Halloween. Personally, I think Halloween always feels like a missed opportunity. The one night of the year when we celebrate the dead, the zombies, the vampires, the macabre, and yet the only options open to most of us are to totter along to some house party in a shabby suit and shout drunken nonsense into the pale faces of strangers, or sit at home carving out pumpkins for amusement.
Shouldn’t we have street festivals, a parade, a big scary float, skull lanterns in the trees and mayhem? It might be too American for some in the UK, but Halloween is the one night of the year I wouldn’t mind being blown up to supersize proportions.
Anyway, this year I will most likely be feasting my eyes on some, if not all, of the following suggested viewing. By no means a complete list (you’d want The Exorcist and Chucky and stuff like that in there too, probably), but some personal favourites that always get me in the mood for this time of year. Enjoy!
The Simpsons Tree House Of Horror IV
Kicking off your spook-tacular evening is not a film, but an essential part of any Halloween. The Simpsons Halloween specials are as integral to this night as Christmas trees are to December 25th. Everybody knows, deep down, that these episodes are the best, and with so many great entries, you could really pick any of them and have an enjoyable viewing experience. I’ve narrowed it down to the two that most fill me with that special Halloween feeling: Tree House Of Horror 4, mostly for Mr Burns as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Tree House Of Horror 8, for the story in which Marge and her sisters are unveiled to be involved in a witch’s coven eager for the flesh of children.
Possibly the best Halloween-themed film there is, and certainly one of the best parts of any childhood film history, Hocus Pocus is practically bursting with cauldrons, Clark bars, day-glo skeletons and cobwebs sprayed from a can. It oozes that early 90s nostalgia, which was essentially the 80s with darker undertones. Look out for the spine-tinglingly memorable scene in which Sarah Jessica Parker, one of three witch sisters, floats dreamily through the sky on her broomstick, crooning a lullaby to lure all of Salem’s children to their premature demise!
The Company Of Wolves
Although it’s not directly related to Halloween, Neil Jordan’s modern take on the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale glows with that warm but unsettling quality that’ll have you enchanted by the events on screen as well as scared by them. Where else can you witness Angela Lansbury’s head being knocked clean off her neck by a man with a giant tongue?
Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Easily the most enjoyable of the franchise, for the sheer 80s trash value. Never in any of the other Elm Street films were the deaths more bizarre, more creative, and simply more breathtaking to watch (plus none of the other films featured the lovely Patricia Arquette). Witness the boy transformed into a puppet whose strings are his own veins, the giant carpet worm with Freddie Kruger’s face, and the television Freddie who, having shoved the unfortunate couch potato’s head through the screen, delivers the immortal line “Welcome to prime time, bitch!”
The House That Dripped Blood
An excellent entry into the Hammer Horror family, this film tells four spine-chilling tales that all take place in the same old house. In the first, a writer witnesses the serial killer from his book come to life. In the second, a waxwork causes conflict between two friends. In the third, a young girl becomes involved in witchcraft, and in the final – and best – story, an actor becomes a little too involved with his role as a vampire when he finds a cape in an old antique shop. Unlike some of the other Hammer Horror films, this one is constantly exciting, never drags, and just has a warm, enjoyable atmosphere weaving in and out of all the scares. Perfect popcorn-munching pleasure.
An entry for Tim Burton, in the guise of the universally panned film director, Ed Wood. There’s probably never been anybody as dreadful as Wood in the film world (except Uwe Boll, perhaps) and if you’ve ever watched Plan 9 From Outer Space, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Luckily, Burton and Johnny Depp inject the hapless character with warmth, humour and empathy, making this a film that is as equally touching as it is funny.
Again, not a film, but after watching five in a row your legs are probably ceasing up like a mummy in a crypt and you’ll be in need of a trip to the toilet and a little break to pinch yourself and make sure you can still see your reflection in the mirror. As a little antidote to all the horror, spend some time with America’s idea of what it was to be weird in the 50s – The Munster family! The jazzy harpsichord intro theme has all you need to maintain that Halloween warm spot.
I Was A Teenage Werewolf
This entry is here mostly because, in any film night, there really needs to be an old black and white entry, never more so than at Halloween and Christmas. Likewise, there needs to be a classic monster movie in here somewhere. This take on the werewolf myth features a young man who, at the hands of an evil doctor, transforms into a vicious man-wolf hybrid and proceeds to attack his fellow classmates. Probably the scariest make-up effects for a film from this period.
The Lost Boys
Welcome back to glorious Technicolor. Oh, yes. In keeping with the trash theme, The Lost Boys can form part of almost any movie night, dripping as it is with cheese, gore and outlandish hairstyles. Corey Haim stars as the wise-talking teenager trying to save his family from a gang of motorcycle-riding vampire punks in a picturesque seaside town. A film that never gets old, this can be watched again and again. Favourite lines include “We bagged the one that looks like Twisted Sister,” and Corey Feldman’s hilarious “Christ!”
Let’s finish off with a good old slasher! As the night crumbles away into the early hours, you’ll want to be watching John Carpenter’s original take on the frightfest season. The tale of Jamie Lee Curtis versus the unholy Michael Myers is perhaps an obvious but necessary part of any Halloween viewing. The whole film is wrapped in a strange disquiet, a kind of muted glumness that perfectly encapsulates the slightly deflated come-down at the end of the night, when the parties are over and everybody is staggering home through town like the living dead, and the surreal weirdness of 3am takes hold.