Essential Halloween Movies

September 30, 2009 | Comments (0) | by Adam Blank

Due to the overwhelming unpopularity of Horror Movies You Should Watch But Probably Won't, I've decided to switch tactics and focus on what I consider to be Halloween viewing essentials that you might actually watch.

Generally, I love horror movies. However, not all horror movies are right for viewing during the Halloween season. This can be due to a variety of factors. Sometimes there aren't enough supernatural overtones in a movie. Sometimes they're set at a time of the year which precludes them from being essential Halloween films. Sometimes they're too involved and don't lend themselves to the macabre instant gratification that we expect from horror movies.

What the hell am I talking about? Take Rosemary's Baby. It's a great film, and a classic horror movie. But I don't think of it as a Halloween movie. It's slow, subtle, and essentially too involved to be a movie I can associate with Halloween. So what are some essential horror movies with that certain Halloween feel? Well, here are five...

Night of the Demons. I can't let a Halloween pass without watching this movie. It's got all the essentials of a great Halloween horror movie. It's set on Halloween night, it's fast, it has the perfect mixture of gore and nudity and it creates its own internal logic. A group of diverse yet unbelievably stereotypical teens decide to ditch the school dance and attend a secret party at Hull House, the abandoned funeral home on the edge of town. The party is hosted by the goth chick and her pretty but stupid friend. The kids are just trying to have a good time until they literally raise hell and one of them gets possessed by a demon.

This movie has it all: A simple but effective plot, decent effects, quite a few breasts, an awesome soundtrack, and scream queen Linnea Quigley doing an amazing trick with a tube of lipstick.

Why it's a good Halloween movie: It's set on Halloween, It's basic enough that you can identify with the characters but not so complicated that you'll feel bad when most of them die. The execution lives up to the tone set early on. Another reason to watch it: Night of the Demons is followed by the superior Night of the Demons 2.

Frankenstein. The 1931 classic has aged well, but even the best surviving Universal prints have pops & hisses that add a certain surreal atmosphere to the movie. Dr. Frankenstein has brought life to a reassembled collection of body parts. Too bad Fritz accidentally stole the criminal's brain...

The sets are amazing and almost surreal in their expressionist simplicity. The casting is marvelous. Boris Karloff is the definitive monster and Colin Clive is perfect as the manic doctor. At 71 minutes, it's short, but it doesn't feel like any key plot-point has been glossed over. Children can watch it and adults will pick up on subtleties that they've missed in previous viewings. While the story has little to do with the original novel, it's created a legacy of it's own that has to be understood before watching any other Frankenstein movie.

Why it's a good Halloween movie: While the story is simplistic, the sets, acting & tone are so overtly horrific that it feels like a nightmare has come to life. The story of a man-made monster is so seeded in our imaginations that it has become almost instinctual. So much of the action happens off-screen that your mind will fill in the gaps and make it scarier than it actually is. The monster is terrifying in appearance but easy to relate to through it's actions and demeanor.

Fright Night: Charlie is a normal suburban teenager with a simple life until he becomes convinced that a vampire just moved in next-door. His best friend and girlfriend think he's nuts, so they enlist the help of the local television "Creature Features" host to placate him. It turns out that he's right, and the fiend soon learns that the teens are on to him. A vampire movie that has a lot to do with teenage confusion about growing up both sexually and socially (conveniently, Evil Ed has since become a gay porn star), Fright Night has a straightforward plot but much can be read into the complexities of the characters' attitudes towards their own present & future.

Why it's a good Halloween Movie: has a certain air of high school innocence to it. (Let's be honest, the last time Halloween didn't completely suck was when you were in high school.) Charlie and his friends are easy to relate to, as they have to mix the fate of their own existences with the petty minutia of daily high school bullshit. The antagonist is alluring but uncompromisingly evil.

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul. José Mojica Marins stars in and directs this Brazilian horror masterpiece about a sadistic undertaker, known as Coffin Joe, who will stop at nothing to find the perfect mate to bear his son. It's very Catholic (spanning the time between Good Friday and All Soul's Day), and very cheap. Coffin Joe is one of the most malicious villains of all time, but since the movie focuses mostly on him rather than the supporting characters, he becomes the character you're rooting for the along the way. While not exactly sympathetic, his motives are clear and he becomes a rather likable boogeyman throughout the course of the movie. He's sort of like Freddy Krueger meets Charles Bukowski without the taint of pedophilia or desperation of unadulterated alcoholism. Though it was made in 1964, the oppression from Brazil's strict Catholic military regime gives the movie a feel like it crawled out of the 40's. Luckily, this works to the movie's advantage. It ends up feeling like a lost Universal horror classic.

Why it's a good Halloween movie: Has enough gypsies, owls, tombstones and thunderstorms to add to the Halloween/Autmn ambiance. The black-clad character of Coffin Joe will have you cheering for the bad guy to win. Although the characters' motivations are strictly human, there are lots of supernatural happenings to keep things creepy & in-check.

Mad Monster Party. Dr. Frankenstein is all set to retire from the monster-making business, but he needs to name his successor. He decides to do this at the biggest monster convention ever held. All the major monsters are there; Frankenstein & his Bride (voiced by the amazing Phyllis Diller), Dr. Jekyll, The Invisible Man, Dracula, The Woflman, a skeleton pop-rock band and one crazed party-crasher. Aside from all the "borrowing" it does from monster classics, it's also a dead-on Cold War-era James Bond spoof too.

Why it's a good Halloween movie: Clay-animation is always vaguely creepy. This movie steals all the major Universal classic monsters (Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, etc) long before The Monster Squad. It's appropriate for children yet surreal enough for jaded adults. Directed by Jules Bass of Rankin/Bass fame, this movie has a similar "holiday" feel as the Christmas classics "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" & "The Little Drummer Boy."