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TBTS Recommends: Movies to Celebrate Halloween By

October 30, 2010

As Sunday heralds the scariest holiday of the year (or second scariest, maybe, as Sweetest Day was a few weekends back), and as we all know that holidays like Halloween — when falling on a Sunday — are oft-celebrated on Saturday, your friends here at TBTS have drummed up a few specialized picks for your All Hallow’s Eve. You may be surprised to find that none of them star Marlon Wayans. Because really, those films are simply too frightening.

Here, then, are a few of the scariest non-Marlon-Wayans film suggestions you might enjoy on a crisp, late autumn night reserved specifically for spooks, specters and demons. Happy Halloween.

30 Days of Night (2007)– Based on a graphic novel of the same name, 30 Days of Night combines some pretty common horror tropes but the net effect is still a top-notch film. It is set in an Alaskan town so remote that every winter it experiences a month without sunlight. So right there you’ve got your remote location, your isolation, and your dark, hostile environment. Add some hungry vampires, who would naturally be attracted to such a location, and you’ve got a horror story that practically writes itself. The movie wastes little time on exposition, quickly getting to the point as a stranger arrives and sabotages the town’s communication abilities and escape routes while the residents prepare for a long, dark month. Soon, a group of vampires descend upon the town and start a-killin’. Helped along by a snappy screenplay and stellar performances by (a grossly underrated) Ben Foster as the unnamed stranger and Danny Huston as the lead vampire, 30 Days of Night is a great flick to enjoy…in the dark. (Paul the Geek)

Class of Nuke’em High (1986) — Take a trip back to the 80s. Reagan is solidly into his second term, the Wall still divides Berlin, and at Tromaville High, which sits just one mile from a nuclear power plant, things are about to get a little hinky. In the vein of Toxic Avenger and other 80s B-movie classics, Class of Nuke’em High is a campy masterpiece. (Porter)

The Grudge (2004) — In the mid-2000s, everybody I knew was shitting their pants over The Ring. I saw it, and for whatever reason, it just didn’t strike a single note of fear in me. I even saw the Japanese version, thinking perhaps something got lost in the translation. What was the big deal about these Japanese horror movies? Then I saw the remake of The Grudge and shit my own pants. Still the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. (Porter)

Jesus Camp (2006) — To a guy like me, there’s nothing more frightening than watching little kids get brainwashed by a bunch of Bible-thumping, closeted, pedophiles. I believe Ted Haggard makes an appearance in this one—before it came out that he liked smoking methamphetamines with male prostitutes. (Porter)

Psycho (1960) — There’s nothing I can say about the classic Psycho that film scholars haven’t already written a dozen times. But as a regular old movie buff, my perspective is that of a Hitchcock fan and a generally skeptical curmudgeon when it comes to modern horror movies—they either bore me to pieces or turn my stomach, neither of which I particularly enjoy as viewing reactions. As such, I can say that it saddens me to hear today’s horror enthusiasts, usually young ones, describe Psycho as “boring.” I’ve heard that epithet hurled on several occasions, and I still find it shockingly misguided. Compared to today’s skewed, borderline-perverse standards, yes, Psycho is slowly paced. It is subtle and cerebral. It is filled with dense imagery. Butthese are good things. With these strengths, Psycho is better than any other film that I’ve seen at addressing the horror genre’s core themes—among them damaged sexuality, the universe’s sometimes-cruel randomness, and the frailty of the human psyche. The industry has had 50 years to top it, and I’m not sure anyone has. If you’ve never seen a horror movie, please start with Psycho and go forward from there. If you’ve gone in the opposite direction, starting with today’s horror aesthetic and working your way back toPsycho, be warned that today’s lot of shallow puke-bucket shock-romps may have warped your perspective on what the genre can—and arguably should—accomplish. (Lloyd)

Se7en (1995) David Fincher’s second feature film (his first was 1992’s Alien³), the Social Network director was already showing his chops for darkly charged films with this serial killer outing featuring Brad Pitt as a young cop paired with a grizzled veteran (Morgan Freeman) as they track a murderer offing victims in grisly ways according to the seven deadly sins. Se7en is a terrifying movie not only because the story’s city is never identified — it could be any city, it could happen anywhere — but that if you subscribe to the ideology that each of us is guilty of at least one of the seven deadly sins, any one of us could be target for John Doe, the film’s severely disturbed villain. It’s also notable that a pre-Usual Suspects Kevin Spacey, uncredited in some versions of the film as the deranged John Doe, somehow managed to escape typecasting early in his career after playing such a haunting character. Several truly terrifying sequences will keep you rattled, namely scenes involving an unfortunate prostitute’s “john,” the unsettlingly systematic murder of the victim representing “sloth” and a mysterious cardboard box in the film’s finale. Give me monsters, demons or ghosts any day, but a movie like Se7en — which seems almost eerily feasible in a real world — will force my lights back on anytime. (C.M. Tomlin)

The Strangers (2008) — This movie probably isn’t conventionally good enough to make any list of top horror movies, because it’s not really anything terribly special, but I defy you to watch it in the dark, alone, and not get completely freaked out. Supposedly based upon a true story, Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play a young couple staying the night in a rural home when a trio of eerily-masked individuals set upon the house. While the latter third of the film turns into a standard chase-scream-and-run, the first forty-five minutes of the film feature plenty of chilling noises from outside the house and ultra-creepy moments featuring the masked characters peering through windows or standing in dark backgrounds. At one point Tyler asks a doll-masked stranger why she’s doing this to the couple, to which the stranger responds “Because…you were home.” In my book, that’s pretty damn spooky. (C.M. Tomlin)

The Thing (1982) — To be honest, there’s not a lot wholly original about John Carpenter’s The Thing, a remake/re-imagining/re-something of 1951’s The Thing From Another World.  Aliens take over human bodies?  Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Isolated outpost beset by terrifying extra-terrestrial?  Alien.  Deadly space-stuff that could wipe out humanity?  The Andromeda Strain.  What The Thing does, though, is meld these themes into 109 minutes of utterly convincing, pants-crapping horror.  Everything works in this film.  The Antarctic research outpost setting is remote and claustrophobic, lacking reliable communication and transportation–essentially shutting it off from the rest of civilization.  (Please remember that this was 1982, before every sci-fi/horror creature flick took place in a “remote” something.)  The colors are washed out, with mostly enervating, depressing grays, whites, and blacks.  The few spots of color come from the brilliant non-CGI creature effects, which are still the creepiest I’ve seen.  Even the music (by Western-scorer Ennio Morricone!) and sound editing are unsettling: simple, low chords that you feel more than hear, blaring klaxons, and other aural effects that don’t outright shock but rather build an atmosphere of dread.  For me, though, the acting makes the movie.  The cast, led by Kurt Russell, absolutely nails what would happen if an alien that mimics people by consuming and converting them got loose in a place you could not escape.  It’s all there–the arguing, the fist-fighting, the psychological break-downs, the creation of ad hoc and not exactly democratic authority hierarchies, the unrelenting paranoia caused by not knowing who is truly human.  If I have a criticism, it might be that the alien mimics humans too well, even emotionally and behaviorally.  That’s downright unfair when trying to fight a being that might eradicate the human race.  But then, when has fairness ever been a horror-movie concern? The Thing wasn’t the first movie to do all that it did, but it might be the best. (Matt Shorr)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) — You can say what you want about David Lynch, the guy has an uncanny knack for taking ordinary people and making them scary as hell. In Twin Peaks, it was Frank Silva as “Bob,” the demon-possessor/alter-ego of Laura Palmer’s Dad. This movie never really got the credit it deserves, but it (and Frank Silva as Bob) still gives me the heebie-jeebies. (Porter)

Zombie Planet (2004) — A mysterious stranger known only as Kane traverses the zombie-laden wasteland of the American South in this before-the-fad zombie flick, which attributes the walking dead to a carb-burning diet enzyme gone bad. As Kane takes on the local warlord Adam, all the while battling a ferocious band of thugs known as The Dregs, blood flows mightily and there’s no shortage of convincingly graphic gore. Some over-the-top performances are often the order of the day in Zombie Planet, but be sure to keep your eye on the young actor who plays industrious simpleton Tom. That guy’s going places. (C.M. Tomlin)

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4 Comments
  1. Matt permalink
    October 30, 2010 3:30 pm

    Porter,

    Man, I felt the same way about The Grudge. While I did think The Ring was creepy, The Grudge just had a scarier feel to it, and a sort of “unfairness” about it. Oh, it also had Bill Pullman, who has been scary ever since Independence Day.

  2. Completely Anonymous and Not In Any Way Connected to TBTS permalink
    October 30, 2010 3:39 pm

    Mr. Tomlin,

    Your cinematic sensibilities are exceeded only by your courage in selection. Zombie Planet is indeed one of the gems of American horror, and Tom has by all accounts become one of the iconic characters of the genre. The actor portrayed him with pathos and nuance, imbuing him with such surprising psychological depth that one wasn’t entirely sure who was the film’s “hero.” Would that there were a hundred sequels!

    A Fan

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