During my film school days, I spent a lot of time holed up in my dorm room, watching movies. This, I suppose, wasn't the best use of my student loan money. Although, to be fair, a lot of that student loan money did go to renting movies from the video store across the street. The people who ran that video store (whose name I've long forgotten) knew they were across the street from a university with a film program and stocked their shelves accordingly. This was during the later days of VHS, and before film school, growing up in Cheyenne, WY, restricted my access to a lot of movies I'd later discover while attending MSU, so I suppose TECHNICALLY any student loan money I blew at that video store DID go toward my film education! Anyway . . .
I spent a lot of time watching movies in my dorm room, and I'd always invite my friends over for mini-movie-marathons. One Halloween, a friend and I spent the entire day watching nothing but horror flicks, only taking breaks for meals and bathroom runs. I remember we started the run in the morning with a few episodes of "The Muppet Show" (one featuring Vincent Price and one featuring Alice Cooper), and we wrapped with I Was A Teenage Werewolf.
Some of the other movies we watched that day/night are still movies I'd watch during the Halloween season, whether I'm doing an in-for-the-long-haul movie marathon or just looking for a movie to pop in after work, before work, to watch on my iPod on the way into work, when I should be sleeping, eating, etc., etc., etc. Granted, I watch a lot of horror movies during the lesser months of the year, too, but this Thursday Thirteen are the 13 horror films that immediately put me in a Halloween mood (not because they're specifically set during Halloween or even reference Halloween - they just get my spooky juices going more than most other horror flicks).
In no particular order . . .
1. Prince of Darkness (dir. John Carpenter). The score and the location are enough to put me in the proper Halloween mood. Sure, the performances, the storytelling and the moustaches have grown a little dated over the years, but that's going to happen with any film. Even though the film is set in the 80s and the film refers to 1999 as "the future," Prince of Darkness still delivers me the goods no matter how many times I watch it.
2. Dawn of the Dead (dir. George A. Romero). It's a zombie film. I'm a zombie guy. Go figure. But why Dawn... over Day... (my current favorite of Romero's films)? Every once and a while, a sense of playfulness creeps into Dawn of the Dead (and I'm not just talking about the pie fight), and while I do like a sense of overwhelming dread in a lot of my horror media, Halloween can call for a little bit of fun, too.
3. Neon Maniacs (dir. Joseph Mangine). Two words. Guilty. Pleasure. Look . . . I'm painfully aware of this film's faults, but back in junior high school when I had to sneak around and record horror movies off the USA Network on the TV in the basement where my parents didn't monitor what I watched nearly as much, this became one of the movies I watched over and over AND OVER again. Maybe because I had to sneak around to watch it when I was a kid, I still have a sense of "I-shouldn't-be-watching-it" whenever I put this DVD in now, and a touch of the forbidden is more than welcome during my Halloween.
4. Phantasm (dir. Don Coscarelli). More mood, more atmosphere, a touch of manufactured nostalgia . . . and The Tall Man. I love the entire Phantasm franchise, but the first film is my favorite this time of year. The score fits the season so well, and the slow-motion images of The Tall Man huffing the cool air of Reggie's ice cream truck . . . ? Somehow, it's a perfect fit.
5. Midnight Movie (dir. Jack Messitt). A film that should not be watched is the device that gets this story rolling. Sure, it treads a little bit on Demons territory this way, but instead of going with . . . um . . . demons . . . Midnight Movie becomes a slasher film with a fun mix of characters. As for the slasher himself? His signature weapon is a little goofy, but a lot unique, which helps to make this movie more interesting to watch than just-another-slasher. The film doesn't become too self-aware like a lot of slashers post-Scream, despite the film's strong film-geek presence. (That reminds me . . . I need to pick Midnight Movie up on Blu-ray at some point soon!)
6. Anything with a host. This could be an anthology movie with a built-in horror host or a movie presented by a horror host (ala Midnite Mausoleum, Count Gore De Vol or any of the programming over at The Monster Channel).
7. The Monster Squad (dir. Fred Dekker). I wanted to see this movie SOOOOO bad when it first hit theaters in 1987, but it was not to be. I rented it on VHS numerous times, and eventually bought it on tape for myself. Of course now, I have it on Blu-ray. I love this movie. The kids that make up the "Monster Squad" were the kind of kids I wanted to have as friends growing up, or at least go trick-or-treating with! (I used to spend time in school drawing pictures of monsters - I just never had a Mrs. Carlsen to contend with.) Duncan Regehr's Dracula is one of the most underrated portrayals of the vampire, and the moment in the film in which he's walking through a handful of cops to get to Phoebe never fails to send a chill up my back.
(A few years ago, I decided I needed to have the song "Rock Until You Drop" on my iPod. At the time - and I don't know if this is still the case - there wasn't an official CD release of this song, so I did some Google'ing, found the website of the song's producer, Michael Sembello, and sent him an email. I asked him if he was aware of an official release of the song and told him I'd be happy to buy the CD. His response? He sent me an email with an .mp3 attachment of the song.)
8. Plan 9 From Outer Space (dir. Edward D. Wood, Jr.). Yeah, I know. Plan 9.... It's a rather incompetent film, but its heart more than shines through. Besides, I've visited haunted houses with worse production values. Normally, I don't like to mix my aliens and outer space and sci-fi stuff in with my horror for Halloween, but . . . I mean, come on. It's Plan 9 From Outer Space!
9 and 10. Any of the Universal monster films from 1939 on. Now don't get me wrong - I have a lot of love and respect for Universal's Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. But let's be honest - as great as the 30s Universal horror films are, this was also a learning period for the Universal Monster Machine. With Son of Frankenstein, Universal hit their stride, and while the later House of... do have some rough edges, they're still fun monster romps.
10. Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (dir. Seth Holt). Hammer Films historian and author Marcus Kearns said, "A Mummy film is a proto-slasher film." That makes a mummy film sound appropriate for Halloween, doesn't it? I've been in a "mummy mood" lately (I need to talk with Scott and Casey to see if we can cover one of Hammer's mummy films on 1951 Down Place sometime soon!), and while I'll never turn down a Peter Cushing film like Hammer's first Mummy picture (I'm including Universal's Mummy films in my previous entry), Blood from the Mummy's Tomb really brings a supernatural threat that hangs heavy over the characters and the story in the film. While the mummy action is decidedly a little light in this one, I still enjoy the creepy pseudo-Egyptology scares, and I'd love to go trick-or-treating with Valerie Leon.
11& 12. Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (dir. Tom McLoughlin) and Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood (dir. John Carl Buechler). I'm an unabashed "Friday the 13th" fan, and my favorite films in the franchise come later in the series when Jason Voorhees' character is definitively a (non-zombie) supernatural character. When the seventh installment hit, all the cylinders are firing - C. J. Graham and Kane Hodder are playing Jason to perfection; the series is still paying attention to the earlier films by connecting ...New Blood's events to things that happened going possibly as far back as pre-A New Beginning, and Tommy's arc, started in The Final Chapter comes to satisfying end in Jason Lives; and while I've always preferred Jason over Freddy, ...New Blood did tap into some of the fun that movies like Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors brought with its own super-power teen character (who didn't need to dream to manifest her abilities!).
13. Halloween (dir. John Carpenter). I don't think I have to really say anything about this film being an ANY Halloween movies list.