Yeah yeah. Anybody can tell you to watch HALLOWEEN or DAWN OF THE DEAD on Halloween. I admit to doing it myself, compiling a Halloween viewing list populated by THE OMEN, AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and the like. But when I decided to make a list this year, I asked myself, Why would I waste your time by giving you a list of “classics,” that are an easy touch for these sorts of lists? Instead, I offer you a dozen flicks that are off the beaten path, and together will make a fun ride when watched on All Hallow’s Eve. I’ve set them in a specific order, but if it doesn’t suit your purposes, feel free to move them around.
- CHRISTINE- Let’s start things off with an underrated flick from one of horror’s masters, John Carpenter. Keith Gordon is a revelation as he transforms from nerdy Arnie Cunningham to hellraising Arnie, under the thrall of a 1957 Plymouth Fury. Though not on the level of HALLOWEEN or THE THING, it’s just as good as THE FOG, and strong enough to start off our Halloween morning. Strong supporting cast and the dual beauties Alexandra Paul and Christine make for a fine Stephen King adaptation in Carpenter’s talented hands.
- THE BROOD- Speaking of underrated, there’s this effort from David Cronenberg. Going through a divorce, the director did what he always does: translate his feelings into weird stuff on film. There’s a sinister brood of kids, and one disgusting act of mothering. Sweet, creepy stuff.
- THE FINAL CONFLICT- Under normal circumstances, I would put THE OMEN in this place. But this year, why not check out the final part of the trilogy instead? Damien’s a full blown adult, looking to put himself into the position of world dominance and bring father Satan back to earth. And he’s portrayed by Sam Neill. You can’t beat that.
- EXORCIST II- Virtually every other list would send you to the first EXORCIST. Which, if you dig, you’ve already seen 1,057 times. This year, check out the bizarre first sequel, which includes: locusts, mind melding with headgear, James Earl Jones in a lion suit, flashbacks of Father Merrin, and Richard Burton in an alcoholic haze, looking as if he’s constantly questioning why he took this role. Oh, and the absolutely adorable Linda Blair, still battling Pazuzu and doing a damn cute job of it. Don’t expect good, because it’s awful. But it’s also trippy, and truly unique.
- THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN- Karloff defined Frankenstein’s monster. Hammer re-defined him, with a creepy looking Christopher Lee. Watch this film for the blood, the heaving cleavage of Hazel Court and the classy performance of Peter Cushing as a decadent aristocrat, who’s far less hammy than Colin Clive.
- CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD- My favorite Fulci film. Also one of his most coherent. I suggest this one on the performance of Catriona MacColl alone.
- THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE- My favorite foreign zombie movie. A statement on the fears of tinkering with the ecology, it features Ray Lovelock as one cool hipster, and Arthur Kennedy as the old school cop who wants to frame him for murders by the living dead. A great EC-style ending, and some superb zombie gore.
- THE CRAZIES- George Romero’s almost-zombie movie. A full-color bridge between NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD, it builds on some of the themes Romero had developed in his first film, and addresses some of what the latter will expand upon. Like NOTLD, it’s set in Evans City. Those poor people never get a break.
- BLACULA- From zombies to almost-zombies to vampires. Blacula is the perfect blend of blaxploitation cool and horror darkness. Cursed by Dracula and awoken in contemporary times, the vampire balances nobility against bloodlust, all in the name of love. William Marshall is brilliant.
- MARTIN- Another offbeat vampire flick, from Romero. John Amplas is brilliant as a conflicted kid whose family has him convinced he’s a vampire. The crumbling morals of Braddock, PA are reflected in the crumbling city itself. Romero in fine form.
- THE BURNING- Let’s end things off with a few slashers, shall we? Not my favorite subgenre, but THE BURNING is the slasher I like best. Tom Savini’s gore effects are spectacular, especially a baptism of blood in the infamous raft scene. Teens that are fleshed out, and you’ll probably like. This is what FRIDAY THE 13TH should have been.
- HELL NIGHT- We end our Halloween night with teens in costume, trying to survive the night in a house legendary for its “gorked out” family and murder. Linda Blair and Kevin Barton may be the best looking couple in any slasher, and the four pledges trying to live through the night are a likable bunch. It’s an underrated gem, and a nice way to polish off our All Hallow’s Eve viewing festivities.
Okay, so tell me you’ve seen this list before. Only on Death Ensemble, folks. So if you’re in the mood to take an alternate road into darkness, get your Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and M&M’s ready, grab yourself a comfy chair, and enjoy. You can always watch HALLOWEEN on November 1. I promise I won’t tell anyone.