Spoiler alert: None of them are “Halloween”
Many people binge on horror movies during October, though I know a few who do that all year long.
But in October, it seems to have become a communal conversation. People posting about what they watch, discussing the relative merits of cinematic shockfests, both new and old, and perhaps turning each other on to stuff they’ve never seen before.
So here, on the cusp of our only real pagan holiday, I figured I’d give you a brief list of some favorites. Nothing too shocking. Maybe.
The Shining (1980)—Based on the novel by Stephen King, and adapted for the screen by master Stanley Kubrick (in his only straight horror movie, unless you count “A Clockwork Orange”), “The Shining” tells the brooding tale of a family who move into a snowbound hotel for the winter, when their patriarch, Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson), becomes the off-season caretaker—wherein, the malevolent spirits who haunt The Overlook Hotel fill Jack with a murderous lust for his hapless wife Wendy (Shelly Duvall), and psychic son, Danny (Danny Lloyd). There’s not much to say about it that hasn’t been said before. But if you’re like me, the anxiety-ridden suspense of “The Shining” (as well as the next movie on this list), always gets under my skin—no matter how many times we’ve seen it.
The Thing (1982)—Fun fact: this came out in the same year as the redundantly named Spielberg classic, “E.T. the Extraterrestrial.” Guess which one won at the box office. I swear these won’t all be ‘80s movies.
A remake of the 1951 film by Howard Hawks, and both adapted from John W. Campbell’s novella, “Who Goes There?”, director John Carpenter takes those originals and crafts one of the best psychological horror movies ever made.
A group of American scientists in the Arctic come across an extraterrestrial spaceship, and the remains of the pilot. When those remains aren’t quite as dead as they thought the crew, cut off from civilization, slowly devolve into suspicion and paranoia as a blizzard closes in and they begin to realize that they might all not be humans any longer.
It’s hard to overstate how great this movie is. Carpenter, already more popular for “Halloween” and “Escape from New York”, elicits a pulsing tension with this film like nothing he’s ever done. He gets a lot of pissed off performances from the likes of Kurt Russell, Keith David, and Wilford Brimley—of all people—among an ensemble cast who all shot this in Canada in the actual winter. That probably helped.
But it’s the practical special effects by the legendary Rob Bottin that cement “The Thing” as iconic. For a movie made in 1982, the inventive, ground-breaking, and totally convincing phantasmagoria of imaginative, disgusting, shape-shifting weird shit that Bottin and Carpenter created is still something to stand in awe of—holding up even in 2023. And, like “The Shining”, it still gets under your skin every time you see it.
Don’t watch this if you love dogs.
The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
I don’t really like most of Rob Zombie’s movies. More famous for being the singer of the ‘90s nu metal band White Zombie, his direction of their music videos eventually snowballed into his debut feature film, “House of 1000 Corpses”, in 2003.
“House of 1000 Corpses” introduces us to the murderous Firefly family, Mother Firefly (Karen Black), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis (Bill Moseley) and Captain Spaulding (Sig Haig).
Suffice it to say you get to know them. It’s hard not to appreciate Zombie’s devotion to horror films, their history and actors, and his relative success at crossing over between shock musician and shock filmmaker. But I never liked that film as much as I wanted to.
Fast forward to 2005, and Zombie’s sophomore outing does not slump. The Firefly family are now suffering the consequences of their evil deeds. Pursued by a vengeful sheriff (William Forsythe) for the murder of his brother in the first film, among many others. But they aren’t about to give up their freedom—or their blood-soaked depravity.
It’s a nasty, sadistic, piece of work, but also the best movie Rob Zombie has ever made. He adopts a gritty, late ‘70s grindhouse style to great effect, with a stellar soundtrack, creating one of the best, often repulsive (and sometimes funny as hell) horror movies of the ‘aughts. His intent, to transcend the base, vulgar, mean-spiritedness of his vision, and these unrepentant characters, with a sense of unearned sympathy for them (much like Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight”) almost succeeds—which might be the most amazing part.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)
I guess “Shaun of the Dead” could go here because, so far, none of these movies (though they each have their moments) are particularly funny—unless you have a weird sense of humor.
Much like “The Cabin in the Woods”, “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” takes that smart, yet more heart-warming route of inverting the tropes of traditional slasher movies, introducing us to Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), two clueless, well-meaning, hillbilly buddies who are moving to a creepy, ramshackle, and—for them—dream cabin by the lake.
Unfortunately, they cross paths with a group of rich, stupid college kids on vacation who quickly start testing Tucker and Dale’s conceptions of how smart privileged college kids are supposed to be.
What follows is one of the best, ridiculously violent, endearing comedy-of-error films of the last decade. There’s a reason why fans want a sequel, and (somewhat) thankfully, there isn’t one, because this flick should stand alone. Infinitely quotable, the funniest bits are Tucker and Dale’s reactions, as the college kids—bigoted against rednecks—attempt to save their hot friend, Allsion (Katrina Bowden) from what they perceive to be the existential threat of backwoods weirdos, and inadvertently die in hilariously stupid and gory ways.
It’s so lovable. Watch it with your girl, or guy, or whoever’s in between. You will get laid.
Evil Dead Rise (2023)
Sam Raimi’s series of “Evil Dead” movies are legend. Bruce Campell as Ash, battling Deadites with a chainsaw arm and his “boomstick,” across the three original films, multiple timelines, and three seasons of a Starz television show, are all a cartoonishly glorious splatter-fest. It’s even been transposed to the stage in a touring musical.
After Raimi got over making Spider-Man movies, he made “Drag Me to Hell”, which, if you know his style was pretty much “Evil Dead 4.” By then, he was also making Disney films, but any fan of “Evil Dead” knew what was up with “Drag Me to Hell,” despite its PG-13 rating. He got away with a lot. Much like his Marvel horror entry, “Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.”
Meanwhile, ten years ago, the talented director Fede Alvarez got a shot at reinventing “Evil Dead.” They just called it “Evil Dead” again. It was brutal and good, though. But it didn’t have the charm.
Enter the sequel, “Evil Dead Rise.”
Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), a tattoo-artist and mother, receives a visit from her sister, Beth (Lily Sullivan), when she learns that Beth is pregnant. The already born kids hang out in the parking garage for some reason, when an earthquake happens. It’s Los Angeles.
A rift in the concrete opens a way for the kids (I’m not listing them, they don’t matter) to descend to a sub-basement, where they find old vinyl records, along with another copy of the Necronomicon. They play those records backwards on a turntable in Ellie’s apartment, because obviously, and open the creepy, dead skin-bound book. By that point, I kinda started loving this.
With “Evil Dead Rise,” the lore of the series is transposed to an apartment building, as opposed to a cabin in the woods, or the time-traveling fantasy that is “Army of Darkness”.
Writer and director, Lee Cronin, does his best to reinvent the shopworn concept of the first two films and, honestly, I didn’t have much hope he could. But he does get the most from his characters and, by the end, despite feeling somewhat generic (though slick and unrepentantly bloody), he kind of did—bringing some inventive ideas to the table. We mostly know this roller coaster. Its heart is most definitely in the right place, and it’s very well-made, with some welcome, winking, hat tips to the humor and charm of the originals. That eyeball.
Check it out.