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HALLOWEEN! It’s almost upon us, and whether you’re raising a goblet of blood-red claret to the occasion this Saturday or on the night itself – this coming Monday – you’re going to need something to put you in the spooky spirit, and keep you there. So the graverobbers at BRWC have set their most fiendish crypt-kicker, Last Caress, the task of guiding you through the choicest seasonal cuts, grouped loosely by type and/or suitability so you can pick a couple of late chillers or plan a full “Halloweekend” of fearmongering! Come inside, guys and ghouls; we won’t bite… much! BWAH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAAAAAAAA!
1. FILLER MATERIAL: 100% FRIGHT-FREE
SpongeBob SquarePants: Scaredy Pants/I Was a Teenage Gary (1999)
Nothing says “Halloween!” to me more than an animated frolic or two, and this episode from the very first season of SpongeBob SquarePants back in 1999 ticks every box. We even get treated to Californian surf act The Ghastly Ones’ take on the SpongeBob theme.
What’s New, Scooby-Doo?: A Scooby-Doo Halloween (2003)
Is there a cartoon more suited to Halloween than Scooby-Doo? No sir! My pick for the season is A Scooby-Doo Halloween from 2003, in which Velma, Shaggy and the gang attend a KISS concert. KISS!
The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VI (1995)
There are of course a good couple of dozen Treehouse of Horror episodes to pick from at this point in The Simpsons‘ long – some might say overlong – run, but my favourite comes from season seven back in 1995. You know the one: The giant billboards come to life, we’re treated to a terrific A Nightmare on Elm Street parody starring Groundskeeper Willie and, finally, Homer stumbles into the third dimension!!
2. FAMILY FUN
ParaNorman (Butler/Fell, 2012)
From Laika, the stop-motion people who brought us Corpse Bride (Burton/Johnson, 2005) and Coraline (Selick, 2009) – either of which would also make a fine Halloween-time feast – comes this tale of a boy who, like Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense (Shyamalan, 1999), sees dead people.
Frankenweenie (Burton, 2012)
Hankies at the ready for this remake of director Tim Burton’s own 1984 short about a boy who uses electrical current to resurrect his dead pet. It’s a warm, funny family film, but it’s a tearjerker too.
Goosebumps (Letterman, 2015)
Self-aware meta-fun abounds in this movie based on the children’s book series by R.L. Stine, starring Jack Black as R.L. Stine himself, doing battle against the very monsters he created.
3. RETRO THRILLS
Ghostbusters (Reitman, 1984)
“I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghost!” Could there be a more iconic piece of cinematic ’80’s nostalgia than Ghostbusters? Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’ tale of scientists starting up a ghost-capturing company amid a ghost explosion in New York City still delivers the goods to this day. Oh, and whilst the 2016 reboot isn’t a patch on this one, it’s nowhere near as bad as you might have heard, either. You could do a lot worse than giving both a whirl this Halloween.
The Frighteners (Jackson, 1996)
It’s another poor soul (Michael J. Fox) who “sees dead people”, except this guy uses that to his advantage, befriending a couple of dearly departed and getting them to haunt peoples’ houses so he can come along and “exorcise” them, for a fee of course. All good fun, until the spirit of a serial killer (Jake Busey) decides he wants to continue his murderous spree.
The Monster Squad (Dekker, 1987)
Kids do battle with the Universal Pictures monsters in this kiddie classic from 1987, in a battle for a magic amulet which could spell the end for the monsters or the end for the rest of us! In truth, this isn’t the greatest movie on Earth – it’s my least favourite on this list, in fact – but its “Monster Mash” aesthetic goes down brilliantly with the young ‘uns and it looks great at this time of year.
The Cabin in the Woods (Goddard, 2012)
Here we have another monster mash-up, this time with a smart nod and a wink to modern horror tropes. A typical band of jocks, chicks and assholes led by a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth repair to a cabin in the woods for a saucy weekend but end up getting not only more than they bargained for, but considerably more than we bargained for, too.
1408 (Håfström, 2007)
“It’s an evil f*cking room.” So warns Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), manager of the Dolphin Hotel in NYC, in trying to convince mythbusting skeptic Mike Enslin (John Cusack in the form of his life) not to spend so much as an hour in room 1408, site of scores of unexplained deaths. Mr. Enslin doesn’t heed the warning however, and we all get to see how that turns out for him. (sings) We’ve only just beguuuuuuuuuun….
The Conjuring (Wan, 2013)
Positing the exploits of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren – specifically in this movie, the Perron family haunting of 1971 – as genuine supernatural events, I really didn’t expect much from this big studio effort, but The Conjuring is the real deal, with horror maestro James Wan ratcheting up the tension with impeccable timing.
5. ALL HALLOW’S EVE
Trick ‘r Treat (Dougherty, 2007)
Starring Brian Cox and Anna Paquin among others, Trick ‘r Treat is an anthology of five loosely related tales, all happening in one town on All Hallow’s Eve. Perfectly capturing the Halloween vibe, if you can only fit one movie in over the Halloween period, make it this one.
Tales of Halloween (Various, 2015)
Starring Barry Bostwick and Sam Witwer among others, Tales of Halloween is an anthology of ten loosely related tales, all happening in one town on All Hallow’s Eve. Perfectly capturing the Halloween vibe, if you can only fit one movie in over the Halloween period, make it… hang on, haven’t we been here already? Well, yes, but Trick ‘r Treat and Tales of Halloween are very similar in terms of their sense of fun and occasion (although Tales of Halloween might be a shade cheaper and gorier). Oh, and if you really can only fit one film in over the Halloween period… squeeze some other facet of your life and find the opportunity to watch both of these! What’s wrong with you?
Halloween (Carpenter, 1978)
There are better horror pictures. There are better John Carpenter pictures. There are better slasher pictures… Hell, there are even better Halloween pictures. But THIS one is the grand-daddy, Halloween, and it’s as much a part of this time of year to me as Brussels sprouts are to Christmas so, let’s all take a trip to Haddonfield, eh? (NOTE: I don’t actually permit Brussels sprouts at Christmas – or at ANY time – anymore, but you know what I mean.)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Wallace, 1982)
See, a movie franchise by the name of Halloween should have been able to spread its wings past the humble slasher genre, it really should. John Carpenter certainly believed so, and that vision almost came to pass with this, the third film in the franchise and the only one not to feature Michael Myers. Instead, we have a typically Halloween-like tale of a sinister company making Halloween masks which will kill their wearers upon a trigger to be broadcast on Halloween night. It’s a bit silly and, if you’re a big Michael Myers fan (no, not that one. Schwing!) you probably didn’t appreciate how this one stuck out like a sore thumb in the middle of the franchise, but I think it’s a great slab of camp Halloween fun. Masks on, everyone! Happy, happy Halloween…
6. NIGHT TERRORS
The Lords of Salem (Zombie, 2012)
Probably the most unusual of Rob Zombie’s films, this tale of an ancient coven of witches returning to Salem to play havoc with a local disc jockey (Sheri Moon Zombie. Who else?) is also possibly Zombie’s most restrained picture too, until it takes a swan-dive off of the edge of reality towards the end. Still, it sticks with you, this one.
The Exorcist (Friedkin, 1973)
Spawning an entire franchise of its own – including a TV series which only debuted last month – with degrees of success ranging from “Yeah, that’s not too bad at all, really” (William Peter Blatty’s own The Exorcist III, Paul Schrader’s Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist) to “Sh!tting bumwrong! What the fudding fud was THAT?!?” (John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic), The Exorcist nevertheless remains one of the most outstanding movies ever made, not to mention among the most terrifying to this day, taking horror and ancient, biblical evil just about as seriously as cinema ever could or ever will take it. A must-see for anyone who loves film.
The House of the Devil (West, 2009)
From young pretender to the horror crown Ti West comes this glacially slow but gloriously intense and retro love letter to the Satanic Ritual pictures of the late seventies/early eighties, in which a babysitter accepts a gig to watch a strange older fellow’s ailing mother while he and his wife go out to observe a lunar eclipse.
So, those are my tips for your cinematic entertainment over these final few days of October. Enjoy, guys and ghouls, and I’ll see you all safe and sound on All Saints Day… those of you who survive the night, that is. BWAH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAAAAAAAA!!