"The Rubber Duck".
What to Watch on Halloween
It’s October 31st, the sun it beginning to go down and you want to put yourself in the mood to give the little ghosts and goblins that come to your door a scare. You’ve got your bowl of candy at the ready, your spider webs and Jack O’ Lanterns are in place to bring your “haunted house” alive, so what’s next? SCARY MOVIES and plenty of ‘em! Halloween is all about the mood you set and the best way to get the right ambiance for your frightening festivities is to get the ol’ idiot box flickering with images of the macabre. But there’s a problem, movies just ain’t spooky anymore.
I’m not saying 21st century horror movies aren’t disturbing (Human Centipede anyone?), what I’m saying is that the scary films of today don’t have the same mix of fright and fun that is really the spirit of Halloween, in my opinion. What follows is a list of retro-films that can really set the perfect tone of terrific terror for your Fright Night.
You may think that I’m kiddifying this list from the start by throwing Disney into the mix, but hear me out, you gore-hound you. Growing up I used to rent VHS tapes from the local public library. The tapes came in black clamshells with a simple typed tag on them, so you never really knew what to expect. One of my repeat rentals every October was a collection of Disney cartoons that ended up having some pretty dark elements to them. You can click the links to watch them for yourself.
The Silly Symphony Skeleton Dance is pretty much the most concentrated burst of Halloween you can get in 5 minutes. I mean we’re talking about Skeletons dancing in a graveyard with screeching cats, fog and a full moon. If you think Disney can’t give you disturbing imagery, just take a look at the screaming skull above and envision it outside your bedroom window.
Speaking of screaming, everyone’s favorite fowl-mouthed (see what I did there?) sailor does a lot of it in Donald Duck and the Gorilla. Basically a monstrous Gorilla escapes from the zoo and ends up in Donald’s house, but he thinks it’s Huey, Dewie and Louie playing a prank on him in a gorilla costume, which it is…until it isn’t. The scary costumes and actual murder attempts on display make this a thriller to fill your night with.
As The Worm Turns is a mad scientist tale starring Mickey Mouse. Mixing up some serum in bubbling test tubes he begins his insane experiments on the animals in his home and the results are violent. Most of the creepy imagery is on the front end, with the mayhem turned up towards the end, but this one always makes me think of classic monster movies where “Man tampers in God’s domain”…or in this case, a mouse.
Our final animated entry titled, Lonesome Ghosts features the original Ghostbusters Mickey, Donald and Goofy being terrorized by actual ghosts in a haunted house. These specters are mostly pranksters, but things get serious when Mickey decides to put a bullet in one of them. Yeah, Mickey is the NRA. So once the trick or treaters have moved on, it’s time to turn off the cartoons and get into some classic monster fare.
I have found that most of the classic Universal horror movies (Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, Etc.) are big on atmosphere, but about as much fun as a toothbrush in your treat bag. The Bride of Frankenstein however, is a different animal altogether. Slicker than the original and with a sense of humor to boot, it’s the best that classic horror has to offer.
Dr. Frankenstein is blackmailed into re-creating his experiment for the evil, Dr. Praetorius who makes The Monster his henchman by promising to create a re-animated bride for him to mate with, most likely resulting in a race of zombie people. While you get plenty of kills and gloomy Eastern European set pieces throughout the film, the real star is the femme and fabulous, Dr. P.
Praetorius is so overtly evil, conniving and English that he instantly becomes the man you love to hate. He even has a collection of mini-people he keeps in jars that somehow have developed to the point of performing Medieval Times in a fishbowl. Finally you have the great ending where The Monster utters the truly macabre line, “We belong dead” before throwing the switch to kill everybody. Just a great Halloween movie all around and at only 75 minutes, it’s a great lead-in to our next creature feature.
You’ve heard of the old 50’s hit the Monster Mash, right? Well this 80’s cult film gives you a Monster-Mash-Up! That’s right, The Monster Squad features not 1, not 2, but 5 classic monsters teaming up to wreak havoc on the world of the living with only a group of horror loving misfits to stand in their way. Though often compared to The Goonies, I’ve always loved this one just a little bit more.
The premise goes that Dracula is released from a centuries-long slumber and assembles his team of creatures to help him destroy an amulet of concentrated good that stands in the way of evil ruling the world. A team that includes a Wolfman, a Mummy, a Mer-Man and Frankenstein’s Monster! Talk about economy, Monster Squad just saved you 4 movie rentals right there. Really though, the story is not as important as the attitude. Perhaps you’ve heard of the famous line, “Wolf-Man’s got nards!”, that pretty much sums up the tone of the film, except that it actually has some genuine scares and gore.
For example, that same nard-bearing Wolfman gets dynamite shoved down his pants and explodes, only to have his scattered body parts re-assemble to wreak havoc again. Mer-Man gets shot in the chest multiple times with a shot-gun at point blank range by Horace aka Fat Kid and Vampire Brides get wooden stakes to the heart all over the place. Take my word for it, if you want some action in your Halloween, dig through the $5 DVD bin at Wal-Mart and rescue this film.
OK, so you think I’ve been pretty tame in my choices so far? Like I said, I want supernatural fun in my Halloween. If I want bloody mayhem I can just I can turn on the 6 o’clock news or reach for a copy of Halloween III: Season of the Witch aka “Whatever Happened to Michael Myers?”. Yes it’s true, I am recommending this over John Carpenter’s classic slasher. Don’t get me wrong, Michael Myers debut is a good film, but just a little too slow for a party. Halloween III on the other hand, turns the Halloween energy to 11!
The whole plot revolves around an evil Halloween mask manufacturer that plans to kill kids across the nation during a television broadcast by using mystic sorcery to turn their heads into bugs! I’d like to see Michael Myers try that trick! While the piano theme of Halloween is haunting, there is a more subversive malevolence to the synthesizer-laden carnival music accompanied by voices chanting “3 More Days ‘til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween, 3 More Days ‘til Halloween, Silver Shamrock!” Plus, it gets stuck in your head for days after viewing, which is horrific in and of itself.
Now there are a lot of horror staples I left off the schedule, like the Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street series, but that’s only because I’ve never seen those as atmospheric or spooky. They’re more like Horror-Adventure where you end up rooting for the iconic monster to kill folks in inventive ways, as opposed to creepy, supernatural storytelling. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is another example of a film that’s too psychological to enjoy on a night known for candy and carnage. I remember when someone put it on at a Halloween party I attended in high school and it really brought the mood down.
Of course, personal taste counts for a lot, so if you just have to include the over the top gore of Dead Alive or the twist ending of Sleepaway Camp to your movie marathon then go nuts, it’s none of my business, ya’ sicko! But if you just want to experience the essence of the season, fire up these frighteningly fun films, pour yourself some caramel apple flavored soda (oh, it exists) and enjoy a popcorn ball as the midnight hour slowly creeps in to signal the end of Halloween night for another year.