Working in the horror business, I am constantly asked for my “Halloween horror list”. For me, I’ve got a pretty standard regimen of “must-watch” horror films come that magical time in October. My list incorporates a few recent entries, and a few oldies as well. I have decided to choose 10 essential films, or at least the 10 most essential in my house during the month of October. Without further ado, here’s my Halloween movie picks.
This one is a non-negotiable staple in my list. I’ve watched this film every Halloween season for close to a decade. It’s still amazing to me that this film is so under the radar for a lot of horror folks. It has all the 80’s gore and cheesiness your heart could possibly desire. Jeffrey Combs plays the titular “Re-Animator” as the demented Dr. Herbert West. His glowing neon green serum brings all manner of nastiness back to life, and it’s up to him and his roommate to clean up the mess. This is probably Stuart Gordon’s best film. “Re-Animator” features everything from a theme song that blatantly rips off the “Psycho” theme song with 80’s synth panache, all the way to a severed head performing cunnilingus on the nubile Barbara Crampton. Need I say more?
Admittedly this is a recent film, but a superb entry for Halloween fun. Think of this film as an R-rated mash-up of Gremlins/Goonies/E.T. When aliens invade one of the roughest projects in England, it’s up to a gang of emerging street toughs to defend the block. It’s super fun, violent, and only a little scary. Not to mention some of the coolest looking aliens ever put on film. Glowing teeth anyone? Joe Cornish directed & Edgar Wright produced, this one has that trademark cynical humor we’ve come to expect from films like “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead”.
It’s hard for me to pick just one Argento film, as I’m only mildly obsessed with the maestro of the giallo. “Opera” is not widely regarded as one of his best films, but for me it’s easily his most fun. All the classic giallo tropes apply, a sexy young ingenue, a black gloved killer, and blood so red you’ll have to turn down the brightness. This is one of Argento’s most technically triumphant, while also his most ambitious. A young opera singer is just emerging into the spotlight, at the same time a deranged “fan” is hell bent on killing the ones she loves…often directly in front of her. The cover alone will make your skin crawl, as the killer tapes needles under her eyelids so she must watch the carnage. Argento is well known for his use of prog-rock & synth music, “Opera” trades these in for some 80’s hair metal during his most epic murder-set-pieces.
As stated earlier, I can’t pick just one Argento film. “Suspiria” is an exercise in atmosphere and art on film. It is arguably one of the most beautiful films ever photographed, while also being weirdly disturbing. This one boasts a whole host of odd characters that could only be present in an Argento film. A young woman travels from the US to a prestigious ballet school in Germany. She arrives on the night of a grizzly murder, casting suspicion on all the dancers and faculty alike. All manner of insane witchery ensue. The music and atmosphere make “Suspiria” an appropriate choice, even if it’s only on in the background during your Halloween party. Made in 1977, this film encapsulates a very specific time & place in the horror universe.
What would this list be without at least one emotionally disturbing film? Watch this film at your own risk!!! It’s one of the most disturbing films ever made. And to clarify, this is the FRENCH LANGUAGE VERSION, the US remake is nearly unwatchable. I know more than a few people that were unable to finish “Martyrs” in all it’s glory. If you see that as an endorsement…it’s probably right up your alley. Two disturbed young women break into an idyllic family’s home, brutally murdering everyone inside. One of the women claims that this family held her captive as a child and tortured her. Is she right? Is she mentally stable? Is there anything in the basement? Suck it up and watch the damn subtitles! It’s probably my single favorite horror film of the last decade. If you can make it to the end, the film has a very thought-provoking conclusion that might ask you to use your brain. It’s always worse when the extreme violence you’ve just seen also has a point.
Adam Green’s exercise in classic American horror definitely deserves a spot on this list. Like the poster says “It’s Not A Sequel, It’s Not A Remake, It’s Not A Japanese Film”. “Hatchet” shows us all what can be done with the right attitude, a few favors, and a shoe-string budget. Not to mention a love and near perfect execution of PRACTICAL make-up FX. “Hatchet” is one of the most violent supernatural slasher films in memory, and hell, even Kane Hodder (Jason himself) plays the killer from beyond the grave: Victor Crowley. The FX are top-notch, and earned this film an NC-17 rating upon it’s release. The violence is so over-the-top it’s hard to believe it caused such a fuss, but what do I know? A haunted swamp tour goes horribly wrong, when the boat sinks and the tourists come face to face with a nasty supernatural killer who has an axe (or hatchet) to grind. It’s funny, scary, and bloody as hell.
This is probably the most legitimately frightening film on this list. No humor, just straight faced horror from start to finish. A group of women go spelunking somewhere off the grid. As if being trapped in a claustrophobic network of caves isn’t bad enough, it seems like there might be something else down there with them. Director Neil Marshall does a masterful job of making these characters highly relatable before plunging them into monster movie madness. If your heart isn’t racing during this movie, you might be dead!
This will undoubtedly be the most controversial and misunderstood film on this list. If it were called ANYTHING but “Halloween”, it would’ve been an instant classic. I understand that people were misled and it has absolutely nothing to do with Michael Myers, but that does not make it a bad film. An evil madman distributes must-have Halloween masks to children all over the country. A special broadcast on Halloween night will “activate” the masks by using what else, a stolen piece of Stonehenge! It’s up to Tom Atkins, in all his 80’s glory, to stop the evil plot before it gets the children.
This one truly has it all. Zombies, axe-murders, evil slugs, frat guys, and the grizzled police officer. Fred Dekker (who would blow us away a year later with “Monster Squad”) showed us all what he could do with this one, and had a hell of a good time doing it. A fraternity prank goes horribly wrong, releasing outer space slugs into the town, turning everyone into zombies. Tom Atkins tries to save the day as an over-the-hill detective with a pocket full of 80’s zingers. Shit I still answer the phone with “thrill me” sometimes thanks to this movie. The best line has to be his delivery of the homecoming quote of the century “The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is… they’re dead.” This one is light on scares, but heavy on the nostalgia. It’s a nearly perfect example of 80’s horror at it’s finest.
Another somewhat recent entry, but a solid one nonetheless. This is the film that really put James Gunn on the map. You may have heard of him with a little film called “Guardians of the Galaxy”? “Slither” was his first big directing job and introduced us to the talent, and warped sense of humor we’ve come to know and love. A bunch of space slugs (sound familiar?) crash land turning the town’s people into zombies, creatures, and slug incubators. A stellar cast of Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker, Jenna Fischer, and Gregg Henry (even Rob Zombie lends his voice), all partake in the madness. This film is definitely more of a comedy than a horror film, but there are more than enough gore gags and tongue-in-cheek moments that push it into the horror realm. It’s criminally underseen, but after “Guardians of the Galaxy”, I think it will achieve cult status in the near future. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, and cringe worthy at the same time.
There are probably a dozen or so other films that are more than worthy of being on this list. I probably could’ve done 31 for 31 days. It’s a tough commitment to watch a film a day, and let’s face it….most of us have jobs and shit. These are 10 non-negotiable film that I will be watching. That’s not to say that “The Thing” or “The Fly” won’t make the rotation, but I hope these 10 are some new ones to add to your repertoire. Agree with my list? Disagree?