(Originally Posted on Hautnews.com October 24, 2015)
So here we are, all Hallows Eve, when the shadows fall longer and we can be our true selves a little more while pretending to be someone (or something) else. The dark becomes a little more seductive while 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) this past month, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to list my ten personal favourite Halloween 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.
- SINISTER: The most recent entry on this list, the 2012 flick starring Ethan Hawke was surprisingly effective. When true crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) moves into the home of a murdered family to research his new book, he inadvertently becomes the next link in a chain of bloodshed and murder that spans the entire country. What I loved about Sinister was that the protagonist was the victim of his hubris and arrogance just as much as the murderous supernatural forces that were gathering around him. That and a killer of a primal soundtrack made this a memorable horror movie.
- 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 Shaun has to shoot his mother in the head after she turns into a zombie is particularly memorable).
- DAWN OF THE DEAD: You 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 naturally I have to watch it once a year (have fun with that little nugget armchair psychoanalysts).
- PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2: You’d be forgiven if this choice makes you groan; the Paranormal franchise has pretty much worn out its welcome but just keeps on churning out films. 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 (turns out their grandmother may have auctioned them 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. 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 was the scene that truly made me uneasy. One golden lesson I’ve learned from horror movies is to always pay attention to your pets.
- ZOMBIELAND: Focusing on a handful of unlikely survivors trekking across Zombie ravaged America (everyone’s favourite 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 bad-assery, 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 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 movie that pays homage to the likes of Poltergeist and the Exorcist. The first sequel was pretty flat despite some decent writing and Chapter 3 was just plain forgettable but we have Insidious to thank for (briefly) 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: I was lucky enough to catch this one in the theatres back in the day, and the one thing I will remember until I take the dirt nap is the scene where one of Dracula’s vampiric brides chows down on Keanu Reeves man goods. The entire row I was sitting in doubled over and shrieked in pained sympathy as her fangs bore into his vulnerable and unsuspecting manhood. 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, just stay as far away as possible from the tall, dark and handsome strangers. It never ends well.
- THE CROW: “Its justice for victims.” That was how Brandon Lee, who played The Crow’s titular character, summed the movie up just before he was tragically killed in a stunt gone wrong. 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 thrown out the window to his death. 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 Halloween list.
- GHOSTBUSTERS (THE ORIGINAL): Turning 31 years old this year (feel old yet?), this comedy classic is so beloved that people have been clamoring 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 the surviving cast are all set to make cameo appearances in Paul Feig’s Ghostbuster remake next summer (circle July 22nd on your calendars). This movie screams Halloween. Fun, witty and 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 cool charm and pure smart aleciness (yeah, I invented that word, sue me). 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.