Just under the wire, I scrounged up three more Halloween themed horror movies to get me in the mood this October. Are they worthy of the season? Let’s find out.
DARK OCTOBER (2020)
I could tell from the trailer for Dark October that I was basically walking into a home movie look , so I didn’t even dare subject my hubby to it. Of course I was obligated to watch it so I could add it to the holiday horror page.
Although it’s not found footage, it feels like watching 69 minutes of a group of girls documenting their trip to a concert in Salem on Halloween. They hang out, they plan the trip, one girl shops for books on Salem and steals a book the clerk refuses to sell her, they stop for a reading from a fake medium, they walk, they take selfies, and they go to a diner and make us literally sit through them perusing the menus, making decisions, and giving the waitress their orders.
This could have been an entertaining horror short had it just started when the girls finally explore an old school.
The book comes into play, there’s possession, murder with some satisfying gore, a jump scare, and some pretty effective setup shots.
There’s even an overly long shower scene, but they didn’t hire an actress willing to get nude on camera (kudos to the actress who did take the shower for obviously refusing to bare all).
ON HALLOWEEN (2020)
Right off the bat, things start “on Halloween” with opening footage of trick or treaters and outdoor holiday decor.
When children at a park share urban legends and one devilish little girl is like “I’ve got a real scary story to tell”, I was definitely pulled in.
Kidnappings and a few gory death scenes warm us up as we learn about a supernatural killer clown believed to come back every year to use the blood of victims for an elixir that keeps him alive to kill another Halloween. I must say it’s a pretty good concept for an indie slasher.
The guy playing the clown is absolutely fantastic.
His comments are darkly, smartly snarky as opposed to the cheesy one-liners delivered by most slasher killers, and he’s also incredibly sinister, not to mention a vicious and brutal psycho. Plus, he seems to teleport and multiply at will. Awesome.
Even though he resorts at times to using guns (I hate when killers in slashers use guns), he is super ominous while stalking in the dark shadows and never loses his potency.
Even some of the cast members deliver some good and subtly humorous lines, but despite nonstop clown action, where this film loses some ground is in its narrative approach. There are three different groups delving into the truth behind the killer clown’s story—a bunch of thrill-seeking kids visiting the location where he’s supposed to resurrect each year, a journalist team researching the clown story, and some detectives investigating a series of murders.
The bouncing around messes with the flow of the film, however, the reason it’s crafted this way is revealed at the end. It’s pretty clever, but that obviously doesn’t amend the sluggishness getting there. It’s just a noticeable issue you have to accept as you watch, because On Halloween really is an entertaining slasher overall, from the clown to some gruesome kills, as well as that stark, colorless look that gives it an effectively eerie visual tone and suspenseful atmosphere.
MR. HALLOWEEN (2007)
I have waited years for this film to show up somewhere, anywhere, so I could watch it. Imagine my surprise when it popped up on Amazon Prime at last.
Mr. Halloween is my kind of low budget indie. The attention to detail despite budget limitations makes me disappointed to see that director Andrew Wolf has very little else on his IMDb page, because he clearly paid attention to the horror movies he grew up on. He nails the cheap, gritty feel of early 80s direct-to-video horror films, and I would have loved to see him progress from here. If this had been a horror movie in the video stores and in rotation on cable when I was a kid, today it would probably be one of those films that has a special place on my movie shelves. And it will, because I totally ordered the DVD after watching it.
Are there issues? Sure. Most of the acting is quite amateur, but the one person who really matters is our killer Mr. Halloween, and this dude delivers. He’s perfectly weird, cold, and distant when interacting with people, and his overall presence reminded me very much of Joe Spinell of the original Maniac.
Next there’s the quality of the production. For instance, the initial night scene is flooded with unnaturally bright light due to either lack of lighting experience, lack of the right equipment, or both. However, these limitations work to the film’s benefit in daytime scenes and eerily dim indoor scenes. The locations used are rustic and real, with uncommon Halloween decor that looks like it was genuinely stuck in front yards for the holiday.
Most glaringly, the film needed some editing to improve the pacing. It’s nearly two hours long, and there’s a notable lull in the middle after darkly effective staging scenes. Once the bulk of the plot is established, the film regains its footing for a final act with a perfect throwback feel.
So on to the plot. In a small town, a teen has gone missing and everyone is on edge. The local kids become fixated on tales of a weird man they call Mr. Halloween, who creates a haunted attraction tour through his house each year. Needless to say, these dumb kids go to his house to take the tour. They soon learn the horrors of the house look real because they are.
Mr. Halloween seems to be more than just your everyday killer freak. He does odd things when he’s alone…and I’m not just talking about hacking up bodies to use for his displays, all presented with icky practical effects. The hypnotic retro horror score amplifies the weirdness of it all, as do the dark, shadowy rooms in Mr. Halloween’s house.
There are some unexpected plot twists in the final act, and plenty of effectively executed scares and suspense situations. Most importantly, when the two main kids are plunged into a chase and final battle with Mr. Halloween in claustrophobic quarters, the actors make up for their lack of acting experience by really delivering with their reactions and the physical combat.