Wednesday, October 31, 2012

30 Days of Halloween - A month long list of frightening film favourites (plus one wild card)


30 Days of Halloween! Day One - Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1992) Kicking off National Scary Movie Month with a fun retro flashback - starring Kristy Swanson, Luke Perry, Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer, two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank, with David Arquette, Thomas Jane, Stephen Root, Ben Aflleck and Seth Green before they hit the big time. Written by Joss (Firefly, The Avengers) Whedon. Enjoy, and stay tuned for tomorrow’s recommendation on the scariest, creepiest, funniest horror movies EVER!

 Day Two - Troll Hunter (2010) Keeping it light in the beginning of the month, this is a great Norwegian entry into the 'Found Footage' genre. Students trail a suspected bear poacher and discover that bears aren't the scariest things in the woods at night. Tense and entertaining.

 Day 3 - Poltergeist (1982) Tagged as 'the first real ghost story', whether accurate or not, this Spielberg production, directed by Tobe (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) Hooper certainly created an impact with audiences in the '80's and still holds the chills today. Spawned two sequels and carries rumours of a curse, as several cast members have passed on, both during and since production.

Day 4 - Frankenweenie (1984) On the eve of the release of the latest and much-anticipated Tim Burton film, let's take a look back to the original release, from when before most of you were born... (Tell us more, Grampa!) Burton was 26 when he finished this short, one year away from releasing his first feature, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. He was fired by Disney as they thought it was too frightening for young audiences. (They came crawling back to him with a two picture deal to direct Alice In Wonderland and, oddly enough, a 3D feature version of the short that got him fired. The original starred Barret Oliver (Bastian in The NeverEnding Story), Shelley 'The Shining' Duvall, and Daniel Stern (Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold). It was released alone on VHS in the '90's, and can currently be seen on the Special Edition DVD of The Nightmare Before Christmas. A tender story about a boy and his electrical dog.

Day 5 - An American Werewolf In London (1981) A great choice for Friday night, if I do say so. What better to watch when there's a crowd than two young Americans whose holiday abroad goes awry when one of them turns into a zombie/ghost/comedian and the other turns into a giant dog/nurse romancer. A genre classic! Redefined the rules of werewolf pics and set the bar at a nearly unattainable level. THE Monster Movie - just like the poster says. Why aren't you watching it right now?


Day 6 - The Silence Of The Lambs (1991) Perfect for a chilly and damp autumn evening... Not only is it a very intense and creepy film, but it's the 3rd film ever to sweep the Top 5 categories at that year's Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Best [Adapted] Screenplay), so you know it's a quality flick! You may have already seen it 6 times, but it still stands up - awesome all around, so grab a nice Chianti and swap the fava beans for popcorn or M&Ms and enjoy.

One Day of Thanksgiving (then back to Halloween!) - Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) Hughes perfected his craft with this hilarious and heart-warming film about the pain in the ass that is holiday travel on, yes, Thanksgiving (be it Canadian or American) and the reward of being welcomed into the loving arms of ones family at the end of the road. The comedic pairing of Big John Candy and Steve Martin - pure genius! A classic that transcends the pitfalls of being dated and still resonates with all generations. Thanks!

Day 7 - The Fly (1986) Creepy enough to get us over the holiday hump and back onto the road to Halloween. Directed by David Cronenberg and featuring a mostly unknown cast, with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, the film about an eccentric scientist who conducts experiments on matter teleportation, falls in love and has one little slip-up in cleanliness is a sci-fi classic, and has enough chills and gross-outs to hold a well-deserved place on any Halloween movie list. {btw - guest--starring Toronto as a gritty backdrop}.

Day 8 - Nightbreed (1990) Back to back Cronenberg! An adaptation of a Clive Barker novel, this 'monster' movie was directed by Barker and features Cronenberg as a homicidal killler/psychotherapist who follows a patient to a city where the monsters go, a place called Midian, lost under a cemetery outside Calgary. Great make-up, mediocre acting and an interesting story make this one worth a look. *Featuring Doug Bradley (Pinhead - Hellraiser) and mattes painted by Ralph Mcquarrie (Star Wars).

Day 9 - High Tension (2003) Alright, something a little more current... This French slasher flick has stacked on gore and a wild plot twist that I still haven't decided if I think it's awesome or ludicrous. An interesting point - it did score on Time magazine's Top 10 Ridiculously Violent Movies, so that's something.... An early contribution to the horror genre from the director of the The Hills Have Eyes remake and Piranha 3D - he will also be directing the upcoming adaptation of the novel, Horns, by Joe Hill (son of my friend and yours, Mr. Stephen King).

Day 10 - Near Dark (1987) Not only is this a great Vampire Western about a roving 'family' of vampires traveling in a daylight-modified mobile home in search of the next meal, but it also features a terrific cast of B-list actors who you'll recognized and it'll bug you 'til the credits roll - I'm going to ruin the fun right now. Featuring half the supporting cast of Aliens (Lance Henriksen (Bishop), Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez) and Bill Pax!ton (Hudson), as well as Jenny Wright (the lead Groupie in Pink Floyd The Wall), '90's sci-fi B-movie mainstay Tim Thomerson (Trancers, Dollman), it was also an early vehicle for Adrian Pasdar, who would later portray Nathan Petrelli in Heroes. The film was the 3rd directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who went on to direct action greats like Blue Steel, Point Break and Strange Days. Bigelow won an Oscar for directing 2009's The Hurt Locker. Great little vampire movie that adds some cool ideas to the mythology, with a pretty cool family tree.

Day 11 - Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (1987) More a reboot, or 'mulligan' if you will, on director Sam Raimi's original Evil Dead (1981), the writer's thought it would draw a wider audience if it was less scary than the original, and provided some laffs, thus a cult classic was born. Starring Bruce Campbell and pretty much nobody else, this film wouldn't have been made if Stephen King hadn't extolled the virtues of the original and showed producer Dino De Laurentiis, who funded the majority of King's adaptations that this young Raimi guy was worth getting behind. Since De Laurentiis gave him the chance, Raimi's gone on to direct such cinematic masterpieces as Darkman, Army of Darkness, A Simple Plan, the Tobey Macguire Spider-Man trilogy, and the upcoming Oz: The Great & Powerful. Like Peter Jackson, it all began with low budgets, cheap yuks and buckets of gore. This is another great Friday night movie to watch with a crowd. 'Groovy'.

Day 12 - Maximum Overdrive (1986) What more could you ask for in a horror movie? Directed by the guy who wrote it, so you know it's gonna be terrifying because that guy is Stephen King! With a soundtrack composed entirely by AC/DC, starring the Prince of Hollywood, Emilio Estevez and featuring a story about machines come to life and on homicidal rampages as the Earth passes through the tale of a rogue comet... Cinematic mastery! Not so much... Guilty pleasure? Hell yeah! With a cast that includes Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon - Batman '89), Yeardley Smith (voice of Lisa Simpson), Giancarlo Esposito (Do The Right Thing, Breaking Bad), '80's 'personality' Marla Maples and a cameo by King himself, this is not a great movie by any standards, but it's so darn much fun! (Be warned, the 1997 remake, another adaptation of King's short story Trucks, should be avoided at all costs!). 

 Day 13 - The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) The only thing scarier than this film is the fact that it REALLY IS based on true events. No, there wasn't a huge guy running around with a Husqvarna terrorizing central Texas, but there was a guy in Plainfield, Wisconsin who did rob graves and murdered two women and used body parts to make household decorations. His name was Ed Gein. His exploits also inspired the characters Norman Bates from Psycho and Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs. Sadly, real life makes Leatherface look like a walk in the park. This gritty and highly controversial (at the time) film is still packed with chills, right from the beginning of the opening monologue, read by none other than John Larroquette (yes, the suit guy from Night Court).

Day 14 - The Amityville Horror (1979) In keeping with the 'based on actual events' theme, here's a great example of the Haunted House movie done right. Apparently, this family bought a dream house on Long Island that just happened to be possessed by a supernatural force that drove the son of the previous tenants to murder his entire family one dark and stormy night. When a house tells you to "GET OUUUUT!", you really should give too much thought to other options... Starring James Brolin, Margot Kidder and Murray Hamilton, this one spawned 8 sequels and a remake starring a convincingly disturbed Ryan Reynolds in the lead role.

Day 15 - Brotherhood of The Wolf (2001) A French period werewolf movie, described as Dangerous Liaisons meets Enter The Dragon or The Matrix meets Crouching Tiger,... with some werewolf stuff thrown in. A errant knight and his Iroquois companion are called to a region being terrorized by a mysterious beast. Based on historical accounts, this genre-crossing thriller features Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci and is definitely an intriguing entry into the werewolf category.

Day 16 - Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) Revisiting characters introduced in 1987 in Hellraiser, based on The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker, this sequel explores the world of the Cenobites, led by Pinhead (played by Doug Bradley, who starred in 8 Hellraiser titles). Cashing in on the medically-graphic trend in horror movies of the late '80's, this has plenty of gore but also offers a bit of a back story for the iconic main character, as well as showing the Cenobite version of Hell. The scope is ambitious, and for 1988 the effects were commendable - a little cardboard by today's standards, but effects have improved exponentially even since 2003 so for the time, it was pretty impressive.

Day 17 - Night Of The Living Dead (1968) "They're coming to get you, Barbara..." And from there, all hell breaks loose! With that film, George Romero reinvented to zombie movie - from sleepwalking voodoo dust victims to bloodthirsty lurching decomposing carcasses feeding off the living. This is Patient Zero of the Zombie Movie Apocalypse!

Day 18 - The Car (1977) Who doesn't love a little cheeze with their scary movies? Try this - a car, without a driver, terrorizes a small desert town by ignoring bicycle lanes and rudely interrupting rodeo fun. Starring James Brolin and Ronny Cox, this fromage-fest is some good fun that inspired the Futurama episode, The Honking. You gotta love the tag line on the VHS cover - "What EVIL drives..."

 Day 19 -Monsters (2010) From the 'imaginative' title, one could easily not be blamed for expecting a lot less, but this offers a considerable amount of depth from a film in the biological-freaks-of-nature genre. A NASA probe crash lands in Central America, and causes the spread of an alien contamination in the vicinity of the Mexico/US border. After years of quarantine, a photojournalist is hired to escort the daughter of an American businessman back to the States. After several encounters and harrowing escapes from a variety of creatures, the leads are forced to make some serious decisions about everything they thought they knew.
With a cast of unknowns, it's easy to stick with the story and not get distracted by 'actors' and such. An Apocalypse Now ride up the river, crossed with the science-fiction sensibilities of, say, Cloverfield or The Host, this one sticks with you long after the credits roll and the lights come up.

Day 19 - A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) This first film in a series that very quickly devolved into a farce of rubber make-up and groan-illiciting one-liners is actually quite impressive. The iconic Freddy Krueger oozes palpable malice and the cast, which in the sequels and in every other slasher pic become a Ten Little Indians style stereotype checklist for Freddy/Jason/Chuckie/Leprechaun to systematically dispatch before 90 minutes is up, seemed to really be afraid for their lives, instead of being winkingly in on the joke. It took no time for veteran scary movie director Wes Craven's newest creation to take his place in the hallowed halls of legendary horror characters. It's been said that Craven came up with the idea from an article about survivors of Cambodian death camps dying in their sleep and Gary Wright's 70's soft rock classic Dream Weaver. How can it not be terrifying?

Day 20 (Oct 21) NOW IT'S A COUNTDOWN! #10 - Pet Semetary - Easily one of the creepiest adaptations from the works of Stephen King! A father who feels his daughter is ready to learn about death when her cat is run over on the highway near their home is taken to a graveyard for children's pets by a neighbor. What should be a nice way to learn how to make the sad feelings turn to happy memories turns to blood-chilling horror. A piece of advice: if an old guy who looks like Herman Munster wants to take you for a long walk in the wood to bury a cat, take a pass. Show of hands - who takes an extra wide step when getting into and out of bed, concerned for the well-being of one's Achilles tendon? Yep, everybody who's ever seen this one, that's about right.


Countdown #9 - Carnival Of Souls (1962) A rock-bottom budget and acting right out of a '60's PSA about gym class hygiene soon give way to an eerie sense of foreboding, amplified by a spooky organ score.  A young woman is driven off the road in a high speed road race and in the days following the horrific accident has visions of an odd man with hypnotic eyes. She finds herself inexplicably drawn to an abandoned fairgrounds, hoping to find answers to the uneasiness that has enveloped her world like a swirling mist. A B-movie upon it's release, it's gained a cult following and has gained substantial respect in the film world - a Criterion release, and prints saved to the Academy Film Archive. It's also been sited as an influence by David Lynch and George A. Romero.


Countdown #8 - Pumpkinhead (1988) A great monster movie from the horror renaissance of the late '80's. Lance Henriksen plays a single father living in a place that bears a passing resemblance to Hazzard County. When his son is accidentally killed by teenagers from the city, he swears revenge and calls on the helping gnarled claw of a witch living in a swamp on the outskirts of town (that's handy!). A variation on the Golem legend, Henriksen is great as always, and this film marks the screen debut of the special effects skills of master Stan Winston.


Countdown #7 - Paranormal Activity (2007) Ramping up the 'found footage' style of horror film,  which was luke-warm at the time and has since exploded into a virus, this ghost story is genuinely creepy and great to watch with a large crowd peppered with people who a) over-react or b) like to shout things at the screen.
A young family moves into a house in the 'burbs and the young wife shares that she has been haunted by a supernatural presence since childhood. Something you may want to tell your young husband in the early stages of dating, like after you know he really likes you, but before you're bound together by a contract with God! Just sayin'. Good solid chills in this and the 3 sequels, and while some of the acting can be a little 'canned', and 'explanations' for supernatural phenomenon happening around the characters that makes them stay in the house just a little longer instead of running from the house screaming and coming back with a 6 pack of Molotov cocktails can be a bit hackneyed, but definitely worth a watch. Each of the sequels makes great use of emerging technology with different ghost-hunting techniques and have surely inspired a legion of amateur Paranormal Investigators.

Countdown #6 - Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) Perfectly eerie and heavily 'willies' inducing. Alien spores float through space to earth from their dying planet in search of hosts to perpetuate their existence. Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy, Brooke Adams and Canadian familiar face Art Hindle star in this sci-fi psychological thriller. Creepy music and sound effects and frenetic cinematography ratchet up the tension. The leads try to stay one step ahead of the pods, trying not to be replicated and disposed of when a soul-less plant-based duplicate shows up. A remake of a 1956 allegory for the 'Red Menace' or McCarthyism, of which there were two more remakes in the '90's and 2007. This is the best of the bunch. You'll never want to sleep or go into a mud spa again!


 Countdown #5 - Jacob's Ladder (1990) Probably one of the finest mind messing psychological thrillers of the '80's 0r '90's. Tim Robbins plays Jacob Singer, an ex-Vietnam vet struggling with some very ugly person demons which just happen to be real actual demons. Haunted by strange memories or premonitions, Singer seeks out anyone who can give him insight to his problem, only to find out sometime it's better not to know. This film contains one of my favourite theories on Heaven and Hell, as well as a great cast of supporting actors including Elizabeth Pena, Danny Aiello, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Jason Alexander, Eriq La Salle, Ving Rhames, and wee little Macaulay Culkin - most before they became bigger stars later in the '90's. Definitely worth the several viewings it will take to get it. So good.

Countdown #4 - Halloween 4 - The Return of Michael Myers (1988) More a resuscitation than a reboot, this one introduced a whole new generation to The Shape, the unstoppable killing machine, Michael Myers. After Myers was almost completely dropped for an alternate storyline for Halloween III: Season of The Witch, it seemed that he would never again terrify audiences, but here he returns, bigger, more bulletproof, and more driven than before. After 10 years of dormancy, Myers returns to the small town in Illinois where his killing began to take the life of the daughter of his sister... who cares why? The family connections and motivations in this series have always been a weak subplot, second to the brutal carnage inflicted upon anyone crossing paths with the man in the white mask.
10 years after the original, while not as tense and stylish, this still retains the flavour and spirit as the first two movies, and worth checking out to see more Michael Myers. (The GOOD Micheal, not the useless Rob Zombie dirtball).
 Countdown #3 - Donnie Darko (2001) I don't think there's another movie that has a better Halloween 'feeling' than this one. And you throw in an intriguing time-travel theory and I'm sold. This is one of my Halloween favourites. Featuring a great understated '80's soundtrack, a fantastic cast and a creepy guy in a bunny suit, it's just awesome.

Countdown #2 - Bride of Frankenstein (1934) Clearly the greatest of the Universal monster movies, this takes a formerly stiff and one-dimensional character, the Frankenstein Monster, to another level of depth and understanding. Director James Whale elevates what could have essentially been just another monster sequel like The Invisible Man Returns or Revenge of the Creature (from The Black Lagoon) to a tragic tale of self-discovery, betrayal and creating life out of death. Elsa Lanchester portrays the Bride as well as Mary Shelley in a prologue, Colin Clive resumes his role as Dr. Henry Frankenstein and Boris Karloff once again puts on the bucket-head make-up as The Monster. A black & white masterpiece.

Countdown #1 - War of the Worlds (1953) The greatest Halloween trick ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting public was pulled by one Mr. Orson Welles on the October 30, 1938. Welles delivered a radio dramatization of the H.G. Wells novel over the air and inadvertently incited panic and confusion among the listening public. Awesome! And who doesn't love a nifty 'invaders-from-space' movie with a unique Halloween pedigree? A trick AND a treat - everybody wins!

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