‘tis that season once again! Halloween seems to get bigger and bigger every year … and what better way to spend it, than sharing a bunch of spooky movies with friends? With that in mind, FilmJuice has asked its resident horror aficionado, Ed Boff, to draw up the perfect Halloween dusk ‘till dawn horror show. So draw the blinds, dig out the trick or treat candy (sugar’s bad for kids anyway), and join us in a Halloween Film Marathon fit to chill the bones …
The Halloween Tree
Starting things off light, we have an animated feature penned by Ray Bradbury which really captures the childhood fun of the holiday. Originally planned back in the ‘70s, The Halloween Tree was finally made and aired in 1993. The tale follows a group of kids on Halloween night, whose attempts to help their friend, Pip, lead them to the home of the enigmatic Mr. Moundshroud (voiced by Leonard Nimoy). Their journey turns out to be a journey through time, to the many different incarnations of Halloween, during which they learn about the true meaning behind the ritual. The whole story has the sort of autumnal feel only Bradbury could evoke, aided by him also narrating parts of his wondrous prose. It really does make it a fun experience for kids: a solid, creepy adventure story with a bit of actual history along the way. But, like much of Bradbury’s work, it also has the right edge for adults, as the kids finally understand the true nature of Pip’s dilemma, and what the cost of rescuing him is. The Halloween Tree is fondly remembered, though not as well-known as it should be. This is partially down to the fact that it was a direct-to-TV production, but also because it got overshadowed by a certain other Halloween-themed animation in 1993. Still, it’s available from the Warner Bros. Archive VOD and DVD-R services, and not too hard to track down. As dusk falls on the night, this makes the perfect start to the Marathon, as well as a fitting tribute to both Bradbury and Nimoy.
There’s a specific time to start playing this one: 9.25 pm. On Halloween night for the last few years, many people have started doing the ‘National Séance’ – playing Ghostwatch at exactly the same time as its infamous broadcast on BBC1 in 1992. While we are all now well used to ‘found footage’ as a genre, back in the day, this sort of mix of fact and fiction was almost unprecedented. Add to that a selection of familiar BBC faces playing themselves (Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith, Craig Charles), and you can see why anyone who didn’t have Radio Times to hand that night were so easily taken in. Over twenty years on, it’s still a highly effective ghost story, building slowly and carefully, giving plenty of time for the characters and location to be firmly established before all hell breaks loose in the climax. Today Pipes, the spectre that haunts this story, is still one of the most effective on-screen ghosts, due partially to how little (s)he (it?) is on screen, giving us only the vaguest, subliminal glimpses to get our imaginations raring. After many years of the BBC having almost suppressed all mention of it, Ghostwatch is now readily available on DVD in a double pack with The Stone Tape. Also available is a documentary on the whole thing, Ghostwatch: Behind the Curtains, which is well worth watching afterwards. For the next part of this Marathon though, we have a more recent title that takes a similar premise in a very different direction…
WNUF Halloween Special
Did you see Paranormal Activity 3? Remember how weird it was that a 1988 VHS camera was recording in pixel-perfect HD? Well, this very clever micro-budgeted affair doesn’t have that issue. This tells of a local TV station’s live Halloween Special expose going very badly wrong, with the conceit being that someone on that night in 1987 was taping the broadcast, so what you are seeing is a bootleg VHS copy. As such, this was filmed using old school video equipment, transferred to VHS, then transferred a bunch more times to give it an authentic washed-out colour palate. The makers actually went the extra mile by making VHS copies, and then leaving them at conventions and other events where a horror fan might find them and go “ooh, what’s this?” It’s actually entirely plausible that those who found them would have been taken in, as it genuinely feels like an hour and a half of TV recorded in the wee hours. Even down to the fake commercials that play regularly throughout. The whole thing is a heap of fun. It’s full of perfectly done deadpan humour, has a storyline that plays its card close to its chest until the last reveal, and works as a satire of media of the eighties, in particular the Satanic Panic hysteria. It’s only available direct from the states, but well worth tracking it down.
Halloween III: Season Of The Witch
This one was a bit of failure on first release. John Carpenter and co’s decision to take the franchise in an anthology format, telling a different Halloween-themed story for each film, wasn’t understood by the general audience who just wanted to know where killer Michael Myers was. However, over time, film fans have stopped criticising Season Of The Witch for what it isn’t, and properly started looking at it for what it is. What we have here is an interesting mash-up of lots of different genre tropes, along with a comparison between the origins of the holiday, and its current incarnation. It’s worth mentioning that the original script for this was written by Quatermass scribe Nigel Kneale, and while his name was taken off the final film at his request, a lot of his hallmarks are still there. This tale of a megalomaniac mask-maker out to use the children of America to make the biggest Samhain sacrifice in history uses quite a few sci-fi elements in fascinating ways. It may be a bit over-plotted (Stonehenge somehow figures into all this?) but it does have a creative storyline, gorgeous cinematography, and a stronger feel for the holiday than any of the other entries in the series. Plus, the Silver Shamrock advertising jingle will be stuck in your head until … at the very least next Halloween!
This isn’t specifically set on Halloween, but there’s more than enough here to qualify it for a place in our list. At an all-night horror marathon, a killer is stalking and taking out the staff one-by-one, using the film’s gimmicks as weapons. This might sound like standard slasher fare, but there are a few things that elevate this one. First, this has a pretty strong sense of humour to it, with genuinely likeable characters, rather than the walking targets that usually populate such films. Then there’s the killer, who has a few very unique aspects, and a backstory that provides some genuine surprises and twists. But the main thing that makes this special are the films within the film. They are all pastiches of old B-movies of different eras, and each one has a unique gimmick paying tribute to actual tricks used by William Castle and the like back in the days. It takes someone who has a true love of this sort of material to make a tribute this heartfelt. The closest comparison would be Joe Dante’s Matinee which came out a couple of years later. Popcorn kind of fell between the cracks in 1991 but if you can find this one, it will be just the thing for Halloween. Plus, it’s one of only two horror films to have the plot stop for a random reggae song.
Tales Of Halloween
Anthology horror films are always great fun, as the format means that scares and thrills come fairly regularly. There are quite a few to choose from, but just released this year on VOD is this selection from The October Society – eleven LA based filmmakers including Neil Marshal (The Descent, Game Of Thrones), Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II-IV, Repo: The Genetic Opera), and many more. Tales Of Halloween tells ten short stories taking place in one town over Halloween night, with little overlaps between them (like characters from one segment cameoing in another). All the stories work well, which for an anthology with this many entries, is an impressive achievement. Tales range from urban legends come to life, a Friday The 13th pastiche that goes in insane directions, a slow0burn ghost story, and more it would be a crime to spoil. If you’re a horror fan, the extra fun comes from the various cameos from veterans of the genre. There are actors like Lin Shaye (Insidious) and Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, You’re Next), directors like John Landis (An American Werewolf In London) and even an hilarious moment featuring movie poster art legend Drew Struzan. This received rapturous applause from FilmFour Frightfest, where it was the closing film this year, and it’s just the thing to wrap up this perfect Halloween Film Marathon.