So, a few days ago, I posted up 10 Halloween Treats: Part One; an article detailing ten films that I like to enjoy during the spooky season. Part One featured the first five, and this piece will wrap up the final five. As mentioned in the previous installment, these aren’t my all time favourite horror films, this isn’t a definitive list, it’s just a list of ten films that I like to watch over the Halloween period. So, back to the action we go.
Batman Returns (1992) - Firstly, I never said that this list was purely for horror films, just those that I find to be good viewing at this time of the year. Batman Returns, whilst not quite the best of the Batman films, is a great film in it’s own right. Granted, some of the liberties taken on the Batman mythos by Tim Burton are bold to say the least. I’m a Batman fan of the highest order and usually people messing around with continuity and altering back stories is a pet peeve of mine, yet I let it slide with this movie. The film is absolutely gorgeous to look at; its snowy, gothic Gotham looking like something from a twisted children’s Christmas movie. Whilst the film does certainly have a Christmas feel to it, its sinister plot and hideous, disfigured Penguin most definitely give this a chilling, dramatic feel. Of all of the superhero films that came before and after Burton’s 1992 effort, this is one of the most disturbing of its genre. DeVito’s turn as Oswald Cobblepot is played with a wry, darkly black humour, yet he manages to still incorporate an eerie, chilling savagery to the character that solidifies him as a threat to the Caped Crusader. Of course, there’s also Michelle Pfeiffer’s iconic portrayal of Selina Kyle/Catwoman. The origins of the character are thoroughly given Tim Burton’s stamp here, with Pfeiffer putting in a performance that teenage boys and S&M enthusiasts could only dream of. Lest we forget the anchor of the film, the titular role, The Bat. It’s no secret that Michael Keaton is my favourite Batman, and he has some great moments here; my personal favourites being his interactions with Catwoman and his close shave with a rocket carrying penguin down in the sewers of Gotham. Burton’s Batman Returns is a great watch for Halloween largely due to the sinister, mischievous, savage performance of Danny DeVito as the film’s villain. It’s the perfect film to watch on a dark, cold Halloween night with a fire roaring and a warm drink to hand.
They Live (1988) - In fairness, I could easily devote a whole part of these two ’10 Halloween Treats’ pieces to John Carpenter. I’ve already covered The Thing in the first part of my Halloween tips, and it’d be easy to include the likes of The Fog, Christine, Body Bags and, of course, Halloween on my list. Carpenter really is the master of horror to me; his stories are normally multi-layered, his plots laced with social commentary, he can generate atmosphere and suspense like few others and he concocts wonderfully bleak scores to accompany most of his pictures. As with other films on this list of mine, They Live often splits opinion. Myself, I’m a big fan, obviously. Some people find the plot of the film a bit of a stretch, but I say to just enjoy the film for what it is. Very much a film of its time, They Live tells the story of a straight-talking drifter, Nada (wrestling icon ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper), who comes across a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see things that others cannot. The special specs in question allow Nada to see the world in a different light, with advertising boards housing secret, subliminal, almost communist-like messages to inform the inhabitants of the world what to do and when to do it. The thing is, those said inhabitants aren’t just normal, everyday people – they’re aliens! Nada is the only person that can see what is really going on, coming off as crazy when he tries to convince his friend, Frank (Keith David), about what’s going on. A ridiculously out-there plot, the film is a fun, action packed adventure. Not only does Nada know about the alien presence, word also spreads amongst the aliens that Nada knows about them, leading to him being hunted down. They Live is a fast paced, easy-going sci-fi story with cheesy acting, brilliant one liners and one of the best fight scenes in film history.
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) - Following on from the ‘out-there’ premise of John Carpenter’s They Live, Bubba Ho-Tep is most definitely a unique story. Written by Joe R. Lansdale and directed by Phantasm’s Don Coscarelli, Bubba Ho-Tep tells the story of an elderly Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy fighting a soul-devouring Egyptian Mummy. As crazy as the story sounds, it’s a brilliant film with a great cast and an effortlessly cool vibe of what’s great about cinema. In the lead role of Elvis is the Evil Dead series’ Bruce Campbell, with the veteran Ossie Davis (RIP) in the role of JFK. Those of you familiar with Ossie Davis will be fully aware that he was of African-American descent, something which JFK was not. The story here is that Elvis and JFK live in an elderly care home, with Elvis yearning for his glory days and JFK with conspiracy theories to cover every topic, most notably that he is actually white but has had his skin dyed. The story behind Elvis is that he became bored at the height of his fame and so swapped lives with an Elvis impersonator. All is not well within the nursing home that houses the two, with people mysteriously dying. Elvis discovers that an Egyptian Mummy is entering the nursing home and taking the souls of its inhabitants. With so many elderly people in the home, it’s easy prey for the Mummy and, due to their age, nobody suspects anything when his victims pass away. Elvis convinces JFK of what is going on and they set off on a mission to take down the Mummy and to gives themselves one last taste of the good times. Bubba Ho-Tep is a fantastic little film, with great performances from all, particularly Campbell, and is just likely one of the coolest films you will ever see. As well as this, the score to the film is beautiful, capturing the essence of the film perfectly, especially Elvis’ daily realisation of what his life has become. There’s been talk of a sequel for years, especially rumours of a Ron Perlman-featuring tale involving a vampire, but nothing’s yet to come to fruition.
Trick ‘r Treat (2007) - Trick ‘r Treat is the ideal Halloween movie. Set on Halloween night, the film takes the form of five interlinked stories. Written and directed by Michael Dougherty, produced by Bryan Singer and starring the likes of Brian Cox, Dylan Baker and Anna Paquin, the film harks back to the likes of Tales From The Crypt, The Twilight Zone and Creepshow (detailed in Part 1 of this list). The main focus of the stories are a couple who find out why you shouldn’t take your decorations down before midnight, a murderous principal, a virgin in search of her ‘first time’, a teenage prank gone wrong, and the tale of a miserable hermit who has an unexpected visitor. The stories all link together wonderfully, with the film having a strong, fast flowing narrative. As mentioned, it’s similar to something like Tales From The Crypt in the way that there’s almost a knowing wink to the audience to respect all things creepy and to always be on your best behaviour. Its approach is almost child-friendly in the way that it deals with its subject matter, although there is most definitely some scares that pack a punch. Most importantly, Trick ‘r Treat is a kitsch, fun horror that is easy to get involved in and attached to. It embraces the Halloween season for all that it is and makes no bones about celebrating that fact. Too many films can be guilty of taking themselves too seriously or of shying away from what they really are; this is far from the case here. Trick ‘r Treat is perfect, essential Halloween viewing and it has firmly cemented itself as one of the ‘go to’ films for this time of the year. It is the most ‘must see’ Halloween film of the last few decades and, if you’ve yet to come across Trick ‘r Treat, I cannot urge you enough to watch it as soon as you can.
Halloween (1978) - John Carpenter’s Halloween, to me, is the quintessential Halloween night viewing. A film that completely reinvented the horror genre, Halloween is one of the all time great pieces of horror cinema. Often copied, yet never bettered, Halloween tells the story of a babysitter tormented by a killer on Halloween night. Originally titled The Babysitter Murders, the script was written by John Carpenter and his long time cohort, Debra Hill (RIP). Made on a shoestring budget of $320,000, the film broke records for the profit it made, making $60,000,000 in 1978 alone. With a cast of up and comings actors, such as Jamie Lee Curtis, PJ Soles and Nancy Loomis, mixed with veteran actors, such as Donald Pleasence and Charles Cyphers, the film set the benchmark for the slasher film, a benchmark that’s yet to be reached. Set in the sleepy, fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois, the film starts off with one of the greatest openings of any horror film; that of a POV shot detailing somebody walking up some stairs and brutally stabbing somebody to death. The camera pulls out to reveal that the killer is a 6-year-old boy, Michael Myers, and he has just killed his older sister, Judith. Once you get over the initial shock of this act, the film forwards you to 15 years later, to Halloween 1978, and to the escape from a mental hospital of the very same Michael Myers. Myers is on a mission to return to Haddonfield and to kill anybody that gets in his way. He soon returns to the scene of the earlier act, to his old family home, and plows his way through the local teens and also a dog, just because he can. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has spent all of Halloween night babysitting her neighbours’ children, having to constantly convince them that the boogeyman isn’t real. That soon changes when he turns up on her doorstep, causing her to have to fight for her life. Halloween set the standard for what a horror film should be, with it’s brilliant use of subtle shots, its iconic Carpenter score, the teen heroine in distress and the rude, slightly crazy, yet somehow likeable, professor (Pleasence). Carpenter’s Halloween embraced its small budget and made the best of what it had; it covered it’s flaws and accentuated it’s strengths. Who would have thought that a villain in an old William Shatner Captain Kirk mask would prove to be such a success? Halloween spawned many imitators, most notably Friday the 13th, and was also followed by numerous sequels, the best of those being Halloween 2, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween: H20. The film made a star out of it’s lead, Jamie Lee Curtis, and made John Carpenter into one of the greatest horror directors of all time. Halloween is a superb, atmospheric, tension filled film that truly changed the face of the horror genre.
So, that’s my list of ten suggested films for the Halloween season. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading this as much I’ve enjoyed writing it. Of course, there were other films that so nearly made the cut – The Lost Boys, Evil Dead, Psycho, Edward Scissorhands, Frankenstein, Ringu, Poltergeist, Race With The Devil and The Strangers come to mind – but I had to be ruthless and limit myself to a steady ten. Maybe you’ve seen all ten films that I’ve listed or maybe you’ll come across a film you’ve not seen yet but now give a look to. Either way, I hope that I’ve not rambled on too much and that you’ve enjoyed the read.