I dunno. Maybe it was the unusually long burst of warmth that had me outside in 25 degree heat doing foundation work on my house in late September, but this Halloween season really sneaked up and took me by surprise. If you’re not familiar with life on the Canadian prairies, one thing that really defines the seasons is the abruptness of their transitions. American writers such as Stephen King like to talk of “Indian Summer,” I dunno. Maybe it was the unusually long burst of warmth that had me outside in 25 degree heat doing foundation work on my house in late September, but this Halloween season really sneaked up and took me by surprise. If you’re not familiar with life on the Canadian prairies, one thing that really defines the seasons is the abruptness of their transitions. American writers such as Stephen King like to talk of “Indian Summer,” with warm days extending as late as November, but that is largely alien here. The leaves of poplars lining the streets start to turn in mid-August and by the end of September, at the very latest, the trees are totally barren and the gutters and eves are swollen with decaying leaves. Not so this year. The last vestiges of autumnal warmth are clinging on for dear life, much like the pills of a well-loved sweater worn during just such a season. “Sweater weather,” in fact, is my very favorite kind of weather. It’s a time for warm coffee to take the edge of the slight bite in the air, with days full of wan fall light, short afternoons and early sunsets. I’m enjoying this time, even while I know it won’t last much longer. Maybe it’s precisely because I’m in the throes of the kind of autumn that I’ve pretty much only ever read about that my picks for this year’s top ten to be a bit more classical in theme and mood than in previous years. Oh, there’ll be the expected bloodshed and more than my fair share of decapitations, to be sure (especially considering the upcoming franchise round up) but my list this year run a little less towards the hard core grue of films like Martyrs. Ah, I’ve kept you long enough with my rambling. Here’s my Top Ten for Halloween 2012. Hope you find a film two here that will tickle your Halloween fancy as much as they tickle mine. 10. Dracula (1979) When it comes to cinematic Draculas, Bela Lugosi cast the die, Christopher Lee pushed the envelope and Gary Oldman injected a thoroughly modern sensibility into the character. Lost amid these admittedly great interpretations is Frank Langella and 1979’s overlooked and unfairly dismissed Dracula. Directed by John Badham – yes, the John Badham who directed Saturday Night Fever – and based not on Bram Stoker’s novel but on its stage adaptation this elaborate production transplants the story to a more modern Edwardian setting and boasts striking production design by artist Edward Gorey. While some of the film definitely feels dated, it’s mostly aged in a way that’s charming rather than antiquated. Even the love scene backlit by a cheesy laser light show more reminiscent of a Who concert than a Victorian gothic thriller works in the contest of the movie. Romantic leads Kate Nelligan and Trevor Eve barely register, but veteran actors Laurence Olivier and Donald Pleasance are on hand to alternately class and ham the joint up in equal measures. I introduced my wife to this version a few years ago and it has since become a mainstay in our Halloween viewing schedule. The reason being? In her own words: “Frank Langella’s sexy.” I think that’s the real selling point. 9. The Legend of Hell House (1973) There are few living authors that can boast being as influential as Richard Matheson. From his short works, to his teleplays for the original run of The Twilight Zone, there’s no medium that doesn’t have his fingerprints on it and no working genre author that doesn’t owe him a debt. Among his greatest achievements is his novel Hell House which, along with Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, is on the short list of greatest haunted house novels of all time. While the film adaptation of Hell House isn’t in the same league as the novel that inspired it, with a PG rating it’s far more timid than the decidedly x rated novel, it’s still a well-made and atmospheric thriller. The films’ premise, a wealthy man on his death bed hires scientists to investigate whether there is any scientific basis for an afterlife so he can prepare himself for his coming end, seems particularly prescient in light of the recent science vs. religion debate that’s been eating up column space in the news (and as much as I love this movie, Matheson’s novel is ripe for a re-adaptation). The film adaptation transplants the story’s Maine setting to England and as a result the whole movie has a dour, damp and utterly delicious vibe to it. The film’s anticlimactic ending (straight from the novel) ends the film on a sour note, but the film nevertheless remains a solid entry in the haunted house genre. 8. Paranormal Activity (2007) Love it or hate it, with the arrival of the fourth Paranormal Activity film later this month, the series is officially a horror icon. For my money, a fourth film is where the series earns the right to be judged not against other films, or even other films in the same genre, but against other films in the series. Much like the upcoming Skyfall will mostly be compared to past James Bond films, so too will Paranormal Activity 4 primarily be stacked up against the first three movies. Even for so short a series, it’s definitely had its ups and downs. I thought 2 was a weak cash-in, and I’m quite frankly surprised it didn’t end the series right there, but part 3 righted the ship quite dramatically. However good or bad subsequent sequels are, though, the original remains one of the scariest films of the past ten years. Barely half a decade old, but it’s influence is already pervasive. More importantly, though, its effectiveness hasn’t been diluted one ounce by sequels and blatant rip offs like the execrable The Devil Inside. I don’t even believe in ghosts or an afterlife but this film still manages to scare me right down the short and curlys. The original Paranormal Activity is the best found footage film since The Blair Witch Project. That’s pretty great company to be in, in my book. 7. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) I guess the whole trend of meta-horror was inevitable. The relative naiveté of the 80’s has long since passed. Moviegoers are savvier and more knowledgeable in general and with smart devices, have a world of information at their fingertips. Some may see this as killing the fun and relative innocence of the genre but I personally have no problem with audiences demanding a bit more intelligence from their horror films. Still;, I’ve never really been able to pin down exactly why most meta-horror films just haven’t clicked with me until I was watching The Cabin in the Woods earlier this year. I was mid-way through that film when I realized what the problem with most meta-horror for me is. It’s a feeling of contempt for the genre that seems to underlie most of it. Scream exploited the conventions of the genre, yes, but there was still a sense of reverence for and genuinely love of the genre. Most modern attempts at “smart” horror, however, seem to lack faith in the genre and view unironic horror as an unworthy endeavor. That’s why Behind the Mask is so damn good. It’s actually a blending of several different subgenres; meta-horror, found footage and mockumentary along with traditional slasher filmmaking and it handles each element with an amazingly light touch. There are the typical cameos and dropped references but they’re not handled with a showy, attention whoring attitude. Not to mine clichés too vigorously but this is clearly a film for horror fans that was made by horror fans. Plus, the final showdown is scary and suspenseful even though it utterly telegraphed. I very much look forward to writer/director Scott Glosserman’s return to the horror genre. 6. Silent Hill (2006) I wasn’t too wild about Silent Hill when I first saw it in 2006. Not that I didn’t like it, in fact I loved parts of it. As a whole, though, it just didn’t sit right. It was a bit overlong, a bit anticlimactic and just plain unsatisfying. But, watching it a couple of months ago, I was struck by just how well it’s aged. Maybe it’s just that the film’s rhythm and pace plays better on the small screen, the kind of screen on which I had experienced its namesake, but I found it a lot easier to get into. The first act felt less like a talky exposition dump and more like an exploration of rich mythology. The Silent Hill game series has been around for over a decade now, so a lot of its iconography is familiar to gamers. The film adaptation is the first and only time when I’ve seen such stunning and unique visuals so faithfully recreated in an entirely different medium. Even beyond the visuals, though, to this day it’s still rare and refreshing to see a horror film so centred on female characters, both good and evil. Silent Hill is the best video game movie to date and a pretty awesome horror film in its own right. With the trailers for the upcoming sequel showing real promise to deliver a worthy follow up, I can think of no better time to revisit the town of Silent Hill. 5. Tremors (1990) This summer I came to a revelation that I’m sure has been rattling round in my brain for some time, but only finally coalesced into a coherent thought: Tremors is the perfect monster movie. It literally has no flaws that in any way impede its effectiveness at what it aims to accomplish: it features sharply drawn, likable characters. It successfully balances its scares and its laughs. The plot makes sense, and the obstacles faced by the heroes never feel like contrivances. The creatures are extremely well designed and (with the exception of a couple of obvious optical shots) executed to perfection. A lot like Beind the Mask, Tremors pays homage to the creature feature not by condescending to the material for the sake of cheap laughs, but by reveling in the tropes and trappinsg that make it such a durable subgenre. The film has laughs, at times it’s as funny as an out and out comedy, but they grow naturally from the characters and the situation. If nothing else, Tremors remains the best (and only good) thing Reba McEntire has ever been associated with. 4. Night of the Living Dead (1990) Confession time: while I cannot deny that George Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead is a masterpiece and one of the cornerstones of the modern horror film, I find myself pulling Tom Savini’s remake off the shelf and popping it in my player for a watch far more often. It’s not just the commanding presence of Tony Todd or the more proactive portrayal of Barbara, though those are certainly contributing factors. Again, this is a film that knows and repsects how and why the original film works, and is willing to twist that in entertaining ways. I like how it plays equally well for people who haven’t seen the original, yet is even more rewarding for those who have. From the little subversion of expectation like the opening graveyard scare to a fairly major reworking of the ending, Night of the Living Dead 1990 finds way to reward and surprise fans while still being faithful and reverent to the original. I don’t think I’m overstating the case when I say it’s a borderline masterpiece, which is even more impressive considering it was make up master Tom Savini’s feature debut. Holy shit, Tom, get back behind the camera! We need you! If it weren’t for the legitimately awful score, I would rank Night of the Living Dead 1990 even higher. 3. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) Sequels are, by their very definition, almost always a mercenary proposition. They represent a return to material that was already successful in an attempt to recapture the magic (but mainly the box office). That doesn’t preclude them from being good, though. Case in point: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Not just a cheapjack cash in or rehash, it really pushes the envelope and takes us deeper into the dreamscape only previously hinted at. In willing to delve deeper into world of the nightmare, it comes far closer to true dream logic and surrealism than either of the previous two entries. Nightmare 3 represents the only example I can think of where a sequel expands the series mythology by adding more backstory, and the backstory actually works in complementing and enhancing the existing lore; Amanda’s “Son of 1,000 Maniacs” speech is absolutely chilling. It is also one of the deftest blending of horror and humour that the genre saw in the 80s. Nightmare 3 has become staple Halloween viewing when we have friends over because although it’s a full blooded horror film, it remains entirely accessible to mainstream audiences. It’s not just my favourite of the Nightmare series, but one of my favourite of all films. 2. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) Who would’ve thought even ten years ago that Halloween III: Season of the Witch would be subject to such a massive rediscovery and a newfound legitimate cult status that exists in compliment to, but also apart from the following of the rest of the series? I’ll admit that it took me a long while to come around. It wasn’t until I attended a Halloween III panel with director Tommy Lee Wallace and got to hear firsthand his insight into the film that I was able to see Season of the Witch in a new light. Halloween III is not an easy movie to appreciate, but an immensely rewarding one once you’re able to take it on its own terms. The plot has fairly huge gaps in logic and consistency but what it lacks in narrative coherence, it makes up for in atmosphere. Dean Cundey’s cinematography is as excellent as you’d expect and the minimalist score by Alan Howarth is a pure work of art. Tom Atkins manages to make what should be a wholly unlikable character – a drunken lout who bails on his family to get drunk and screw a younger woman - into a genuinely heroic character. With Shout! Factory producing an absolutely sublime Blu-ray release of this once misbegotten now beloved cult classic, this is a great season to return to Santa Mira. 1. Bride of Frankenstein (1935) There are few films that have cast an inescapable shadow of influence for three quarters of a century. James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein is one such movie. When you think of gothic horror, the images you conjure in your mind probably owe some sort of debt to Bride. It would be enough if Bride of Frankenstein merely improved on its predecessor. Despite its deserved status as a classic of American cinema, the original Frankenstein had more than its share of problems. Every way in which the first film stumbled, however, this one excels; the makeup is better, a score is added, the direction is sharper, the cinematography more atmospheric and dramatic and Karloff is actually given a chance to craft a character beyond being a lumbering hulk. Bride tops Frankenstein and goes one better: it transcends its genre and has become a classic film…period. Even beyond the trendsetting visual design, the film is a satirical and at times downright subversive masterpiece. Whether you believe director James Whale was openly gay or that he kept that part of his life hidden from his colleagues, the subtext that he imbued his film with is one of the major reasons it still feels so fresh after so many years. Best of all, harking back to films that work equally well on different levels, you can ignore the subtext and the influence of Bride of Frankenstein, divorce yourself from its historical importance, and just watch it as a piece of entertainment…and it still works fantastically. It is for that reason above all others that I do not hesitate to name Bride of Frankenstein my number one pick for Halloween 2012. Hope you enjoyed this year’s list, and may you all have a great October and a fun-filled Halloween. CB.