Halloween, as we all well know, is a holy day for fans of horror. Young and old alike revel in the holiday, either by creating new memories or drifting away in old ones, wrapping up tight in a safety blanket of enjoyable frights, candy, and all the darkly colorful accoutrements of the season. Jack O'Lanterns, ghosts, witches, monsters, black cats, and the like: these are our banners, our sigils, all our very souls on this most special day.
So what's better than celebrating it with one's favorite horror movies? Not much, if you ask me. Certain people go for their absolute top of the chart Best Of lists, some choose flicks that best represent the day to them, and yet others go straight to the nostalgia pile and watch the ones that made them feel as they did as a child. However you may choose to get down, I am here to tell you that there's no incorrect way to do it -- to commemorate Halloween RIGHT, all you have to do is love it. It's just that simple, cut and dried, end of story, period.
The different lists people come up with to watch Halloween always fascinate and please me, as do the reasons they have for choosing them. "This scared the piss out of me when I was 10, I had nightmares for weeks!" is a great one. "My (insert family member or friend here) showed it to me one year and I've been over the harvest moon for it ever since" is another. Just hearing all these personal testimonials is like filling myself up with Halloween love and it's a remarkable sensation that I'll never get tired of. Speaking of what will never get old, I'd like to share the three films that, over the years, have become my very own Must Watch Films on my most favorite holiday, and the order in which I've perfected the way I best enjoy viewing them.
First up: Tim Burton's 1999 film SLEEPY HOLLOW. I was lucky enough to catch this in the theater and you could never have prepared me for how deeply I would fall for with this love letter to the Hammer films of yore. In fact, it immediately shot to the top of my own list of favorite Burton flicks (pushing previous No.1 title holder
BEETLEJUICE aside with an ancient, gnarled hand) -- I had no inkling at the time that it would become a yearly staple of my Halloween viewing but I for damn sure had a blast watching it. I start off with this one because it's not only funny and gory and sports some top notch performances from a game cast (which is LOADED with heavy hitters and character actor legends, by the way), but due to the atmosphere it's literally dripping with. The way everything LOOKS -- dig that exquisite photography by legendary DP Emmanuel Lubezki -- is a sheer delight for my senses and gets me in a Halloween mood before the opening scene has concluded. You can all but feel the chilled mist floating in the air on your skin, hear the crackling of dead leaves under your feet, and smell the wafting smoke and scents of spice...maybe even a hint of coppery blood. It's like the flick inhales cinema and exhales Halloween, and that more than anything is why I now kick off every year's holiday in such style. (Plus, I am a total sucker for the too-bright stage blood used in the flick -- again, shades of old 70's horror pictures -- that reminds me of so much melted candle wax. It's fucking lovely.)
Second up: the new horror classic TRICK R' TREAT from writer/director Michael Dougherty. Between this and the Christmas themed winner KRAMPUS, this dude has staked a claim as being the reigning champion of genre holiday films, as he is 2-for-2 thus far. Now I'm wondering if he'll ever make one about a monstrous Easter Bunny (would watch, HARD) -- but I digress. Since its release 10 (!) years ago, this movie has become rightly beloved by the horror community, and you'll find it on many, many lists of people deciding to observe Samhain like the best kind of savages. Coincidentally, that's precisely why I choose this as the second flick to watch; while SLEEPY HOLLOW is all about immersing myself in the mood of the day, TRICK R' TREAT is how I truly memorialize it. My personal favorite flick set ON the day (and pretty much everybody's, at that) is coming up, but this is the movie that I'd say is the very best at being ABOUT Halloween ever made. The customs, the lore, the history, the fears -- it's everything we love all wrapped up in four interweaving tales, told with a terrific sense of humor and stellar eye (and if you need help with those just say the word, Billy Wilkins) for what makes the season so iconic. I'm talking about everything from the costumes to the decorations to all the things that go bump in the night, just outside your view...or perhaps right outside your front door, or maybe even your bedroom window. Why don't you go take a look? I'm sure it's just the wind.
Third and last up: I mean, come on now. It's GOTTA be John Carpenter's seminal 1978 slasher HALLOWEEN. This is a perfect movie; any and all arguments end there for me. What the greatest living director of horror films (and the greatest of all time, in this writer's opinion) did with this flick flat-out changed the game. There's definitely a case to be made that he was building upon the work that other films before him had laid out previously, almost as a roadmap leading Carpenter to creating this masterpiece (films such as PEEPING TOM, PSYCHO, and BLACK CHRISTMAS come immediately to mind) -- but it's HOW he did it that makes this movie remain ridiculously effective almost 40 goddamned years later. The simple yet insistently chilling score from Carpenter himself. The iconic Shape and his mask. The original Final Girl we all fell in love with, the one we rooted and were terrified for, Laurie Strode (played so memorably by soon-to-be-Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis). The way Michael Myers seemed to be fucking EVERYWHERE, ready to step out of any shadow, stand up from behind any object, and the steady, unstoppable intent of his approach when he was coming directly for you. This film is John Carpenter declaring "Pay attention -- there's a new sheriff in town, everyone." And all of us did. The master is just that phenomenal.
Even though this article may be about the three movies I've loyally watched as a concrete group for roughly a decade now, I would like to include as an honorable mention one newer flick that very recently has become one I've decided to end the evening with every year on out, and that's the WNUF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL from 2013. This loving recreation of vintage 1980's Halloween night television is note-perfect, right down to the fake commercials that I would SWEAR I've seen before, and simply damn well done. It's like stepping into a time machine for those of us lucky to grow up and/or be of a specific age in that decade. Watching this actually feels like the exact thing that would be playing on my local station after I got home from trick or treating, sat down in the center of my living room floor in front of the TV, dumped my pillowcase full of candy onto the floor, and dug into a feast for my eyes, ears, and stomach. It's ALL treat.
There's probably somewhere in the neighborhood of one hundred or more killer flicks to watch on Halloween, but those are the ones I make sure I NEVER miss on that holiest of days -- after all, I'm a fan of horror and have been since I was probably 6 or 7, and as such I have my own Must Watch list. Every year I throw different ones in and around them, but even if I only have time for a few they're the ones that just HAVE to be seen, and they have yet to fail me. Loyalty born out of consistency can't be overrated, in my book.
So, in conclusion: may you all have your own special fright flicks to view and enjoy this and every year, and may you all have the very greatest of days and joyfully darkest of nights -- HAPPY HALLOWEEN!