Let's Scare The Crap Out Of Ourselves
2018 Halloween Night Movie Marathon Playlist
It's that time of year again, the time to sit in your house with a group of friends, turn the lights down low, and watch a bunch of movies to scare the crap out of yourselves. You all do that, right? I'm not the only one? Well, if you're like me, then it's time to break the movies out and watch another round of great horror. And I'm here to help, with curated list of five horror movies sure to give you a grand Halloween night:
A classic of the slasher genre, the Halloween is regarded as a watershed event for horror cinema, reinventing and popularizing this genre of film. In the movie, a mental patient, Michael Myers, escapes from the institution years after murdering his sister. He's returned to his hometown, Haddonfield, an the anniversary of his crime, all so he can continue his murder spree. His first targets: teenager Laurie Strode and her friends.
Although later iterations of the series, as well as most slasher flicks after this, tried to cram in as many deaths as they could, the 1978 Halloween had a very spare level of murder -- five bodies total (if the new film is correct on that count). Instead of going for more and more kills and gore, the first film builds its horror through dread: glimpses of Michael (billed as "The Shape" in the credit) from behind trees or around corners; long moments in darkened rooms; and many, many instances of building scares not paying off immediately, all so the tension never lets up. While many slasher films came along after Halloween, very few learned the lessons of this first movie.
Halloween makes a great opener for our playlist as it allows the tension of the night to build. Sure, the kills may not be as elaborate as some later slasher flicks -- Michael is a very basic killer, preferring knives over costumed antics, making him very different from a killer like Freddy -- but there's nothing like the creeping dread of this first film to build a scary start to your night.
Okay, now I know not everyone is in the same camp with me on this flick. The body count is fairly low in this film, as it's less of a slasher than a haunting-slasher hybrid. The killer, though, is effectively played by horror icon Tony Todd, and the movie does a solid job of playing around with the lead character's head. Trauma is as much a factor as gore and scare in Candyman.
In the film, Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is researching urban legends which she comes across the local Chicago tale of the Candyman: sort of like Bloody Mary, saying his name into a mirror five times will summon him. Once summoned, the Candyman kills whoever has summoned him, using a hook (jammed into the bloody stump of his arm) as his weapon of choice. Helen, of course, attempts to summon him, but when the killer fails to appear, Helen then decides to use the story as a basis for his thesis, explaining away the myth of it. However, after series of killings seemingly gets attributed to a random gang member than the actual Candyman, the lurking horror himself (played by Tony Todd) appears and begins to tear Helen's entire life apart (along with a few people in the process).
This is another slow-burn of a film, although the scares come a little more quickly, and build stronger. This film will help you heighten the tension of your marathon, and the big scares at the end will ratchet up the screams (and laughter, because everyone laughs afterwards). Plus, the ending of the film just so good. This is a messed up movie that finished well and leads nicely into our next choice.
Night of the Living Dead (1990)
What's a horror movie marathon without at least one zombie film? Barely scary at all, that's for sure, so obviously we had to have one here. While I struggled to choose between Night of the Living Dead and Return of the Living Dead 3 (the latter of which has its own messed up charms), I erred on a more classic zombie film for this playlist. Besides, Tony Todd is in this movie, too, and I couldn't pass up the chance for a double-feature of his work in this marathon.
If you've seen the original Night of the Living Dead, you'll be familiar with the story for this movie. In the movie, Barbara (Patricia Tallman) and her brother (guy who is destined to die five minutes in) go to visit their recently deceased mother's grave. There, though, they are confronted by a zombie who chases both of them and kills the brother (as I said). Barbara runs off to a nearby farmhouse where she meets Ben (Tony Todd), along with a number of other survivors, all holed up in this farmhouse as the only safe place for miles against the zombie invaders. There they have to barricade themselves in and try to survive the night... of the living dead.
While I know some purists will balk at my including the 1990 remake over the 1968 original, this is my preferred version of the film. While the original is a noble effort, and very effective at times, I like a few of the changes in the plot from the original. Firstly, Barbara was always just a useless waste of space in the 1968 version and, when she finally dies halfway in, you don't miss her at all. Barbara is better written in the 1990 version, and given a better story, along with more agency, making her a much more effective character to build the film around.
Ben was always a good character, and having Tony Todd play him in this version is even better. Plus, some changes to the end of the film make the conclusion of his story more satisfying for me without diluting some of the political undertones of the overall plot. If anything, I feel like the whole end sequence of the film better reflects the actual horror of the current state of humanity (in this modern world we live in), which is the exact kind of message Romero really loved to put into his zombie films. Plus, this uses Romero's original script (with changes, of course), and had Romero's blessing, so it's not like this is a sacrilegious remake (unlike some of the other versions of this film out there).
Night 1990 is a great zombie movie to throw on our play list. Good scares, good gore, plenty of zombie action, and a dark ending to help propel us through the middle stretch of this marathon.
Now that it's getting late into the night, we have to change up our programming a bit. Since we already gone hardcore into the gore and dread, it's time to punctuate the playlist with some laughs (the occasional spike of humor only helps to heighten the scares in a horror film). Our choice for something a little funnier is the classic weirdo horror film, Re-Animator.
In the movie we're first introduced to Herbert West (and ever enjoyable Jeffery Combs), a medical student who constantly seems to get mixed up in horrifying accidents wherever he studies. Having just moved to Massachusetts to study at Miskatonic U., West soon finds a place to stay and a new roommate: fellow med student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbot). Dan soon finds out why Herbert West is always kicked out of schools, though, when he stumbles across the scientists experiments with a glowing green re-agent, a formula that can bring the dead back to life. Dan gets mixed up in Herbert's experiments, and it's not long before everything goes horribly, completely off the rails.
Let's not mince words: Re-Animator is a deeply strange and screwed up movie. Much of the charm of it comes from Jeffery Combs who plays Herbert West with utter aplomb. Some of the best moments in this movie (and its follow ups) are in West's little moments, times where he sees an experiment and just can't stop himself from pushing things one step further than they should go just to see what would happen. He's like a twisted, demented Frankenstein, and while the various bodies and monsters he resurrects may be the monsters, West is the real villain of the piece.
Pop Re-Animator into your marathon to bring on some laughs along with a good number of scares. Just do yourself a favor and avoid the R-rated cut of the movie. The X-rated cut is more disturbing, of course, but it also wisely cuts a really dumb psychic-mesmerism plot line that had to be added back in to fill time in the sanitized cut.
Dracula (1931, En Espanol)
And finally, it's time to come down from the scares and bring the evening to a close. To handle that job we go back to the safe embrace of thee classic horror films from the Universal Monsters. These films aren't scary in the same way as modern horror (mostly due to the old cinema codes of the era), but there are a few gems that are worth watching, especially as a delightful, calming conclusion to our night of horrors.
Our selection here is the 1931 Universal Dracula, although not the version you might be used to. No, while the Bela Lugosi-led film is decent, there was a second version filmed and released that year, a Spanish language version with completely different cast and production staff, this is superior in every way.
If you've seen the English version of the film then you know the story: both films use similar script, sharing all the same basic details of the plot: Dracula comes to England to hunt and kill, and it's up to a select group of men to stop him before he spreads his vampiric plague far and wide across the island nation. What the Spanish Dracula has over the original version, though, is a better cast backed by a better director. Performances are more real, more emotional, and everything is filmed in long, flowing scenes. The English version feels like a play that was translated directly to the screen (very stagy) -- which, to be fair, it was based on a stage play, so that makes sense -- but the Spanish version shakes off those trappings to feel like a real cinematic work of art.
Bring your evening to a close with a stunner of classic cinema. Just bear in mind that you're going to have to read subtitles -- if nothing else, this will help to lure a few of your viewers into the comfy confines of sleep while the rest of you enjoy a superior vampiric experience.