The Night Beckons Once More
2021 Halloween Night Movie Marathon Playlist
Another years ticks by and that means its time to pop on the scary movies and usher in the coldest months of the year. As with years past, we've take the liberty of putting together a list of horror films to delight, entertain, and scare for a thrilling Halloween (and beyond) experience.
A Quiet Place (2018)
We recently reviewed this film and that's what put it back in our minds. This sci-fi horror film (that's very light on the sci-fi but pretty solid on the horror) crafts its own little (quiet) world, ramping up the tension, up and up, until it finally brings about the monsters and releases the terror upon the viewers. It's pretty darn perfect, all things considered.
In the film we['re introduced to a family, the Abbotts, who have been living in a world terrorized by aliens for close to two years. The aliens came to Earth and killed most of humanity pretty quickly. The survivors were the ones who were able to keep quiet as the aliens have sensitive hearing and will kill anything that makes a sound. But with the mother of the family pregnant, and the kids getting just a little careless, it's only a matter of time before the aliens find their hideout and try to kill them all.
Part of what works so well in this film is that it prioritizes the characters over gore or kills. The body count of the film is surprisingly low by each kill, and each scare, is so much more effective because you actually care about the characters and want to see them somehow win over these aliens. We obviously know someone is bound to die, the question just becomes who and when? The monsters are relentless and it will happen, which is what makes it all the more heartbreaking when it does.
A Quiet Place is an effective little monster movie that has a very specific vision and pulls it off near-flawlessly. If only more modern horror could be this good.
The Ring (2002)
From one of the most effective recent horror films we take a step back to the last time the genre got a solid goose from Hollywood. Based on the Japanese film Ringu (translated as "Ring", itself based on a 1991 horror novel), this 2002 American film takes the source material and crafts it into an effective, and evocative, slice of terror. All the story part of the movie were in the original film, but it's how those pieces are reused, and recontextualized, that made this remake such a winner.
The film stars Naomi Watts as Rachel Keller, a reporter on the case of a series of teenage deaths. All of the kids, apparently, died seven days after viewing a "cursed" video. Rachel, being just a little stupid, watches the video for herself and then gets a call that says simply, "Seven Days." This puts her on the trail to track down where the video came from, what the weird images on the tape depicted, and just how it could be that the teens all died from it. And then Rachel has to figure out a way to break the curse because the thing behind it is very, very real and incredibly evil.
Directed by Gore Verbinski, a director not generally thought of as a dabbler in horror (as opposed to Mouse Hunt and the Pirates of the Caribbean films), the movie goes in hard on cerebral thrills. Like with A Quiet Place, the "monster" is kept off screen for much of the runtime instead letting events dictate the terror. Moments build, tension mounts, but rarely does it actually let out a true scare of release. This film absorbs you in and makes you slowly squirm as it builds its tension.
Although fans of Japanese horror still prefer the 1998 version of the film (over the 1995 TV movie that also adapted the book), I find the 2002 version to be much more watchable. Audiences at the time agreed to with this film kicking off a wave of imitators in the "remake Japanese horror" genre (most famously the Grudge films), but it also had two (vastly inferior) sequels. This movie, those, tops them all.
Day of the Dead (1985)
Now that we're good and amped up, let's have a big blast and really start throwing the gore around, and there's no better way to do that than with a zombie film. Time and again when we're talking about horror greats we have to return to the work of George Romero as his classic zombie films helped to define a horror genre. While many of his fans would argue that Dawn of the Dead is his best work, I think Day of the Dead edges it out for the title.
Set almost entirely on an Army base years into the zombie outbreak (as opposed to the previous two films which took place early in the spread of the dead), Day of the Dead is focused on watch people as all their hope has long since been drained away. Any thought that the world might return to normal has fled, now they're just trying to survive as their food dwindles, their chances of rescue are dashed, and their nerves are frayed. This is a very bleak film that holds nothing back, making it absolutely clear just how bad it could get for humanity in this scenario.
That said, it's also a fantastic horror film. Created by Romero at the peak of his career, this film doubles and triples down on the zombie action, giving us everything we want: bitings, gougings, and plenty of disembowelings. This is probably the goriest of the films from the original "Dead" trilogy, and its also the one with the most legitimate scares. While Romero mulled over his usual considerations for humanity and whether we were worth saving (likely he figured no, at least not in this scenario) he managed to delight with a splatter-tastic film full of zombie action.
We need some good, gory horror in this play list and you really can't do any better than the third "Dead" film. Get ready for a ride as this one is going to get nasty before it gives us an ounce of hope.
We come to a film that absolutely flew under the radar a few years back and it's also another of the movies that I found legitimately scary when so many others fail to even know what a scare looks like. Dressed up as a ghost story, this one is so much more than that and it's in the ways that it defies conventions, and plays with expectations, that the movie really elevates the form. I generally hate ghost stories but this one was better than I had any hope for and now sits near the top of my horror lists.
Starring Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites, Oculus concerns itself with the Russell family who, years early, experienced tragedy when their parents both when psychotic before, eventually, the father killed the mother before begging his young son to shoot him (which he does). years later the kids reunite with Kaylie (Gillan) wanting to prove the innocence of Tim (Thwaites) saying it wasn't Tim's fault but the evil magic of a mirror that was in the house. She gets the mirror, puts it back, and brings in Tim to witness what happens, only for the evil of the mirror to once again grab ahold of them.
As I noted, this film plays with a lot of the same conventions of ghost stories. It'll go with the creepy noises, the simple jump scares, all the usual tricks, but it uses them in new and interesting ways that makes them fresh and interesting again. Much of that comes from the power of the mirror itself, an undefined evil that doesn't rely on the usual conventions (like religion) to explain its evil. Instead it simply plays with the minds of its victims, toying like a cat batting at a mouse, letting Kaylie and Tim spin around in its web until it gets what it wants: murder.
Oculus is a thriller at its core, using tension to build to horror. But it, too, keeps the characters involved low that you're forced to invest in the stories of the family and learn about them. That's what makes the tragedies that follow so gut-wrenching and so good. Plus, there's a solid twist about how the mirror toys with its victims (which I won't spoil) that makes how the characters go through this tale, and their experiences they see, all the more interesting. This movie is a creepy blast because it's so tightly controlled and engineered. Absolutely one of the best horror films of recent memory.
The Lost Boys (1987)
And finally we come to the cool down, the last film of the playlist so that we can have some fun, enjoy a little gore, and then shake off the horror before the sun comes up. 1987's The Lost Boys is the perfect film for that role, a horror-comedy that still manages to act as an effective vampire film. It's best of all worlds in that regard, while still being an absolutely entertaining bit of schlock.
In the film we have Lucy Emerson (Dianne Wiest) and her two teenage sons, Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim). Out of work, Lucy takes her family to Santa Clara, CA, to live with her father, Grandpa (Barnard Hughes). Michael almost immediately falls in with the "wrong crowd", a group of biker toughs led by David (Keifer Sutherland), and before too long he's accidentally drunk David's blood and turned into a vampire. Once Sam realizes what happened it's up to him, and his friends the Frog Brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander), to find the undead and same the family, and the town of Santa Clara.
Coming out at the height of the careers for the Coreys, Haim and Feldman, The Lost Boys is a perfect distillation of what worked so well for those two actors. Silly and fun with just the right amount of cheese, this movie is absolutely powered by its all-star cast. Frankly, this film had an absolutely murderer's row of up-and-coming actors -- Sutherland, Patric, Haim and Feldman, plus Alex Winter too -- all putting in good, charismatic work to sell this silly film.
What also works, though, is that the movie understand its cheese but still finds ways to get good horror moments from the material. The whole last act is absolutely packed with vampire action, along with a ton of gore. This is a splatter-fest of epic proportions at times, all accented by a lot of fun action and comedy. This is a mega slice of 1980s cheese and it works so well, even all these years later. Better than the sequels that came out years later, this film delivers everything we want from horror-comedy.
And with that, go to bed! We'll see you again next year.