By Vernor Rodgers
Find out where it's playing
A PANDEMIC ON HALLOWEEN? TAKE IN A
So what to do when a pandemic seriously
hampers plans to dress up, go to parties or trick-or-treating? One
option is to stay home, prepare some popcorn -- and serve up the
candy not likely to be distributed to young costumed kids -- and
view a movie, preferably of the horror genre.
As a horror movie fan for decades, and one
who has rubbed elbows with fellow scary movie aficionados the last
8-9 years, I have learned that there are various factions who
embrace certain sub-genres of horror movies over others. Here is a
look at some of those genres that cater to differing tastes in
There is a hall of fame of slasher films,
with the initial inductee being Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho."
Surprisingly, it took nearly two decades before slashers, featuring
deranged, revenge-obsessed and almost always nearly indestructible
villains who slice and dice victims, usually teens, gained a
foothold in drawing fans. The must-see list of these bloody ventures
include "Halloween," "Friday the 13th," "Scream" and factoring in
gloves with claws, "A Nightmare on Elm Street."
The good is that these films provide
suspense and jump scares and sometimes some really awesome kills.
The bad is that they invariably lead to sequels, which in turns
leads to the ugly in that these bad-guy who are proponents of terror
and mayhem -- as well as a lot of heavily deep flesh wounds --
survive death time and again. One of the most chilling endings ever
was in the original "Halloween" when Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance)
shoots killer Michael Meyers several times, sending the guy over a
second-story railing onto a yard below. But a moment later, when Dr.
Loomis gazes down, Meyers has disappeared. This creepy and
unsettling finale was decimated when the sequels kicked in, and
Meyers, along with his "Friday the 13th" kindred spirit Jason
Voorhees, never dies. With "Scream," the sequels tend to veer off to
other villains, a little easier to digest. But the "Elm Street"
baddy, Freddy Krueger, can continue his harsh hobby of shortening
life spans because he is already dead.
GHOSTS AND SUCH
Nothing like a spooky story to trigger
chills as you crunch popcorn. Usually devoid of brutal violence,
these movies just make things unsettling with bumps in the night,
doors slamming, lights flickering, ghostly images and the
not-so-subtle contention that some people who die are not happy
about it or are just pranksters. And as with the classic "House on
Haunted Hill," these shenanigans can be more earthly than
otherworldly as sinister motives are at work.
The "Conjuring" and "Insidious" movies do
take a look at legitimate hauntings, the former focusing on the
real-life work of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who may or may not have
been authentic paranormal investigators. This film series also
throws in another staple of scary movies, the creepy doll, this one
named Annabelle. The "Insidious" films feature the delightful Lin
Shaye as parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier, who has to deal with
"Paranormal Activity," one of the movies
that actually scared me a little, has been softened by the
sequels. The story of a young California couple, Katie Featherston
and Micah Sloat, haunted by some evil entity, was a suspenseful
treasure and would have been fine with its horrifying ending if not
for the money-grabbing strategy of follow-up movies that tried to
explain why this tragic couple was singled out. The unanswered
questions lingering at the end of "PA" was what made this movie
Of course there are classic ghost stories
that should be a must for the Halloween season, like "The Shining"
and "Poltergeist." While the recent sequel to "The Shining," "Dr.
Sleep," is worthy, don't bother with the subsequent "Poltergeist"
THE POWEFUL ONES
You know: Death and Satan. "The Exorcist" is
really the only effective demonic possession movie. Other movies
have come out and showcased some really great special effects, but
those do not compare to horror Regan (Linda Blair) is put through.
Cheating death, or trying to, is amply
covered in the five "Final Destination" movies, this year being the
20th anniversary of the release of the initial "Final Destination."
The formula is the same for all five movies. A person foresees a
horrendous disaster and manages to save a few people before the
catastrophe occurs. But the survivors begin dying off and it is up
to the rest of those who dodged death to decipher clues and discover
ways to break the pattern of the mortality count. This is all
enhanced by delicious appearances by Tony Todd as the mortician who
gleefully expounds on the futility of trying to cheat death. The
five disasters, which are pretty graphic in each movie, are an
explosion of a commercial aircraft, a vehicle pileup triggered by
logs jarred loose from an 18-wheeler, a major malfunction of a
roller coaster ride, another vehicle smashup, this time including
high-speed race cars at a track, and a major bridge collapse. Since
the storyline is the same, the real draw is seeing the different way
the survivors eventually are killed, often leaving the viewers
guessing as potential killing moments go by without any problems,
and other seemingly insignificant events soon escalate into tragedy.
These movies are scary in showing that activities we all engage in
daily, without a thought, could lead to a fatal (and often messy)
This sub-genre actually has sub-genres
within itself: zombies, vampires and werewolves. There are so many
offerings in these categories it would take a thesis to cover them
all. Here are my favorites among these topics:
Zombies: Even I grew weary of "The Walking
Dead," worn out by the deaths of favorite characters, so I limit
myself to a pair of zombie flicks. First, naturally, is "Night of
the Living Dead," George A. Romero's low-budget thriller in which a
group of people holed up in a house try to stem the flow of people
recently risen from the dead and famished for tasty live humans. The
second one is the darkly humorous "Return of the Living Dead." This
film features the now iconic scene of Trash (Linnea Quigley), a punk
woman obsessed with death, dancing nude on a tomb in a cemetery. An
unsettling scene is when Frank (James Karen), seriously infected by
the gas that is bringing the dead back to life, commits suicide by
placing himself into a crematorium and burning himself to death.
Vampires: Like zombie movies, these are all
over the place. But exploration of vampire movies has to start with
the Bela Lugosi classic "Dracula." Not nearly as bloody or
explicitly erotic as the films that followed, it set the tone for
the blood-sucking theme. Among my favorites in recent decades is
"Vampires" featuring James Woods as a professional vampire snuffer.
Werewolves: Lon Chaney Jr. set the tone as
Larry Talbot, a man cursed when bitten by another man who turns into
a wolfman during full moons. Talbot pops up in other Universal
films that include the Frankenstein monster and Dracula, in
frustrating search of the treatment he needs to end the curse. He
finally finds it in "The House of Dracula." So the baton was handed
off to others. "An American Werewolf in London" is another darkly
humorous movie about two young men, David (David Naughton) and Jack
(Griffin Dunne) who while hiking across the badlands of England get
attacked by a wolf, that turns out to be a werewolf. Things turn out
badly for both guys. Jack dies and David survives but now has the
werewolf curse. As if that isn't bad enough, David is regularly
visited by an increasingly decomposing Jack, who informs David he
must commit suicide to break the curse and relieve his victims of
the undead limbo in which they stuck. The ladies get a shot with
"Ginger Snaps," which also is celebrating its 20th anniversary this
year. Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) are
two socially outcast sisters obsessed with death until an attack by
a wolf creates more socially awkward moments for them.
Well, the Frankenstein monster is the king
here, although if you trip over the thin line between horror and
sci-fi he gets a lot of competition from King Kong, Godzilla and
Alien. I always group the original "Frankenstein" with "The Bride of
Frankenstein," as must-see because they really could be combined
into one film. Subsequent Frankenstein movies are loosely linked to
these two although the chronology as well as locations create some
Here are some other movies that can lighten
(or darken) Halloween.
"Tales of Halloween": An anthology of
stories and rich with black humor, this movie is overseen by
Adrienne Barbeau as a radio personality putting everyone in the mood
during her Halloween night broadcast. My favorite of the stories is
one in which a facially deformed madman kills a young woman, but his
little escapade is interrupted when a flying saucer swoops down from
overhead and delivers an adorable little alien, equipped with a
jack-o-lantern treat bucket, who repeatedly chirps "trick or treat."
Frustrated, the killer tries to do away with the little E.T. but
that just leads to a brutal battle of dismemberment between the
killer and his recently deceased-now-risen victim.
"The Silence of the Lambs": A horror movie
that cleans up at the Academy Awards? Yep. Anthony Hopkins and Jodie
Foster match wits and each won Oscars for their roles as Dr.
Hannibal Lector and FBI Agent Clarice Starling, respectively, as
Clarice tries to enlist the imprisoned serial killer in helping her
track down Ed Gein-like murderer Jame Gumb (Ted Levine). Intelligent
and suspenseful, this movie still packs a punch, and no doubt will
be highlighted next year on its 30th anniversary.
"You're Next": Sharni Vinson as Erin is my
favorite Final Girl. Accompanying her older-man professor boyfriend
on a weekend gathering of the man's family, Erin finds herself as
the resourceful person who uses her indoctrination by her
survivalist parents, to come up with weapons and means to fight off
home invaders. A nice twist at the end.
"The Strangers:" Speaking of home invasions,
Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman are a young couple confronting some
problems in their relationship by going to a secluded home to work
them out only to be terrorized by three intruders. Chilling is when
Kristen (Tyler) asks one of the strangers, a woman, why they are
doing all this, the woman says simply, because we can.
"The Blair Witch Project": The movie that
launched the "found-footage" genre, it still chills to this day, the
story of three young people, Heather, Josh and Mike, who go into a
wooded area in Maryland to film portions of a documentary on the
local legend of a witch. The effectiveness of this movie is built
upon what you do not see, only what you hear, not to mention some
unknown force that leaves piles of rocks and creepy tree mobiles and
has the three people seemingly wandering in circles as they try to
hike out of the area.
The Fireflys: Rob Zombie's movies are not
for everyone. He makes brutally violent movies, as shown by his
versions of "Halloween" and "Halloween 2." His creation of the
Firefly family, notably Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie
-- yes, Rob's wife) and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) spawned three
movies that should satisfy those who like their horror movies raw
and uncompromising: "House of 1,000 Corpses," "The Devil's Rejects"
and "3 from Hell." These people are unapologetically and violently
self-absorbed with their own set of values that usually lead to the
demise of those out of sync with their moral compass. Sadly, Haig's
death last year creates a big void and the Fireflys may have to
retire to an old folks home for people with demented hobbies.
"American Mary:" Directed by the
groundbreaking twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska, this film focuses
on an extremely underground world of body modification, things that
go beyond piercings. Katharine Isabelle from "Ginger Snaps" stars as
Mary Mason, a struggling medical student who finds herself
sidetracked into body modification. Sexually assaulted by one of her
mentors, she extracts a horrific revenge on the man and soon finds
that body modification is a lucrative but eventually dangerous
alternative to a medical career.
"The Shallows:" Man versus shark?" How about
woman versus shark? Blake Lively is terrific as Nancy, also a
struggling med student, who relaxes by surfing. Although she finds a
near paradise beach for surfing, she soon is in a perilous
situation, stranded on a rock about 200 yards off shore while a
great white shark circles, building an appetite. Can Nancy outwit
the instinctive resources of a giant fish?
"Bone Tomahawk:" Most horror movies do not
have me cringing, but this one did. It's actually a horror western,
starring Kurt Russell as a lawman who has to rescue kidnapped
settlers from a group of cannibal savages. There is a live
dismembering scene that even had me gagging.
WHERE TO FIND MOVIES AND SHOWS
SHUDDER is a subscription channel that
thrives upon horror. Right now, "NOS4A2," the series based upon Joe
Hill's novel, is offering new episodes. Also available is a movie,
"The Beach House," a haunting movie that teases it will be a story
of killers but the killers are not human, in fact it remains a
mystery as to what they are. A series titled "Cursed Films" is a
five-part project that explores bad luck and tragedy that plagued
such movies as "The Exorcist," "The Omen" and
"Poltergeist," suggesting sinister unseen forces were working to
prevent these films from being made. A documentary, "To Hell and
Back: The Kane Hodder Story," is a wonderful film about Hodder,
mostly known for playing Jason Voorhees in some of the "Friday the
13th" movies but has in fact been a great stuntman and actor. He
recalls the horrifying experience of being seriously burned during a
stunt and the long painful healing process.
TUBI is rich with horror movies. It has
about 200 of them, all free if you get the channel via Roku. Some of
the classics are there -- "Sleepaway Camp," "The Hills Have Eyes," "
Hellraiser," "It Follows" and more.
VUDU has on its menu many horror-themed TV
series: "True Blood," "Masters of Horror," "Penny Dreadful,"
"American Horror Story," "Van Helsing," "The Strain,"
"Supernatural," "Ash vs. Evil," "The Vampire Diaries," "Preacher,"
"Damien," "The Exorcist," "The Purge," "Scream Queens" and others.
IN THE MOOD FOR OLDER STUFF? Monster Mash,
another channel via Roku, offers two seasons each of the 1960s
television shows "The Munsters" and "The Addams Family."
PLUTO TV also offers "The Addams Family" as
well as "Dark Shadows."
HULU, where I have been visiting to catch up
on David Lynch's quirky "Twin Peaks," has a rare film, a horror
musical about a zombie rampage, "Anna and the Apocalypse." Who can
resist a teen girl singing while bashing zombies in the head? Hulu
also now has available the latest "Pet Sematary" as well as the
recent remake of "Child's Play."
HERE are some Halloween-themed movies to
check out: "Trick or Treats," "Halloween at Aunt Ethel's," "All
"Hocus Pocus," featuring Bette Midler, Sarah
Jessica Park and Kathy Najimi, remains a favorite since its 1993
"Beetlejuice" comes with an asterisk.
Basically fun family faire although Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) does
"Goosebumps" and "Goosebumps 2" offer screen
adaptations of R.L. Stine's works.
Some animated features include "Monsters vs.
Aliens" and "A Monster in Paris."
Then there is this: "Spooky Stories" as told
by Shrek, Donkey and others.
Finally, no Halloween is Halloween without
"It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." If the pandemic prevents
trick-or-treating a consolation is that Charlie Brown will not end
up with a bags of rocks this year.