Join Date: Jul 2000
Rhett's Halloween Top Ten 2012
Back when I was first really getting into horror I was watching slashers a mile a minute (kilometer, I guess, being a Canadian), and while many of them tend to blur into a favorable mass of familiar splatter set pieces, one of the bunch that has always stood out to me is Don’t Go in the House. If ever a movie deserved its video nasty designation this one was it. Not so much for the nudity or gore, although there are certainly parts of each
| ||10. Don't Go in the House (1979)|
Back when I was first really getting into horror I was watching slashers a mile a minute (kilometer, I guess, being a Canadian), and while many of them tend to blur into a favorable mass of familiar splatter set pieces, one of the bunch that has always stood out to me is Don’t Go in the House. If ever a movie deserved its video nasty designation this one was it. Not so much for the nudity or gore, although there are certainly parts of each, but more just for the sweltering cynicism of the film and restrained, almost procedural direction of Joseph Ellison. It’s a downbeat journey into loneliness and child abuse as a blue collar factory worker starts cremating women on the East coast feels perfect for October with its brown hues and barren trees. On first look it sure isn’t pleasant, much like the similar Maniac, which would come out a year later and undoubtedly take a lot from this, but Don’t Go in the House has this watchable one-after-the-other momentum to it that makes it tough to forget. And then there’s all that disco stuff. If you thought “Goin’ to the Showdown” in Maniac was “of its time” wait until you hear the end theme to this one. The film ends on an incredibly brutal note and we get this haunting, lingering shot on one of the victims…and: http://youtu.be/YRArAP6xvIc. If that song’s not the perfect way to get the Halloween party started, then I don’t know what is.
|9. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)|
Speaking of parties, it’s tough to forget that night club massacre in Anthony Hickox’s batty, madcap Hollywoodization of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser series. While some deride the film for getting away from the tone and prose of the heady first two pictures, this one starts up by blowing up said head and then running on fun from there. Say what you will about the ups, downs and all arounds of this tumultuous franchise, but Hellraiser III is undoubtedly the most unbridled and “fun” of the bunch, and a great movie to just strap into and enjoy the ride.
|8. 13 Ghosts (1960)|
When Sean S. Cunningham likened Friday the 13th to the thrill of riding a rollercoaster, I have to think in the back of his mind he was talking first about the movies of William Castle. Castle’s most famous picture, and the perfect one for the Halloween season is 13 Ghosts. The movie literally begins with a parade of horrors as the movie counts up all the way to thirteen as its ghosts fly into the screen like trick’r treaters at the door. It then uses a campy, aw shucks family values family to string on the setpieces of the film, which are the blue-hued ghost sequences that you can watch with or without the Illusion-O glasses. Look through the red and see the ghosts, look through the blue and they’re invisible. It’s a great gimmick that still holds up well today with your traditional red and blue glasses. While the technology behind the scenes is pretty rudimentary today, the quality of the photography and the ghost costumes are still a lot of fun to watch.
|7. The People Under the Stairs (1991)|
While 13 Ghosts took a regular family into a haunted house of horror, Wes Craven’s silly swashbuckler of a horror movie, The People Under the Stairs, instead takes us into a regular house with a family that can only be described as horrific. It’s a gleefully over-the-top subversion of what we think we know about horror from a man not often associated with his lighter side. Craven keeps things light and has his story turn as many corners as his characters do as they try and navigate the maze-like corridors between the house’s walls. Because of his own repressed childhood, Craven’s always been pretty heavy-handed with his family issues in his films, but The People Under the Stairs sees him using a kind of Mommie Dearest satire that oddly enough might make for his most pointed picture on the matter. With wild twists in every room, The People Under the Stairs is a perfect thrill in this month of madness.
| ||6. Mausoleum (1983)|
Like The People Under the Stairs, Michael Dugan’s Mausoleum features things you’d never imagine going on inside an otherwise quiet American home. It’s the home to some salacious special effects from one of the creature kings, John Carl Buechler, but most people remember it for a different name. That name is the film’s star, Bobbie Bresee, whose name is probably the most Freudian slip inviting name of all time, especially after you see the picture! She seduces the pants off of everyone (including the audience!) when the quiet housewife suddenly finds herself possessed by an ancient family curse. It’s a commanding performance right up there with the best scream queens of the era, and the outlandish demon masks Buechler has her up in is the definition of trick or treat. Mausoleum is great early-eighties camp held up with aplomb by Boobie Brassiere, I mean Bobbie Bresee!
| ||5. "The Spirit Photographer", Tales From the Darkside (1987)|
Nothing gets me into the horror mode faster than those first few off-key notes of the Tales from the Darkside opening theme. “Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality…” the narrator would recount each and every week, and in the case of “The Spirit Photographer” such a description couldn’t be more apt. Algernon Colesbury (Frank Hamilton, A Stranger is Watching) is a photog frustrated that every picture taken of a ghost, including many of his own, is always blurry or tough to discern. He builds a machine that will intensify the spirits around him, but as he becomes more and more obsessed with taking the perfect photograph he starts to descend into a world that’s, to take from that trusty narrator, “just as real, but not as brightly lit!” This episode begins and plays out as many others of its kind do, but the short ends with a whimsy that only the best horror filmmakers are able to recreate. It’s a twist that clasps the very thing that draws us all to horror – the fear of dying, and makes it a fate instead to embrace. Written by the writer of Pumpkinhead, Mark Patrick Carducci, this episode offers a different look on the afterlife, but embraces a similar continuity between life and death that’s in its own way beautiful.
|4. Kuroneko (1968)|
While I might be a dog lover at heart, I’ve always thought cats, and the themes they represent, have made great subject for horror. From Poe to Cat People, I’ve always liked the kind of searing mystique about what they symbolize. Growing up I remember being quite angry watching The Cat o Nine Tails only to find there was no cat in the film at all. At least Argento redeemed his feline teasing ways with his segment in Two Evil Eyes. Anyway, a great unsung cat picture is Kuroneko, directed by Kaneto Shindo of the similarly underappreciated Onibaba. Both films deal very effectively with feminist issues in ways that American horror (see Mausoleum) often skirts around. Kuroneko though really leaves a mark for the ferocity of its opening, where two women are raped and killed only to come back as ghostly cats to tear apart all those that did them wrong. Horrifying in every sense of the word, this nightmare of a movie still holds up 44 years later.
|3. Bad Moon (1996)|
Dogs need a little love, too, and this lean little studio picture from 1996 is my newest Halloween horror addition. This year I was, um, torn between Bad Moon and Wolfen, since neither werewolf movie I’d seen and both were on that 4-film horror pack that Warner put out a few years ago. I asked Horror Digital’s own Chunkblower for advice, and he gave me this nugget of knowledge: “Wolfen’s better, Bad Moon’s more fun.” Considering Bad Moon is close to half the length of Wolfen, I think I’d err on the side of fun. “Bad Moon opens with a pretty hot sex scene.” Okay, Chunk…sold! And let me say, my friend did not let me down. Bad Moon is a werewolf movie distilled down to the elements – it gets right into the carnal carnage, and hardly has time to let up. The effects by the great Steve Johnson (responsible for Freddy’s best death in The Dream Master and more appropriately a bunch of the Howling sequels) are totally feral, convincing and at times surprisingly gory. It’s got the plot and class of a fun, low rent direct to video sequel and the sheen and acting of a Hollywood production. The best of both worlds, really, and a total blast if you just want to howl at the moon this Howloween!
|2. Manhattan Baby (1982)|
Bad Moon is the definition of a fun movie, but if ever there was a horror director that could be defined as having “fun” behind the camera, it was Lucio Fulci. The man’s movies were so ludicrous, from a Donald Duck-voiced murder in The New York Ripper to the torso-ripping absurdity of the Conan cash-in, Conquest, you can’t help but think the man was just relishing every moment of absurdity that occurred when he was behind the camera (and even when he was in front of it in the madcap Cat in the Brain). Every time the camera pulls focus from something in the foreground to a character in the background and then again to some eyeballs in extreme close-up, one of Fulci’s trademarks, you can just imagine him pressing his glasses as close as he could against his face, just giddy with a “more, more, more!” kind of intensity. He always wanted to push the limits, and he most certainly always did, and for every bit of glorious eye-gouging gore there was nearly an equal bit of calculated Freudian psychology (even if it was ridiculous!). The man is one of the greats, maybe the greatest there ever was, and he’s a director whose stamp was so apparent, be it on a police thriller like Contraband or a sex comedy like The Eroticist, that really if you watch any Fulci this year, it’ll be a memorable viewing experience. This year for me it’s one of my blind spots, Manhattan Baby, and considering the lead gets his eyes blinded by lasers at the start, I guess the pick is apropos. A death scene entirely from the point of view of a cobra or an epic zoom in on a Polaroid as it develops a ghostly image, in Manhattan Baby, as in all Fulci, the glory to go where none have gone before cannot be more apparent.
|1. The Burning (1981)|
And thus we come to the end of another list huddled around the fire, that very place where the foundation of horror stories, well before even the motion picture, had their genesis. Miramax’s first movie, the sleazy flambé of a slasher about a vengeful groundskeeper who takes the sheers out to the campers that burned him, certainly isn’t timeless, but it has its history rooted in Eastern American folklore. It delights in that Cropsey legend that inspired Friday the 13th, Part II and Madman (a tale so rich in the New Jersey area all three films were filmed in close proximity within months of each other), and unlike the latter two films, it doesn’t pay homage to the legend but instead passes on its own iteration for cinemagoers of the eighties, and, thanks to its legacy, beyond. Thanks to Tom Savini’s groundbreaking and grisly special effects (the mere mention of “raft” sends fans of the film into a stupor) and Rick Wakeman’s reverberating score, this version of Cropsey is one we’re likely to not soon forget. For all its strengths (and hey, there are a lot of weaknesses too), it’s that campfire finale that makes The Burning one of the essential horror pictures. Spoken directly into the camera, as if we’re right at the campfire with him, the storyteller warns us “Don’t look…he’ll see you. Don’t breathe, he’ll hear you…” and then he ends it “Don’t move – you’re dead!” It encapsulates the fear, the showmanship and the joy for telling the tale that makes horror so enduring. That ending is one of my favorites of all time, and the best way to remind us as this month of horror comes to a close, of why we love these stories so much. Happy Halloween.