Halloween is upon us and that means it’s time to curl up with some scary movies. Now before you go and reach for the usual thrillers and slashers, might I make a few suggestions from left field? This ongoing series will showcase what I like to watch in the days leading to Halloween. Some are underrated, some are waiting to be discovered, some aren’t really movies at all. I won’t promise high art, but I will promise a few good jump scares. Check them out.
A made for TV movie that masqueraded as a live news feed on BBC1. It featured real reporters in their actual studio. It centered around a live investigation into a haunted house on the eve of Halloween. The young girls that lived there called their ghost “Pipes.” This was on account of his habit of knocking on the pluming. They described Pipes as having a gapping hole where his eye socket ought to be. They said he wore a long purple blouse. The hosts received frantic calls from viewers certain that Pipes had appeared in their homes during the broadcast. Pipes became a thought virus. Soon Pipes took over the studio. After the broadcast, panic ensued. Ghostwatch had a World of the Worlds effect. The network dare not repeat it until 2004. This might be hard to find. If you can find it, try to see if you can catch all eight appearances of Pipes.
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
This is the Shawshank Redemption of supernatural thrillers. I can’t believe how many people I still meet who haven’t seen this. It’s worth your time just for the decent into hell sequence alone. Forget about horned, hove-footed demons with goatees and pitchforks. These creatures are phantasmagorical oddities of boneless flesh and lizard skin. This is where Silent Hill got its smooth-faced creatures from. Not just my favorite horror movie, but one of my favorite movies, period.
Derren Brown: Séance (2008)
How did another British television special make the list? It’s that good. Derren Brown openly admits to being a mentalist and a fraudulent psychic. He challenges mediums to conduct competing readings. He tells his participants that he does not believe in ghosts or the afterlife. Then he convinces them they’ve contacted a cult member from beyond the grave. This stirred up just as much controversy as Ghostwatch because it invited the viewer to conduct the séance from their own home. Watchful eyes can catch this illusionist’s slight of hand tricks in action. It’s still freaky as hell.
The Exorcist III (1990)
Yeah, I said it. There are three Exorcist movies: The Exorcist: Dominion, The Exorcist, and The Exorcist III (just wipe The Heretic and The Beginning from your memory, those movies never happened). This film is based on the novel Legion which was the official sequel to the original. It was written and directed by William Peter Blatty, the author of the original Exorcist. The film follows the events of the first film. It reveals what happened to Father Damien Karras after he was possessed. It’s a police procedural and a supernatural cousin of The Silence of the Lambs. It features one of the freakiest decapitation scenes ever.
On a side note; aren’t you sick of exorcism movies where the priest saves the day by reading a few passages aloud? Where’s the tension there? Wouldn’t it be cooler if the priest was illiterate? Maybe he has to learn to read throughout the course of the film and stutter his way through his first exorcism.
Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
Have you noticed the glut of ensemble cast romantic comedies that have come out since Love Actually? Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, and World Wetland Day. Well Trick ‘R Treat is that concept, for Halloween. It’s the Happiness of Halloween movies (it even borrows some of it’s cast from Happiness). It’s a slew of horror stories unfolding in the same town until they all crash together, like at the end of Magnolia.
John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns (2005)
I am a sucker for stories about art that can kill you, from The King in Yellow to The Ring, toChuck Palahniuk’s Lullaby. My story The Book of Mirrors was largely inspired by these stories. Cigarette Burns, is about a projectionist charged with finding a rare film print. A print that caused a deadly riot the one time it was shown. A film whose title translates to The Absolute End of the World. Forgive the cheesy romantic flashbacks, and just let it get under your skin.
The Tunnel Movie (2011)
This isn’t the story of a documentary crew who perished in the dark. This isn’t found footage. No, they took the footage out, edited it and sat for interviews to give a context. The story involves an exposé on a serge of missing homeless people. The crew uncovers a creature, that resembles the internet meme the Thin Man. The film was funded by the internet and premiered on The Pirate Bay. The poster has the caption “Coming to Torrents.” How cool is that?
The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
This is my favorite Edgar Allen Poe adaptation featuring Vincent Price. Like all of the Roger Corman Poe adaptations, this story adds to the original poem. The poem was about Prince Prospero quarantining himself in a castle to spare his family from a plague. He invited the wealthiest of his people to take refuge while the villagers died off. At the height of his decadence the Prince throws a masquerade ball, which is crashed by a stranger in red. In the film, Prince Prospero is a satanist and his wife is having an affair with Satan himself. A dwarf burns someone alive in an ape suit. This is one of the first psychedelic horror films.
Honorable Mention: The Pit and Pendulum (1961) also starring Price and directed by Corman.
Expect 2-3 more posts on my Halloween favorites in the coming month (including one on my favorite episodes of The X-Files).