Though I have many strong (and pompous) opinions, occasionally, I'm actually qualified to have them. So it is with horror movies. I have loved them since I was knee-high to spider's ass. Though I am not quite as well versed as some people that I know, I'm fairly conversant in the good, the bad and the ugly.
Halloween movies, however, are a distinct sub set of horror movies that I find particularly attractive. Let's be clear; just because a movie has monsters, knife wielding maniacs, ghosts, ghoulies, witches or goblins, that doesn't qualify it as a Halloween movie. A Halloween movie must meet certain criteria. A) it must appeal to one's sense of Autumn. Halloween, without the harvest festival on which it relies, would be a joke. Autumn is a mood, a feeling unto itself, and it must be appeased. For Halloween movies, that means they must have an Autumn atmosphere. B) they must be eerie. It takes a whole lot to scare me anymore, so I don't require that any film do so. But to qualify for this elite grouping, it must at least give up the willies once or twice. C) it must be clever. In the jokes, the acting, the writing; at some point a Halloween movie must let you know that you're receiving Samhain foreplay.
So, without further ado, allow me to offer my suggestions of the best 13 Halloween movies of all time:
Francis Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula. Don't mistake me here; I hate this movie. I hate the arrogance of a movie that bills itself as a true telling of the author's work when every character is re-written for the pure value of titillation. Coppola includes so much cynical modernist crap in this movie, I almost never want to see it again. But this movie is a dead certain lock for taking home the "imagery" prize. This is an impressive piece of work, at times erotic, and at times visually overwhelming. It has true Halloween flavor, and is enjoyable while you're actually viewing it. Gary Oldman does some terrific acting as the count, and that somewhat redeems this movie in my sight. I simply pray that I never again have to hear Keanu Reeves fake a British accent.
12: Hocus Pocus. The only comedic offering of the group. I realize that Disney and horror are somewhat exclusive categories, but Hocus Pocus is just too much fun not to include. It scores very high on the clever scale, and Bette Midler is nothing short of brilliant. If your cynicism allows you to simply enjoy a good romp through eye-candy witchery, this is a terrific film for the season.
11: Fright Night. This also scores very high on the clever meter. Chris Sarandon is at once both charming and brutally patronizing. The transformation of Amanda Bierce from sweet little girl to fanged sex object is just eye-popping. And if Roddy McDowall doesn't charm you right out of your socks, then there's something wrong with you as a human being. This movie has the added plus of being completely consistent to it's own mythology, as do all of the films on this list. Fright Night 2 is still very fun, especially for those of us who work in a campus environment, and much sexier than the first. But it just doesn't carry the innocent struggle against evil off very well.
10: The Howling. This is the film that brought Werewolf movies into the 20th century. The transformations are astounding ... none of that stop action stuff that left you annoyed. An American Werewolf in London may be a "better" film, but not a better Halloween Film. John Carradine and Slim Pickens have all the charm you need, as well as the wooded setting for atmosphere. This is a terrific film for atmosphere, and actually offers the gore factor in measure equal to the story. Very clever dialog seals the deal for me.
9: Night Of The Living Dead. Before you get ahead of yourself, and think that I'm talking about the 1968 classic, it's possible that I'm not. I actually disagree with many of the horror critics out there; I think the remake is better. The characters behave somewhat more cruel, and to that degree, sensible. The special effects aren't as much better as they are creepier. The pacing is better in the remake. Either one is a terrific and outstanding horror movie, but the remake is simply a better Halloween movie.
8: The Grudge. One of only two movies on this list that flat out scared me. It is dark. It is creepy. It is relentless. The Ring comes close, but was way too touchy-feely to compare. The Grudge is moody evil that doesn't let up.
7: The Evil Dead. Okay, fine, the sequels were more fun. So what? This movie, made on no budget, is a just a creep fest. Few movies can actually make you feel isolated, alone, while watching them. This one pulls that task off well. Sam Raimi doesn't need a budget to scare people, or even creep them out. He just needs the right camera angles, cuts ... and Bruce Campbell. I may be getting way too pompous, here, but it can be well argued that this is the best directed film on this list.
6: The Fog. I'm likely to laugh when I finally see the 2005 remake, because almost no one can emulate the brilliance of early John Carpenter. He ties his stories into ever tighter knots, until all that is left is the atmosphere of eerie. You'll notice soon that this is not the only film of his on this list. Carpenter pulls his theme together without relying on expansive plot explanations or creepy monster effects. He toys with surroundings, and creeps you out with the inevitability of the ending.
5: Prince Of Darkness. Cerebral horror, with an Autumn feel. The second John Carpenter movie on this list. Lets think about this for second; if God exists manipulating the unknowable sub-atomic, and every sub-atomic particle has an anti-particle, doesn't it stand to reason that there might be an anti-God? Fun discussion at geek parties, wrapped in a creepy movie shell. Plus it's got bodies devoured by bugs and the whole icky liquid vomit zombie thing.
4: Frankenstein. There have been a great number of really terrific Frankenstein movies made, but this is the benchmark. Boris Karloff, a sweet and gentle man, playing a horrific thing to the horror of audiences everywhere. No other Frank-monster movie made carries the sympathy for the creature that this one does. And the black-and-white is just perfect for the story told. Of the great horror stories made to film in the early 30's, this is the timeless wonder.
3: Sleepy Hollow. Tim Burton gets Halloween. He really truly does. Not one film on this list can match Sleepy Hollow for pure atmosphere. I'd love to spout more rhetoric about how terrific this movie is, but there really isn't much more to say. It's practically perfect. If you can watch this film, and not feel October to your very bones, then commit yourself, because you have deep mental problems.
2: Halloween. I hate slasher films. Friday the 13th films are among the stupidest waste of resources I've ever encountered, and Freddy movies aren't much better. Few things piss me off more than the fact that Halloween is lumped into such tripe. Halloween is not a slasher film. It is the Boogie man, straight up and simple. This is easily one of the creepiest movies ever made, with a soundtrack that sets your nape up and dark visuals that leave you guessing and breathless. I believe this to be John Carpenter's best film. A true and absolute classic.
1: The Exorcist. Let's face it, it's the greatest horror movie of all time. The bonus is that it fills all the criteria for being a good Halloween film as well. This is the only other film on this list that actually scared me. It is a psychologically altering viewing experience. There's little that I can say that hasn't been said before. It's perfection in film-making, it is horrifying and thoughtful, and it won't let you rest easy ... even after it's over. This is the best Halloween movie of all time.
I hope you have enjoyed this list, or will in the future. Please feel free to critique, include or berate. But understand, you're wrong from the get-go. I know these movies, and they are the best.
Happy Halloween, people.