So here we are, all Hallows Eve, when the shadows fall longer and we can all be our true selves a little more while pretending to be someone (or something) else. The dark becomes a little more seductive, a little more secretive, and a restless moon whispers long forgotten secrets to those brave enough to listen. No doubt you’ve seen AMC and Peachtree TV running the same offering of horror movies over and over (and over) again this past month, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to list my ten personal favourite Hallowe’en flicks. Make no mistake, I don’t consider these the top ten horror movies of all time, but rather the ones I try to cram in before the trick or treaters hit the streets. It just doesn’t feel like the Devil’s witching hour until I’ve caught these bad boys. Enjoy.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD: Before this comedic parody of the well-worn zombie movie hit theatres in 2004, no one this side of the Atlantic had any idea who Simon Peg was. For that fact alone this movie deserves celebration, but SoTD manages to offer plenty of patented dry British chuckles at the genre’s expense while still delivering some genuine pathos (the scene where Pegg’s Shaun has to shoot his mother in the head after she turns into a zombie is particularly memorable).
DAWN OF THE DEAD: Y’know, I never gave Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of George Romero’s classic a second thought and ignored it when it hit theatres. But after a glowing recommendation from a friend of mine I gave it a shot. I still wasn’t initially impressed with it but this movie, full of frantic zombies that ran you down instead of stumbling around aimlessly, got in my head somehow, and I actually had zombie inspired nightmares for a week afterwards. So it stands to reason that I have to watch it at least once every year or so (have fun with that little nugget armchair psycho analysts).
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2: You’d be forgiven if this choice makes you groan; the Paranormal franchise has pretty much worn out its welcome recently yet still plans to release at least one more film next year. But PA2 was actually a pretty effective little fright fest. There were no CGI ghosts or flesh eating zombies commanding the screen, but the second chapter in the story of a pair of sisters being haunted by a relentless and malevolent demon (it’s teased that their grandmother may have auctioned the girls off to the highest satanic bidder in return for successful business advice-and you complain about your family) has more than a handful of chilling moments. For me it was the scene where the family’s German shepherd-who knew something was up the whole damn time-was dragged whining and crying into the dark cave-like basement to have who knows what done to it by a pissed off demon (one golden lesson I’ve learned from horror movies-pay attention to your pets).
POLTERGIEST: The undisputed king of the haunted house movie. Poltergeist terrified audiences when it was unleashed on an unsuspecting public in 1982. And this puppy kept me up for more then a few nights when I finally managed to see it as a twelve year old (geez Mom, what were you thinking). The original Poltergeist set the standard for special effects horror movies and haunted house flicks. The best part? The house in question was a brand spanking new suburban unit with zero history of violence or murder. Instead the whole neighbourhood, comprised of new houses, sat on a gateway between worlds. That’s right, the entire block was haunted (take that Ammityville). While the sequels were progressively worse (a side effect of Steven Spielberg’s absence), after seeing Poltergeist you’ll never look at stuffed clowns, left over pork chops, partially filled pools or TV static the same way again. Ever.
ZOMBIELAND: Focusing on a handful of unlikely survivors trekking across a ravaged America following the Zombie apocalypse (everyone’s favourite kind of apocalypse), Zombieland is carried by Columbus’ (played with tongue-in-cheek perfection by Jesse Eisenberg) list of tried and true rules for survival (“Double Tap” and “Cardio” are my personal faves), Woody Harrelson’s badassery, Emma Stone’s smart sexiness and a brilliant cameo by Bill Murray. This comedy was also responsible for a spike in global Twinkie sales, courtesy of Harrelson’s persistent quest to find the last perfect cream filled pastry among the ruins of the United States. Say what you want about Zombies, at least they keep their rotten hands of the Hostess goodies.
THE CONJURING: The newest entry on this list, the Conjuring is based on real life supernatural investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren’s attempts to help a Rhode Island family combat a bloodthirsty (and royally pissed) demon hell bent on all kinds of unpleasant shenanigans. This movie is pure crafted creepy, from the spooky countryside to the grim and dismal house (with faded wallpaper, rusty faucets and screen door hinges that just won’t shut up). Special effects are kept to a minimum but used effectively when they make an appearance as director James Wan goes old school for his scares, using clever cut shots and well timed music. And wouldn’t you know it, the family dog seems to know the whole thing is going south way before anyone else and suffers because of it. When your dog is acting like Michael Vick is lying in wait for him, take the hint and hightail it the other way people.
INSIDIOUS: While this inventive flick of a boy who can travel the astral plane while he sleeps (attracting all kinds of scary and unpleasant things in the process) threatens to go off the rails once or twice, it’s a solid flick that pays homage to the likes of Poltergeist and others on this list. The sequel was pretty flat despite some decent writing, but we have Insidious to thank for refreshing the horror genre with smarts and originality. Anyone else who thinks there should be another Constantine movie but with James Wan in the director’s chair raise your hands. Anyone? Going once . . .
BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA: The one thing I remember most about this movie is the scene where one of Dracula’s vampiric brides chows down on Keanu Reeves man goods and the entire row I was sitting in at the theatre-where every seat was occupied by a male butt-doubled over in pained sympathy. But seriously, how Gary Oldman didn’t get any Oscar love for managing to portray the world’s most famous vampire as both an evil bastard and a sympathetic, tragic figure is one of modern cinema’s greatest crimes. Almost equally memorable was Anthony Hopkins borderline sociopathic portrayal of infamous vampire hunter Van Helsing. While occasionally over the top, BSD is probably the best movie portrayal of the horror classic (without all the racist undertones). And ladies, in case you ever needed a reminder why your attraction to tall, dark and handsome strangers is unhealthy, look no further then the trail of bloodless female corpses Drac leaves in his wake. Just leave the bad boys alone gals, it’s much better for you (and your immortal soul) in the long run.
THE CROW: “Its justice for victims.” That was how Brandon Lee, who played The Crow’s main character, summed the movie up just before he was tragically killed in a stunt gone wrong (in a definitely Hallowe’en twist, the fatal accident was identical to a scene in one of his legendary father’s movies). It’s Devil’s Night in the desolate urban wasteland of Detroit, and Eric Draven watches helplessly as his fiancé is raped and tortured to death before he’s murdered himself, all on the eve of their wedding. A year to the day later, guided by an all-knowing crow, Eric returns from the dead. And he isn’t happy (hint: things don’t end well for the people who put him and the love of his life in their graves) and The Crow indulges in some dark poetry when it comes to meting out vengeance. Dark, violent, prophetic and at times beautiful, this cult favourite should be on everyone’s must see Hallowe’en list.
GHOSTBUSTERS (THE ORIGINAL): Turning 30 years old this year, this comedy classic is so beloved that people have been clamouring for a third Ghostbusters flick since a somewhat disappointing sequel in 1989. The recent loss of Harold Ramis has, pardon the pun, laid to rest any chances to see the original quartet of ghost hunters strap on their proton packs again, but a recent announcement of an all female reboot has received the stamp of approval from Ghostbuster-in-Chief Bill Murray. A team of paranormal scientists turn in their lab coats for hi tech ghost trapping gear and wind p on the wrong side of both the local government and a ancient God of destruction. All in all not a bad day’s work for a bunch of guys fired from their university jobs. This move screams Hallowe’en. Fun, witty, irreverent, Ghostbusters embodies everything that makes this time of year magic. The chemistry the original cast shared was lightning in a bottle and it was highlighted by Bill Murray’s quietly cool smart alecness. His trademark smirk alone was worth the price of admission. And what Zombieland did for Twinkies sales, Ghostbusters did for marshmallows, turning the Staypuff Marshmallow Man into the most absurd instrument of human extinction ever conceived. That alone sums up the spirit of this classic.