Even more Alternatively:
The Birds: Hitchcock’s thriller may not pack the punch that it used to but thanks some great ideas, strong performances, and inspired set pieces it can still work for an early Halloween viewing. Classic Halloween Scene: Tippi Hedren goes into the attic when every person watching knows she shouldn’t.
Black Christmas: The film generally believed to have started the slasher genre was fairly well critically received and features a host of well-known actors facing down a serial killer with a knife. It’s an interesting alternative to Halloween and one which follows similar lines, although the killer isn’t a superman behemoth. Not as scary today thanks to everything which has come since, but still something other than the usual fare. Classic Halloween Scene: Any of the phone calls, or the ending- who dunnit!?
Braindead: If you’re tired of watching The Evil Dead every year, why not go Down Under for an equally fun alternative. Before Peter Jackson took off his shoes and began prancing around The Shire he enjoyed putting zombie babies into blenders and running people over with lawn-mowers. If you want laughs, vomit inducing and filled scenes of orgy, cheesy music and acting, and more blood than has been spilled in New Zealand’s history, then Braindead (also known as Dead Alive) is for you. Classic Halloween Scene: We enter sitcom mode as Lionel tries host a perfectly normal social event while his dead/dying/zombifying mother attempts to eat her own ear.
Basket Case: Another 80s cult classic now, particularly potent if your sick of Evil Dead, The Thing, and Repo Man. Basket Case has a similar vibe and wonderfully shlocky effects that you just don’t see anymore. It was low-budget but successful enough to get 2 sequels. This tale of brotherly love deserves a viewing at Halloween. Classic Halloween Scene: When Belial visits Sharon for a mouth gift.
Cat People: This old timey hit is stool highly regarded by critics as one of the few horror movies which genuine artistic merit. But what do they know, we want to see blood and freaks, right? Basically telling us that foreigners and sex are evil, and that sex with foreigners is just about the worst thing you coul inflict upon yourself, this has an innate ability to make the flesh crawl. Classic Halloween Scene: The Swimming Pool
Carnival Of Souls: A glorious mix of sphincter tightening music, terrifying ideas and scenes (which were an influence on Romero and Lynch), and low-budget desire. This has more invention than many of the bigger films of the era and has only recently garnered some cult recognition. Classic Halloween Scene: The Man’s reflection.
Cube: Before Saw came Cube, a low-budget movie which spawned a host of sequels and centered on the idea of a maniacal genius who tortures a group of seemingly unrelated people with a host of insane devices. This never got the recognition it deserved, both as a precursor, but also as an excellent film. The fact that these people wake up trapped with no reason and no knowledge of how to escape (and soon no shoes) makes for effectively scary viewing in a Kafka-esque fashion. Classic Halloween Scene: The first death- we now know that everyone else is dire straits and death could come at any second.
Curse Of The Demon: A British, non Hammer film from the mid 20th Century. Not exactly a rarity, but rare in that it’s very good. Satanic weirdos, posh weirdos, witchcraft, prophecy, and enough quotes and imagery to make up an Iron Maiden album. Glorious black and white, eerie soundtrack, and potential madness lurking in the shadows. Classic Halloween Scene: Jumping through a window has never had as much impact.
Dead Of Night: An even Earlier British horror and notable both for being one of the first horror anthologies and for being kick ass. A mad ventriloquist sets the tone and is the archetypal version of the story. Ghost golfers, haunted mirrors, and even a festive Christmas tale all add up to a film for the whole family to huddle round the fire to. Classic Halloween Scene: When everything comes together.
Dead And Buried: A twisting video nasty with shocks, surprises, and some unexpected spins on the zombie sub genre. We deal with a number of violent murders (graphically shown) in a small town, mob justice, and Robert Englund. One that has slipped from the radar and should be brought kicking ad screaming into the modern living room. Classic Halloween Scene: A photographer meets a grisly end in the opening moments.
The Eyes Of Laura Mars: Probably the finest US Giallo film, this forgotten 1970s Carpenter penned thriller is full of twists and cheats, but it is the source material which get under the skin- a photographer whose violent images seem to lead to her witnessing the brutal slayings of people she knows. It’s a B-Movie idea but one which is played straight thanks to a tight script, great casting, and a clever director. It’s definitely a product of the 70s but if you can get your hands on it is sure to raise both nostalgic giggles and the hairs on your neck. Classic Halloween scene: When we see that the killer has come for Laura.
The Hitcher: One of the great underrated cult hits from the 80s, The Hitcher has scares, thrills, ambiguities, excellent pacing acting, and writing and some of the best car stunts ever filmed. Aside from the possible supernatural undertones this is a realistic tale of what could happen if you decide to be a good Samaritan on a dark, wet night. Rutger Hauer is the man here, commanding every scene he is in, but ably backed up by Leigh and Howell. There are gripping moments and that great hallmark of horror where you put yourself in the shaking boots of the tortured characters and ask what you would do, or wonder why the hell those on-screen are doing what they do. Classic Halloween Scene: The entire truck-girlfriend-snap scene is a wonderfully tense, brilliantly acted few minutes.
Henry; Portrait Of A Serial Killer: From one portrait of a maniac to another, but this time there are no stunts, no supernatural elements, no love, no humour, and certainly no happy endings. Henry is a serial killer, rapist, and well, that’s all you need to know. Any time you think there is a glimmer of humanity, it is ripped away by another cruel scene. McNaughton’s directing is assured, Rooker gives supreme portrayal, and the whole thing is so bleak, grim, and dirty that it will not make pleasant viewing- one to show for those ‘friends’ you don’t want to see again. Classic Halloween Scene: Although the entire film will leave you feeling dirty and ill, it’s that ‘pack your suitcase’ ending which really sticks in the memory.
Halloween V: Myers, Loomis, and Harris return after the shock ending of the previous film this is as direct a sequel as you’ll find in this series so could be considered as a double feature for your party. Ostensibly it’s the same old Michael vs teens with some sort of main girl chase plot thrown in, but thanks the performance of the young Harris, this is again raised above par. Yes there are plenty of kills to keep your group happy and just for a change we get another shock ending. We also interestingly, though perhaps pointlessly get further background for why Michael is the way he is which in itself provides some interesting discussion but at the end of the night this is 80s standard stabbing fare of higher quality than most.
The Hunger: Bowie is always scary on-screen, so that is reason enough to include any of his movies on an alternative horror movie marathon. The Hunger though is exclusively in the horror genre, but at the bottom is a sensual love story between a couple of aging vampires and a mortal sleep doctor. Like all good romance stories there is betrayal, hatred, sexual tension, and reliance. As Tony Scott’s first film it is highly stylized but lacks some finesse in the plot. Few vampire films have looked so good though, and few are so raw in their violent, honest depictions. Classic Halloween Scene: The Opening scene sets the tone of love, death, murder mingling together as we see how the couple stalk their prey.
The Innocents: Henry James’s The Turn Of The Screw is one of the most filmed novels of horror fiction, if not directly, then many elements of his story have been adapted. The Innocents is a fairly faithful re-telling of the story and one of the most successful. It may lack the punch which a modern audience is looking for, but if you like your horror filled with long corridors, big old houses, dark corners, and freaky children then this is for you. Thanks to a good lead performance from Kerr and an unsettling soundtrack, this still has its moments. Classic Halloween Scare: When we see the face of the antagonist appearing in the window- a stunt used in many films since but rarely bettered.
In The Mouth Of Madness: The nineties were not a great time for Carpenter- the undisputed Master of 70s and 80s horror seemed to hit a slump both critically and commercially. Never big with the critics, his fans deserted him as it appeared he was making more and more lackluster films- sequels, remakes, comedies. In The Mouth Of Madness is the best of his output this decade. Classic Halloween Scene: On the bus, look around when you wake up…
IT: It’s a long one, but a good one. If you plan to watch a movie a day rather than packing several into one party, then IT is a good choice, ideal for breaking up over a couple of days. Superbly acted by both young and adult casts and packed with some revolting moments which have stood the test of time so far, IT is the story of an evil force living in an all American town which rises up every 30 years to gorge on children. Our story focuses on a band of outcast kids who are being tormented by this creature which adults can’t see, and rather than waiting to be picked off they decide to go after it and destroy it. The story shows us in wonderfully nostalgic detail how the friends met and became a powerful group to face this evil, and how 30 years later when the disappearances start happening again, they reform to return home and finish what they started. Say what you will about that ending, but everything else here is a joy, from the music to the acting, to the adapted screenplay. This remains one of the best King adaptations. Classic Halloween Scene: Out of many, lets go for the rain-soaked opener with Georgie- once seen, never forgotten.
Jigoku: A visual feast, and one of the most extreme and well realised visions of Hell ever filmed. This isn’t the easiest to watch but is brimming with ideas and offers an opposing view to most Asian horror movies of today. Classic Halloween Scene: Any of the technicolour visions of hell are still nausiating and nightmare inducing.
Kwaidan: Another Japanese classic, this one ranking amongst the most highly regarded. The modern slow burning Asian horror movie pretty much stems from here, we have drawn out shots packed with tension, ghosts, long-haired freaks, and tonnes of foreboding. No horror marathon should be complete without an anthology tale. If you like J-Horror this should be top of the list. Classic Halloween Scene: All of the Snow Woman segment.
Land Of The Dead: Romero returns to the genre he invented and perfected with a big budget, all action zombie jamboree. The zombies have already seemingly overrun the world, while a group of survivors scratch out an existence in Pittsburgh. The rich live the high life whilst the poor live like rats on the streets, with some embarking outside the city on scavenger hunts. It’s a Rich vs Poor tale, but all the while the zombies are watching and learning. Good effects, good action, good gore, and a decent alternative to Romero’s earlier classics: Classic Halloween Scene: The Zombies coming out of the water and heading for the city is a cracker- you know someone’s about to have their intestinal cavity evacuated.
Misery: Yet another Stephen King tale, this one relying more on suspense and drama than gore and psychic weirdos. Almost like a Play, most of the action takes place between two characters in a couple of rooms although thanks to those actors, that story, and a strong director at the helm much of the horror is as immediate as a car crash. You know the story- writer gets hurt and is ‘rescued’ by biggest fan who just happens to be a murderous psychopath. It has held up well and neither the scares nor the plot have lost any of their power. Classic Halloween Scene: Its gots to be the sledgehammer scene.
Maniac Cop: This was always one which scared and intrigued me as a child- simply by looking at the VHS cover in my local store. Something about the name, the cover, the tagline, and the raft of sequels around it scared several bejeebuses out of me. I regard it more as an interesting twist on the action genre now but it’s still a nice one to pull out every so often as alternative Bruce film. Classic Halloween Scene: Maniac Cop pulls another victim through a window, 80s unstoppable killer style.
Phantasm: A series obsessed with death begins with the 1979 original featuring a young musicians investigations into a tonne of local deaths which leads him to the unsung horror icon The Tall Man. And his balls. Coscarelli’s film is inventive with its story, visuals, and gore, but it is the blending of fantasy and reality which makes us doubt what we see as real. Classic Halloween Scene: Entering the Mausoleum
Repulsion: The second Deneuve film on the list is arguably her finest moment as she plays a paranoid woman whose haunted memories and current paranoid delusions lead to withdrawal and murder. In career defining moments from Deneuve and Polanski, Replusion is the finest example of the psychological horror sub genre whose dream sequences are alarming and whose death scenes are still shocking. Classic Halloween Scene: The hand corridor.
Return Of The Living Dead: Another classic 80s mish mash featuring zombies, scares, laughs, punks, and BRAAAIIINNSS. Taking a more lighthearted approach, O’Bannon’s film follows most of the Romero rules but makes this a largely teen affair with the emphasis on fun. A big hit in the 80s the impact has been lessened by the many sequels. As horror comedies go though, this is at the top of the list. Classic Halloween Scene: A rainy graveyard, a girl, zombies.
Ring 2: A very good sequel although it does get bogged down with some science and explanation. With more jump scares than the first and another fingernail pulling finale, this sequel does justice to the original and expands on the mythology in often confusing ways. It’s great to see bit players in the first film take centre stage and even better to see most of the original cast make returns. The film largely focuses on Yoichi, the son of our heroes in the first film and his apparent psychic abilities. It seems his life is starting to mirror that of Sadako’s, and that the malevolent spirit has her eyes/mind set on him. Some great scares make this powerful viewing. Classic Halloween Scene: A traitorous journalist gets what’s coming to him.
Rosemary’s Baby: A good one for mum and dad to watch before bed, especially if either mum or dad has been ‘away’ recently more often than they usually are. What could they be doing? Working late? Out with friends? Having an affair? No, the most likely answer is that they’ve joined a Satanic cult and are harvesting your ovaries for the purpose of bringing about hell on earth. Watching this now there are actually some very funny moments- the more I think about it, the more I think Polanski did these on purpose. Polanski knows all about cults and their deadly seductive power- here they are portrayed as benevolent, wealthy, influential, and unavoidable, setting in motion that great cliché that ‘everybody’s in on it’. Farrow gives an unsteady performance which only begins to shine in the second half of the movie, while Cassavetes is his usually rampant, joking self. The old people next door are exactly as they should be. The dread, paranoia, and unease builds to the climax which starts off as unsettling, booms at the crib, and then becomes steadily more ridiculous. Thankfully the score helps to keep things grounded and nasty. Classic Halloween Scare: When Rosemary sees her baby for the first time. It’s all in the eyes.
The Ugly: Nothing says Halloween like murderous freaks butchering their way through an asylum. New Zealand continues its impressive horror output with this 1997 outing, which offers thrills both visceral and psychological. With lots of chat and lots of black blood, it’s an interesting alternative to throw out there to the more open-minded audience. Classic Halloween Scene: A few uncertain moments where Simon considers killing but doesn’t, but the best scene is likely when he is stalking his victim in a bathroom.
Zombie Flesh Eaters: Well, why not? If you can’t have some eye-gouging, zombie-chomping fun at Halloween, then you may as well be dead. This not-sequel to Dawn Of The Dead is a vastly inferior film, but still vastly enjoyable, and has enough gore, bad-acting, and boobs to yank guffaws from every drunken Halloween guest. And we even get the voodoo explanation for the outbreak, as well as seeing the various stages of zombiefication. Classic Halloween Scene: Any of the lovely kills of course, or the nicely dark ending, or of course the ever-popular splinter-to-eye scene. But for the sheer novelty of it, you have to appreciate the zombie versus shark scene.
Drag Me To Hell: Raimi returns to the genre where he first made his name, giving the fans an old-fashioned dose of scares, guts, and laughs. We see cultures collide as uppidy young Americans clash with decrepid old gypsy types, and a young woman has to contend with the fact that a curse on her head is growing more powerful, frightening, and deadly by the day. If she can’t lift the curse in a few days she will be dragged to hell. There are nice performances here but rather than the all out raucous joy of the Evil Dead series this is at times more camp, something which I cannot abide. There is an over-abundance of things going in or coming out of mouths, but the effects are wonderfully slimy and the sounds are booming enough to keep you on edge. It is the sudden bursts of energy which make this effective, all the while in the background that clock is steadily ticking down to the end. Classic Halloween Scene: Girl fight in a parking lot.