Ticket Please Logo 

By Vernor Rodgers
Find out where it's playing http://moviefone.com/

A PANDEMIC ON HALLOWEEN? TAKE IN A MOVIE

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 horror films.

THE SLASHER

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 rowdy spirits.

"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 truly chilling.

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" entries.

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) occurrence.

THE UNDEAD

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.

MONSTERS

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 WTF moments.

MISCELLANEOUS

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 FOR HALLOWEEN

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 Hallow's Eve."

FAMILY VIEWING

"Hocus Pocus," featuring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Park and Kathy Najimi, remains a favorite since its 1993 release.

"Beetlejuice" comes with an asterisk. Basically fun family faire although Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) does get randy.

"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.


Return to DaBelly

2020   DaBelly Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.