Well of course we watch horror films year-round. Duh! So as Halloween season approaches, with its pumpkin spice candles and orange lights and hay bales I, as a severe adult OCD, look for films with those same attributes to build Halloween atmosphere en route to the Big Night. You don’t qeue up “Schindler’s List” on Christmas Eve. You go with “Miracle on 34th” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Right?
Likewise, not just any Paranormal Activity sequel will suffice in the Greene domicile as October counts up. At the very least, some attempt at creating an autumnal atmosphere is first and foremost. (That is –until this very year; I’ll elaborate soon.) When our victims-to-be pile into a van and head off to, say, an abandoned mine to spook each other on what happens to be October 31st, I’m not necessarily interested.
This list and its comments are based on (A) connection and relevance to the holiday of Halloween and (B) whether I’ve seen the film or not (remember! I am NOT a professional film critic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
So, if you’re on the hunt for horror films set on Halloween, (or within a few days) that are NOT John Carpenter’s famous blockbuster or any of its sequels, the following list, based on my personal satisfaction with it exists solely and entirely for you, my fall-loving fiend. Enjoy.
THE MIDNIGHT HOUR: ABC’s movie of the week from some October back in the eighties was this entertaining, even lovable TV party, with its Michael Jackson Thriller references, fun cast, great makeup FX and an ending that is surprisingly both wistful and downbeat.
HALLOW’S EVE: Not to be confused with the far superior ALL HALLOW’S EVE, (see below) this little ditty features god-awful improv disguised as acting and abominable clichés disguised as characters. A low budget is no excuse anymore; these guys could afford Danielle Harris so they should have been able to scrape together a few more bucks for a script doctor, at the very least.
THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT: The premise is a documentary crew investigating “edgy” independent Halloween haunts, descending into an ever seamier world of menacing and shady carny types. Sounds intriguing, but of course, it’s “found footage” which just doesn’t work at feature length anymore. So let’s be nice and chalk it up as a loss due to its dead format.
LADY IN WHITE: Nice atmospheric tale of a writer remembering that time he was locked in his school on Halloween night and encountered the ghost of a murdered girl. Nice sense of place and atmosphere.
ALL HALLOW’S EVE: A low budget horror anthology consisting of three tales set within the framework of a babysitter finding an unmarked videotape in the treat bag of one of her young charges, then foolishly watching it. The tales offer something a little unique, compared to more recent anthologies, and this will soon become a perennial favorite if you are of discerning tastes.
MISCHIEF NIGHT: Ol’ Doc Loomis (Jr.), Malcolm McDowell plays a neighborhood watchman who visits a wispy young housesitter to remind her to lock up tight, but you know how that goes. It’s not long before she’s playing cat and (vicious) mouse with a masked killer – but their fight doesn’t go as you might expect, so, recommended based on sheer originality.
MISCHIEF NIGHT: You’re not seeing double; this is the second of two films made within a year of one another and a good example of Generic Title Syndrome. (See also The Ritual x3) Emily has psychosomatic blindness, which won’t do her any favors when a crew of masked murderers show up to re-enact “You’re Next” on her hapless ass. Plenty of suspense, but nothing filling.
TRICK R TREAT: You cannot go wrong with this intertwined anthology of tales featuring the huggable Anna Paquin and original Hannibal Lecter Brian Cox. Little Sam becomes a new and fitting icon/mascot for the Eve, tormenting Cox’s character while Paquin’s confronts what appears to be a masked vampire.
HOUSE OF FEARS: Six teens sneak into a haunted attraction for some lulz, only to have the house’s characters seemingly become possessed by an evil force. Simple and fun, with suitable holiday thrills. Kind of like DARK HOUSE; not the Vic Salva one, but the other one with Jeffrey Combs, but maybe a little better.
DEATH ON DEMAND: Here then, is the bottom of the barrel: a slasher that manages to fail on every single level. Director Adam Matalon, a reality TV “director,” brings that fad’s cynical and soulless mentality to this unpleasant, condescending hate letter to horror fans, referencing Halloween only as a much-needed hook for suckers like me.
HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES: Rob Zombie’s films are a lot like his music in their multi-layered manic, carnival ride sensibility. Also, he’s deeply enamored with films from that magic stretch of cinema from between 1974 and around 1985, when most horror had a certain “outlaw” quality. While I’m not a fan of HOUSE’S sequel THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, I submit that this is a great Halloween-flavored flick with a little harder edge than the others on the list, and the rawness of a debut director’s labor of love.
DONNIE DARKO: This trippy and thoughtful psych thriller has more going for it than can be absorbed in one viewing, so fortunately there are two edits, the more recent of which I haven’t seen – an oversight I intend to correct. As for Halloween setting, how’s this: our protagonist has visions –through which he is guided by a super-creepy ghost in a rabbit suit -of the apocalypse occurring on that very night. Not so much a party movie, this is one for when trick or treating is over.
HALLOWEEN NIGHT: Wrongly convicted of murder, a man is institutionalized, then later, it’s Halloween and he’s out, and some youths are having a Halloween party where he used to live, and he has gone LITERALLY insane, so everyone must die. I can’t say it’s particularly surprising or memorable, and doesn’t really feel “Halloweeny.
NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988): Director Kevin S Tenney scored a hit with this fun, trippy haunted house flick (actually, it’s set in an abandoned mortuary) about teens partiers summoning a demon as part of a Halloween party. Yes it’s dated, but makes for some good holiday cheer.
NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (2009): The remake from Adam Gierasch (who also co-wrote with Jace Anderson) amps up all the elements of the original with enjoyable results, favoring non-stop action over atmosphere and character development making for a fun party movie.
TRICK OR TREAT: (1986) More of a parody of the then-rising hysteria over heavy metal and backmasking and Carrie rip-offs than an actual horror movie and pretty much Halloween OT, so save it for eighties night, which will probably be its own official holiday eventually.
SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER: Director Jeff Lieberman hurls social commentary like hatchets, in a Halloween-set tale about a young videogame fanatic who can’t tell the difference between game and reality, (past the reasonable age for such an issue, mind you) so he winds up helping a mute serial killer. This and a few other glaring flaws will undercut your enjoyment, but it still manages to be entertaining and scary.