black friend survives the entire film.

  4. Ginger Snaps (2000). “I get this ache… I thought it was for sex, but it’s to tear everything to fucking pieces.” Probably the most interesting werewolf movie made after The Howling. I absolutely love the lead characters, sisters Ginger and Brigitte—they’re well-defined and realistic personalities, and sympathetic to anyone who was a little “odd” in high school. While some critics found the lycanthropy = puberty metaphor a little overdone, I found it perfectly fitting. It’s a conscious metaphor, and treated with the same dark humor that pervades the rest of the film as well, and so I think the viewer can forgive the heavy-handedness a little more easily. The least Halloween-related movie on this list, but there’s a crucial scene at a Halloween party near the end of the film.

  5. Murder Party (2007). An amazing film festival favorite, now on DVD. The supremely boring Christopher, a meter maid who lives alone with his cat, finds an invitation to a Halloween “murder party” in a Brooklyn warehouse. Having nothing better to do, he constructs a last-minute costume and makes his way to the party, where he finds a group of pretentious art-school students intent on staging a murder as a work of art to impress a wealthy patron. Heavy amounts of drugs and alcohol give way to gruesome violence as Christopher tries to make it home alive.

    …did I mention it’s a comedy?

    Well-scripted, well-acted, with fantastic gore effects for a low-budget indie flick. Definitely check this one out!

Favorite Horror Movie Weapons 1: The Chainsaw

One of my favorite zombie graphic novels, Living with Zombies, features two guys for whom the zompocalypse is nothing less than a fantasy come true. They immediately set about slaughtering as many zombies as possible, each one trying to out-do the other as if racking up points in Left 4 Dead. When they get separated, they keep in touch via cell phone:

Billman: [answering phone] Hello?
Chris: [fires gun repeatedly, right next to the phone]
Billman: God! What the piss was that?
Chris: [smirking] That was my new sweet ass gun.
Billman: Really!
Chris: Uh-huh.
Billman: See if you can place this sound. [revs chainsaw next to the phone] Could you hear that? Heh heh…
Chris: [dejected] Why is it that whatever I do…
Billman: I one-up you?
Chris: Yes!

In that spirit, I’d like to take a moment to honor one of my favorite horror movie weapons, the chainsaw.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, shot in 1974 by Tobe Hooper, has been both reviled for its gruesome displays of murder and hailed as a masterpiece of independent filmmaking. Hooper claims that he wanted to make a film about isolation and brutality, a response to the real-life massacres that at the time were being carried out by the United States on the other side of the world, in the Vietnam War. According to Hooper, the idea for the chainsaw as a murder weapon was inspired by being in a crowded hardware store and thinking of ways to quickly get out through the throngs of people.

Leatherface chasing after "the one that got away."

Leatherface chasing after 'the one that got away.'

In the sequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II, the symbolism of the chainsaw is a little more overt. The sexually immature (and possibly impotent) Leatherface now thrusts his hips suggestively while swinging his chainsaw, and final girl Stretch saves herself, in part, by reassuring Leatherface about how big and dangerous his chainsaw is. Dennis Hopper’s character, Lefty, demonstrates the fact that using a chainsaw as a weapon marks one as being a tad bit unpredictable and, well, crazy. It’s not a “sane” weapon — it’s a brutal weapon, a weapon one chooses not because it’s efficient but because it’s horrific. When Lefty decides to arm himself with three small chainsaws before going into battle with the Sawyer clan, it’s a demonstration of how his commitment to proper revenge has surpassed his sense of reason.

hopperchainsawhopperchainsaw2

This theme comes up again in Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness: when Ash loses an arm, and all appears to be lost — when he’s reached the point of no return — he comes up with a way to attach a chainsaw to his bloody stump, and subsequently uses it to wildly hack his way through the Deadites and other nasties.

Ash creates his chainsaw-arm.

Ash creates his chainsaw-arm.

…Ash’s chainsaw-arm is also cleverly referenced in the Japanese zombie movie Stacy, in a world in which defending yourself from zombie schoolgirls has become an everyday occurrence.

Bruce Campbell's Right Hand #2.

Bruce Campbell's Right Hand #2.

But then in the 1987 B-movie The Video Dead, the rules change — one of the zombies, after seeing several of her kin attacked by a teenager wielding a chainsaw, manages to get the chainsaw away and start attacking humans with it.

Zombie Bride turns the tables.

Zombie Bride turns the tables.

…anyone care to share their personal favorite chainsaw horror movie action?

Running Scared

The thing I hate the most about buddy cop movies isn’t the cheesy jokes or the plot holes or the predictable endings — it’s the way in which they make cops seem sympathetic and likable even as they abuse people and deny them their basic civil rights. In Running Scared, plainclothes detectives Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines start out the movie by entering and searching without a warrant and then inciting violence against a suspect; they later falsely declare on that suspect’s papers that he held $5,000, not $50,000, at the time of his arrest, and refuse to give him the rest of the money until he cooperates with their investigation. They knock on the door of a Latina woman they think has information about a suspect and when she declares she knows nothing, they question her immigration status and threaten her with deportation. They call in phony tips to get a guy arrested because he’s dating a woman that Hines wants to get with. (There’s probably a lot more that I can’t remember right now, but you get the idea.)

Standard beach attire in Key West.

Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines must have to beat off the ladies with a stick.

Also notable is the incredibly tight relationship these two partners have. Unlike most other interracial buddy cop movies, in which the two partners start out the movie hating each other and slowly learn to appreciate the other’s quirks, Crystal and Hines have apparently been BFFs since childhood, or something. They have keys to each others’ apartments. It is, it seems, totally okay and normal for Crystal to walk in on Hines when he’s naked and in bed with a lovely lady, and to just start chatting to him instead of politely excusing himself. They take their vacations together. They make plans to retire and open up a bar together in Key West. And neither one of them seems to have any other real social life or family. Yeah, it’s a little odd.

The best scene in the movie, by far, is the one in which the neighborhood kids, tired of these cops hanging around their neighborhood and harassing their families, spraypaint “UNMARKED POLICE CAR” on the side of their, uh, unmarked police car. Amazing. I would so love to see that happen in real life…

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

You know, back when I was nine or ten and watched this movie at my grandma’s house, it seemed like a work of pure genius. Killer tomatoes? Hilarious! That’s really all it took to make me satisfied with the movie; everything beyond the general concept of the movie was just filler.

I guess it takes slightly more to satisfy my adult sensibilities, because man, this movie was really hard to sit through. I’ve definitely watched worse movies, but…yeah. It was painful.

A killer tomato chases down its prey.

A killer tomato chases down its prey.

What’s frustrating about this movie is that it could have been really funny. If they had taken out the annoying slapstick, camp, and self-aware humor (and the songs oh god the songs), changing it from an obvious parody into a straightforward cheap, B-grade horror movie, it would have actually been pretty entertaining. The scenes with the “killer” tomatoes splattering against windshields and people’s faces were great, and if they’d just stuck with that, it could have been good. The audience gets that it’s supposed to be funny; they’re tomatoes. You don’t need to bash people over the head with the novelty oversized comedy hammer, screaming, “It’s funny! See, it’s funny!”

We should have watched the sequel. At least that one has John Astin in it.

Still, the movie prompted some awesome potluck dishes:

My "tomato" cupcakes...

My "tomato" cupcakes...

...and the vastly superior killer tomato cake.

...and the vastly superior killer tomato cake.

The GingerDEAD Man

There’s really no other way to pronounce the title of this movie. Simply saying “gingerdead man” makes it seem like a mistake, a slip of the tongue. “Witty” titles like this really deserve the extra effort; say it like you just thought of it yourself. “Gingerbread man? More like gingerDEAD man! Zing!” God, I love cheesy horror movie wordplay. I think that’s why I get so excited about Christmas-themed horror movies — it’s like an unspoken rule that you can’t make one unless you have a name like “SLAY Bells” or “Santa CLAWS.”

Where was I? Oh, right: murderous cookies.

The movie is basically a remake of Jack Frost, which is a remake of Child’s Play, which for all I know might be a remake of something else…how many movies are out there in which a murderer/criminal/Bad Guy has his soul enter an inanimate object upon death? This one features Gary Busey — well, mostly Gary Busey’s voice — as Millard Findlemeyer, who kills the protagonist’s dad and brother in the opening scene. Years later, on what would have been little bro’s 21st birthday, Sarah Leigh (Hah! Get it?) works late at her mother’s bakery, reminiscing wistfully that “he wanted to go to a titty bar” to mark the occasion. Backstory dialogue tells us that Findlemeyer has been executed, thanks in part to Sarah’s testimony in court.

Thoughts full of her dead brother (or maybe the titty bar she could have been at right now, dammit), Sarah whips up a batch of gingerbread cookies in a bread mixer. (The dough she uses is actually bread dough, not cookie dough, as anyone who has ever made either bread or cookies would notice.) She pours in some “gingerbread flavor mix” dropped off by a shadowy figure in a cloak, not realizing that it’s FINDLEMEYER’S ASHES! Duhn duhn duhhhhh! (Best guess is that we’re supposed to think the cloaked person was Findlemeyer’s mom, seeking revenge in the form of animate baked goods…?) A bumbling bakery worker accidentally cuts his finger and holds it, dripping, over the bowl of dough, as the camera lingers on the drops of blood mixing into it to make sure we understand that blood+ashes+dough = evil cookie monster. Inexplicably molding one large gingerbread cookie out of the whole batch of dough (instead of something the bakery could, y’know, sell), Sarah pops it in the oven and, well, this happens:

The scariest thing about him is his sweaty, shrunken face.

His sweaty, shrunken face is actually sort of disturbing.

You can probably figure out the rest. Group of people gets picked off one by one, sometimes accompanied by bad cookie puns (but not nearly enough, IMO). Fakeout ending with one of the characters killing the Gingerdead Man by eating him, then getting possessed by the spirit of Millard Findlemeyer. (The “possessed” makeup looks like a perfect blend of a Deadite from the Evil Dead movies and a vampire from Buffy the Vampire Slayer ca. Season 2.) Then they kill him again, in his new host body — but apparently not for good, because there’s a Gingerdead Man 2 (subtitle: “The Passion of the Crust”) already on DVD and a third in the works.

We watched the “making of” feature after the movie was over, and learned that the original Gingerdead Man was going to be all CGI. He would have looked something like this (used in their promo materials):

Sort of like the Pillsbury Doughboy gone horribly, horribly wrong. Instead, they used a combination of puppets and a guy in a suit, which of course looked really cheesy — but still better than CGI.

We also learned a little bit about Full Moon Entertainment, the company behind this masterpiece, and producer Charles Band. RESPECT. This is the guy who made Puppet Master, Re-Animator, Ghoulies, and Robot Jox, as well as hundreds of other movies with titles like “Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama” and “Dollman vs. Demonic Toys.” I’d say he’s a modern-day Roger Corman, but Roger Corman himself is still producing movies like Dinocroc and Supergator… On Band’s blog, he has an enticing offer that I’m actually sort of considering: buy $120 worth of stuff, and you get your name in the credits of his next movie as executive producers.

As usual, Matthew and Salena won the prize for most appropriate potluck dish.

gingerdeadmanQUOTES!

Gingerdead Man: “Save room for dessert — ’cause I’m coming after you.”

Gingerdead Man: [After cutting off a woman’s finger] “Mmm, ladyfingers.”

Gingerdead Man: “Eat me, you punk bitch!”

Brick Fields: [After eating the Gingerdead Man’s head] “Got milk?”

My Bloody Valentine in THREE-EFFING-D

Holy crap I am excited about this. When I first heard they were doing a remake of My Bloody Valentine, I didn’t think too much about it. Another rehashing of a classic slasher movie, with all the camp taken out and a lot of drama added. Yawn. Then I found out it was going to be in 3-D, which significantly increased my interest. (Seriously, when was the last time there was a new horror movie released in 3-D?) But the trailer makes me think this actually might be…good.

Food Gone Bad, Part I: The Stuff

It really surprises me that The Stuff never became a cult classic like They Live. After all, it has a lot of the same crucial elements: satirical commentary on consumerism, media, and corporate control; wingnut militias; aliens masquerading as humans; a killer soundtrack…okay, maybe not that last one. I’ll admit, it can’t really compete with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper discovering that paper money actually reads “This Is Your God,” but The Stuff has plenty going for it.

Direct action!

Direct action!

Score one point for the scene in which young Jason, after seeing some of The Stuff move of its own accord, goes to the local supermarket, smashes the glass of the refrigerator cases, and dumps hundreds of cartons of The Stuff all over the floor. Score another point for the cheesy face-ripping awesomeness that occurs when The Stuff decides to leave one of its human hosts.
Your Head A-Splode

Your Head A-Splode

Score a third for the crazy right-wing militia led by Paul Sorvino. Might have to take off a point for the some of the stereotypical funny-black-man-sidekick stuff they wrote for SNL vet Garrett Morris. But we can score one more for the character of industrial saboteur “Mo” Rutherford, who hides his craftiness behind a convincing “dumb” face and a friendly Southern drawl. Seriously, one of the most interesting and bizarre protagonists I’ve ever seen in a horror movie.

We discovered this movie is excellent as an eating game — just take a spoonful of Ricemallow Fluff every time someone eats The Stuff! (We had to make do with yogurt, but will invest in some Fluff for next time…)

Vegan Stuff?

Vegan Stuff?

QUOTES!

David ‘Mo’ Rutherford: No one is as dumb as I appear to be.

Col. Spears: I will permit this colored man to speak. But speak one word of the Commie party, or one word in code, and I will blow his head off.

Col. Spears: Pay the drivers, issue a ten-percent tip, get a cash receipt.
Militants: Yes, sir!

David ‘Mo’ Rutherford: Well, everybody has to eat shaving cream once in a while.