Howie’s 15 favorite Halloween flicks
What would Halloween be without the movies that terrorize at this time of year? There are so many that come to mind, including the original “House of Wax” with Vincent Price from 1953, “Nightmare on Elm Street,” David Cronenberg’s “Scanners,” the original “Halloween” movie, and all those classic Frankenstein, Dracula and Mummy movies from the ’30s and ’40s that Universal Studios gave us.
I thought I would list 15 of some of my favorites that I watch again and again. Most are available on DVD or VHS tape (the out-of-print ones), so if you have the time, fire up the popcorn, lock the door and don’t answer the phone!
In no particular order:
1. “The Thing,” R (1982)
While the original black-and-white was scary, this movie still rocks. One of the best horror remakes ever, starring a bearded Kurt Russell as the head of an American Antarctic expedition whose daily routine is interrupted by an alien life-form that likes to replicate into anyone it wants to if given enough time.
Directed by John Carpenter and written by John W. Campbell Jr. (from the story, “Who Goes There?” by Bill Lancaster), the cast also includes Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Richard A. Dysart, and Charles Hallahan.
2. “Alien,” R (1979)
When the alien came bursting out of John Hurt’s stomach half-way through this Ridley Scott flick, a whole new genre in filmmaking was launched. With “Alien,” Scott came up with one of the most terrifying films ever made. A classic in two genres: science fiction and horror. “Alien” made a somewhat unknown Sigourney Weaver into the Rambo woman who could kick alien butt.
3. “Scream,” R (1996)
A psychological thriller directed by suspense master Wes Craven, “Scream” targets young people who can survive if they have the presence of mind to follow the movie’s rules: Don’t answer the door. Don’t hide in the closet. Don’t just stand there. Don’t go back into the house. Don’t trip. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t ask, “Who’s there?” Don’t have sex, and never, ever, under any circumstances, scream! Starring David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Matthew Lillard, Jamie Kennedy, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, Liev Schrieber, and Drew Barrymore.
4. “Shaun of the Dead,” R (2004)
My favorite zombie flick now of all time, “Shaun of the Dead” is British dark humor at its goriest and driest best. Written by and starring Simon Pegg the movie tackles the dilemma about what does one do when your best mate (Nick Frost) becomes a zombie? Can you still remain friends when you’re the daily menu always trying to avoid being the main course?
5. “Psycho,” PG (1960)
The classic story about a momma’s boy becoming momma, Alfred Hitchcock delivered one of the truly frightening masterpieces of all time. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) meets hotel manager Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who has a secret that is worth killing over. With one of the best (and still scariest) shower scenes of all time “Psycho” plays into the terror of one’s mind by a master who could convince people it is safer to take a bath.
6. “The Omen,” R (1976)
Although the remake was adequate, nothing really measures up to the terror that director Richard Donner’s original gave us. “The Omen” stars Gregory Peck as the ambassador to the United States whose wife (Lee Remick) has a stillborn child. Without her knowledge, her baby is substituted for another. Trouble is, the new kid on the block is the son of Satan! Enough said, but the terror that ensues throughout the film is classic. This movie so frightened religious people that I can remember focus groups in college that would discuss the presence of the devil the same way “The Exorcist” caused a steep reduction in the sales of Campbell’s split pea soup.
7. “Poltergeist,” PG-13 (1982)
Another terrifying flick involving friends of Satan, “Poltergeist” gave pop culture some of it’s classic lines, such as “They’re heeeeeeere” to “This house is clean” and “Step into the light.” The movie was also scary in real life with the young actress Heather O’Rourke (as Carol Anne) dying when the last sequel was filmed. She played daughter to Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams. The other daughter was played by Dominique Dunne, who was killed in real life by her boyfriend after the original was released.
8. “Night Of The Living Dead,” R (1968)
Shot on a shoe-string budget in black and white, “Night Of The Living Dead” still holds up, which is a testament to how good the story is. It’s raining weird rays from outer space that causes the dead to awaken from their graves to feed on human flesh for sustenance. This movie falls into the same category as “The Haunting” in my mind, where I can’t decide if it is my all-time favorite horror film.
9. “Eraserhead,” R (1977)
This was the first movie that bothered me to no end because I couldn’t figure out where the story was going. There was no resolution in my mind which to this day still tortures me. Like a fine painting, sculpture or other work of art, the David Lynch film “Eraserhead” has many interpretations, yet no one explanation. Lonely guy Henry (John Nance) lives in a lonely brick apartment near a lonely subway. The characters include a weird girlfriend, a zygote as their baby and a glimpse of what hell would be like on the surface of the planet. Shot in a deliberately depressing black and white, filmmaker David Lynch described “Eraserhead” as his personal nightmare. There is no mindset or reasoning for making this movie using the camera, lighting and visual effects as a character all itself.
10. “Creepshow,” R (1982)
The complete opposite of an “Eraserhead” is the delightfully fun and sarcastic “Creepshow.” Five tales of terror are presented in the style of the old EC comics such as “Tales From The Crypt” and “The Haunt of Fear.”
The first deals with a demented old man returning from the grave to get the Father’s Day cake his murdering daughter never gave him. The second is about a not-too-bright farmer (played by a very humorous Stephen King) discovering a meteor that turns everything into plant-life. The third is about a vengeful husband burying his wife and her lover up to their necks on the beach. The fourth is about a creature that resides in a crate under the steps of a college. The final story is about an ultra-rich businessman who gets his comeuppance from cockroaches. Directed by George A. Romero with a cast that includes Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Viveca Lindfors, Ed Harris and Ted Danson “Creepshow” is an excellent addition to anyone’s horror library.
11. “An American Werewolf In London,” R (1981)
One of my favorite dark comedies, the movie opens with two American students (David Naughton, Griffin Dunne) who are on a walking tour of England. A werewolf attacks them, killing one while the other is mauled, but things turn out to be better for the student that was killed. The surviving student begins to have nightmares as he himself turns into a werewolf and starts killing off the people of England, who haunt him, asking him to please just kill himself. Written and directed by John Landis, “An American Werewolf In London” is a fun yet still scary look at what happens when you get bitten and haven’t had your shots.
12. “Basket Case” (1982)
What can you possibly say about a devoted brother who carries his mutated, Siamese twin around in a wicker basket? Exactly. Kevin Van Hentenryck stars as Duane, a young man who has come to New York’s seedy 42nd Street with a mission. He and his deformed brother are seeking revenge on the doctors who separated them. They didn’t want to be separated. So what if dating is tricky? To make matters worse, the basket brother is also telepathic. “Basket Case” is that rare horror film that uses its bare-bones budget to craft a movie that looks and feels like an early film by John Waters or David Lynch. Problems ensue when Duane decides he’s tired of being his brother’s keeper and tries to start living his own life, including romance with a plump but attractive lady of the night. Two sequels followed “Basket Case,” but they just weren’t the same. After the cat — uh, I mean brother — has been let out of the basket, how can you possibly top that? Written and Directed by Frank Henenlotter.
13. “The Haunting,” PG (1963)
The late, great director Robert Wise was far ahead of his time, and knew a thing or two when it comes to putting the shivers in his audience. The story is based on Shirley Jackson’s novel “The Haunting of Hill House” and, whoa, talk about a mansion with issues! The spirits are angry and unleash their wrath on the unsuspecting guests. You know the real estate market is bad when a house refuses walk-throughs that involve humans.
14. “The Exorcist,” R (1973)
Known forever typecasting Linda Blair as the possessed child of the devil, “The Exorcist” set the standard for psychological horror and what some have called the scariest movie of all time. How influential was this movie? Religious groups parked in front of the theaters that were screening the movie to try and persuade movie goers from seeing this film.
15. “The Birds,” PG (1963)
Alfred Hitchcock originally wanted the ending to “The Birds” to take place with thousands of birds hovering all over the Golden Gate Bridge but didn’t have the budget for it, but who cares? Hitchcock effectively used what seemed like harmless birds to scare the then-little community of Bodega Bay.
Spoiled socialite and notorious practical joker Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is shopping in a San Francisco pet store when she meets Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor). She winds up in the coastal town and, shortly thereafter, a seagull attacks Melanie. This is just the start of a series of attacks that will take place by an increasing number of birds. The movie boasts a great cast that includes Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright, Ethel Griffies, Charles McGraw, Ruth McDevitt, Lonny Chapman, Joe Mantell and Doodles Weaver.
— Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada, including Sirius Radio. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews on RSN.
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