Rhett's Halloween List 2007 Making a list this year was tough for me. It’s been my fifth list here with the site, and going back over my ones prior, I was noting the classics I hadn’t included before. A Nightmare on Elm Street, Night of the Living Dead, The Evil Dead, Frankenstein, Saw. Since I always try to include a slate of different picks this year, I thought now might be a good time to pay my respects. I just couldn’t though. For me, Halloween watching is all about a certain feel. It’s a precipitous balance between things mostly superficial. Like cracked autumn leaves, I like my films of October to rough and often unpolished. And like a vista of bare trees, fallen leaves and little children prancing around en masque, I think Halloween horror, above all, must posses a firm sense of place. I remember the holiday for the orange hues, the decaying vegetation and the chill in the air. Thus this year’s picks, a ragtag batch of tidings, will be those movies that “feel” Halloween, even if they don’t necessarily say it. 10. Demons (1985) Open up your invitation and get the party started with this Argento-Bava blood bath. It’s a horror fan’s dream – random people are selected for an advance screening of the latest horror film. They shuffle into an aged theater and let the flickering of light take them to the darkest sides of their mind. Yet when theater-goers start turning into bloodthirsty demons themselves, the fourth wall makes 3D seem tame. I usually like to get the night started with a party movie, like Popcorn in 2004. While this is similar in setting, it’s coarser in execution. The clay-mold gore, the loud rock score and the messier European sexuality all converge for what’s the perfect beginning to North America’s most haunted of holidays. 9. The Most Dangerous Game (1932) Forget demons, vampires, ghosts or gorillas, the scariest predator in horror has always been man himself. Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s The Most Dangerous Game goes one further by having man hunting himself for sport. The film is brisk at only an hour long, but yet the directors are able to not only translate the effective prose of the source material, but more importantly, they are able to really encapsulate the feeling of the wild outdoors. Filmed on the sets that would eventually become famous with their King Kong a year later, the film effectively uses the jungle to emphasize the beast that lurks within every man. Leslie Banks’ Count Zaroff is one of horror’s greatest villains, but it’s the jungle that trumps him. It captures an atmosphere that can only truly be felt on Hallows’ eve, where the inescapable presence of dying trees and changing seasons overwhelm. 8. Burial Ground (1981) Another messy Italian movie here, Burial Ground takes prosthetic work to a whole new realm of decrepit morbidity. There’s a sort of dark art at how torn, ravaged and decayed the zombies that lurch afoul throughout appear. They move with such pain and look of such horrible death that when the notorious man-child Peter Bark utters the line “This cloth smells of death”, you kind of know what he means. In terms of nihilistic horror, this is truly a scary film. It’s scary, too, in the way Andrea Bianchi weaves this disturbing incestual, Oedipal tryst between mother and son as Peter Bark tears into horror’s most painful breast feeding. It’s a gross, rotting beast of a movie, and like the ghouls that make up the mythology of our holiday, it won’t soon be forgotten. 7. The Pit (1981) If ever there was an actual child as disturbed and demented as Peter Bark’s Michael in Burial Ground¸ it was Sammy Snyder’s Jamie in The Pit. While Bark was inexplicably 26 when he did Burial Ground, Snyders wasn’t much older than 12 when he unearthed this violent autistic child who does whatever his talking teddy tells him. There’s an uncomfortable duality to our appropriation of the character, at first wanting to sympathize with his condition, but later feeling revolt when it’s clear his only purpose is to throw the people he dislikes into a pit of monsters as their main course. A colleague over at Canuxploitation.com called the film “a unique concoction of Canadian horror movie and After-School Special gone terribly, terribly wrong.” That’s certainly what makes it notable today, but what makes it a Halloween favorite of mine is precisely that evocation of the Canadian fall. Jamie’s pit is located deep in a wood filled of yellowed leaves, and the whole film exudes that chilly Canadiana to such degree that when one of the characters goes skinny dipping, you too feel the cold. So seemingly indebted to this hallowed holiday, The Pit makes sure to play a ten minute trick or treating murder not once, but twice throughout the film. 6. The Shining (1980) Even though the majority of the film takes place in the dead of winter and in the dead of one man’s mind, the power and presence of that opening drive up to the Overlook weighs over every frame. That opening drive, with those long, ghostly aerial shots as the leaves are starting to change color and the hotel patrons are starting to go home, is emblematic of the entire film. It’s a long, steady descent into madness, changing from father to feral like the seasons change from summer to autumn. Set to that ominous orchestral score and those endless running credits, Kubrick does the ultimate in personification, turning a season into psychosis. Before The Shining, Halloween was just a holiday, and fall just a season. 5. Christine (1983) In Canada, especially in the northern nook where I grew up, fall hits a lot earlier than late October. Indeed, it starts more around those back to school days of early September. It’s for this reason that I always end up linking school, fall and Halloween into one synonymous entity. Of that trinity, John Carpenter’s Christine represents it best. Carpenter nails the zeitgeist of high school life, while at the same time nailing the inescapable evil within that damned Plymouth Fury, that same evil that the ritual of Halloween aims to expunge. Yet what has always interested me most is Keith Gordon’s Arnie, a messy and awkward character like Sammy Snyders’ or Peter Bark’s characters mentioned above. At once nerdy, pathetic, strong and self-confident he’s a timid creature with an ego out of control. He’s a fascinating character to watch, and if we are to personify fall like Kubrick wanted us to, then like leaves raked or bags of candy dumped, Arnie is horror’s crazy collage of differences. 4. Snuff (1976) If fall to me means an unclassifiable untidiness in the atmosphere, then Snuff’s notorious finale of a woman having her insides torn out on camera is definitely a fitting image. While this is no doubt the film’s highpoint and claim to fame, it’s the rest of the story that really gives it sustenance. Basically, before it switches gears and becomes a snuff film, Snuff is actually a shoddy patchwork of psychedelic Manson-era fears. Well before Kill Bill, it involves a group of female assassins under the command of a ruthless Satanic leader. There’s plenty of ritual and madness, and even more bad acting and piss poor production values. Yet like Halloween itself, it’s often hard to describe just what makes the event so lingering and memorable. I can’t truly explain why I love Snuff, or why it fits into my Halloween list, but I can feel it. It has that atmosphere, that dodgy, parched Mexican grit to it that just feels like fall. It's rough around the edges, and I like it. 3. L'inferno (1911) The most hauntingly beautiful of all silent films, Bertolini’s L’inferno is a magnificent journey into the depths hell and the height of the imagination. Based on Dante’s descriptions of hell in his The Divine Comedy, the film is packed with amazing in camera visuals, using both optics and those Italian clay-based make-up effects to make some gross and grandiose visions. But like a leaf crumbled or a statue cracked, L’inferno is a thing of beauty aged to a whole new meaning. Nearly a hundred years old, the print is missing frames, jumpy and scratched to bits, but it’s those imperfections that give it a character above the imagery of the film. It represents a life lived, history made, and in its messy reconstruction, like a ghost, it’s something that will never fade away. 2. Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) Easily Argento’s messiest film, his battles with his composer, his financers and his actors manifests itself in all the discontinuity of the sound and images in the film. It really feels like some brilliant rough cut, one of amazing vision that’s been shown in dailies without refinement. Yet it’s stayed that way, and compared to the distinguished but duller The Cat o’ Nine Tails prior, it has an infectious zest for life. Argento has always been a master at making his images seem alive with their colors and their movement, but here with Four Flies on Grey Velvet he seemingly does it in between those frames. He shows the fragility of film, how it’s all an assembly that can just as easily be torn apart, eviscerated and mutilated like any human could by Michael Myers on that night of nights. 1. Halloween II (1980) Thanks to a one Robert Zombie, I really have no desire to watch the original Halloween, even on the night that calls for it. No, right now I wouldn’t even touch it with a ten foot pole, for fear that somehow Zombie’s sophomoric stinker of a film will somehow tarnish all the things I love about Carpenter’s original. So instead, I turn to a sequel I generally don’t hold much affection for, but one that seems fitting this year in my personifying of fall’s decay. In Halloween II, Michael’s mask looks rattier, his murders gorier, and his world a scarier place. Children bite down on apples filled with razor blades. Pranks turn into backdrafts of bloodshed. Hell, in this film you can’t even make a sandwich. Carpenter portrays Michael, with his disappearing acts and those long floating Panaglide shots, as some kind of phantom in the original. Here though, he’s a living, breathing monster in a world that’s equally as scummy and reprehensible. I’ve always found this film to be the shoddiest looking of the series, even under Dean Cundey’s masterful hand. Yet here, for me, and at this point in my life, that grungy veneer somehow seems to fit. So watch this at the end of the night and take in that glorious mess that the fall season brings. For when Michael starts bleeding from the eyes, you’ll know it’s lights out on another season of exploring the darkest art that is death.