Throwback Horror Films for Halloween
I love horror movies. Unfortunately, it seems like I’m increasingly alone in this statement — not that I can blame people for a lack of interest in a genre that self-cannibalizes and generally trades character identification and suspense for cardboard cut-outs and shock value. That being said, the number of horror films, including “Psycho,” “Jaws” and of course, “Halloween,” that are affectionately deemed cinema classics is larger than you may think. Are these, however, really the only films worthy of coming back to when looking for a scare? While I can’t provide a definitive answer, I can try to tip the scales in favor of a more varied Halloween viewing experience by providing a list of ten unfairly neglected horror films that would be great any time of year (but especially on Halloween).
Attack the Block
With a high-energy quotient, characters that are both likeable and believable, witty rapport conveying a genuine sense of camaraderie and an adventurous spirit, this modern classic offers entertainment in spades. It works simultaneously as a loving throwback to the long-lost genre of 80’s Spielberg-esque kids-on-a-mission film (although its decidedly more violent and gruesome than any of those movies ever were) and an example of modern entertainment at its finest. “Attack the Block” should be what all blockbusters aspire to be, and it puts many other films with 10 or 20 times its budget to shame. The soundtrack is pretty great, too.
Don’t Look Now
Out of every film on this list, if I was to suggest only one to see, it would be “Don’t Look Now.” The story of two parents who travel to Italy to escape from the death of their daughter, this criminally underrated film was innovative for its time: not only because of its unique editing style, which frequently emphasizes symbols or motifs over continuity, but because it painstakingly captures the intimate details of the effect a death of a child has on parents. Throughout the film, “Don’t Look Now” finds the couple increasingly distanced and unable to relate to each other due to the death, while the father becomes more and more paranoid and obsessed with a figure resembling the image of their daughter. As the film draws to a close in one of the most unbearably suspenseful sequences ever captured on film, its atmosphere of paranoia escalates, emphasizing the extent to which real-world dangers and their own internal grief bleed together. “Don’t Look Now” is a truly unnerving film, all the more so because it takes the time to develop the two leads, expertly played by Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, allowing their pain to slowly creep under the audience’s skin as it lashes out at the pair on the screen.
A movingly tragic tale of science-gone-bad, “The Fly” is one of the most emotionally fulfilling horror films ever made. It begins as the story of a scientist’s relationship with a reporter covering his new invention of a device that can transplant matter instantaneously. However, when he uses the invention on himself before properly testing it, he finds himself changing in increasingly terrifying ways that threaten not only his relationship, but also, his own health. This almost impossibly moving tale of a Shakespearian figure felled by his own hubris, highlighted by uncommonly strong performances from Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, transcends the confines of the drama to become first and foremost an affecting, resonant tale of love and a cautionary tale about the perils of mankind’s wildest dreams unleashed.
A shockingly underrated entry in the mid to late 80s horror boom, Director Kathryn Bigelow’s “Near Dark” transcends genres: it is not only a freaky, unnerving horror film, but also, an evocative Western and a tragic tale of doomed family and love. This story of a family of vampires terrorizing the Mid-West also earns points for being a unique and refreshing take on the long-worn out vampire film genre.
Night of the Hunter
One of the most blunt and disturbing films ever about the effect of violence on a child and the way children cope with adversity, “Night of the Hunter” boasts a magnetic Robert Mitchum starring as a criminal disguised as a preacher who stalks two children who know the location of their father’s stolen money. Although the film, which was way ahead of its time, ultimately ruined director Charles Laughton’s budding career (although he had been a respected actor for several decades), Laughton’s direction nowadays is deservedly seen in a much more positive light, most notably for its ingenious combination of Southern gothic imagery and German expressionist techniques. Honestly, I can’t do the beauty of this film enough justice here, but sequences such as the sublime yet haunting downriver raft trip taken by the two fleeing children have to be seen to be believed. Moments like this cause this film to not only be one of the most gorgeous films ever made, but one of the most horrific as well.
This mid-80s classic combines modern gore with 50s schlock-sensibilities for a riotously good time, cheesy over-the-top acting and all. Whereas most horror comedies tend to suffer from too stark a contrast between the humor and the scares, leaving neither seeming fully formed, “Re-Animator” integrates them more effectively by attempting to re-create, rather than send-up, the short-comings of 50s horror. In this sense, its humor is more nuanced (a strange word to describe a movie whose most famous scene is essentially a sex joke). This makes it all the more riotous.
Interestingly, this is another film, like “Night of the Hunter,” that essentially ended its director’s career (although Laughton was not of the same caliber as Peeping Tom’s Michael Powell, easily one of the most respected British filmmakers). That’s a genuine shame, though, as this 1960 masterpiece is an excruciating descent into the mind of a killer and an unnerving look into the secrets people keep behind closed doors. “Peeping Tom” is effective due to its first-person murder sequences (the killer films his victims as he kills them with a knife attached to his tripod), which are ahead of their time, as well as the intriguing questions it raises about the nature of voyeurism. In addition, the film contains one of the creepiest performances ever — on par with Anthony Perkin’s interpretation of Norman Bates in “Psycho” — in Carl Boehm’s portrayal of Mark Lewis.
Trick R’ Treat
Lovingly crafted and deliciously gruesome, this tribute to Halloween delivers scares and laughs with equal aplomb. A Creepshow-styled anthology film, “Trick R’ Treat” details four mostly-strong stories with dark humor that never forget that a horror-comedy doesn’t have to eliminate tension for humor. Above all, this film earns points for sheer love for the holiday itself, which soaks through every frame, and I can think of few films to get you in the spirit more than this one.