Monday, October 3, 2016

Best Halloween Movie Picks

I always think up great Hallowe'en viewing recommendations. Unfortunately, I never post these recommendations until about the last week of October. So, this year, I have come up with a list a few weeks early. I may add or alter or edit this list in the coming weeks. However, I stand by this list.

So, ya like scary flicks? Do you like them with a Hallowe'en bent? An autumnal setting, with the leaf-stripped trees and dusk-light of October? Well, then look no further. Here are my picks of movies, some scary goodies and spooky laughs, that I’ve watched a few times, and plan to again. Any great piece of cinema is worth re-watching. These are my re-watchable gems.

Scary Goodies

It Follows
It’s no secret that I liked this flick quite a lot, as I reviewed it here on Oct. 25, 2015. In a sense, It Follows is John Carpenter's Halloween 38 years later. There's a new monster. The setting is a dilapidated suburb outside of Detroit that could very well be the same 'burb from HalloweenThis timeless setting could be in the 1970’s, 1980’s or 1990’s. Here, a sexually-transmitted monster stalks its young victims. Having sex with a new person is the only way to rid yourself of the monster so that it kills someone else. The film is a heady mix of symbolism and discomfiting sexual metaphors. The heroine possesses an intimate connection to nature. The cast of unknowns delivers elevating performances in a film that doesn't have clear rules of engagement with the supernatural.
The Monster Squad
Mock all you want, but this little 1987 B-movie pits young teens against monsters in Small Town, America. Sound a little like Stranger Things? Certainly, it's shorter and less subtle and not intentionally nostalgia-drenched, but there are parallels between Monster Squad and Stranger Things. However, the monsters are of the classic Universal Studios variety or Universal Monsters as they used to call 'em. Dracula is getting the band back together, including the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Mummy, The Wolfman and Frankenstein’s monster. There are consequences. People get hurt. There’s even a bit of a Ray Bradbury feel with characters befriending the monster.  Stephen King references lurk, even on a main character's cheap T-shirt. To top it all off, each character gets their own development. So what if the film clutches the tradition of the 1980's montage a little too close to its heart? And so what if everyone talks in a rapport reminiscent of many other films of the era? The picture is great fun and still good, years later. Monster Squad even warranted a twentieth anniversary edition that is a rare find for any horror film collector.

This was the coolest poster ever, back in
'87. It's aged fairly well, all things
The Lost Boys
Speaking of 1980’s fare, The Lost Boys hit all the right notes in the summer of 1987, despite Joel Schumacher’s attempt to make a piece of simple summer popcorn entertainment. The acting, the music, the mise-en-scene, all added up to more than the sum of its parts. Thanks to Schumacher, vampires were cool and sexy again. Teenagers having breathless first dates could get their fix of new Gothic cinema. The cast also did a great job. Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland is charismatic and beguiling as the leader of the pack of teenaged vampires. Jason Patric is engrossing as the brooding Jim Morrison avator in a film laden with Doors references. Jami Gertz is lovely and a young adolescent’s sacred Madonna. The Coreys, Corey Haim and Feldman, perform their teen antics well. Now when I re-watch this flick I relate more to Dianne Wiest, the mother of the two Coreys and Jason, than I do the teens because, well, I’m more of a parent now than a teen. And the soundtrack, anthem rock, raised to a religious height in spots, simply soars. Check out the boys again. You won’t be sorry.

Trick 'r Treat
A newer film, surely, this is an American-Canadian anthology horror anthology film (think Tales from the Crypt) tying together interlocking stories on Halloween night. The movie is downright shameless in its drenching of every scene in iconic Halloween atmosphere and accoutrements. Director/writer Michael Dougherty took his animated short of the same name and stretched its legs to make Trick 'r Treat, which he shot in Vancouver. The cast is generally less known. Brian Cox, as a reclusive, is adept. Anna Paquin, in her pre-True Blood days, is a fine babe in the woods. Dylan Baker is a simmering pot of murderous intent. The studio thought this movie would bust at the box office, so after a limited screening at film festivals in late 2007 and in 2008 as well as a delayed promise for a wider theatrical releaseTrick 'r Treat went direct-to-DVD in October 2009. And thank gods for that. Werewolves, serial killers, ghosts and a demonic pumpkin-headed killer deliver tricks in this treat that we can all enjoy now.

Near Dark
Director Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark (Bigelow of The Hurt Locker and Blue Steel fame) came out in October 1987, only two months after The Lost Boys. But hers was no romp but grit, a noir revisioning of the whole vampire genre. Featuring a cast of mainly unknowns, save for a young Bill Paxton as Severin and Lance Henriksen as Jesse Hooker, Near Dark follows a wandering brood of vampires who wreak havoc wherever they go. Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar), a young cowboy, meets the attractive Mae (Jenny Wright) at a bar. The only catch is that she is one of the undead. This fact adds a tragic, day-and-night fatalist twist to their doomed love affair. What also sets this influential and creepy tale apart from any such horror films of the era is that the vampires have no fangs. That, and the fact that Bigelow's modern masterpiece is set somewhere in the MidWest. This is a vampire western, kiddies, and only a director as talented as Bigelow could have pulled it off. While weird western horror has been popular in speculative fiction, stretching as far back as the early days of Weird Tales magazine, cinematic treatments were rare in the late 1980's. This marked a seismic change from vampire films that either occurred in the remote countryside in classic Horror films, or generally in urban settings. An unforgiving sense of consequence and nihilism also pervade the film. Watch for Bill Paxton complaining, "I hate it when they don't  shave!" Athough I'll doubt you'll miss that.

Some Spooky Laughs for Hallowe'en Viewing

Young Frankenstein
Director Mel Brooks' 1973 film is a wonderful, ingenius, senseless send-up of the 1931 Frankenstein film and later Universal films of the genre.Gene Wilder is masterful as Dr. Frederick Frankenstien and Marty Feldman plays a great straight Igor to his lunatic. A young and sexy Teri Garr play Inga and Cloris Leachman is riotous as Frau Blücher. 

What We Do In the Shadows
Directors Jemaine Clement's and Taika Waitit's 2014 New Zealand mockumentary horror comedy wooed me during the opening credits. In fact, if you are not laughing during the opening montage sequence, which gleefully portrays the histories of various vampires, you may not have a pulse yourself. The premise is simple, as a in reality-television simple. A documentary crew is granted permission to film four vampires who are flatmates. Everything in this loving mockery of vampire lore is hilarious. Even so, the special effects are believable and this story has heart, albeit an undead one that doesn't beat. This is easily the funniest piece of horror I have seen in a decade.

Dracula: Dead and Loving It
Mel Brook's 1995 satire sends up Dracula films from the early 1930's to the then-present day. Leslie Neilsen stars as the bloodsucking fiend and hams up his reliable straight man schtick with aplomb. Adopting the same tone as the Naked Gun and Airplane! flicks to great effect, Dead and Loving It is meant to be enjoyed as cheese on a grand scale. Like cheese on cheese platter scale. Pass the fanged Gouda, please.

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