The Creeps and Crawlies Come Calling
2023 Halloween Night Movie Marathon Playlist
As the Halloween season approaches once more, it's time to sit yourself in the dark and enjoy a series of horrors to delight and terrify. This is our annual list of horror films to watch on the 31st of the month (even if we did miss doing one of these in 2022, and then when we remembered it was just too late to cover for it), and we bring you five more films to fill this long, scary night:
We start with our traditional warm up, a film to get you in the mood without being so scary that we blow the mood for the rest of the night. It's important to build in, to let the tension grow. As such, our first selection isn't a traditional horror but, instead, a tense action thriller. Of course I speak of the fifth film in the Predators franchise, 2022's Prey, a film most would argue is the best of the series since 1987's Predator, if not the absolute best of the run.
Honestly, I would make the case that Prey is better than Predator. The 1987 action-horror film is great, make no mistake, but it's built on a foundation of parody. It wants to suck you in, to make you think you're watching one of the many 1980s action films of the period, with big, beefy dudes with even bigger guns proving they're the best. It gets its thrills from seeing these archetypes of '80s action get destroyed, often in gory fashion, but an alien from outer space. It's awesome in its own way.
What makes Prey work better, at least for me, is that it strips away the pretense. It takes the same basic idea -- warriors out on a hunt -- but it doesn't play it for parody. Set in 1719 in the Great Plains, the film finds female warrior, Naru (Amber Midthunder), trying to prove herself ready for the hunt when all the males of her Comanche tribe say she's not capable of being a hunter. Of course, they all get taken down by a Predator and, in the end, its Naru who is the only one actually capable of the kill.
Filmed with large landscapes and quiet contemplation, Prey focuses in on Naru and her world and really lets us live in the moment with her. It's a focused, tight, thrilling story that is respectful to the Comanche people. And it rocks as an action-thriller. It's great on so many levels, and you don't have to think, not once, "this is a parody of the films of an era." The best of the Predator films because it knows exactly what it needs to be and tackles it with aplomb.
30 Days of Night (2007)
I'm sure I will get a lot of hate for this choice, but honestly, this film is better than most people say. Released in 2007, 30 Days of Night is an adaptation of 2002 comic (which was, itself, originally pitched as a film before moving to the printed page), the film sees a town in Alaska that normally gets 30 uninterrupted days of night every winter. That, of course, makes it the perfect spot for a pack of vampires to invade. No sunlight, a bunch of people snowed in, no way to escape? Sounds like a buffet of vampire delights.
When it was released the comic was well received. The film, not so much. It likely broke even, making $75 Mil against a $30 Mil budget, and with home video sales and licensing it's possible the studios involved even saw a little bit of profit from the film. Still, reactions from audiences and critics were unkind, and the film was quickly forgotten soon after its release.
Well, forgotten by anyone not like me. I love vampires fiction and 30 Days of Night, the film, is a solid adaptation of the comic. I could see how some fans may not have liked the film, taking what was a splashy and, at times, impressionistic horror comic and turning it into a live-action film. However, I actually appreciated that; the art style of the comics was, at time, pretty ugly. It also wasn't always the easiest read. The film tightens the script, makes everything easier to follow, and presents a pretty solid adaptation of the horror scenario.
Best of all it does actually have solid scares. The first act builds the tension, the second act find the gory release as the vampires invade, and then the last act guides the survivors through an escape scenario. It's tense, its taught, and it has everything a vampire could love. It deserves to be on this list.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
Switching from vampires over the werewolves, we also shift gears into a different kind of horror: body horror. Ginger Snaps is about two teen sisters, Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katharine Isabelle). When Ginger is attacked by what seems to be a wolf, she suddenly finds herself going through changes. Female changes at first, and then far more horrifying ones. She pushes away her closest ally, her sister, but Brigitte still wants to save her sister, whatever the cost. Adulthood is coming, and it can be scary... especially for a werewolf.
Ginger Snaps is an odd horror film. It goes from darkly sardonic black humor into full on body horror over the span of 90 minutes, and it drags you along for the ride. Starting with characters that feel like they were rejected from an after-school special, the story blends its coming of age tale with lycanthrope fiction to create something different. It is dark and twisted, but the emotional core at the center is what sells it.
It's the dynamic between Brigitte and Ginger that drives the film. While this is a coming of age story, the bond between the two gives the film its heart, such that when Brigitte sees Ginger slowly changing into something she doesn't recognize, it tears her apart. I liken it to the 1986 The Fly, where the bond between journalist Ronnie and scientist Seth ups the horror as she watches him change into a monster. Like that, but for teen girls.
This isn't the scariest movie on our list this year, but it does work as a good change of pace from 30 Days of Night into our next film. And it still has plenty of scares and chills to give to its audience. It's a damn fine werewolf film that benefits from all its themes and its emotional core. Good for a night of movie watching, and especially good on Halloween.
Now we move on to the scariest film of the list for today, and it's one many horror fans probably saw last year: Smile. Based on a short film, this movie came out and became something of a surprise hit, raking in an impressive $217.4 Mil on a $17 Mil budget, a win by anyone's metrics. And, when you watch it, you can see just why it did so well: it's an unnerving and disturbing, nasty little piece of work from start to finish.
When psychiatrist Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon), is called in to consult on a patient that has just come to the psych ward, she meets Laura Weaver (Caitlin Stasey). Laura is ranting about people following her, the terror she feels from the people around her. Smiling people. That doesn't sound so bad, the psychiatrist says, but Laura notes its the way they smile, the fact that she can't sleep or be alone or be with people because that smile follows her everywhere. They she goes mad and kills herself right in front of the doc, in a bloody, over the top manner.
Suddenly Rose starts to see the same things Laura did. People smiling, but not in a kind way. The smile gets into her head, and she starts behaving weirdly, acting crazy even when she doesn't mean to. Did the violence before her cause her to go 'round the bend, or was there something more at play? Is there something pursuing here, leaving a trail of bodies in its wake? And if so, how can she survive long enough to get rid of the beast. She can't trust herself, or anyone around her, as the smile keeps coming for her.
When you hear the term "smile" you do think of something nice, and kind. But Smile shows just how disturbing and unnerving a smile can be. The smiles Rose sees aren't nice, they aren't friendly. They're evil, twisted and wrong. The way the film messes with her character, and its own iconography, makes for a truly unsettling watch. And the thing is that it's well thought out, with a mythos behind the scenes that really powers the film. This is a disturbing watch with a lot going on for it, right from the cover of the box. It works so well.
Late at night you need one really solid, scary movie to keep you up into the darkest hours. For our marathon, Smile is absolutely the way to go.
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014)
Finally we reach the cool down movie for the marathon. I try, each year, to end on a funny note, something to pull you out of the dread we've settled into with this series of horror film, and this year may be an unusual choice. It's an Australian zombie exploitation flick from 2014, but it has a wicked sense of black humor, and the movie mines a lot of fun from its weird concept. The film is Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead and it has all the Aussie action you could ever want.
Described as Mad Max meets Dawn of the Dead, that's not an entirely bad descriptor. It finds our hero, Barry (Jay Gallagher), forced onto the roads of the Outback to search for his sister, Brooke (Bianca Bradey), the only family he has left after his wife and daughter get caught up in a sudden zombie apocalypse. Brother in search of his sister in a monster riddles world.
But, thing is, it's also a distinctly Australian movie. Not just in the accents, of course, but in the construction of the film. It's directorial style does feel like Mad Max, with speed ups, quick cuts, and a lot of action. It also has a ton of silly moments, like when the heroes discover that the zombies give off petrol fumes during the day, meaning they can be used as full-tanks for cars. Watching dudes ride around it tricked out buggies with zombies strapped to their roll cages feels somehow like something you could only get from Australia.
This is an odd film, a funny and strange movie that does its own thing and has a lot of fun in the process. It is scary at times, with good zombie action, but it is far more comedic than scary most of the time. It's a fun action film, a strange zombie movie, and a delightful Aussie experience. The perfect way to end the marathon with a smile on your face and a tank full of zombie gas.