As many of you probably saw last year, I did my TOP 13 HALLOWEEN HORROR MOVIES OF ALL TIME for the Stan Winston School of the Character Arts last year. In case you missed it, here are links to both PART 1 & PART 2.
But like all good horror movies themselves, that list needed a sequel. So here we go again. The RETURN of my TOP 13 HALLOWEEN HORROR MOVIES. Yes, the return, or the revenge, or the bride of, or son of, or seed of… whatever. It’s a sequel. So if you have any interest, here’s the follow-up. I’m sure many of you will disagree, but I welcome that. Go ahead and give it a gander anyway.
When I do these lists each year, people inevitably ask me, “You’ve missed some obvious and amazing horror movies. Why haven’t you put (insert film here) in yet?” Well dear friends, as any good horror writer/filmmaker knows, it’s just as important how much you hold back as it is how much you deliver. And as difficult as it is to hold back on listing some of my absolute favorites, I must so that every Halloween, I have a super special film for you. Rosemary’s Baby is this year’s super special film. I’ve been DYING to put this on my list for a few years now, but I’ve been waiting… and waiting… till just the right moment. And this leads right into why Rosemary’s Baby itself is so utterly perfect. It is the ultimate slow burn horror film. Roman Polanski’s masterpiece waits… and waits… and peels back layer… by layer… It unfolds its mysteries at such an ideal pace, that you find yourself practically leaning forward waiting for more. For those of you who have never seen this movie, it’s about a young couple that moves into an old NY building with a dark past. As the couple meets their elderly neighbors and are “welcomed” into the community, well, a mystery begins to unfold. And yes, as the title implies, it mainly circles around Rosemary’s pregnancy. The connection you feel with Rosemary is so ideal, that it’s almost like the situations that happen to her, are happening to you as the viewer as well. From the initial stages of her pregnancy, where she loses weight instead of gains it (and she had almost none to lose in the first place), to the constant pains she must live with, to the later scenes of pure and utter helplessness, you are right there with her, feeling everything she does. And speaking of Rosemary, this is definitely Mia Farrow’s movie. She’s just so lovely in every way, that you truly feel for her. To think that this movie is almost 50 years old just blows me away. It’s just gorgeous, deep, emotional, and an ideal portrait of NY in the late 60’s. Rosemary’s Baby is an almost perfect movie. Please do yourself a favor and either revisit it, or watch it for the first time. Get drawn in again, and witness the birth… of a great film.
And thus concludes this season’s October Horror Movie Recommendations. As always, it’s been amazing everyone. Hopefully these (and the past years’ lists) will tide you over until 2014!
NEVER stop watching horror.
I had to get one more Jamie Lee Curtis flick in here before this year goes bye-bye. And this time I’m going sequel. I know this film can be divisive. Hell, let’s be honest, aren’t ALL sequels?? But in my humble opinion, Halloween II is actually a great follow-up to the original Halloween. For one, it does my absolute favorite sequel device. It picks up at the exact moment the first one ended. It even replays the original’s final scenes in order to keep that carryover feeling intact. In fact, the entire film takes place on the same Halloween night as the original. So really, if you watch both back-to-back you can just imagine Halloween I and II as one lengthy movie. This same trick has been done with other films as well, including [REC] and [REC]2, another favorite series of mine. But when these types of sequels work best is if they not only continue the same vibe of the original film, but also introduce new information that makes you look at the original in a little bit of a different light. Now, look, I get it… Some people don’t like that. They like the original pure and untarnished. But here’s the deal, if you aren’t on board with a sequel, fine. No biggie. Just don’t watch it, and you’ve still got your memories of the original in pristine condition. But for me, I’m always excited to see how the filmmakers expand upon their original ideas, especially when it’s a film I love and revere. With Halloween II, they up the body count, up the violence, change the locale from a neighborhood to a hospital (for the majority of it at least), and most importantly, they broaden the scope of the Michael Myers mythos, including an explanation of the mysterious relationship between he and Laurie. It’s not the first film, I know that. It’s even got a different director (even though John Carpenter did co-write it.) But it does retain a lot of the same style and suspense. It still has some wonderful Michael Myers-seen-in-the-background moments. It still has his tilting and inquiring head. And most importantly for me, it still has the amazing Jamie Lee Curtis picking up exactly where she left off from the original, as the ultimate survivor. Laurie Strode rules. And so does this movie, sequel or not.
Yep, another 80’s horror movie. I’m sorry, I can’t help myself. But come on, this is The Lost Boys here. This is Peter Freakin’ Pan for the horror crowd. This movie is what Twilight WISHES it could be. This is teen vampire angst done right. The storyline follows a newly divorced mother and her two sons moving into a new beach town looking for a fresh start. Unfortunately for them, this new town, which is dubbed “the murder capital of the world”, just happens to be crawling with vampires. There are so many things to love about this movie that it’s pretty difficult to list them all, but I’ll try. First off, the actors involved. This is the 80’s encapsulated in actor form. Corey Haim, Cory Feldman, Jason Patric, Jami Gertz, Dianne Wiest, Alex Winter, and of course, Kiefer Sutherland. Come ON! He’s so awesome in this! Then all the amazing music (“thou shall not kill…) The soundtrack is fantastic. And that concert scene with the ridiculous, buff, greased up, saxophone-playing lead singer might be one of my favorite concert scenes in a movie EVER. Plus, I swear you will never see another film with more helicopter or swooping shots in it. Watch it again, you’ll see. It’s a quirky studio film with some fantastic little twists and turns along the way. There actually isn’t that much violence until toward the end, and then it’s just awesome. And the finale vampire battle is just top notch. Funny story, I grew up going to the Santa Cruz Beach & Boardwalk every summer, where this movie is filmed. And the one thing that ALWAYS disturbed the hell out of me as a child was that on their Sky Ride, they would put these weird random caveman-like mannequins on a few of the chairs. They terrified me. They haunted my dreams. Well, if you watch the opening montage of this movie where it shows numerous clips of the boardwalk, there’s actually a glimpse of one of those damn Sky Ride dummies. For me, that just guaranteed this movie was always going to stick with me. Anyway, stupid Sky Ride dummies aside, this movie rules. The amusement park setting. The biker gang aspect. The incredible vampire “lair”. Everything about this film is just magic. Go see it again. It really does hold up.
In honor of my most recent article I wrote on Halloween Horror Movies for the Stan Winston School (https://www.stanwinstonschool.com/blog/top-13-halloween-horror-movies-jeff-dixon), there’s no better horror movie to write about today than Stan Winston himself’s directorial debut, Pumpkinhead. As with most of the movies I choose for these lists, I have an interesting connection to this film. It was with this movie that I discovered at a young age how normal film critics had nothing to offer me, since they simply hated horror films. I remember reading every single review of 1 star, zero stars, thumbs down, etc., and I was curious why there was so much vitriol toward this film, because I really enjoyed it. Then it struck me. These were intellectual film critics who were reviewing horror movies using the same criteria as Academy Award winners. That’s like having someone allergic to sugar tell me which candy tastes the best. Eff them. There was no way these people were qualified to review my movies. Only MY people should review my movies. That was pretty much when I solely turned to Fangoria for my film reviews and coverage (I was already an avid reader, so it wasn’t too much of a transition.) Regardless, that connection aside, Pumpkinhead is what it is. And what it is, is an awesome morality revenge tale with an absolutely FANTASTIC centerpiece creature. But what’s interesting about this film is that the morality tale isn’t quite one sided, it’s told from both angles. It’s about a man who’s son is accidentally killed by a group of teens, so in his fury he decides to have a witch conjure up a demon to kill them all. But during all that time, both the teens AND the man feel bad about what happened, and want to make things right. But it’s too late. Pumpkinhead is already here to rip some shit up. Look, it’s the 80’s. You’re going to get some dubious acting and some silliness. Expect that. But what you don’t expect is how awesome the atmosphere of this film is. The witch, the design, the mood, Lance FREAKING Henriksen being amazing as always, and of course, foremost, Pumpkinhead himself. Pumpkinhead is just a wonder of practical design. Since Stan directed, Stan was going to bring the goods with the creature. And damn right he did. Pumpkinhead is amazing. Many, many years ago when I visited Stan’s old workshop, I got the opportunity to see the actual Pumpkinhead creature in the conference room, and holy hell it’s impressive. And every bit of that beast is up there on screen. Enjoy it my friends. Don’t listen to the intellectual critics. It’s just damn good romp.
Okay, let’s get bizarre. But let’s not just get typical bizarre, let’s get 70’s bizarre! Oh man, Phantasm is such an amazingly insane movie. There’s a reason it’s considered a cult classic. Let me attempt to describe the premise. Hmm, let’s see. There’s this VERY tall man (aptly named, the Tall Man), who seems to be the mortician at a cemetery, but actually is a visiting alien who turns dead bodies into weird little Jawa creature slaves. Oh, and he’s protected by these little awesome flying spheres that drill into your head and drain your blood. And there’s this kid and an ice cream man named Reggie that try to take him down. That’ll have to work for now. Trust me, as mad as that sounds, it’s even madder. There is nothing normal about this film at all, which is one of the main reasons why it’s so damn fantastic. Sometimes you’re watching it, can’t quite understand, let alone believe, what the hell you’re watching, and yet, for some undeniable reason you just love every second of the insanity. I still remember the first time I saw this film, my initial reaction was, “what the hell just happened?” So I had to watch it again. It was then that I started to see the mad genius at work. This film is pretty much created from top to bottom by Don Coscarelli, who also did other insane films like Bubba Ho-Tep, John Dies at the End (which I wrote about a few weeks ago), and Beastmaster! Here, Don did everything, and I mean everything. Watch the credits and you’ll laugh. He wrote it, produced it, directed it, shot it himself, and even edited it as well. This is Don’s brain on screen here, and we are the beneficiaries. Just trust me on this one. It’s got an incredible iconic villain in the Tall Man (you’ll love his thundering, “BOY!!!!!”) The spheres are a stroke of genius. The weird zombie Jawas? Oh man. Look, it’s horror. It’s sci-fi. It’s utter madness. Just sit back and go along for the trip.
Yeah, I know there’s been five Final Destinations (and yep, a 6th is in development), so I get all the jokes that it’s never quite “final”. But you know what? I so don’t care. I love this franchise. It’s exactly what I enjoy at the movie theater. It’s silly. It’s fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s got inventive setups, and phenomenal payoffs. The series cares less about the actual plot, and more about the series of Rube Goldberg–esque death sequences. That’s what we came to see, and that’s what we get. But as much as I quite enjoy the entire series, it’s Final Destination 2 that is the peak of the franchise. They took everything that worked in the first one, and just upped the ante in every imaginable way. We all know the premise by now. If you cheat death, death will come looking for you. Here, it’s a woman’s premonition about a massive freeway crash that saves all the potential victims… only to have them all die horrifically later. Directed by the late, great, David Ellis, who tragically passed away earlier this year, this movie definitely delivers on his stuntman past. The absolutely jaw-dropping freeway sequence at the beginning of the film is seriously one of the most incredible action scenes you’ll ever see in a horror movie. Ellis definitely knew how to direct vehicular action, since he did all the 2nd unit work on the phenomenal motorcycle chase sequence in The Matrix Reloaded. But then you blend the action with all the shockingly graphic gore, and you’ve never seen anything like it. You want a gigantic bouncing log smashing through a windshield and right through a guy’s head? You got it. This film is just balls out awesome. Just when you think you know how someone is going to die, they throw you for a loop. You never quite know where or when it’s coming, and that’s the whole point. Just a really fun, inventive film. Enjoy.