Last month we went over a list of Family Halloween movies; films that get you in the mood for spooky and scary while being appropriate for ghouls and goblins of all ages. This week they’ve metaphorically gone to bed, and it’s time for the grown-ups to get the remote. Halloween, and really the month of October, are the one time of year horror and fright are not only allowed but expected. You start hanging up fake spiders in your house in March and your dinner guests will “lose” their invitations, but around Halloween it’s time to be as gross and terrifying as possible. Sure, some women try to dress as slutty as possible (or at least the costume companies want them to), but that’s just poor souls who’ve lost their way. If you truly want to get in the Horror mood, there are a few movies you have to watch. Here are my picks:

1. The Evil Dead

The sequel is great, the remake is fantastic, but you cannot, cannot call your October successful without watching the movie that influenced so many others. Evil Dead is like the power core of all cabin in the woods movies, so much so that the movie Cabin in the Woods practically uses the same building. Despite (or perhaps thanks to) a shoestring budget, Sam “Spider-Man” Raimi, Bruce “Hail to the King” Campbell, and the crew had to invent cheap yet effective ways to scare the audience. They succeeded to such a degree that there were two sequels and a remake, AND this month we’re seeing a TV continuation with the same chisel-chinned star.

Many who grew up only watching the more polished sequels don’t know that the original actually ended with Bruce Campbell losing. He has to watch his girlfriend get possessed, has to kill her, then her body is possessed, he has to kill that, and then in the end he gets attacked and the film ends. He couldn’t save anyone and then he dies. Kinda bummer, let’s lighten the mood with Army of Darkness.

2. The Exorcist

If you release a horror movie about demonic possession any time after 1973, the newspapers are going to say “Scariest film since The Exorcist.” This is because The Exorcist has been the benchmark for true cinematic terror for some time now. Sure, some of the effects have aged a bit, but since there was no CGI used it has aged far more gracefully than horror films from even a decade ago. A simple story of an old priest and a young priest coming to remove a demon from a little girl was done so well and scared so many people, spooling it up on your TV is akin to popping the cork on the month of October. Lovers of cinema respect what it did for horror as a genre, and for those who identify with the religious aspects, it’s never not going to give them shivers.

Recently there have been several movies that showcase the older, more experienced men beating up/showing up the younger punks. Taken, The Equalizer and the like. Those aging Baby Boomers love to remind themselves that they are still relevant. This movie will always be a thorn in their sides. The older, more experienced, and more calm of the two priests fails and is killed. It’s only the younger man who manages to seal the deal, and even he has to die to do so. Age or youth, sometimes you just can’t win.

3. Halloween

No, not the Rob Zombie one though to be honest that’s pretty darn good. The original with Jamie Lee Curtis and William Shatner’s face. You really think we can have a list about Halloween movies and not include the movie with its namesake? There’s no better way to get in the spooky October mood than to watch a good slasher film, and this is one of the best. No deal with Satan, no voodoo or aliens or any gimmick, just a human being that happens to be pure evil. That’s the advantage of this older version: they never explain why Michael Myers does what he does. He’s just evil, and thanks to the beginning of the film showing him murdering as a child, we can deduce he’s always been so.

I can’t help feel bad for Dr. Sam Loomis, the psychiatrist that tried to treat Michael. He had 15 years to treat Michael and realized during that time that he couldn’t, so that’s failure number one. Then he realizes Michael should never be released, but Michael escapes anyways, failure number two. Then at the end, he shoots Michael six times but clearly it didn’t kill him, failure number three. Honestly, revoke this man’s license!

4. The Thing

Clearly, this is here because of one reason: Wilford Brimley. For those weirdos who like the film for reasons other than the human/walrus hybrid, this is an excellent film to enjoy during the cold month of October. All the practical body horror effects means this film will never age, and continues to be scarier that even it’s prequel that was made decades later. The concept of an alien entity that can absorb and mimic living creatures is fantastically horrible, and when you see it in action you can’t help but watch through your fingers. Everyone acts rationally, no one carries the idiot-stick and yet still the world is almost destroyed because of this simple, terrifying creature in the snow.

In American cinema there are two rules of horror. Don’t hurt the kid, don’t hurt the animals. Well, anyone who’s seen this film knows the dog scene, where one dog reveals itself to be the alien and brutally murders the rest of its horrified pack in their cell. This is totally not cool, and Kurt Russell was right to run in there with a flamethrower. Why you gotta hurt the dogs man?

5. Night of the Living Dead

Modern horror movies have a trend of re-releasing themselves in black and white because they claim it amplifies the horror. Films like this are the reason directors got that into their heads. You can’t have Halloween without zombies, and you can’t have zombies without this film. No explanation of where they come from, and really no lead up; they just show up randomly at the start of the film and keep coming. George A. Romero introduced us to the concept that zombies are a perfect backdrop to human horribleness, and we not only see victims ripped to shreds by the undead, but humans ripped apart by other humans. Racism, distrust, prejudice… and lots of blood. If you’ve enjoyed the last few years of “The Walking Dead” on TV (and I know that you have) then you can thank this film. Do it, I’ll wait.

The sad part is of course the very end. Our hero, a black man that unfortunately remains a progressive casting choice to this day, emerges alive after surviving the night in the title. He is greeted by humans who are taking back the world from the living dead, and is immediate shot dead. Did they think he was a zombie, or did they see he was black and decided to take the opportunity to act out their racism? The film doesn’t spoon-feed you the answer, but I think we all know the answer. Happy Halloween.

Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.

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