November 1, 2009

Top 5 Halloween Movies

There is a very good reason why I was waiting 'till after Halloween to present my list of best movies for this special event. Namely, I first wanted to go through at least one more movie marathon before I put my stamp on any list - and what a marathon it was! Even though none of the films I watched yesterday appear on the list below, they are all interesting in one aspect or another, and they were all heaps of fun, which is precisely what I want from my Halloween movie experience. In this manner, me and my buddeis went through parts of Howling and Poltergeist, as well as the entire length of Jeepers Creepers, The Hunger (1983) and My Bloody Valentine (2009), a total amount of some 6 hours of film! Add to this Thursday's warm-up party and Friday's radio show, and I think I've had quite the perfect holiday. On to the list...

5. Creepshow (1982)

Written by Stephen King and directed by George A. Romero, this flick is everything it says on the posters: fun, unpretentious and scary in the old school EC Comics sense. An anthology of five stories that come alive out of a comic book during Halloween, this film gets progressively better with each passing minute, combining dark comedy with true gross-out moments and some very effective lightning effects. If you're looking for films that have the feel of comics, look no further: this is it, and it predates Sin City by 23 years! Out of the five stories my favorite would have to be "The Crate" what with its campfire three-step development, the mysterious monster that finally gets out and the sequences of wishful thinking that would become the staple of Six Feet Under much later. The film is slightly uneven and it has dated a bit but if you ask me, it only gives it additional pulpy charm. A must-see!

4. Halloween (1978)

Yes, only fourth place on this list, and there are two reasons why. 1) It is not the scariest film of all time and it's not that well-made either - the Loomis storyline is shabby at best and a disaster at worst; 2) It is not really about boogeymen or Halloween - the events happen on the 31st October but they are not necessarily tied to the holiday itself. That said, I really like the film as it carries a certain amount of subdued mystery all the way through, translating the quiet at the eye of the storm to the big screen with unexpected nuesance. While its closest-related films may be scarier (Black Christmas from 1974) or gorier (Friday the 13th from 1981), this is certainly the best of the bunch and I recommend it is seen before any of its competitors, sequels or remakes for the best effect (a difficult feat nowadays but one that needs to be aimed for). Cudos to John Carpenter for making it out of almost nothing.

3. Evil Dead II (1987)

I must admit I watched the Evil Dead films in reverse order, starting with Army of Darkness (1992), which made me well-prepared for the kind of over-the-top slapstick humor this series is known for but not the ahead-of-its-time graphic horror that marks the original film. Evil Dead II, then, is the perfect balance of the two extremes and may be one of the best 85-minute films I have ever seen. Sam Raimi vision here is so sharp and strong, the film doesn't side-track for a single second and only takes a break for 5 minutes at the end of the first act - before Raimi assaults his main hero Ash and the viewers with everything he's got. Bruce Campbell goes nuts in the role of Ash, jumping around with anger, running around from faceless monsters, or laughing maniacally as he cuts off his right hand - and all of it is as hysterically funny as it is monumentally involving. If you like your Halloween movies to be roller coaster rides full of wacked out monsters like I do, you will definitely agree with me on this pick.

2. Donnie Darko (2001)

Yes, Donnie Darko, a film that may not be horror or scary in the traditional sense but contains all the mystery, ominous foreboding and masks you're normally looking for in Halloween films, plus its key event takes place on Halloween and it references The Evil Dead in a major way. Let's call it a Halloween film with brains, then, because that's precisely what it is. I'm not sure which version to recommend - the original or the director's cut - because they are quite different in tone, and the soundtrack, which here plays a huge part in the definition of emotional cues, is shuffled from one version to the other. One thing I'm 100% sure in, however, is that the journey of the titular character has never left anyone cold, and in this time and age when we see the various media for the corporate product that they always have been, it is nice to know that there still exist narratives that escape our logical judgement and make us appreciate them with our hearts.

1. Trick 'r Treat (2009)

Nevermind the hype: it won't matter in a couple of years when this film's production history will be largely forgotten and the film will already have the status of a Halloween classic. What separates Trick 'r Treat from any other choice on this list - and any other film in the world - is that it lives and breathes the holiday, taking stabs at it from all angles, including pumpkin carving, ghost stories, street parades, candy bars with razors in them, and a few supernatural creatures here and there. The only other film that comes close to capturing the Halloween spirit as well is actually Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween, which is sadly dragged down by bad hack'n'slash script. Trick 'r Treat, on the other hand, never drags: it is simple, free-flowing and engaging at all stops of the five stories it includes, its characters interacting with each other beyond their native narrative archs in the most complementary ways, making enough room for Sam - the holiday spirit - to do the damage where it is really needed. What I find interesting about Trick 'r Treat is that it naturally extends from Creepshow, using the comic book format as a starting point as well as similar techniques to introduce tropes that originate in the 1950s, but unlike Creepshow, its moralism is strictly tied to the holiday itself. What can I say, I truly love this film!

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