With Rob Zombie’s Halloween continuing to turn me off of October’s flagship franchise, and Argento’s Mother of Tears still making me cry, my list is going to be a fair bit different this year. Less Italian, more Canadian, a few trips to Hollywood and a pinch of Tolstoy to round up an eclectic list of fall favorites. Halloween is a celebration deeply rooted in folklore, and this year I find myself increasingly gravitating to the darker fables of the genre for my October compulsions. As a time to scare away spirits, it’s not a time to take lightly, either, so my picks are once again of the dreary sort. If you prefer to indulge the darkness though, you should enjoy my top ten recommendations for Halloween night. 10. Pumpkinhead (1988) Starting the list off with a film with “Pumpkin” in the title seems like a no brainer, but there’s a lot more to Pumpkinhead than superficiality. It has the timeless feel of those dark fables you’d read about as a child. I was always struck by the Leo Tolstoy short story, “How Much Land Does a Man Require”, in which a man makes a deal with the devil to acquire all the land he can perimeter in a single day before sunset. If he doesn’t make it back to his starting point in time, he dies. Henriksen’s character faces a similar fate when he decides to use wrath to fuel a vigilante attack over his son’s death. He too makes a deal with the titular devil, and all that sunset hued cinematography completely evokes the last glimmers of life before the winter season of death, and in the case of both Pumpkinhead and Tolstoy, the last glimmers of humanity untarnished. 9. Beyond the Door (1974) I’ve seen The Exorcist too many times. I just watched it the other day, actually. It still holds up, but at this point its recommendation vanilla. It’s a no brainer. Beyond the Door is the perfect alternative, showing October’s favorite demon using everyday humanity as his mask. Rather than putting faith, redemption or humanity at its core, Beyond the Door does as we all do on Halloween: it revels without shame in only the horrific, the demonic and the otherwise unspeakable. Twisting heads, satanic soup spitting and a whole lot of red crashing cars. I still don’t know what the last bit means, but there’s nothing like bringing the Halloween fantasy to life than seeing Beelzebub have a field day in Italian. 8. End of Days (1999) Beelzebub in the Vatican is pretty cool, too. I’ve always had an affinity for this underrated Schwarzenegger flick, the way he set aside his heroic, macho sensibilities to descend into the dark pits of addiction, regret and crazy demonic temptation. Peter Hyams directs with a red fascination for hellish debauchery, and Gabriel Byrne has a villainous field day as “The Man”. “But this is a new years movie!” In a way, yes, but as a Canadian October 31st, when snow finally starts to cover the ground and kids dress up outside their snowsuits, truly feels like the cold, dead end to the season. The true end of days. 7. Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning (1985) With great new DVD releases of Savage Streets and The Unseen, this truly is the year of Danny Steinmann. Since I’m taking a break from Halloween, I turn this year to that other tentpole slasher franchise for October. It has been a treasure to sit through the series again, showing the films anew to my casual female horror accomplice. Watching Steinmann’s film was most refreshing, since it’s been one of the least watched films for me from the Friday canon. The way it reinvents the original’s premise anew is still refreshing as an effective dead-end diversion on the same plane as Halloween III. The high death and nudity count certainly never turned off fans, though. What makes it endure for the fall season, though, is the brown aesthetic, a grungier tint on the usual cornucopia of campground colors. 6. Season of the Witch (1972) Nothing like a title to immediately evoke fall, George A. Romero’s Season of the Witch is an artful and somber take on femininity, a sort of gender counterpoint to his classic Martin. The fall season is in full swing, and nothing brings out the Halloween feel quite like witchery. There’s even those effective dream sequences with ghouls marching in Fellini-esque fashion, a sight never unseen as children parade down the sidewalks on our favorite fateful day. Few other films evoke the deathly feel of fall better, the decaying of leaves here a grand metaphor for the decay in gender relations that came to a hilt during the film’s timely seventies release. 5. Blood Rage (1987) For Americans, Thanksgiving is late November. For us Canadians, though, it falls right smack dab in the middle of Halloween season – the second Monday of October. It’s a time to thank whomever for the harvest, and for us has become an inseparable component of the Halloween season. It’s with that in mind that I pick the total slasher insanity of Blood Rage, where our lead loonie talks incessantly about Cranberry sauce as he goes on a killing spree that would make even Jason break a sweat. This movie is fast and frantic, with gore every other minute. Every other minute is filled with plenty of bad movie belly laughs, all throughout that great time of being thankful. All will be carved! 4. Ghosts of Mars (2001) I may not have any desire this year to pop in a Halloween flick for fear of stripping mothers and Nazareth forever implanting themselves in total recall, but I certainly want to crank up some Carpenter. Ghosts of Mars always gets a bad rap, but with all that demonic mayhem contained within his barren, red reconception of the old west, it’s tough not to fall in love with the man and his last film of seven years. Carpenter’s film is like trick or treating made tension, with every turn around those crammed prison corridors revealing a new ghost or demon. It’s unabashed, unashamed, horror fun. 3. The Mask (1961) Canada’s first major horror film, and in three dimensions no less, The Mask is essential viewing any time of year. The fact that it centers around an ordinary man descended into the dark pits of his libido whenever he puts on a crystal mask, though, is one that certainly resonates during this time that embraces hidden identities. Whatever we become on Halloween night ultimately reflects a part of ourselves – be it our interests or our fears. The Mask knows this, and exploits it with Freudianism and surrealism met hand in hand for some truly unsettling sequences in the third dimension of the mind. Just newly bootlegged (err, released) from Cheezy Flicks on DVD, there’s no better time to “put the mask on…now!” 2. Deadly Blessing (1981) With Canadian Thanksgiving such a central component of our October, it’s preoccupation with the harvest also becomes a Halloween staple. Wes Craven’s hidden gem, Deadly Blessing, is a dark biblical fable set at the heart of the harvest. When an Amish-esque farm starts seeing inexplicable death, they put the blame on the widowed wife, labeling her an incubus. It’s a dark and deceitful path ahead, and no other farm flick, save maybe for Dark Night of the Scarecrow is able to evoke the fears that lurk within the crops and within a cult, so effectively. This harvest reaps plenty of cinematic rewards. 1. The Cheat (1915) The title may be seen as ironic since my first pick isn’t even really a horror film, but The Cheat is one of those special films at the dawn of cinema that certainly feels as if it were culled from ghosts. It presents a racist depiction (which also happens to be one of the first on film) of a Japanese ivory trader who bails out an impulsive bourgeois housewife for a brutal price. Sessue Hayakawa’s villain is like the devil made flesh, but it’s truly Cecil B. DeMille’s masterful discovery of cinematography that will resonate most with horror fans. Like early classics Nosferatu and L’Inferno, there’s a special expressionistic quality in the high contrast calamity of black and white, and DeMille makes what is on paper typical melodrama into a frightening visual tour de force. He indulges in optical trickery to make his film visual rather than theatrical, one of the first feats of the new cinema. He makes it scary, though, by experimenting with light itself, often simulating candle light and other spotlighting effects to make Hayawaka’s high class monster a man shadowed by sin and tempted by darkness. It’s this darkness that would become the source of horror for all the years to come. Happy Halloween!