When I first saw the original Halloween, not only was it a truly suspenseful and chilling experience, it had something else going for it—it felt like it was taking place on Halloween. Sure, it was filmed in California, the trees were actually green and they had to cart dead leaves onto the sets to add that element of authenticity, but the grainy, dark, low-budget film of the late 70s masked that (so to speak). Add to that simple touches like the trick or treaters, pumpkin carving, and television horror movie marathons within the film, and it truly felt like a reflection of the quiet suburban Halloween that I was experiencing as a pre-teen at the very time of the film’s initial popularity.
Aside from spawning decades worth of slasher imitators, both good and bad, Halloween also did something else; it set the movie on the most obviously scary night of the year, causing many films to try to replicate the charm of its theme. What better to watch on Halloween than a horror movie set on that very night? Of course, that doesn’t automatically make it a good horror movie. So I went through my horror collection and re-watched a bunch of such movies. I found some standouts—and some titles that will hopefully make me at least a few dollars on the used market. See my complete list of holiday horror films here.
All Saints Eve (2015)
I’m a total sucker for low-budget haunted attraction Halloween slashers, so I didn’t hate this one like the rest of the Internet seems to have. All Saints Eve runs only a few minutes over an hour long (there’s like a 20 minute “making of” attached to the running length at the end), and that’s just the perfect running time for me, especially since there’s not much in the way of a script here.
The film attempts a backstory with an opening scene involving a witch hunt back in the day, but fails to really tie it in all that well once we get to the modern day haunted attraction. What really matters is that a group of kids gets trapped inside to be chased and killed. Yay!
And that’s the film’s strong point. The killer wears a pretty common getup—sack mask and scythe—but it never fails in being creepy and adds to the harvest season feel. There are plenty of cheap jump scares in the haunted attraction, the lurking killer is spooky, the death scenes are serviceable, body reveals abound, and the atmosphere couldn’t be any more perfect for a Halloween slasher. The movie just needed a storyline.
As a bonus, All Saints Eve has a load of cute guys, including Nick LaMantia and Clifford Lynch of Everyone Must Die (which I blog about here), and hunky Matthew Bonacci of Psycho Street (which I blog about here).
And keep an ear out for a scene in which one chick sings “Amazing Grace” in a church. She has a nice voice, but I think they may have spliced together more than one take—because she keeps changing key which makes it sound like she can’t carry a tune!
The Midnight Hour (1985)
Put zombies, werewolves, vampires, Halloween, Calvin Klein Belafonte, 60s music, new wave, and an entire video dance number in a blender and you get the 1985 made-for-TV horror flick The Midnight Hour.
A bunch of high school kids in a small town loaded with Halloween atmosphere learns about a witch slave from the town’s past (very Tituba inspired). So what better to do than head to the cemetery to recite a spell? After that, the kids head off to their Halloween party, not knowing they’ve just launched a grave rising scene that could put “Thriller” to shame. These zombies actually explode from their graves!
In a very anachronistic move, the kids look totally 80s, but the cars are all from the 60s, as is half the awesome soundtrack, while the other half is new wave, including “How Soon is Now” by The Smiths. But the MTV influence comes on full force when Shari Belafonte sings the theme song, looking and sounding freakishly like Vanity in The Last Dragon. The song and the entire dance number, complete with background monster dancers, are so fucking ridiculous it is amazing. You’d have to be from the 80s to understand just how brilliant it all is.
The entire movie is just an awesome time capsule and a pop culture fan’s dream. Other familiar faces include the Eight is Enough dad, the That 70s Show dad, Michelle Pfeiffer’s younger sister Dede, and a young and buff Peter DeLuise of 21 Jump Street, whose tight 80s jeans show off quite the bulge and booty. There’s even cameos by Wolfman Jack’s voice and the corner of Elm Street. Plus, there’s an early jab at the multiplex movie experience.
But the star of the movie is Sarah Jessica Parker’s gorgeous dance partner from Girls Just Want to Have Fun, which came out the same year. Coincidentally (or not) there’s a “Ghouls Just Want to Have Fun” joke in the movie. Oh…and this cutie also has a horror past…he was the young son in Burnt Offerings!
While parts of the movie are creepy, there’s also plenty of cheesy 80s humor—like one zombie getting his party on when he crashes—and the mish-mosh of monsters gives the movie a bit of a The Monster Squad feel. But the final zombie onslaught is classic undead fun…without any gory gut munching.
The Midnight Hour is seriously a Halloween classic for 80s nostalgia geeks.
House of Fears (2007)
House of Fears is yet another haunted attraction horror flick, only this time the group of six kids sneaks into the place the night before Halloween. So there’s no focus on the holiday at all.
Adorable Corri English, who plays Adam Green’s love interest on the Holliston horror sitcom, is our main girl. The atmosphere is great—this is one professional looking haunted house attraction!
But there’s a catch. There’s some ancient African artifact that brings your fears to life, giving the movie license to send any old threats their way. So we get demon dogs, a sand trap, a bald guy who looks like something out of Buffy’s “Hush” episode, a killer scarecrow, and one damn freaky clown…he even crawls on walls! So essentially, House of Fears can go in my Halloween, clown, and scarecrow horror blogs.
Cheap jump scares abound, there’s not much in the way of gore, Corri has a rivalry with her stepsister, and Corri has flashbacks of her fear from childhood, which she eventually reveals in a big dramatic moment—and later has to face. Oh. And as usual, the black guy is the one who finds a gun and starts waving it around like a pro. These horror flicks are so fricking racist. Why can’t the white guy be the gun nut for a change, as in real life?
So yeah. It’s cheesy, but it’s loaded with cheesy fun.
The 1988 flick Hack-O-Lantern is not exactly worthy of that awesome title. But it is also known as Halloween Night—which makes it one of 3 films on this list with that title.
This is a Satanism/slasher hybrid. Tragedy strikes Little Tommy’s family…and yet his granddad the known Satanist isn’t even suspected….
Now, years later, it’s Halloween, Tommy is all grown up with a rockin’ bod and a habit of staying locked in his room at home, his sister is getting ready for a Halloween party, his mother has lost her mind since the tragedy years before, his brother is the deputy in town, and gramps is still known as a Satanist (who looks like Mike Myers and acts like Dr. Evil).
There’s little in the way of character development. This is more a string of scenes of people not doing much of anything. Tommy has a heavy metal rock video dream. The deputy investigates grave robbing. Gramps and his cult strip a woman down and brand her ass. There are two pretty cool kills sprinkled in there somewhere.
Finally, it’s the dance. We get a stripper performance. A belly dancer performance. A stand-up comedian performance. Another metal band performance. Girls keep turning down the hottest guys at the party and I just can’t understand why. A couple of girls are killed by someone in a robe and a devil mask. There’s a swashbuckling swordfight on the dance floor—and then there’s a bit of a twist ending.
Watch this low-budget flick for the Halloween atmosphere and the 80s overload.
Hollow Gate (1988)
Here’s a mess of an 80s slasher. A slasher disaster, if you will. And to think the poor thing came out in 1988, the same year Michael Myers returned.
The opening is the best part. It’s all Halloween spirit at a kiddie party…until a kids is nearly drowned in a bucket of apples. Naturally, that kid grows up to be not so normal.
Years later, two couples are headed to a Halloween party (I guess) when they are sidetracked at a costume store by offering to take a delivery to a place called Hollow Gate. Guess who lives there.
Mark, the killer, doesn’t wear a mask, but he is a cackling lunatic. He chases the kids around his property for the remainder of the movie, while scenes are injected involving two cops just doing their Halloween beat. Eventually, they end up in the same diner as the guy from the costume store and soon realize there’s going to be trouble, so they head over to Hollow Gate.
Boring kills, no suspense, forgettable characters, and no nudity. How could this possibly have come from the 80s? On the positive side, it totally looks like it came from the 80s, so it feels like coming home for Halloween….
Varsity Blood (2014)
Varsity Blood isn’t exactly a title you’d expect from a horror movie that takes place on Halloween, huh? This flick definitely captures the spirit of direct-to-video slashers from the 80s, both the good and the bad. Here are the highlights:
– A chick is killed in the gym at the very beginning of the movie after a shower scene.
– There’s a story of someone killed a year before and someone else getting sent away to “rehab”…and then escaping just in time for Halloween.
– A group of kids heads to an old farmhouse to party on Halloween night.
– Debbie Rochon plays the main girl’s mom.
– The killer wears a colorful Indian mask, which is the mascot of the football team—and kind of cartoonish, which suits the overall feel of the movie.
– The school colors are orange and black.
– Most of the Halloween spirit is at the beginning of the film. Once they’re at the farmhouse, there’s no sign of even a pumpkin.
– There are cute shirtless dudes and one hottie runs away from the killer with his naked butt bouncing in the breeze.
– There’s an homage to I Know What You Did Last Summer as part of the storyline involves someone having been hit by a drunk driver on the 4th of July.
– There are loads of great chase scenes, the music used in the movie sounds like a rip off of the Friday the 13th score, and the atmosphere during the chase scenes is total old school 80s slasher.
– Everything bookending the best slasher moments in the middle of the movie is a hot cheesy low-budget mess that will have you giggling at times even if it’s not intentional, which makes it even more fun.
Some bad acting and laughable lines add to the charm of Varsity Blood, the chase scenes totally rule, and Debbie Rochon brings the perfect b-movie vibe (and she has a hot meathead boyfriend). Slasher whores will totally appreciate this one.
Mischief Night (2013) vs. Mischief Night (2014)
I’m so glad I wasn’t a little prick who went egging, soaping, and shave creaming everyone and everything on Halloween, because I would have done it wrong. I thought that all happened on October 31st, but apparently you’re supposed to do it on October 30th, better known as mischief night. It’s a real thing, and there were even two films named after it within a year’s time—that both run an hour and twenty-six minutes. But even more shocking—both movies are fricking awesome.
Mischief Night (2013): The first one features an intro slaying starring Charlie O’Connell. It’s a strong suspense opening that also introduces us to a masked killer wearing a yellow raincoat, but it is completely irrelevant to the rest of the movie.
What follows is one incredibly nerve-shattering movie. Just like Jennifer Jason Leigh in Eyes of a Stranger, the main girl is blind and being stalked.
After her father (cutie Daniel Hugh Kelly of Cujo) leaves for a date on “mischief night,” she’s alone in the house into which they’ve just moved…the same house where Charlie and his woman were massacred during the opening scene.
Don’t expect an explanation for why the same house is targeted because it never happens. But the raincoat wearing masked killer is back, and spends the whole movie completely terrorizing this blind girl and us. If you loved The Strangers, don’t hesitate to check this one out.
The body count is almost non-existent, but the few kills are brutal, the pacing is nonstop, and this particular Mischief Night gets your heart racing overtime. The only catch is—there is not a single sign of Halloween at all. It may take place on October 30th, but nobody bothered to put up any festive décor for the holiday. So essentially, the movie can’t even be considered a Halloween film, although it is a great one to creep you out the day before! The only hint that Halloween is coming is that the blind chick listens to the original Night of the Living Dead on her television.
Mischief Night (2014): To make up for the non-existent Halloween atmosphere in the 2013 movie, this flick is a slice of Halloween heaven! The opening shots totally capture the spirit of the holiday, and even though what happens after takes place on October 30th, it couldn’t feel more like Halloween night.
Any young indie director who thinks he knows how to make the next great slasher needs to watch the first 20 minutes of this movie. Director Travis Barker makes it look so easy, with loads of atmosphere, a heart-pounding setup, and brilliant camera work that totally fucks with the viewer’s head. Pretty much everything that every wannabe director of shitty slashers fails to accomplish.
Despite a seemingly obvious scenario—a babysitter is terrorized by a guy in a mask—Mischief Night only follows the formula for that first twenty minutes. Malcolm McDowell still has twenty-four hours before he has to find Michael Myers, so he stops in to this movie to ring the babysitter’s doorbell…and tell her the creeps are out on mischief night and not to open the door for anyone! He has really embraced his pervy years.
After you are blown away by the first terrifying 20 minutes of the movie (which includes the babysitter watching Dementia 13 instead of Night of the Living Dead for a change), something shocking happens—she manages to talk the killer down! This amazing WTF moment leads to a totally whacked turn of events. Don’t worry, the body count will rise and the gore is gruesome and grisly, but this “slasher” is more character and story driven than the usual Halloween horror film. Now this is how you bring something fresh to the table (after proving you could make a 20 minute slasher film that blows away most every other slasher coming out these days).
Lead actress Brooke Anne Smith needs to be in more horror flicks for sure, and the killer, Marc Valera, looks adorable with a beard.
Hayride is backwoods slasher haunted attraction horror, and Halloween horror all in one. Actually, while it’s about a Halloween hayride attraction that is threatened by a crazed escaped prison inmate, there isn’t a hint of the holiday. There are no pumpkins in sight and all the trees in the woods are green (but there is an orange jumpsuit!).
The movie is more about the pending future of the main guy, who is working the attraction. There is SO MUCH dialogue between this guy and his girlfriend about their relationship and he and his uncle about the family business. His uncle is played by iconic Richard Tyson, who played the terrifying bully in the 80s classic Three O’Clock High and also played the big bad wolf in Big Bad Wolf.
Reasons you might only like Hayride while drunk? For starters, the complete lack of gore. It’s so PG that at one point a dude gets a pitchfork through the neck and you can see that the pitchfork simply doesn’t have any tongs…and there’s no blood! When the killer lightly swings a sledgehammer at a victim, you think the kill would have at least been more interesting if he had used the wiffle bat that was sitting right next to the sledgehammer.
And then there’s the typical scare prank at the campfire. The flashback story told about the legend of “Pitchfork” is surrounded by this bizarre, moving graphical border that keeps growing thicker as the story progresses to the point that you can hardly see what’s going on! WTF? Not to mention, Richard Tyson is telling the story and at one point says something like “That’s the way the story has been told, but I believe it went this way….” So you get alternate versions of the backstory as it continues to shrink on screen.
Meanwhile, I definitely appreciated the man count. Most of the victims are men! We get a great shot of this one dude’s mega cute booty when he’s lying on his belly in the forest waiting for the hayride to pass by. And there is a thoroughly intriguing gay conversation between the main guy and his cute buddy. Like, it is a blatantly gay proposition with no one flinching. I’m still trying to figure out if that was the script’s way of telling us the character is gay.
Finally, there is a sequel! I so wish it would be called Hayride 2: Gayride. Then I’d be really interested in the main guy’s future….
Murder Party (2007)
Murder Party is an odd little comedy with gore. It opens with great Halloween holiday spirit: kids trick or treating, pumpkins getting smashed, a dude with a bag of candy corn. He finds an invitation to a murder party blowing on the street. So he gets out this cardboard costume he mad and goes! It’s hysterical when he arrives at a desolate, bad urban area and starts to RUN to his destination.
He enters a warehouse with just a handful of people in costume. It turns out they are artists who plan to kill him while filming it because they’re trying to score some grant money. The movie becomes a series of comic and bizarre moments. Eventually we’re down to just our main guy being chased by a dude with an axe…and a dude with an electric chainsaw in one hand and a power cord in the other.
Murder Party is a quirky little film. There’s humor, there’s some good gore, and there’s even a man-on-man sex scene! But it’s not a scary movie. Still, it could be fun for a Halloween party. And the closing song “Full Moon” by 2 Tite is a must have for my Halloween playlist on my iPod.
Jack O’ Slasher (2012)
Jack O’ Slasher is bottom of the bargain bin low-budget horror. It could virtually have been shot on the property of someone’s home. I believe director Jennifer Valdes is from somewhere near me on Long Island in New York, so it may very well have been. Before I even get into Jack O’ Slasher, let me say, Jennifer submitted the 3 minute short “M is for Monotheist” for the ABCs of Death 2 and it is hardcore twisted—nudity, wiener, gay rape, castration…EEK! Google it and check it out.
As for Jack O’ Slasher, it’s not unlike many of the movies on this Halloween horror movie list. There’s a pumpkin-headed killer. There’s a haunted attraction. People think real kills are just part of the entertainment.
The movie only runs an hour and five minutes and fills lots of time with awesome shots of the haunted attraction, as many of these haunted attraction slashers do. It looks like it was shot on video. The actors look like friends who got together to make a movie on the weekends. You get just what you’d expect from this type of project. It’s silly, yes, but it’s loaded with Halloween spirit and has the kind of adolescent sex humor I love, including a corn cock!
It’s also so retro 80s Long Island in look and feel, complete with heavy metal music—it’s not something I can explain. You just have to have grown up on Long Island to understand. And while Jack O’ Slasher makes sure the blood flows, he’s not even the highlight. First, there are the numerous freaky creature characters in the haunted attraction, who talk and say ominous shit while the camera fucks with your eyes to give it some uber creepiness. There’s also one chick who has a totally rockin’ scream and should have been the final girl.
But even better, amongst the numerous cute guys in the film—including a gay goth who doesn’t get enough screen time—there is a burly bearded bear boy who totally RULES. I cannot believe his comic delivery wasn’t exploited throughout the film. He’s mostly just part of the scenery for a majority of the film, then all of a sudden, right before it’s his time to die (and as he’s dying), he unloads a string of the best lines in the entire movie! He is AWESOME.
Jennifer, please, please, PLEASE make him the leading man in your next movie! He’s adora-bear! And next time when he gets a BJ on screen…get him to take his shirt off and show that bear belly!
This movie doesn’t hesitate, opening with a segment of a pumpkin being slashed by a knife, much like the opening of Halloween 5. However, Jack-O-Lantern’s opening is gritty and dark rather than sleek and polished. Very cool.
As for its remaining focus on the holiday, well, there’s Jack-O-Lantern himself along with a pumpkin carving scene. And that’s it, although the film does have the natural feel of autumn in the country.
Visuals are the strongest aspect of this film. Classic green and blue Argento lighting abound, as does realistic dark lighting. There are some nice gore scenes and a bleeding pumpkin, which is always an effective and nasty sight. Jack-O-Lantern himself looks awesomely menacing, even in daylight. Too bad the Pumpkinhead series got the jump on that name despite featuring a monster that looks nothing like a pumpkin head, because Jack-O-Lantern is just one of a few films on this list that better fit the description.
There’s a cool red herring prologue that makes this seem like a backwoods hillbilly film, but that quickly pans out to be the biggest twist in the film, and we are left with a simple “I Know What You Did Last Summer” plot. Add to that a convoluted mish-mosh of forgettable characters and side plots, and the film ends up being one you watch simply for the kills.
This hokey b-movie is somewhat entertaining thanks to a hugely inconsistent tone, campy characters, and of course, Linnea Quigley’s b-movie scream queen presence. Personally, I love it just for the dirty sounding title. Although released in the 90s, it has a good 80s synth horror score, a grainy look, dramatic horror lighting, and cheesy fog effects. Perfect. It is also an all-out homage to Halloween (the holiday, not the movie).
It appears a murdering wizard back in colonial times put a spell on a town and threatened to come back someday as…Jack-O! Little Sean, a geeky kid living in the same town in modern times, is somehow the key to defeating Jack-O. Sean is being pursued by a nice but odd woman who befriends his family, and he’s also having creepy dreams about an old man in the woods, played by John Carradine, who looks just as old as he did in The Sentinel nearly 20 years before, although not quite as grotesque. Also, Carradine died in 1988 and apparently his scenes are “archived” footage they just shoehorned into this film’s plot!
This low-budget mess has its upsides. First of all, a bunch of teens stumble upon graves in the woods, including that of one of Sean’s descendants—Daniel Kelly! Awesome.
Next, we have Linnea Quigley. Not only do we get a ridiculously gratuitous segment of her taking a shower, rubbing soap all over her butt and boobs (probably the segment that gave this film its name), but when she comes to baby sit Sean she hits on his father, telling him flirtatiously that he’s like a little boy about Halloween and she likes little boys. And yet…the dad still lets this slut take his little boy out trick or treating….
Then there’s the laughable and bizarre social commentary about a “conservative” couple who lives in the neighborhood and spends Halloween night turning trick or treaters away while criticizing people in America for getting handouts instead of working for a living—a direct attack on Sean’s parents, who have set up a haunted house attraction to raise money for charity!
Finally, there’s Jack-O himself. Essentially, he’s a homemade scarecrow with a store bought, plastic light up jack-o-lantern for a head. Cool. Again, damn that Pumpkinhead for stealing the name.
Jack-O looks like it was filmed off season or in California, because just as in the original Halloween, all the trees and bushes are green, with leaves simply sprinkled on the lawn for effect. There are some cheesy murders, the standout involving a knife, a toaster, a slippery floor, and no work on Jack-O’s part. The film’s slow and silly plot will have you watching simply for the kills. Linnea Quigley is honored with the hokey final line after the awful climactic battle with Jack-O: “I want pie—anything but pumpkin.”
Black Eve (2010)
Chopping Mall meets High Tension. This indie flick runs only an hour and fifteen minutes…my favorite length for a horror film.
Plot is simple. Halloween party in a department store. The characters are pretty much incidental here—just around to be killed off. But one chick gets roofied (for no apparent reason but to be left on a bathroom floor) and when she wakes up, the party is over and all her friends are dead. She goes around using her psychic powers to find out what happened to each of them….
We see all the murders replayed for us in her visions and some of them are gruesome awesome! The most memorable are the first (which comes on fast and hard) and the final one, which is super nasty.
Also super nasty, in a good way, is the killer. Hunky horror hotness! A few times, he puts on a very creepy mask to trick his victims into thinking he’s someone else, but for the majority of the time, he’s proudly exposed.
Other than it being a costume party, not much Halloween spirit here, and really, you will guess the “twist” at the beginning. Black Eve is one you watch for a few good kills and a nice big juicy piece of murderer meat.
Grave Halloween (2013)
It’s just what it says—Halloween in a grave. Actually it’s a “suicide forest” so there are no graves. This really isn’t a Halloween film despite the fact that it has the word in the title and it takes place on Halloween.
A group of kids goes into the forest to do a documentary on one chick’s dead mother. If you think creepy Asian women in white dresses were so over, think again.
They are all over this movie. This forest is loaded with them. There are also plenty of other creepy beings walking around, ad nauseum. This is just nonstop haunted forest action—eerie ghosts, kids splitting up and getting killed off, booby traps, tree branches coming alive and ripping people apart.
Grave Halloween is a SyFy original, and that’s probably the best place to watch it.
The Fear: Halloween Night (1999)
The 1995 film The Fear had nothing to do with Halloween, but this not particularly related sequel takes advantage of the holiday. It opens with a boy in a skeleton costume and mother in a witch costume driving in the rain at night. Shit happens and the son ends up watching from the car as his mother is hacked up. He is then taken by the killer and shoved in the car trunk—with a creepy man-sized wood figure.
Cut to kids in a car, driving to the woods for Halloween. Concerning their trip, one chick even says “it’s about Halloween,” so there’s real expectations of this film delivering! The lead guy, Michael (who happens to be the kid who watched his mother slaughtered years before), discusses the meaning of Halloween and the tradition of wearing costumes, to which one dude replies, “Thank you, Michael Myers.” Michael Myers? Guess this film has to be forfeited from this list. But wait…is that? Yes, it’s fricking Betsy “Mrs. Vorhees” Palmer playing Michael’s grandmother! Okay—film is reinstated.
The reason Michael has brought his friends up to his grandparents’ home in the woods soon becomes…sort of clear. There is a creepy wood figure in the attic (they call it a Totem and name it Morty), and some Indian dude Michael knows tells him he needs to face his fears. Michael’s plan for Halloween is to have all his friends dress up as something symbolizing their deepest fears. Michael’s fear, of course, is that dang wooden figure that was in the trunk of the car when he was kidnapped.
There’s some pumpkin carving going on and even flinging of pumpkin guts. The kids actually get in the spirit and play stupid, cheap scare pranks on each other (and us). But the Indian doesn’t take it lightly when they involve Morty in the jokes. While Morty is supposedly a wood statue, when the Indian throws Morty over his shoulder, Morty is amazingly bendable—kind of like a guy in a rubber suit. Of course, wood and rubbers are a very important combination. In the meantime, the Indian proves that it isn’t always the black dude who dies first…
When the Halloween party gets started, it is impressively festive, and people have some fun “fear” costumes. The lights go out, but the group actually stays together instead of breaking off immediately. Once they do scatter, the film becomes a routine slasher with the only reminder of the Halloween holiday being the costumes the victims are wearing. In fact, even the scares diminish, making the cheap scares at the beginning of the film the scream of the chop…I mean…cream of the crop. Also, Michael’s internal conflict gets in the way of the pacing. He’s such a whiner! He thinks he’s the murderer/Morty. Get over it and just kill people already! And when “Morty” starts talking, ugh! This guy sounds like such a pussy. And I’ve just never been a fan of mixing wood with pussy.
But the final indignity is the number of survivors! Who ever heard of a high LIVE body count?
Happy Hell Night (1992)
This film got lost in the transition from 80s slashers to whatever 90s movies were. While Happy Hell Night takes place on Halloween night, the holiday is an afterthought, with just hints of Halloween décor and people in costumes at a college party, along with a genuinely brisk outside atmosphere.
Lacking a Halloween theme or not, this film actually delivers some standout chills, thrills, and kills. The story involves a creepy demonic bald guy locked up in an asylum for a quarter of a century until a bunch of dumb frat pledges unleash him on the world—so he can simply go around and play Michael Myers. Yeah, it waters down to a simple slasher. Notable are the bit parts by both Darren McGavin and Sam Rockwell (as a young Darren McGavin in flashbacks).
The killer himself is a fright to behold, with black eyes and pasty skin, bringing to mind Nosferatu or the lead vampire in 30 Days of Night, but with a kindler, gentler, meek disposition and expressionless face. But when he speaks…freaky! One of the most disturbing moments has to be when the pledges break into his room to take a photo of him for their initiation. The solitary confinement room is pitch black, and we just see quick glimpses of his white face as the flash on the camera goes off.
The film tries to deliver a sophisticated, complex storyline at first, but eventually gives in to good old slasher boobs and blood. One sleazy frat geek secretly video tapes sex in the dorm rooms, so we get to see plenty of girls gone wild, while the killer does some pretty gory damage. There’s even a disturbing scene of Jesus coming to life on the crucifix in a church and then a slaughtered priest taking his place on the crucifix—inverted, of course.
The final climactic moments with the remaining survivors being pursued by the killer are outstanding. There are dark and creepy halls, and the visual appeal is reminiscent of Night of the Demons (another series that takes place on Halloween, but deserves a blog entry of its own—which it gets here).
Aside from some hot gore, the ending is a bit routine. But all is forgiven when the credits roll and the rocking Ramones-like “Happy Hell Night” theme song begins.
The Pumpkin Karver (2006)
One of my favorites of this Halloween bunch, The Pumpkin Karver is definitely a treat if you go in expecting all style (albeit cliché style), and no real substance.
The Halloween theme abounds right from the beginning, with a sing-song “trick or treat, give me something good to eat” jingle as in the opening of the original Halloween, along with “killer” POV traveling through the house. Some chick is getting ready for Halloween, her brother is carving a pumpkin in the kitchen, and something’s brewing in the basement. This scene is straight out of Scream, with the basement even looking more like a garage and the lead actress speaking the very Rose McGowan line “Please don’t kill me…Mr. Pumpkinhead” (damn you Pumpkinhead!). It’s homage city. Then something goes horribly wrong.
A year later, the brother and sister head to a Halloween party in the middle of nowhere in the new town to which they have moved—conveniently called Karver. First, where are their parents throughout this film? And second, would EITHER of them want to attend a Halloween party a year after the horrible tragedy? Eh, who cares about the human aspects. We just want people to die. And they do.
The brother has visions of being attacked by a freaky looking “Karver” (aka: an actual Pumpkinhead), and soon, everyone at this party in the middle of this field/farm place, starts dying gruesome deaths at the hands of the Karver. The murders are awesome here, as is the atmosphere and eerie Halloween lighting.
Eventually, the brother gets into a sort of bizarre S&M act with the Pumpkin Karver, who whips his face telepathically. Hot. Does any of it make any sense? No. Does it make for an awesome Dan Aykroyd Twilight Zone: The Movie final scene? Totally.
Dark Walker (2003)
Dark Walker plays out like you’re walking through a haunted house attraction—or at least watching an advertisement for one. It also follows traditional slasher formulas, with a heavy focus on a Halloween night haunted house attraction in a quiet town. The staff is filled with all the clichés, including a bitch, a stoner, black guy, a goth chick, the virginal lead girl, and her cute love interest. You get the picture. And relying on an old standby, the lead chick seems to be having premonitions or flashbacks of the killer.
The fun really begins when the new crew is given the tour of the haunted house. The atmosphere is chilling as they are lead through with just flashlights. Of course they get separated so we can be delivered the first kill, and it’s a goody as far as the vicious arrival of Dark Walker, but disappointingly goreless with a simple cut to a shot of a wall being splattered with blood. However, the lone victim’s first-person video game POV journey through the haunted attraction before getting killed is intense.
The scene-stealer is the big, muscular, bullish, white haired, yummy daddy cop (definite ”jack-o” material), who has the best campy, blackly comedic lines. The film needs more of him, because it quickly gets bogged down by “character development” through a bunch of cheesy acting and dialogue.
As a distraction, we’re also subjected to loads of cheap haunted house scares and creepy lighting, with Dark Walker suddenly appearing from nowhere because he blends in so well with the décor of the haunted house. Very effective. He’s imposing and impressive to look at and the gore picks up near the end. But the film also comes to a really short and odd ending that kind of leaves you feeling cheated.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
I can’t talk about Halloween films that have nothing to do with Michael Myers without mentioning the king offender. If only they had titled this film Season of the Witch instead of hoping for the cash in. Halloween III is an unadulterated orgasm of the Halloween spirit, both in style and substance. Well, in terms of the Halloween spirit as it used to be before the film’s timely release in 1982. That very same year, there was a panic that it really would be “the night that no one came home,” as the movie’s tagline reads. This was the year that changed the face of Halloween because of a rash of true and fabricated reportings of first Tylenol and then dozens of random food items being poisoned on grocery store shelves early that October. By the 31st, no one wanted to consume anything they bought themselves, let alone candy given to them by strangers. There was so much fear of children being poisoned that many people opted to deny the trick or treating tradition and had indoor house parties instead. It was the year Halloween was officially stolen from children and made an adult holiday.
That’s why it’s so bizarre that Season of the Witch narrows down to the same core idea. In the film, a brand new line of hugely popular Halloween masks that every child wants are the work of a madman who has heinous plans for the kiddies on Halloween night when they tune in to a very special television commercial. There’s even a daily countdown jingle leading up to the holiday, sung to the theme of “London Bridge Is Falling Down” while the masks bob back and forth on the television screen.
Although the severity of the madman’s plot is large scale, the film works because it does what all the best horror films do—it isolates the horror to a small group of people. It’s up to Tom Atkins and his lady friend to head to the factory town that manufactures the masks. And that’s where they meet a merry band of small business owners who are forced to travel directly to the factory to pick up their orders. Yeah right. That is just one of many aspects of this film that could not happen in today’s technologically advanced world. But it worked brilliantly then.
Although sharing the Halloween title, this film’s atmosphere feels a lot more like John Carpenter’s 1980 creepfest classic The Fog, right down to the eerie synth score. The Halloween motif runs rampant. Fans of the original can now appreciate a tongue-in-cheek moment in which the original Halloween is being advertised on television as a horror classic…only four years after it was released! There’s also a small role for Nancy Loomis, who played the annoyingly loveable Annie in the original Halloween. Here she portrays the doc’s ex-wife, a supposedly snooty, maidenly mom and jaded ex-wife—who sounds and acts just like the bitchy teen from the first film.
The gore is delicious in this film, and although it’s not a slasher, at times, it retains that spirit, and the body count is high. And then there’s that really revolting thing that happens when kids wear the mask while watching the commercial. It’s something that really “bugged” me as a kid—and of course it also makes no kind of sense. But hey. It’s a horror movie. An 80s horror movie no less, when nonsensical sci-fi concepts ruled.
As the movie comes to a close, there are several fun twists as the doc escapes from the crazy factory town. And then there’s that almost comic moment when he calls all three television networks to get them to stop the commercial from airing before it’s too late. THREE channels? These days, we have like three hundred channels! Which is why this film can’t really be appreciated by young audiences who know they can access anything banned from network television on the Internet. Seems the madman’s plan would have been surefire had he just waited another 25-years to implement it.
Boo steps right into Halloween with its opening scene featuring fall leaves, trick or treaters, pumpkins, and decorations galore during the day. As it turns to night, there’s a shot of the moon, more blowing leaves, and a chick carving a pumpkin. A Halloween phone call scenario involves an “obscene” phone call that might as well have been from Annie. This turns into a Scream-like scenario of the Drew Barrymore kind. There’s even an “everyone deserves a good scare” line. But that’s about the extent of the Halloween spirit.
The film takes place in an abandoned hospital where a gang of kids decide to spend October 31st—while a couple of other dudes break into the same place for other reasons. This hospital is like something right out of Silent Hill, with appearances by a creepy little girl, chairs sitting in spooky shadows at the end of long dark halls, grimy little toys lying around, and balls rolling across the floor on their own. The film also gives off a Night of the Demons vibe, with eerie orange lighting and members of the group of kids eventually getting sort of possessed, although, without the demon faces.
The movie is jam-packed with familiar horror elements: a freaky clown, a mutilated dog that goes all Resident Evil zombie canine, a lead girl that, yes, has some sort of premonitions or psychic impressions, and even a black cop character who takes the obsession with blaxploitation films that Reese had in Urban Legend one step further, because he’s supposed to be a former star of the genre!
There’s also plenty of good gore, very creepy scenes, and the realization for me that people in hospital gowns are fricking scary! But most importantly, the film boasts a small role by none other than Dee Wallace.
Sadly, Dee’s flashback segment is where the film goes downhill, giving us too much explanation of all the supernatural occurrences of the film—some things are scarier if they’re just left simple! The scene is also incredibly reminiscent of Dee’s flashback scenes in The Frighteners. Even so, while her appearance is essentially the death toll for this film’s effectiveness, she also gets to speak the final cheesy one-liner, a privilege that is rarely bestowed upon her despite her longevity in the genre!
HauntedWeen is a 1991 film that screams 80s to 90s transition period! The hair and fashions are absolutely amazing (acid wash jeans!). Interestingly, despite the title, the movie never really mentions specifically that it’s Halloween, although there is reference to it being fall.
Since a fraternity needs to raise money to pay its dues, why not a haunted house attraction at that scary old abandoned place where someone was killed 20 years ago? Awesome. The first official kill is perfectly orchestrated, bringing to mind early 80s classics. Hell, it’s a guy and girl taking a nighttime swim in the lake! Doesn’t get any better than that.
What happens next is really odd. There are no chase scenes and no isolated kills. The killer rounds up his victims in what he labels “The Kill Room.” Visitors think it is part of the attraction so they just watch and cheer him on. That’s pretty much the entire movie. And the ending doesn’t give us much else…although, after the credits, it says “Coming soon. HauntedWeen 2.” Wahoo! Not sure if that was there back in 1991 and the sequel just never happened, or if that is a new plan now that this movie has finally been released on DVD.
The gore is pretty damn good, there are plenty of boobs, and the lead guy is cute as hell and gets shirtless. This one other dude, however, is supposed to be comic relief, but he talks in this hella irritating voice. There’s also a muscle stud with a sexy mustache and horrible hair who gets one scene—a shirtless one, thankfully. Also, the killer, well, kind of has a phenomenal fat ass. And the HauntedWeen rockabilly theme song rules! There’s even a music video for it on the DVD.
Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
Not to be confused with the 1986 heavy metal horror movie Trick or Treat, this 2007 film took a couple of years to actually make it to the public. All the hype could have led to a huge disappointment, but for me personally, it is the ultimate Halloween film. I LOVE it. It has all the Halloween charm of Hocus Pocus—but with gore and guts!
Trick ‘r Treat is like Creepshow meets Pulp Fiction. It has the horror comic anthology aspect to it, including comic book animation during the intro credits, but instead of individual stories segued by a “crypt keeper,” these stories are tightly intertwined and overlapping while challenging the chronology of time.
The holiday is thoroughly exploited here. The small town is covered in leaves, draped in Halloween décor, and celebrating the season with a big town fair. Using a typical modern slasher technique, the film opens with a very creepy and vicious murder. But this is no slasher, and as we are catapulted back and forth in time through the course of Halloween night, we are treated to mythic beasts, a sadistic child killer, the rising of the dead…and one of the creepiest little trick or treaters ever.
There’s also an effective presentation of how the holiday impacts people of all ages. One story is about the innocence of naïve children playing pranks—that turn deadly. Then there is the group of young women who are flirting with adulthood and believe that the world is theirs for the taking. We have a very “short story” about a man who is not young enough to fully participate in Halloween hi-jinx, but isn’t yet adult enough to let go of the visual horror fun…or video games (no, I don’t mean me, but I could totally relate). Next, there’s the middle-aged, conservative school principal who lets his annoyance with the bratty kids ringing his doorbell get the better of him, and finally, there’s the crabby old man who just wants to be left out of the festivities completely.
Not only are the stories scary, suspenseful, gory and funny, but one segment introduces the scariest little monster ever—Sam (short for…Samhain! Dunh dunh dunh!). Sam, the little guy in the pumpkin costume, guarantees that you’ll never look at a pumpkin lollipop the same way again. Ironically, the scary story that completely focuses on Sam is a blatant rip-off of the classic Tales from the Darkside episode “Halloween Candy.” And it’s just as awesome.
It’s easy to get carried along by the co-mingling stories and characters in this perfectly paced film that never lets up. This is in part because the film is only an hour and twenty minutes long. Funny thing is, the 10 minutes of deleted scenes on the Blu-Ray are some of the funniest moments of dialogue that make the characters even more likeable. I would have preferred they had been put back into the film to bring it up to a nice 90 minute length! I can’t get enough of this movie, and as far as I’m concerned, the more of it, the better!
If you only watch ONE of the movies on this list on Halloween night, Trick ‘r Treat is the way to go. Personally, I’d also watch ALL the Night of the Demons films.
And as an extra treat, here’s me with Sam of Trick ‘r Treat: