I’m a monster movie buff. And I’m using that term for both it’s definitions: BIG and SCARY CREATURE. Halloween is hands-down my favorite holiday of the year. So much so that for several years in a row, I’ve taken my love for scaring to the ultimate level of being a character in area haunted houses three years in a row.
WHAT MAKES A MOVIE SCARY?
I’ve been entranced by monsters since I was a kid, I couldn’t tell you what scary movie I saw first, but the ones I remember the most are what have become known as the classic Universal Monsters: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man, The Mummy and to a certain extent The Phantom of the Opera. I have to admit, I’m not sure if they actually scared me or not. But, I think of them fondly as masterpieces of fear, more from the uncertainty of the science, mysticism and paranormality© involved, than the outright scare factor. For sure, they set the precedent for the genre of ‘thrillers’ and ‘horror’ movies. To this day, Hollywood still reaches back to these films for inspiration, if not downright revamps.
By today’s standards these movies seem hokey, and even in some cases, downright bad. Nowadays, we’re used to flashy green-screen digital effects and ultra-sculpted masks and prosthetics on the actors. But the basis of those classic stories; sketchy science (Frankenstein), insane intellectuals (Invisible Man, Phantom) down-right demonic Hell-spawn (Wolfman, Creature, Dracula) and paranormal experiences remain in the horror genre today.
Like many Minnesotans, I was exposed to these spooky flicks via a Friday late night TV show on Twin Cities KSTP Channel 5 called Horror, Inc. . During the mid-late 70′s, I made it a point to be in front of my TV every Friday night at Midnight to take in the chilling opening of this showcase for scary films
With all that in mind, get your adult (or at least 13 year-old) friends and family members together and watch my recommendations for a terrifying night of creepy, spooky and downright frightening movies featuring creatures from our nightmares.
SCARY HALLOWEEN MOVIE #5 - Frankenstein
Yep. Frankenstein. The original creature feature from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Starring Boris Karloff as The Monster and Colin Clive in what is really one of the most chilling depictions of a scientist cultivating insanity with all the best intentions. Pop this sucker in about 6pm on Halloween to get you started.
To this day, this film is amazingly relevant, maybe even more-so than when it was originally in theatres in 1931. The idea of the advancement of science as an excuse to play God and tweak the human race ‘for the better’ is a fear and, in some cases, a reality we all share. This idea has carried over into the massive explosion of zombie movies and TV series we see now.
The concept of the insane Dr. Frankenstein (with an obviously hideously handicapped henchman) robbing graves and medical schools for body parts that become components for a stitched-together aberration of humanity has not only moral implications, but it’s just damn crazy. The resulting creature is akin to a badly traumatized pit-bull crossed with a severely autistic toddler, responding to gentleness with horrifying results and violently lashing out in terror from it’s own fear and uncertainty.
Down deep the movie warns us against uneasy science, questions our treatment of the handicapped and leaves us both abhorring and mourning for the creature. It may not have a serious ‘jump-out-of-your-seat’ scare in it, but the lingering feelings of dread it ends with are more than enough to nag at your psyche as we continue on into the night with our little fright-fest.
SCARY HALLOWEEN MOVIE #4 – The Howling
These aren’t your Mama’s werewolves, son. The Howling was the first werewolf movie to incorporate the idea that werewolves were not merely men with follicle and dentistry problems, but genuine over-sized carnivorous monsters. This one is sure to provide a ‘jump-start’ to anyone not familiar with it. The Howling is generally heralded as one of the BEST werewolf films ever made. Throwing this one in right after our #5 film will get you to about 8:30pm, if you’re brave enough to sit through it. The trailer doesn’t give you a good idea of the horror of the film, so I’ve included the insanely good transformation as well.
The Transformation of Eddie Quist
The jump from 1941′s classic starring Lon Chaney, Jr to 1981′s The Howling was aggressive to say the least. The gentle mystical transformation Larry Talbot undergoes on-screen in the original takes a giant leap forward with a 40 year advancement in SFX as serial killer Eddie Quist‘s body is transformed into a massive nightmarish wolf-like creature. The sounds of bones crunching and cracking during liquidy expansions of his fingers, chest and finally face were enough to makes us hide under our coats in the theatre.
It was released a couple of months before the iconic comedy/horror flick American Werewolf in London, and the original SFX wizard that worked on The Howling, Rick Baker, left to join the team of AWL.The guy that took over, Rob Bottin, went on to create the SFX for Steven Spielberg‘s film Gremlins.
SCARY HALLOWEEN MOVIE #3 – 28 Days Later
We LOOOOOOOVE zombies. From George A. Romero‘s classic Night of the Living Dead to the insanely popular The Walking Dead, they’ve infected our Halloweens for decades. But 28 Days Later took the whole thing to a terrifying level with the ‘Rage‘ virus and zombies that ran. FAST. If you thought Scary Halloween Movie #4 was filled with shocking shots, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, brutha. This film will get your heart pounding, adrenaline pumping and will keep you awake if you happen to have had a long day. It runs about 2 hours and will take you up to 10:30pm.
Now we all know it’s pretty easy to get away from a zombie, just run. These things just shamble, hell some of them can’t even WALK! But the ‘Rage’ victims, oh sweet mother… they can run… and they’ve got super-strength, they’re pissed (you’re kidding me, right?) and want revenge? Oh yeah and they’ll eat the hell out of you, once they tackle your stumblin’ butt.
28 Days Later has been credited frequently for revitalizing the ‘zombie-genre’ films and AMC‘s popular series The Walking Dead uses the same beginning storyline concept for it’s anti-hero Rick Grimes. A man injured wakes up after the virus has ravaged the country and is suddenly thrown into the chaos of a zombified world.
It won several Sci-Fi and SFX awards both in the US and abroad. The film was the first time zombies ran fast and brought an entirely new angle on the genre. The 2009 movie Zombieland also successfully used the idea of ‘running‘ zombies. The movie spawned a sequel 28 Weeks Later.
SCARY HALLOWEEN MOVIE #2 – Drag Me To Hell
It’s common knowledge that big-time mortgage bankers are in league with the Devil, but in this under-rated horror masterpiece directed by Sam Raimi (fresh off 3 massively successful Spider-Man movies) the heroine is a just a lowly loan officer following the rules. When she forecloses on a cute little old Romanian lady, who just happens to be a gypsy-witch, our sweet cherub is thrown a curse of the worst kind. It’s a perfect film to even out the visceral fear from Scary Halloween Movie #4 and get into a great story with a ton of unanticipated scares and chills. Plus what’s Halloween without a seance? It runs about 90 minutes and the climax of the film will hit you right about Midnight.
In this terrifying tale, we’re confronted with the consequences of following the rules and not using your own best judgement when you’re in a position to help someone. Sweet Christine is just trying to get ahead in her career and she’s on the verge of a promotion when when everything just gets out of hand.
There are a lot of great visuals and Raimi doesn’t over-use CGI, so much of what you see is good old fashioned man-made SFX. If you’re a fan of Sam, you know he’s the genius behind not only the Spidey films, but the Evil Dead movies and you know he loves a great story. Raimi’s films all contain comedic bursts that drop your guard, and set you up for a scare bigger than the last. Drag Me To Hell combines the classic horror elements of revenge, guilty conscience and being pushed to the edge with witches throwing curses, shadowy demons stalking you and the all the horrible things you’ll do to get rid of them, including killing a kitten and insulting your mother in-law.
SCARY HALLOWEEN MOVIE #1 – Paranormal Activity
If you’ve been brave enough to stay with us til just after Midnight, this one oughtta send you straight to the asylum. The only caveat I have for you on Paranormal Activity is that if you’ve already seen it more than twice, you’ll probably fall asleep. This is one of those films that is really, really and I mean really good the first time you see it. Everything seems normal at Katie and Micah’s new home, with the possible exception of the ghost that’s been haunting Katie since she was a kid. The fear this movie instills comes from the footage of the bedroom while they sleep and the sheer amount of creepy, spooky and downright ghastly things that occur. After Scary Halloween Movie #2, you might want to pour a cup of coffee and grab a bite to eat so you can time the start of this one just right. It’s 99 minutes long, so pop it on about 12:45 or so. That way when you finally get to bed (if you can sleep after all this) it will be around 3:08am. You’ll understand why that time is significant after watching the film.
This film was almost never released. During the studio test screenings in Hollywood, hordes of people walked out and the producers thought it was because the film was bad. It turned out they were all so deeply terrified, they just couldn’t watch anymore. The same thing happened when I saw it in the theatre. I jumped out of my seat so suddenly at one point that I actually got a cramp in my leg that tortured me during the whole movie.
The director; Oren Peli shot this film entirely without a film crew and in his own home. All the cameras were mounted on tri-pods or were carried by the actor playing Micah. It makes us center in on the characters and the good-old fashioned bumps and screams in the night to inflict the fear damage. Now if you’ve already seen it, I suggest a film produced by Peli (and the guys who made SAW) to take it’s place: Insidious. It’s a story that runs in the same vein as The Exorcist, but it’s even more deeply disturbing. When you combine kids, demons and a parent’s strife in recovering a lost kid, you’ve always got a winner.