Things are so spooky at the Cut Print Film offices I can hardly see my computer screen through all of these cobwebs! … Seriously, Chris, stop putting fake cobwebs everywhere, we get it. Because I can’t eat cereal around here without finding a fake spider at the bottom of the bowl, we’ve decided to compile a collection of the most devastatingly ghoulish films you can watch this Halloween. We asked each of our writers which movie embodies Halloween the most for them, and few lived to tell the tale!
Jeff Rollins: We talked ad nauseam about Rosemary’s Baby on a recent episode of the Cut Print Film Podcast so I apologize for the redundancy of including it in this rundown of our essential Halloween movies. That said, Roman Polanski’s 1968 film is a masterpiece and, in my opinion, the very best psychological horror film ever made. Even though I make it a point to continually seek out new horror films (especially around Halloween), I watch Rosemary’s Baby nearly every October and find myself simultaneously creeped out and in awe of how Polanski managed to create such a perfect piece of horror.
To consider a film a masterpiece, one of my criteria is that I have to find something new and surprising every time I watch it and Rosemary’s Baby never lets me down. Whether it’s Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) delivering a line while wringing his hands or a whisper from the apartment next door that I never picked up on before, Rosemary’s Baby functions like an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine. I always know what the final result is going to be but the mechanics of how we get there are so intertwined and numerous that I can never see all that it has to show at once. Oh, lest I forget to mention, the film features one of my greatest fears at its core: everyone I know conspiring against me without my knowing.
Chris Evangelista: I often feel like people can be grouped into two camps: The Goonies camp, or The Monster Squad camp. Of course that’s nonsense! People can’t really be grouped like that, and there’s nothing that says you can’t enjoy both of those movies. But for me, the superior “kids go on a crazy, scary mission” movie will always be The Monster Squad. Fred Dekker’s goofy, charming cult classic tells the story of a group of horror movie-obsessed kids who discover that those classic monsters like Dracula, Wolfman, and Frankenstein’s monster are all real–and worse, they’re all inhabiting the town they live in!
Nostalgia aside, The Monster Squad still holds up. It’s a fun movie with some great monster make-up, courtesy of Stan Winston Studios. The film also boasts one of the last cool, scary Dracula performances, by Duncan Regehr, before the character (and vampires in general) were turned into a joke. The Monster Squad isn’t overtly Halloween-themed, but every year, when the spooktacular holiday rolls around, I find myself wanting to watch the film. It’s entered into the cult lexicon, mostly because of the famous “Wolfman’s got nards!” line, but there’s so much more to enjoy. If you haven’t seen it, seek it out immediately. And I dare you not to tear up a little bit when Phoebe throws Frankenstein her stuffed dog. If you don’t at least get a little choked up at that scene, perhaps the real monster IS YOU!!
Dave Costill: I don’t like horror movies, they really fucking scare me. The kind of horror movies I watch aren’t really traditionally scary ones, but stuff that I connected to as a kid like Alien, Beetlejuice, or Gremlins. So, when someone asks me to pick the movie that I most closely relate to Halloween, the answer is undoubtedly E.T.. This movie is jam-packed with Halloween nostalgia: including an awesome sequence where the kids sneak E.T. out of the house dressed as a ghost, so that him and Elliot can begin trying to “phone home”. This scene has all the Halloween goodness you could ask for: Elliot dresses as a hoodlum (whatever that is!). Kids are trick r’ treating everywhere, Yoda is there!.
Halloween aside, Spielberg adds awesome touches throughout that just inspire the feeling of autumn inside of any human with a beating heart. The entire film is subdued in grays and sepia tones, a brave choice for a children’s movie to not be all flashing bright colors. E.T. also terrified me as a child! The opening sequence is dark and mysterious and leads into the violent screaming fit when Elliot and E.T. first come face to face. Oh yeah, and there’s a scene when creepy space men start chasing them through the house, not to mention the monstrous site of E.T. gray and dying on the kitchen floor. Let’s just skip over the final scene, because really, you don’t want to see a grown man cry.
Josh Oakley: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre isn’t simply one of the great horror films of all time; it’s also one of the best portraits of America. Through genre, director Tobe Hooper transforms what could be lazy freshman-philosophy nihilism into chaotic yet slow-building terror. Over the opening credits, we hear news reports on a litany of tragedies: from grave robbers to suicide jumpers to collapsing buildings. Long before Leatherface is introduced, America is presented as a dying country, the body count representative of a society plagued by war and ineptitude. And then, Leatherface appears as the avatar of America’s rotting heart, uncaring about the lives a few young people and covered in a mask hiding its true identity. Hooper shoots in almost a vérité style, capturing the notion that this could happen to anyone foolish enough to believe they reside in the land of the free. Though this all sounds like it could be heavy-handed, the film does a masterful job at turning that weight into fear, collapsing the social commentary onto one of the great build-ups and follow-throughs of all time. The first half of the film is all gnawing tension, letting in drops of horror as a promise of things to come. When those deaths do arrive, the killing is swift and brutal, painted with an ugliness somehow both at odds and in keeping with the world Hooper has already created. The film’s centerpiece chase scene is brilliantly lit and staged for the terrifying inability to tell just how close or far away Leatherface is from the Final Girl. This sequence, and the cruel turn it takes at the gas station provides perhaps the film’s most haunting thesis: In America, there’s nowhere safe to run. They’re all in on it.
Daniel Stidham: If it’s Halloween and you want to watch a horror movie with a group of friends, you have a few things to consider. You want it to be classic but accessible, because you don’t want lame-o’s tuning out over black-and-white images or a lagging pace (and don’t pretend at least a few of your friends aren’t Philistines). You want something with a sense of fun but that still has enough violence and scares to satisfy your collective bloodlust. Oh, and you want it to be totally badass. George A. Romero’s towering, definitive Dawn of the Dead ticks all these boxes. The mall setting provides an imaginative sandbox for the likable, competent characters while the shambling undead hordes represent an uncanny vision of our fear of death, and of an unexamined life, and of having your entrails ripped out. Ken Foree makes a compelling lead and Tom Savini’s gore effects steal the show. Anyone who hasn’t seen this movie owes it to themselves, and those who love it will watch it again. By turns sprawling and intimate, playful and grim, Dawn of the Dead is the zombie-est zombie movie out there and a great Halloween season-capper.
Zach Dennis: In what has become a timeless tradition, Halloween to me is epitomized with the viewing of The Nightmare Before Christmas. While not as iconic to horror as the other selections, what works for this film to me is the scares that work like a classic horror film in the vein of Dracula or The Phantom of the Opera and the music that brings some life to this holiday. That, coupled with the creepy stop-motion work by Tim Burton and Henry Selick, makes for an evening seeped in this timeless, classic horror that makes the holiday memorable for me.
Marcus Pinn: Like most adults, I’ve grown out of a lot of films that used to scare me as a kid. When I was young, Stephen King’s It was the reason I’d cut the lights off then sprint up the stairs out of fear of the dark. Nowadays I watch that same mini-series and laugh along with it almost as if I’m watching a comedy. A lot of that has to do with desensitization as I’d seen everything from The Shining & The Exorcist to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre & American Werewolf In London before I reached the age of 9. By the time I was 12 I was jaded. As an adult, films like Michael Haneke’s The Seventh Continent or Francois Ozon’s See The Sea scare me more than any of these “first person perspective/scary little ghost children with greasy hair draped over their face” movies. But if there’s one film that still creeps me out to this day, it would have to be Pet Sematary; specifically all the scenes that involve the Zelda Character (Rachel Creed’s sister who suffered from spinal meningitis). I’m 33 years old and I’m still hesitant to watch those scenes by myself today. The first time I saw Pet Sematary was at a sleep over so I had to hide how absolutely frightened I was so I wouldn’t get ragged on by my friends. But the next few days after watching Pet Sematary when I was in the comfort of my own bed, I honestly had nightmares of Zelda coming to get me. I was an only child too, so I didn’t have a sibling to share a room with so it was even that much more scary sleeping in a room by myself.
J. Tonzelli : Don Coscarelli’s sophmore effort, Kenny & Company, is not an obvious choice for a Halloween movie. It’s not about a hulking monster in a mask or a diabolical Celt bent on world domination via booby-trapped bug mask; it’s actually not even a horror film! Insead, it’s about childhood – one fully formed by the freedom felt on Halloween night as you and your friends walked your neighborhood streets in your secret identities. It’s about the misadventures you got into, and the trouble you avoided (or nearly did). Coscarelli, most famously known for the Phantasm Series, Bubba Ho-Tep and his newest, John Dies At the End, once again writes, produces, and directs this slice-of-life nostalgia piece about a small, nameless community in the Southern California suburbs, told through the eyes of the titular Kenny, in the week leading up to Halloween. Refreshingly, the kids act, talk, and think like kids. They aren’t unrealistically intelligent or perceptive, but they’re not stupid, either. They’re just kids, presented the way that kids should be. They like trouble, so they find ways to get into it. They make fun of each other, hit each other, and pull pranks on each other. And it all works to the intended comedic effect because it feels very real, and this includes the sequence in which the kids put on their Halloween costumes and go trick-or-treating, ending up at a neighborhood house’s garage of horrors. (It is during this sequence where the kids are pursued by a costumed man in the dark that inspired Coscarelli to go on to write and direct Phantasm, citing his extreme lack of enjoyment in watching his audience become fearful of the events occurring in that haunted garage.)
Is Kenny & Company a Halloween film? Not really—at least not in the traditional sense. But Halloween is on the film’s horizon, and it certainly nails that nostalgic look back at childhood, of which Halloween was a very big part. It wouldn’t be the first film you would think to watch as we approach that late October day, but Halloween wasn’t only ever just scary, either.
Josh Heath: Sam Raimi’s classic Evil Dead series doesn’t get a whole lot of love these days for some reason, which is really disappointing. I used to watch Army of Darkness on TNT’s Monstervision growing up all the time, and it was a blast. I had no idea where this Ash guy came from, but he was a cool dude and I wanted to be him.
But then I saw Evil Dead II and jeez louise I was astounded. Bruce Campbell, using that machismo and amazing backwards acting, greated one of the greatest camp horror heros of all time with his chainsaw-hand-wielding, boomstick-aiming Ash. With some of the most fun monster and gore effects out there (how about that GEYSER OF BLOOD?), great tracking camera shots, a goofy story and great jokes, this is a camp favorite that I think everyone should watch on Halloween. It’s always fun to take a break from the monotony of generic slashers and boring serious horror flicks and kick back to watch a Manly Man cut off his own hand while laughing menially, only to have the hand slap him and flip him off moments later. Doesn’t that sound fun!?