My Halloween Viewing Highlights 2020
As we all know the Halloween season is fully upon us and that means horror films should constantly be onscreen. However, this genre has been around literally since the dawn of cinema so there is no shortage of films and TV specials to choose from. For 2020 as with all other years, I watched scary movies until my brain melted and these are the ones which proved to be the highlights of my year.
Frankenstein (1931) & Halloween: These two films are annual staples of my Halloween season viewing. The Universal Monsters masterpiece featuring Colin Clive and Boris Karloff played a large role in igniting my love of all things horror. A dreary and gothic retelling of the literary classic that still holds up today. In 1978, John Carpenter forever left his mark on the holiday and the horror genre as a whole. Taking a simple story of an escaped killer stalking a babysitter on Halloween night and turning it into a masterpiece of terror. Both of these films have left enormous footprints on the horror genre and are regarded as classics of cinema as a whole.
Dracula (1931) & Horror of Dracula: When it comes to the most iconic vampire in moviedom two men are noted for being the best to don the cape, Bela Lugosi and Sir Christopher Lee. This year I got to see both versions of the Count do what they do best in both the Universal and Hammer versions of the Bram Stoker story. In the first supernatural based film in American cinema, Lugosi defined Dracula for generations to come with his foreign mystique and dark charisma. Beginning in the 1958, Lee would bear his fangs and portray the most infamous vampire in fiction as a being of pure evil. Lee’s performance also benefitted from working alongside Peter Cushing as a perfect foil in Van Helsing. For decades, fans have debated which one was better, but in the end both actors were nothing short of fantastic.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge: Indoor movie theaters may still be closed, but the awesome people at my local video store did not let that deter them from hosting an outdoor viewing for their LGBTQ Slasher Night. After moving in the old home of Nancy Thompson, Jesse inadvertently reawakens Freddy. The sweater wearing slasher uses Jesse as a means to continue his ways. This forces Jesse to turn to his new friend Grady in the hopes of overcoming the new evil which has rooted itself in his life.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch: As far as John Carpenter and Debra Hill were concerned Halloween II marked the end of the Michael Myers/Laurie Strode/Dr. Loomis saga. From here on out the plan was to do an anthology series with each film centered around the holiday. A doctor and his companion discover that the Silver Shamrock company which makes popular Halloween masks (and super catchy commercial jingles) are clearly up to something. It would seem as though their charming CEO Conal Cochran hopes to pay tribute to his Celtic pagan ancestry by bringing about a bloodbath. The anthology formula only lasted for this one film as Halloween III was viewed as a flop. Luckily, modern audiences have rediscovered this strange gem giving it new life. Check out my Review HERE
The Howling: In 1981, fan favorite filmmaker Joe Dante wanted to find a way to modernize the werewolf mythology. The result was one of the coolest horror movies of the 80’s. After a dangerous encounter with a serial killer who was something more than human, daring reporter Karen heads to “the Colony” for some rest and relaxation. She begins to suspect something is going on in this community and soon discovers the people here have embraced their lycanthropy. Dante includes plenty of Easter Eggs for horror fans, and the Howling also includes some of the best work from make-up fx legend Rob Bottin.
Dead of Night: I will never hide the fact that I absolutely adore this chilling anthology classic from the UK. In a cottage away from the world, a group of strangers gather together, but one man among them knows each of these people, because he has seen them in his nightmares. As the night passes and they try to piece together what ties them together they begin to exchange tales of their experiences with the supernatural. The stories told range from the eerie (“The Christmas Party”) to the amusing (“The Golfer’s Story”) to the downright nightmarish (“The Ventriloquist’s Dummy”). Easily one of Britain’s greatest horror films which deserves to be more widespread in the US.
The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror I: Before it simply became an excuse for the Simpsons to simply satirize generic movies, Treehouse of Horror was an annual celebration of all things spooky. Hiding away in Bart’s treehouse while a terrified Homer eavesdrops, the three Simpson children take turns trying to scare each other with their own spins on terrifying tales. A haunted house has to cope with hat it would be like to the this dysfunctional family living in it. Kang and Kodos make their first appearance in a fun Twilight Zone riff. It all ends with a classic Simpsons bit where James Earl Jones narrates their retelling of the Raven by Edgar Allan Poe.
Haxan: Easily one of the most terrifying movies not just of the Silent Age but also of all time. Throughout history, the idea of those practicing witchcraft has led to panic and fear. This 1922 film chronicles the rituals practitioners of the dark arts engage in as well as the historical accounts of witch hunters who tortured and killed those accused of committing these blasphemies. During the long ago time (last year) I got to see this chilling silent masterpiece in an actual theater accompanied by a live metal band which was one of the greatest moviegoing experiences of my life. Unfortunately, that did not happen this year, but I still got to enjoy this film.
Tales from the Darkside: Many live in a sunlit world they believe to be reality, but there is unseen by most…..an underworld, a place just as real but nit as brightly lit. I am an unabashed sucker for horror anthology shows from the Twilight Zone to Tales from the Crypt. This brainchild of the great George A. Romero is a show which which holds a special place in my heart. This Halloween season I decided to rewatch this fusion of fun horror with social commentary. There are so many fun episodes from a gold-digging wife discovering a secret room to a powerful phone answering machine.
Masque of the Red Death: One of the finest films from the Merchant of Menace, Vincent Price, and writer/director Roger Corman, became very topical this Halloween season. In a land ravaged by a the pandemic of the Red Death, the nefarious Prince Prospero has decided instead of helping others deal with the chaos, he and his cronies will hide away in his castle. Supposedly safe behind these walls they will engage in a loud and opulent party with Prospero at the head of the table, all the while the commoners are left battling the Red Death. What the prince and the other revelers do not realize is that soon they will have to face a reckoning.
The Ghoul: A rarely seen gem from one of the great titans of terror Boris Karloff. Following a contract dispute with Universal, the actor briefly returned to England where he made this flick. Teaming with frequent co-star Ernest Thesiger, Karloff plays prominent Egyptologist Professor Morlant who on his death bed has become obsessed with the power of the god Anubis. After his passing the jewel which connected him to the Egyptian god is stolen and Morlant is resurrected to find it and kill anyone in his way. The Ghoul is a film which was once saved from total extinction and is slowly building notoriety.