Decade by Decade: 10 Horror Movies You SHOULD Be Watching On Halloween, But Probably Aren’t
by Annie Riordan
A full century of horror movies. 100 whole years stuffed to bursting with monsters and cobwebs and mist enshrouded graveyards. And yet, a lot of you guys insist upon watching the same old shit, year after year, Halloween after Halloween. Seriously, aren’t you getting just a little bit tired of watching Jamie Lee whine her way through that iconic seasonal slasher? Tradition is a beautiful thing, but in order to fully appreciate it, you need to break it once in a while. Come on, we’re hardcore horror fans. We’ve got Night Of The Living Dead memorized. We could reenact every Freddy film in the franchise blindfolded. It’s time to expand your horizons.
Therefore, I spent a good fifteen minutes digging through the archives of horror cinema this morning, searching each decade for one single, shining slice of celluloid that I felt encapsulated two very important qualities: #1 – a thin patina of neglect, and #2 – a true atmosphere of either autumn/Halloween or one of genuine decay and corruption. You may have heard of these films, you’ve probably even seen a few, but when was the last time you actually sat down to watch them on a Halloween night? Put that tired copy of Sleepy Hollow back up on the shelf and try something different this year:
1 – Nosferatu (1922). Okay, before you get all pissy and start yelling that EVERYONE has seen Nosferatu for fucks sake, I want to recommend a particular version. In 1998, the silent version of Nosferatu was re-recorded with an intro by the late David Carradine and a soundtrack by heavy metal goth band Type O Negative. Amazingly, it’s a perfect fit. Also amazingly, not a lot of people know about the existence this version, not even Type O’s diehard fans. It’s floating around on YouTube and can be ordered from amazon for under $10. Here’s a sample:
2 – Mark of the Vampire (1935). Sadly, the last known print of Lon Chaney’s “London After Midnight” was lost in a fire and time has yet to turn up another copy. In the meantime however, Mark of the Vampire is a perfectly good “talkie” remake of the same film. Shot in 1935 by Tod “Freaks” Browning and starring Bela Lugosi, Mark of the Vampire is filled with all of the cobwebs, organ music, wolf howls and crumbling castles one could ever want on Halloween. I also dressed up like Luna Mora for a costume party one year. Pretty easy costume, rubber bat wings included.
3 – Arsenic & Old Lace (1944). Everyone seems to know of this film, and yet so few have actually seen it. Set in Brooklyn on Halloween night, this pitch black comedy unapologetically pokes fun at serial killers, mental illness and torture with in-jokes galore and a genuine sense of morbidity throughout. It doesn’t hurt either that horror staple Peter Lorre is here, playing the simpering creep that would eventually inspire Loony Toons to create a caricature in 1946’s Bugs Bunny Vehicle “Hair-Raising Hare.”
4 – Night of the Demon (1957). “Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes.” Yeah, this is the film that Richard O’Brien spoke of in the opening credits of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Based on M.R. James’ short story “Casting the Runes” and set in the soggy, sodden, rotting countryside of a dark, morose England, Night of the Demon is the story of a pleasant Satanist, a skeptical American, a pretty girl and a bigass monster with horns and teeth the size of the Chrysler building. It’s a genuinely disturbing film even if the monster may seem a tad goofy by today’s standards, and contains a simple but very effective jumpscare about halfway through, at (fittingly) a Halloween party.
5 – The Innocents (1960). Hmmm. English flick starring Deborah Kerr, set in 1800s. Sounds stuffy and boring, right? Wrong. The Innocents is one of the sickest and most perverted films I have ever seen, and yet contains not a single drop of blood nor an ounce of sex. It is all about suggestion, of things hinted at, hidden away and left to fester until the right catalyst – in this case, Kerr – comes along and pokes at them until they burst. It’s a ghost story first and foremost, but dig a little deeper and it’s diseased through and through, like a pretty pink frosted birthday cake filled with cockroaches. Sexual abuse, pedophilia and demonic possession lurk just below the immaculate, starched white surface of this film and, despite the title, no one here is innocent.
6 – Black Christmas (1974). It’s always such a downer when Halloween ends, and out come the Christmas decorations. Autumn is over and now it’s just a dull, cold trudge through the long months of shiny commercialism. But what if a little bit of Halloween, stashed away up in the attic, wasn’t quite ready to be put away yet? Black Christmas, released 3 years before Halloween and atrociously remade in the early 2000’s, was a slasher film from the mind of the King Of Christmas, the late great Bob Clark, whose homage to the Red Ryder BB gun “A Christmas Story” became a staple of December movie marathons. Where the love story of Ralphie and his gun was nostalgic and cute, Black Christmas is bloody, vicious and deeply sick in its subject matter. This film makes the returns line at Target on December 26th, seem joyous by comparison.
7 – The Changeling (1980). Once upon a time, ghost stories were actually scary, and movies about ghosts were taken seriously, starred big name actors and featured smart scripts. In this mostly forgotten gem, George C. Scott plays a grieving widower, who moves into a huge mansion outside of Seattle and starts hearing spooky noises. There’s a hidden attic room, a body in a well, a covered up murder and a really spooky seance scene, all of which culminate in the mother of all temper tantrums as the ghost of a young boy lashes out in unchecked fury at the living, including those who would try to help him. Scary, scary shit!
8 – Subspecies (1991). Coming full circle from 1922’s Nosferatu is the woefully underrated Subspecies. Filmed on location in Romania during a gorgeous flaming autumn, Subspecies is the story of a good vampire who doesn’t sparkle, a bad vampire who never apologizes and three pretty girls who get caught between them. Location had a lot to do with making this film stand head and shoulders above the other direct-to-video releases of the day. Ancient cemeteries, real castles and a supporting cast of actual Romanians infuse what could have been just another tired vampire film with potent authenticity. The hauntingly gothic soundtrack doesn’t hurt either. Subspecies desperately deserves to be rediscovered, and we need a guy like Radu -ugly, perverted and disdainful – to save us from the likes of Edward Cullen.
9 – Session 9 (2001). And now to the 21st century, which saw too many uninspired remakes and a plethora of unimaginative re-imaginings. Session 9 somehow got lost in the shuffle and slept unnoticed on the video shelves in the final, gasping days of the retail video store. Now it’s running free on Netflix, and it damn well deserves to be rediscovered. Again, location is key, and Session 9 was shot in, on and around the Danvers State Insane Asylum in Massachusetts, shortly before it was torn down to make way for condos. There are no cheesy ghosts here, no lame jump scares or shitty CGI demons with runny eye makeup lurking in the shadows. Rather, the asylum itself becomes the antagonist, a genius loci birthed from the horror it contained. One by one, our rather unlikable cast of blue collar joes are consumed by their own weaknesses over the course of a single week in October. There has never been an asylum more grim and inherently evil as Danvers, and its darkness seeps into every frame.
10 – The Pact (2012). And here we are in the second decade of a whole new century, still in our infancy really. And while I know a lot of people will be sitting down to watch Cabin In The Woods at this year’s Halloween party (a perfectly good choice, by the way), may I suggest that you pop in The Pact once the party settles down and the Trick Or Treaters have gone home to bed and it’s just you and a couple of other true fans of horror sitting up with a slight beer buzz and a lapful of fun sized candy wrappers? This one has been getting some buzz, but not nearly as much as it deserves. It’s a truly gothic ghost story, for all that it’s shot in suburbia and incorporates Google maps as a plot device. This is the film that Paranormal Activity 4 wishes it could have been. It’s rare that I watch a movie more than once these days, but I’ve had this one on repeat for several weeks now, and I’ve yet to tire of it. Easily the best and most underrated film of the year.