The Halloween season may be over, but for most of us, we celebrate all year long and are constantly watching and discovering horror, new and old. But there’s something fun about the idea of dictating 31 horror features, one for each day for the month of October. So, I like seeing people get into the spirit and play along when it comes to celebrating my favorite genre of film.
Everyone’s got their own method to their madness. I, personally, recommended some of my favorites as a potential 31 days of Halloween playlist. My buddy Joe Maddrey, also a regular contributor here on Blumhouse.com, always chooses 31 contemporary horror films he’d never seen before to fill up his October watch list. I like to mix it up and do both. I like watching some of my favorites when the mood strikes, and I like putting on things I’d never seen before in the hopes of finding a new yearly tradition. Like John Carpenter’s BODY BAGS, which I only first saw upon Scream Factory‘s Blu-Ray release and is now a must-watch for Halloween every year.
When all was said and done, I ended up squeezing in 53 movies into my 31 days of October. And just for the fun of it, I’ll list them all at the end of this article. But I wanted to showcase 6 in particular that I’d never seen before and which I now strongly recommend.
LADY IN WHITE
I’ve always been familiar with this much-talked about 1988 cult classic, but for whatever reason, it’s slipped through my fingers in the past. Thankfully, the fine fiends at Scream Factory are yet again doing the Lord’s work and have delivered a 2-disc Blu-Ray set that includes not one, not two, but three different versions of the film! Frank LaLoggia wrote, directed and even composed the score for his sophomore feature, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a long-lost Stephen King novel unfold before my eyes. An author recounts the story of how one Halloween as a child, he crossed paths with a killer. After hiding out from some kids he’d played a prank on, little Frankie Scarlatti (Lukas Haas) sees the ghost of a girl, and then inadvertently comes face to face with her murderer. He survives the ordeal and the school janitor is wrongly accused of the local murders. The rest of the film lets us watch the mystery unravel from the perspective of Frankie, who continues to see apparitions, in particular a lady in white. It’s a pretty magical film, and although it comes across as if it could be kid-friendly, there are a lot of adult themes at play here. It’s really a great little movie, and am glad it’s available again.
Of all the classic monsters, Dracula is probably the one I’m invested in the least, and the sole reason for that is because over the years, every time I see a Dracula movie, it’s essentially a remake of the original film, or retelling of the novel. It literally follows all the same beats with Jonathan Harker, Renfield, Mina and Van Helsing, only told slightly differently each time. However, I love when a vampire tale takes new & bold liberties with the Dracula legend and does its own thing, such as with BLACULA or THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA. So, I’d been wanting to see the Frank Langella version of DRACULA from John Badham for years. However, I was warned by friends that all subsequent home video & Blu-Ray releases of it changed the basic color palette and muted all the colors, making it darker and grimmer than it originally played. Fortunately, we have the New Beverly Cinema here in Los Angeles that only plays 35mm prints of movies, so I got to see the 1979 DRACULA exactly as it played back then! And I loved it! Yes, it is a basic retelling of the Dracula legend yet again, but the lush, vibrant colors made it stand out & feel like an old Hammer film. They mix up some of what we know, and we get great performances from Donald Pleasence as Dr. Jack Seward and Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing. Also, Langella is a charming and excellent prince of darkness. I mean, look. To me growing up, he was always Skeletor. But seeing him here and in Mel Brook’s THE TWELVE CHAIRS, he was a tremendously good looking young guy, and I can see why he was a lead in films such as this. I hope one day we can get a proper release of this original theatrical version!
THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN
It’s Hammer Time! As a budding young horror fan, I soaked in and watched whatever horror films I could get my hands on, but for whatever reason, I completely missed out on the Hammer era of horror and am unfamiliar with a lot of their retellings of these classic monsters. THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN happens to be included in the recently released Hammer Horror Blu-Ray box set from Universal Studios, so this was the first one I popped on, and it’s pretty darned good! Using the original legend as a backstory, Baron Frankenstein (played by the great Peter Cushing) has returned from hiding to continue his work with his trusted sidekick Hans. Long thought to be destroyed, Baron discovers his creature has been encased and frozen in ice! And he decides it’s time to resurrect him! Now, for the most part, the Frankenstein’s monster was legally not allowed to resemble the Universal version, but from what I read, a deal was struck between the two companies in this case, although I still don’t think this version of the monster resembles the trademark classic creature we know. He does have an oddly block-y head and looks pretty cool! For having Peter Cushing, who I’d watch read the phone book, and a bizarre, crazy looking version of the Monster, I enjoyed the hell out of THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN.
THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN
I also have a pretty extensive UK Hammer box set, filled to the brim with titles I’d never seen. So, one afternoon, I decided I wanted another radical take on the Frankenstein’s monster and popped in the 1970 version THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, helmed by Jimmy Sangster. It’s yet another retelling of the Frankenstein legend, but with Ralph Bates portraying Victor Frankenstein, arguably the worst human being in horror history. This version of Frankenstein kills his own father so he can go to college, impregnates women and then ditches them, sleeps with the same maid that slept with his father, and stops at nothing to stitch together various dead body parts to create a new human life. The monster in this version is disturbingly grotesque(see above pic), but not nearly as much as Victor himself. And (spoiler alert), Victor is guilty of so many crimes, murders and inhuman actions, yet he never faces the consequences of any of it. He kind gets away with everything. So, in that regard I found this to be the most unique, and bummer version of Frankenstein ever.
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962)
We’ve also been treated to countless versions of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, but I had never seen this 1962 Hammer production of the good ol’ “Phantom.” And it’s great! This version comes from director Terence Fisher, who ended up helming a slew of Hammer’s most well regarded films. Herbert Lom plays Professor L. Petrie in this version, an unknown musician whose compositions are stolen by a sleazy theater owner. The usual beats follow: after the theft, he’s horribly disfigured and presumed dead. But he’s actually living underneath the theater and guiding the lead singer to the performance of her career. But the twist is, he’s not this evil, maniacal murderer. He genuinely just wants to hear his music performed and hence is the first sympathetic Phantom that I can think of! I would imagine of all the PHANTOM adaptations over the years, this is probably the one that inspired Brian De Palma’s version on PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. His mask is also one of the best that an on-screen Phantom has ever sported.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2
Look – despite working for Blumhouse.com, I’ve never actually seen the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies. In fact, I had only seen the first one, just prior to its big release and at the time, my memory was that I hated it, although I couldn’t recall why. Upon revisiting it a few weeks back, I was reminded that I saw it in the worst possible environment. With a group of friends that talked through the whole thing and made fun of the characters the entire time. This time, I was by myself, watching it in darkness with the sound cranked on my home theater set-up. It was much more effective, although I still found Micah insufferably unlikable. He antagonizes a goddamned demon the entire time! What do you think is going to happen?! But regardless, I appreciated it for what it was. Then I moved onto the sequel/prequel. I accidentally selected the extended cut, and as the first 20 or so minutes went by, I felt I’d made a horrible mistake, but then the timing of everything paid off and I was genuinely creeped out. This film takes place about a month before the original and we’re following Katie’s sister and her family. It does the usual haunted house stuff very effectively, but what won me over was the ending and the way this movie tied directly into the first. In fact, I’d argue that this makes the first film a better movie, and that’s an impressive trick that sequels rarely pull off. So, kudos! Also, this movie solidifies my hardcore crush on Katie Featherston, so I’ll watch anything she appears in. I shall now move onto PART 3, which I’m told takes place in the 80’s.
So, those were the few new films, or at least new to me, that stood out and made Halloween 2016 a screaming success! Just for the hell of it, here’s my list of films by date. Starred items are movies I’d already seen.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein*
The Beyond (with live re-score!)*
City Of The Living Dead*
The Revenge Of Frankenstein
It Came From Outer Space (3D!)
The Ghost & Mr Chicken*
The Exorcist III: Legion (Director’s Cut)
The Exorcist III: Legion (Theatrical Cut)*
Dawn Of The Dead 3D*
Lady In White
Color Me Blood Red
Dawn Of The Dead (2004)*
Paranormal Activity 2
All Girls Weekend
Son Of Frankenstein*
The Phantom Of The Opera (1962) Hammer Version
Trick ‘r Treat*
Dracula 1979 (Frank Langella Version)
13 Ghosts (1960)
The Innocents (1961)
Ernest Scared Stupid*
Burial Ground: The Nights Of Terror
Kenny & Company
The Horror Of Frankenstein
Deadtime Stories (1986)
Elvira: Mistress Of The Dark*
Halloween III: Season Of The Witch*
Hotel Transylvania 3D*
John Carpenter’s Body Bags*
A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors*
The Thing From Another World
John Carpenter’s Halloween*
Night Of The Demons (2009)*
Halloween II (1981)*
Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers*
The Monster Squad*
Tales Of Halloween*
Mad Monster Party?*
House Of Frankenstein*
House Of Dracula*
The Monster Club
Hotel Transylvania 2 3D
The Fog (1980)*