Not sure what to watch on Halloween this year? DVDTalk's reviewers have come to the rescue. Four of our writers have come up with lists of their favorite films to curl up with on a spooky evening. Check out Mike Zupan's Classic Villains and Cult Favorites
, The First Cut is the Deepest
complied by Rohit Rao, a selection of Halloween Treats
by Will Harrison, and Gerard Iribe's Devils, Demons, and Shapes, Oh My
. You can't go wrong with any of the picks... they're all horrific fun.
Classic Villains and Cult Favorites
compiled by Mike Zupan
/ Halloween II - Collector's Edition
: OK, so it's cheap that I'm starting my list by throwing two movies into a single pick, but damn it, can anyone blame me? Thanks to Scream Factory's release of Halloween II (Collector's Edition), there's more reason than ever to revisit 'the night he came home'. Universal put out a pretty solid Halloween II release in 2011, but their transfer unfortunately retained a lot of white specks and scratches. Scream Factory has since cleaned up the existing transfer, and they've done so without utilizing any digital noise reduction. Furthermore, they've included a bunch of brand spankin' new supplements, including a copy of the televised cut on DVD (which is substantially different than the theatrical cut). There's plenty of eerie cinematography (the film has some of the most iconic imagery of the genre), carefully paced suspense, and more importantly, these films feature the Michael Myers from before all that 'Thorn' nonsense came into play. Watching these films back to back is a must
Universal Classic Monsters - The Essential Collection
: Dracula. The Wolf Man. Gill-man. Frankenstein's monster. Phantom. The Mummy. Bride. Do I really even need to explain the significance of owning this set in time for Halloween? Some are probably disappointed that Universal didn't include the numerous sequels that were previously available on the Legacy DVD sets, but this 'bare essentials' monster collection is a dream come true. I was pretty certain we'd never see such classics in HD, but Universal has gone above and beyond with this release. They've carefully optimized these films for HD, removing many of the issues that plagued the DVD's (poor contrast, soundtrack hissing and pops, etc). Outside of the drastically improved technical presentation, they've also included the Spanish version of Dracula (filmed at night, opposite the shooting schedule of the infamous Lugosi film) as many consider it the superior version, and for those of you with a 3D capable home theater, Creature is also available in three glorious dimensions (and not in those silly red and blue glasses, either). I'm a big fan of films that excel at providing mood and thick gobs of atmosphere, and these films are what practically defined these qualities in cinema. I'd be surprised if I didn't watch the entire collection twice through before Halloween.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space
: I know the comedy-horror subgenre is popular with most, but I tend to stay away from it as much as humanly possible. Don't get me wrong - I absolutely adore Return of the Living Dead, Shawn of the Dead and Zombieland, but outside of these exceptions, most efforts fall flat on their face. If they DO end up being funny, it's usually for all of the wrong reasons. Killer Klowns is really one of the rare exceptions though, despite the fact that on paper, it has absolutely nothing going for it. Hell, it's even rated PG-13. But, I'll tell you what Killer Klowns from Outer Space DOES have - A race of alien clowns that arrives to Earth on a spaceship that looks like a carnival tent. Shadow puppets that come to life and eat their unsuspecting spectators. Popcorn guns. Cotton candy cocoons
. If that doesn't convince you that this is an irresistible gem that's likely to knock your block off every time you watch it, I don't know what will. And yes, although we only have the DVD review available, I'll be checking out the Blu-ray release from September.
Trick 'R Treat
: Horror anthologies are practically all but forgotten, but this 2007 flick was quite the surprise. These four stories tackle many of the traditions you're supposed to abide by on Halloween, and the consequences you'll suffer if you're not careful enough to pay respect to the ghoulish holiday. I know it's odd that this is the second film I've chosen that I can safely assume won't scare anyone, but Trick 'R Treat doesn't really set out to be scary. Its goal is to tell a series of tales that will feel like, well, Halloween, and this film accomplishes that with flying jack-o-lanterns. I could watch the movie after the sun sets on a cold September night, yet feel like my door would ring at any moment with trick or treaters waiting to collect the goods. In a way, it sort of makes me feel nostalgic at the same time, as if these were a bunch of ghost stories I could have grown up with. Sort of like spooky urban legends, you know? This film flew under the radar during its initial release on Blu-ray, but I urge anyone who appreciates films that are more about the vibe
of Halloween, rather than the typical hacking and slashing, to check this out.
Night of the Living Dead (1990) - Limited Edition
: I've already established that Halloween is one of my favorite movies of all time, but George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) is only a hair away in second place. I'm going to pass on the original this October however, as I recently imported it from Japan and have already watched it a few times. Twilight Time produced a limited run of 3,000 copies for 1990's remake (which did have Romero's involvement), and boy
has it met its ghoulish share of controversy. I'll only say that yes, there was a major change in the film's color timing, but it appears to be intentional and I wasn't really bothered by it most of the time. With that being said, the zombie effects are far more gruesome thanks to Tom Savini, and although there are some minor character and plot tweaks here and there, there's nothing that causes the story we know and love to skew into the woods. I'm a big fan of zombies, and owning this film on Blu was a no-brainer. Mmmm... braaaaains...
: Now, a film I do not recommend
, even if Leatherface himself were chasing you - V/H/S. Although this isn't out on DVD or Blu-ray yet, I recently decided to check this film out via on-demand. Remember how I stated my affection for horror anthologies? Well, consider this my exception to the rule. V/H/S was supposed to be a found-footage game changer, and I guess that's true if you consider 'game changing' to be the same thing as 'driving the subgenre out of business', because this film was the most boring piece of cinema I've seen in a while, and I watch a LOT of bad horror flicks. Basically, a bunch of punks break into a house with orders to find a VHS tape, but they stumble upon a dead body in a room loaded with 'em. So, they start watching these tapes one by one, and lucky us, we get to watch! Each tape is truly a waste of time. There are some great ideas, but none are executed very well. They all break down like this - Nothing happens... nothing happens... nothing happens... nothing happens... snuff film ending... and then we move on to the next tale of boredom. There's no suspenseful build-up, and although I love the found footage genre, the camerawork here actually ruined the experience for me. Think Blair Witch had too much camera jostling? Wait until you see V/H/S... but, if you value your life, take my word for it and don't let it come to that.
The First Cut is the Deepest
complied by Rohit Rao
Every film on this list represents an early effort from some of my favorite directors working right now. Not every title falls squarely into the horror genre but they have all terrified me in the past and still have the power to unsettle when I revisit them today.
Cube: This little marvel of set design was my introduction to Vincenzo Natali. It is also the film that compels me to track down absolutely every project he touches (I watched Paris, je t'aime primarily for his segment). While Splice would be a more fitting horror title from the director's filmography, I find Cube perfectly freaky in all the right ways. It grips me right from the start by showing a man falling to pieces in the bloodiest way imaginable and keeps building the suspense until its tantalizing finish. Math nerd, Sci-fi fan, Horror junkie...this one just gets me on every level.
Slither: The horror comedy is a staple for me every Halloween and once you've seen Shaun of the Dead for the umpteenth time, you start to wonder what else can take its place in the rotation. James Gunn's Slither hits that spot big time. This tale of a small town being overrun by slimy insistent aliens is thrilling, action-packed and icky all while being uproariously funny. Gunn winks at his Troma roots with over-the-top gore effects that makes you squeal rather than reaching for the barf bag. Of course, Gunn's greatest asset here is his spectacular cast. Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker are part of an ensemble that clearly had fun making this film. The feeling is infectious.
Session 9: As far as I'm concerned, Brad Anderson is one of the modern masters of atmosphere. His work in Session 9 is an excellent example of this. He takes a small group of actors (including David Caruso operating in non-caricature mode), drops them into a real abandoned asylum, keeps the tension on a low boil and lets our imagination do the rest. Although Anderson went on to other genre offerings with The Machinist (Christian Bale *shudder*) and Vanishing on 7th Street (better than you've heard), Session 9 will always be the film that perfectly encapsulates his style.
The Last Exorcism: As of this writing, Daniel Stamm has two full-length films to his credit and I love them both dearly. A Necessary Death is unnerving and creepy but doesn't quite get to me the way that The Last Exorcism does. After hating every stupid minute of The Blair Witch Project, I thought I was done with found-footage horror films. Fortunately Stamm's film marches to its own rhythm and gives us flawed characters actually worth giving a damn about. Some folks have taken issue with the ending that seems to come out of left field but I think it's a brilliant atonal capper that finally pushes us over after keeping us teetering for so long.
The Nameless: Jaume Balagueró has done a lot of great work in the horror genre, especially with the recent Rec films. It's impressive to see how fully formed his talent was in his feature-length debut, The Nameless. This gripping tale of a mother searching for her daughter who has long been presumed dead is spellbinding from start to finish. There are no monsters in this one but rest assured Evil makes its presence felt. Without going into spoilers, the climax of this film will forever be etched in my memory for its devastating power.
Triangle: I love the taste of my own words. In my review of Christopher Smith's Triangle I said that while there are horrifying elements to the film, it is definitely not a horror movie. As I think about the shivers it sent down my spine, I feel compelled to soften my words. This is one of the smartest slashers you'll ever see because it has a lot more than plain ol' bloodletting on its agenda. Smith working with a terrific lead performance by Melissa George gives us something thoughtful, challenging and thoroughly engrossing.
compiled by Will Harrison
1. Halloween: What would a Halloween movie marathon be without John Carpenter's immortal classic? Besides the fact that Halloween is my favorite movie, Carpenter's film is one of the genre's masterworks and holds up to repeat viewings. Michael Myers is perhaps the most iconic horror villain of all time, and "The Shape" is silent, ruthless and terrifying in this first outing. Halloween was released numerous times on DVD, and while the current Blu-ray from Anchor Bay filters some of Carpenter's blue tint from the image, it can be found for less than $10 and is worth buying.
2. The Orphanage: If you haven't seen this 2007 Spanish horror film, now is the perfect time to check it out. Beautifully shot and genuinely creepy, The Orphanage sends a young mother through the wringer when her adopted son begins describing an ominous, unseen friend named Tomás. The Orphanage is apparently up for an American remake, but who needs that when this horror gem is already available on Blu-ray?
3. The Rocky Horror Picture Show: There is a reason this movie continues to screen at sold-out midnight showings around the country year-round: It's a whole bunch of transvestite singing, popcorn-throwing fun. Come for Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon, stay for Meat Loaf and Dr. Frank-N-Furter's greatest creation. Fox's 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray book features sweet packaging and a ton of extras.
4. The Devil's Rejects: Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects is less traditional horror than its predecessor, House of 1000 Corpses, but it's a superior film. Zombie's brand of redneck antiheroes are polarizing, but the Firefly family, including charming Captain Spaulding, is hard to dismiss. For the record, I actually like Zombie's Halloween remake, despite its trailer-park cast and attempts to explain its villain's motives, but The Devil's Rejects feels like Zombie put a lot of himself into what made it on screen.
5. Trick 'r Treat: Since being dumped directly onto video in 2009, this Halloween anthology has become a horror favorite for myself and several of the site's other reviewers. Trick 'r Treat combines several spooky tales - werewolves, undead children and murder, oh my! - and nicely captures the spooks and laughs of the holiday. Horror anthologies are rare, so the real treat is that this got made at all!
6. Near Dark: Remember when vampires actually had some bite? Kathryn Bigelow's film is a horror western of sorts, and follows a pack of vampires around as they do their dirty work. Bill Paxton and Lance Henricksen "keep odd hours" in this B-movie, which goes off the rails during its over-the-top climax. Ignore the Blu-ray's misleading Twilight-esque cover and check out the Anchor Bay 2-disc DVD set from 2002, which has more bonus features.
Devils, Demons, and Shapes, Oh My!
Trick 'R Treat
compiled by Gerard Iribe
- Ironically one of the most recent films that a studio had no idea how to market ends up being one of the best anthology horror films of the last 20 years (at least). Trick 'R Treat was released direct to video after it's premiere at several festivals way back in 2007, but was shelved until 2009. The film is split into various chapters, which are all related and interwoven all at the same time. The one thing they all have in common is the creepy presence of little Sam, who looks like a little boy in his trapdoor pajamas having a good time trick or treating with the other neighborhood kids. The spirit of horror and Halloween are present in the film, which give it an edge. It's the quintessential Halloween picture of today, while John Carpenter's Halloween is the ultimate Halloween film. Period.
John Carpenter's Halloween - What's to say that hasn't already been said? Don't count any of the sequels or any of the Rob Zombie garbage remake(s). John Carpenter's Halloween is the story of evil personified: Michael Meyers. He is the boogeyman and cannot be stopped. He is Haddonfield's ultimate nightmare made flesh and like the terminator, will not stop until Laurie Strode is dead. Not only is John Carpenter's Halloween scary but also on a technical level, is very impressive. Not bad for a bunch of kids making movies with limited funds.
Insidious - The story of a child's haunting after moving into a new house is nothing new, but on the surface, can still be scary as hell. Insidious comes to us from James Wan and Leigh Wannell, the masterminds behind the first Saw film and Dead Silence. Insidious has the distinction of making grown men shriek at my local theater when I saw it upon its release. It was pretty funny seeing these giant men literally yelp at the horror onscreen at my local theater. Hell, even I jumped in a few scenes. It also helps that the film looks great, but was also made on the cheap and ended being in the top 3 moneymaking movies for that year based on budget. The film cost like 1.5 million to make and made like 80 million or something like that. I still revisit the film quite often.
Exorcism of Emily Rose - To this day, there are several days during the week where I still wake up right at the stroke of 3:00 am, which is said to be the "witching hour," or when demons and evil decide to come out and play. I'm not really sure what state of mind I was in when the film came out several years ago, but it obviously got to me. It does help that I actually find the film to be scary and effective. Jennifer Carpenter, in her breakout role, plays Emily Rose, a girl who goes out to college in the big city and leaves her small country living (and religious beliefs) behind for the new wonders of the city. Once she settles in the visions begin and she is transported to her own personal hell. The film is not only a horror piece, but also a courtroom drama procedural. Tom Wilkinson plays Emily's priest who is brought up on murder charges and implicated in Emily's death, while Laura Linney plays Wilkinson's defense attorney. Almost ten years later, The Exorcism of Emily Rose still rattles my bones. *Make sure to get the DVD version, because the Blu-ray has omitted the subtitles for the various languages used by the demons in the film.
The Exorcist III - An oldie and a very underrated goodie. General Patton himself, George C. Scott stars in William Peter Blatty's 'true sequel' to the Exorcist in part three. Blatty adapted his own book, 'Legion,' into the screenplay and shot it as a sequel to the original film completely ignoring the second one. After several horrific murders in Georgetown cripple the city, and leave it in fear, Scott playing Lt. Kinderman, is in way over his head, and has to put a stop to it. Little does he know that he has to face his best friend Father Karras, who died 15 years prior. Exorcist III used to freak me out big time. Not only is the film very minimalist, but also the cinematography is incredible in its depiction of space and perspective. The editing is spot on, as well. Not only is it a scary film, but also goes down in history as having one of the scariest scenes in a horror film. If you haven't seen it yet then brace yourself for the classic 'hallway scene.' You'll need a change of underwear afterwards.