Rhett's Halloween List 2006 This year’s selection of Halloween horrors for me is a more personal journey. I’ve tried to cover the bases before, representing all sub-genres and timeframes, but this year formality just won’t do. Instead, I offer you a small picking of movies culled from my DVD shelf. Many have nostalgic relevance, which I tried to elaborate on, while others have simply been neglected for far too long by myself. Many have found themselves on previous lists of mine, but instead of striving for unearthing new horrors on my list, I instead want to celebrate the ones of old. There are a few twists too, but ultimately this is one big, unclassifiable list that I will deem “personal” for lack of a better word. Happy Halloween, guys and gals. 10. Targets (1968) The mysteries of the night always begin at a drive-in. Peter Bogdanovich’s landmark cheapy sets the perfect tone for a night of horror movies, as people are systematically sniped while watching their favorite horror star at a drive-in theater. While gritty, unsettling and realistic in its depiction of society’s modern monster, it is also a tender evocation of the monsters of old. A swan song for Boris Karloff, this recalls his earlier Universal Horror which basically helped mold Halloween into the night of movie horrors it has become. Sure, Freddy, Jason and Carrot Top will be coming to your door this October 31st, but so too will Karloff’s Frankenstein. 9. Madman (1982) We move from a film about drive-ins to one that was commonly shown on one with one of my favorite slashers, Madman. Best if viewed with a topped up glass of red wine (cheese always goes best with that), Madman is both parts scary and campy. People will balk at the performances, but how can you possibly take them seriously in lieu of the camp classic hot tub waltz. The deaths are inventive, the killer menacing and the clichés overturned as Madman Marz wreaks havoc on a bunch of lyrically-prone teens. What makes it stand out as a Halloween flick though, is its mythic stature, the way it casts Marz as a campfire legend. Like the holiday of masks, his legacy is one passed down by generations as a cryptic warning. Like seeing the monsters come alive on your doorstep, it is fun to imagine that with two words, spoken only at whisper, that burly slasher madman will make his return. Lumbering forward in silhouette, axe in hand, the final image of Madman Marz is a sight unshakable. 8. Silent Hill (2006) I always try to include a recent film with my slew of not-so-oldies, and for me Silent Hill is that film most appropriating the feeling of what it means to be afraid. The plot is almost illogical, instead an unrelenting display of horrors (much like my number one pick), but this one doesn’t offer the characters any daylight recluse. From the start of the film to the finale, the characters are trapped in the malicious world of Silent Hill, where age old tales of witchcraft and sacrifice take the mantle. Silent Hill is literally a nightmare, and one that can be enjoyed as such, whether in full consciousness or dozing off at the end of a long Hallows’eve of horror movies. There isn’t much fun to be had here, but sometimes, the best delights come from surviving the insufferable. 7. Phantasm II (1988) Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm II indulges in a dream-like structure as well, but Coscarelli is about fun over frights. A Bruce Campbell movie without Bruce Campbell, Coscarelli posits countless classic one-liners Reggie Banister’s way, and he makes the most of each. Possibly the screen’s most unlikely horror movie hero, Bannister’s balding, blue-collar oaf has a surprisingly infectious charm. Tagging along for his flame-thrower hunt for Angus Scrimm’s Tall Man is balls o’ fun in what is certainly the goriest and most entertaining Phantasm of the bunch. With an epically staged explosion scene that shouts the end to haunted houses and the classic “was it only a dream” ending, this is a flick that lingers on, like the smell of Halloween the next day, where pumpkins have turned and toilet paper litters the streets. 6. Village of the Damned (1960) I’ve long been a fan of Carpenter’s underrated remake, but this Halloween there is nothing like that chilling, austere black-and-white Village of the Damned original. The trick or treating kids seem to get fewer and fewer by the year around my neck of the woods, so it is with this that I like to imagine they’ve all slowly started to blonde and walk together in twos with the Midwich Cuckoos. Famous as a communist scare film more than anything, Damned still works so well today because the children are empty vessels for whatever fear that lurks behind the closed doors of society. Wolf Rilla’s film is all horror, sixty minutes of ice cold emptiness, where the absence of emotion is scarier than any scream or any sight. 5. Tales From the Crypt, Season Two: Television Terror (1990) Even shorter than Village of the Damned, this twenty-five minute episode from Tales From the Crypt is arguably the show’s crowning moment. Television Terror follows a sleazy reporter as he investigates a murder scene at a cryptic house, only to find himself trapped in a haunted house with more than just dead bodies – all on national TV. Featuring some of the scariest images ever made for television, with a chainsaw massacre all its own, Television Terror holds up as timeless. The Crypt comics have been emblematic of our culture’s penchant for blending scares and smirks on October’s special day, like the fright of a mask and the irony of finding an unsuspecting child behind it. Without experiencing the irony of ending and the quips of the Crypt keeper, Halloween just doesn’t seem the same. 4. The Return of the Living Dead (1985) If the Crypt keeper has to make your list, then surely too, does a zombie film. For me though, after the lackluster Land of the Dead, terrible-looking Day of the Dead remake, and those unofficial Dead sequels, I’m sort of tired out of Romero and his brand of horror. Fulci’s a little much to show the girlfriend this Halloween too, so back I go to a film that I never much cared for growing up, Return of the Living Dead. Before, when watching it, it seemed a little too much like the faux-rebellious punks it tried to portray, trying to be different but really just failing to be anything but a poser for better zombie films. I’ve come to embrace the film’s anarchic spirit and its playfulness with the whole eighties punk culture. The Linnea Quigley-led motley crew have enough costumes for a thousand Halloween’s, and what is Halloween without a nude cemetery séance? Nihilism has rarely been more fun, where after the bomb drops it is less a tragedy and more a “what else?” finale. 3. The People Under the Stairs (1991) I never saw The People Under the Stairs as a kid, but I had planned to, with my mother no less. It was to be one of the first “real” horror movies I’d watch, but the night it was on Superchannel, I ended up having to go to bed early for a hockey game the next morning (I am Canadian, after all). My mom watched it, and from her recounting of a dog eating someone and spitting out their ring compounded with my fear of the nook under my staircase and the iconic poster, it was enough to scare me for months. I finally saw it a few years later, and while it may hardly be scary, it is a whimsical and clever inversion of horror clichés as a sort of haunted house swashbuckler. The way Craven makes the seemingly normal, the polite Mom and Dad house owners, into the monsters, and the monsters, the titular stair-dwellers, into the victims, is a wonderful allegory to how surfaces can deceive. Figuratively, everyone wears a mask in this underrated thrill. Whether it be the way it recalls my childhood, where I enjoyed my favorite Halloweens, or the way it functions as a postmodern display of masks, it always jumps to the top of my mind every October. 2. Halloween (1978) I’ve almost run out of accolades for this, my favorite of all films, John Carpenter’s Halloween. Its relevance on October 31st is obvious, but more than just a well-made recapitulation of Halloween night tropes, it lasts because of the way it sinks into your subconscious with the simplest of notes. The story is quietly, deceptively simple, a masked maniac coming home for the holidays, and the score is equally as rudimentary. Even the camera work, as lauded as it is, sneaks up on you in a low-key fashion. Yet, like every note of Carpenter’s theme, the menace persists, repetitive and unstopping. The steadicam shots exist between hand-held and dolly movement, a ghostly sort of flux. So too does Michael Myers, that unstoppable boogeyman, dead one minute, lurking the next. The boogeyman is unstoppable, and even if Halloween continues to elicit fright from trick or treating, or watching scary movies, it too has affected me every day other than horror’s special day. In the shadows of the night, in any closet, laundry room or closed door, I expect Michael there…waiting. 1. Suspiria (1977) “You were watching SUSPIRIA” the credit reads before the final scroll. No I wasn’t, I was living it. Dario Argento’s Suspiria is a tightrope walk of a film, one so avant garde and operatic that one must be in the perfect mindset to truly experience it. Any interruption, a rung doorbell, a phone call or a friend’s chatter, could upset the surreal mastery of Argento’s otherworldly visuals. I first watched it from a worn out VHS on a worn-out television, and didn’t care much for it. I bought the DVD though, the collectability of Anchor Bay’s marvelous three-disc too tough to resist. Watching again I found there was much to admire, but still not much to truly love. It has sat on my shelf unseen for several years, but perhaps Argento’s recent renaissance with his Masters of Horror and Do You Like Hitchcock? television work had sparked a new interest in the Italian maestro. I finally watched it again a few days ago, and was awestruck by the never-ending succession of lucid, elaborate visual compositions and the nightmarish whispers of Goblin’s soundtrack. Like a Salvador Dali painting, the discontinuity of melting time is contained in all those seemingly throwaway shots of Sara’s little clock. Then, with the lurching Pavlo’s ghoulish stature and freshly capped grin, the film approximates a meld of German Expressionism’s most horrific visages, Nosferatu and The Man Who Laughs. Whether surrealist nightmare, expressionist blueprint or Grimm fairy tale (with its youthful use of primary colors), Suspiria is a true house of horrors, pulling from all facets of fright. It may not be the perfect film to watch on all occasions, but if the time is right, when everyone has left the Halloween party and all that separates you from your DVD player is darkness, then there is no better than Susssssspiiiiiiiria.