Turn the Lights Off and Let the Monsters In
2019 Halloween Night Movie Marathon Playlist
The season is upon us, a time to darkens our rooms and put something scary on our tellies. Last year we had a selection of five fantastic movies to watch during the evening, but we can't just watch the same things year after year. I mean, okay, I could, but it's also good to freshen things up. So allow us to present our second annual Halloween Night Movie Marathon Playlist:
Fright Night (2011)
We begin tonight with a movie to get us in the mood for scares but won't necessarily frighten those friends that can't handle true horror. This first tasting gives us some thrills and chills but stays firmly on the comedy side of horror comedy. A remake of the 1985 original, this film stars Anton Yelchin and David Tennant as two people thrust into trying to save Nevada (and, really, the rest of the world) from a horde of evil vampires. It's fun, it's breezy, and it has a few good moments to make any horror fan happy.
It's not a scary film (except for a few brief moments), instead building a good ambiance of light chills. That's because David Tennant is an absolute card and has a ball deflating the horror in every scene with his innate David Tennant-ness. While some might say that's a bad thing -- scary movies should be scary and not have someone cracking jokes and being a card the whole time -- I think it's an advantage here. The original Fight Night wasn't a scary movie either, more of an amusing lark exploring the idea of "what if you neighbor was a vampire", and this film follows suit. It does it with style, panache, and a whole lot of fun.
Plus, let us not ignore the fabulous job of Colin Farrell as the vampire. Farrell isn't an actor that impressed me before this film, largely showing up in disposable Hollywood fare (like SWAT, which I enjoy for how dumb it is, and the Ben Affleck Daredevil, which is awful). I didn't expect much from the actor here, but he honestly nails it as the master vampire. He plays the character like a caged animal, always ready to slink around and pounce if only he had the chance. He invests so hard in this role and it really carries the film. Yelchin and Tennant are fantastic, but I think this movie works because of Farrell.
The movie didn't do well in theaters, but I think this is the perfect time to give it a reevaluation and enjoy it's many charms as our amuse bouche to the Halloween proceedings.
Now that we've gotten everyone settled in with some delightful horror camp, it's time to really ratchet things up. For our next course we're delving into the back catalog for a bit for a low-budget sci-fi horror film that might have flown under the radar for most of you. I found Cube when I worked at a video store and while most of the clerks there dismissed it I was throughly entertained by its many charms. Its weird and different and a movie that works because of it's strange concept.
In Cube six strangers wake up in a room they don't recognize, a cube with no windows. Exploring around they discover that this room connects to six other cube-shaped rooms, each its own doors leading to other cube rooms. Oh, and many of the rooms have traps in them that will kill the explorers if they aren't careful. Soon the wanderers figure out that the cubes are moving, that they each have their own specific designation, and, if only they could figure out the math beneath it all, they could find a way to get to the exit. And maybe they can before tensions rise, they turn on each other, or they all die.
If you never realized you needed a horror movie that revolved around math, you need to watch Cube and see what you were missing. This film was shot on a tiny budget which actually works to its advantage as the claustrophobic sets and minimalist design helps the film focus on the math, and the scares. And, yeah, the movie has plenty of the latter. It opens with a man that gets trapped in a room with a device that quickly cuts him into tiny cubes (a death later duplicated in Resident Evil to lesser effect), and then proceeds to give us all kinds of delightfully gory deaths as the film plays out. But the real trick of the film is getting us to invest in the razor edge tensions of the explorers, their fight for survival in a maze they don't understand where any turn could kill them. It's brilliant.
Although it was followed by two lackluster sequels, Cube still holds up as a low-budget masterwork. It has a solid concept, a cool setting, and it delivers on the horror.
28 Weeks Later (2007)
The first of two sequels I'm going to suggest for today's marathon, 28 Weeks Later doesn't require you to watch the previous movie to understand what's going on. In fact, I really think seeing the first film, 28 Days Later is a hindrance as that film stars an entirely different cast with a different scope to the story its trying to tell. That film was all about three survivors living in the early days of a zombie outbreak (well, okay, rage-infected humans outbreak, but same thing really) while this film explores how society could rebuild after the chaos (and what happens when it all falls apart again).
The film follows two kids, older sister Tammy (Imogen Poots) and younger brother Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton), and they're brought back into a colony of British survivors. The remnants of the UK government has been attempting a re-population once the zombie virus ended (all the humans died off) and now its time for kids to move back in as well, staying with their father Don (Robert Carlyle). After being cooped up for a while, though, the kids sneak out of the complex and head over to their old house to find some of their stuff. But there they find not only their old belongings but also the mother they thought they were dead, Alice (Catherine McCormack). She's infected, it seems, but also untouched by the rage, making her a special case. She's visited by Don, who kisses her, but while Alice was immune to the disease inside her, Don was not. Suddenly he's infected by the rage and the whole cycle starts anew.
The concept of 28 Weeks Later does have elements of other films in the genre -- a dash of Dawn of the Dead, and bit of Land of the Dead -- but the scope and setup help to set the film apart. Plus, the film features some truly fantastic kills and awesome scares. It commits to being a monster movie and goes as far as it can to be the best monster movie it can think of. Violent and scary and never-ending with its need to thrill, 28 Weeks Later is a winner. It might not be all that related to the original film but that just means you can enjoy this film for its own charms.
And, amusingly, this is the second film in the marathon to feature Imogen Poots, so all those fans of the actress can mark to films off at once. Her name really is fun to say.
Evil Dead II (1987)
Another sequel for the marathon but, much like 28 Weeks Later, you don't need to see the original The Evil Dead to enjoy Evil Dead II. Hell, the sequel basically recaps the important bits of the first film just so you're caught up on the (admittedly threadbare) plot of the sequel. Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) head to a cabin in the woods for a weekend away from the world. While there they play a tape that contains the recitations of an ancient text that raises evil Kandarian demons. Suddenly the young lovers are attacked by evil, demon possess each of them in turn, and things only get worse from there. Ash is abused, over and over, as the demons continue coming for him, all in an attempt to drive him mad. But, what Ash realizes is that he's really the only person capable of fighting off the army of the Kandarian Deadites.
Plot isn't the focus of this movie, though. Really, the whole point of watching an Evil Dead movie is to see Bruce Campbell get abused over and over and over again. Director Sam Raimi had a field day putting his friend through hell, making him do all kinds of slapstick stunts to sell the chaos and carnage Ash was experiencing. And Campbell was game for it, putting in one of the best physical performances I think I've ever seen in a low-budget horror film. Seriously, watch the sequence where Ash's hand gets possessed and he has to fight it off and you'll see a master class in physical stunts and gags. Campbell was absolutely brilliant in this movie.
Of course, his physicality isn't the only reason to watch the film. Evil Dead II is famous for its willingness to go anywhere, to o any fucked up thing for a scare, creating all kinds of creepy shots and effects to sell the demons coming out of the woodwork. The film, made in 1987, features plethora of practical effects to see the blood, gore, and kills as the demons quickly pick off anyone and everyone stupid enough to come into the cabin. It s film that gleefully murders everyone, causing them to then get possessed by demons so that Ash then has to fight them, get abused by them, and then kill them in a gout of gore. It's amazing.
While the first film might has setup this movie, and the sequel is loved for it's goofy fun, it's really Evil Dead II that sets the bar for gleeful, campy horror.
I unabashedly love this movie with absolutely no irony whatsoever. As our final film for our five-film marathon, we'll finish out the night with a classic of vampire horror (much like we did last year). While last year's selection is a widely known classic, the 1931 Dracula done in Spanish, Blacula is a film that's mostly joked about at this point. And I get that, from it's silly title to the overt, campy Blaxploitation setting, this film will feel positively dated for modern audiences. And yet, that's part of what I love it so much.
The film is a product of a specific era, sure, but that's why its so fun to revel in it. Watching a tall and brooding vampire, played to perfection by William Marshall, stalk around the city streets of 1970 Los Angeles, visiting night clubs and stalking victims, is fun because of its setting. Sure, it's a little silly, especially when the Van Helsing stand-in Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala) comes in as he's just so overtly 1970s its hard to not laugh, but the movie is earnest in its desire to tell its story.
And the story is great, a Dracula film in all but name. It's a love story about our vampire, Blacula, searching for the reincarnation of his lost wife, Luva (Vonetta McGee), and taking out anyone that gets in his way. It's essentially Dracula '92 20 years before that movie was even made. And, arguably, this film with its smaller budget and 1970s trappings told that story better. I love this film while I hate the 1992 movie -- this one is earnest and well made, while that one is stupid and poorly acted. I'll watch Blacula anytime.
So take a chance on this 1970s treasure to finish out your night. You won't be disappointed.