4 HORROR FILMS WITH A HALLOWEEN VIBE THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE HOLIDAY
Each year many of us try to find the right film or films to watch on that most special of holidays, Halloween. Of course, anytime is a good time for that good ol’ Halloween feeling. I know I don’t wait for October 31st for a good creepy film fest or two. So the list below can be good for any month or day for your viewing pleasure throughout the year.
For many years I usual would go with the Classic Universal Horror Collection for my Halloweeny needs. But why limit myself? Sure, those films set the foundation for what makes for a great creepy Halloween feeling in cinema. There are many filmmakers since the 1930s and 1940s that took those lessons from those films and made their own statements.
One thing in common that all these films have is that they all are supernatural. I do tend to feel that films with a Halloween vibe should have something to do with the supernatural. Sure James Whale’s Frankenstein isn’t supernatural. But it does come from that gothic tradition and that does help. But for this list I stuck with the supernatural.
Directed by the late great effects master Stan Winston Pumpkinhead tells the tale of Ed Harley as played by Lance Henriksen and the grief-stricken choice he makes after the accidental death of his young son. A college-aged group of friends on their way to a cabin in the woods stop by Harley’s roadside general store. A couple of them decide to break out their dirt bikes and have themselves a ride around the hilly terrain near the store. This leads to the death of the boy. With a mind toward revenge, Harley remembers actually witnessing the handiwork of the local legend, Pumpkinhead: a demon that can be conjured up to enact vengeance on those who have done a person wrong. Harley heads out deep into the woods to a crone of a witch who helps with the conjuring. But she warns him that there is a price to pay for such a wish such as his. Harley pays no heed the witch’s counsel though. And when the demon starts his killing Harley must see it all through the eyes of the demon.
The success of this film starts with the mood that’s first set with the setting in the wooded areas used. Trees have a natural disjointed look to them and once the day turns to night they develop a sinister look. Add to that a creature that not only has a great design to it, but a personality to go with its wicked look. This thing likes what it does and is having a good time tormenting and then killing his victims. The title character also has his very own storm that follows him around, which turns out to be a great touch for the mood of the film.
The success of the film then ends with the outstanding performance of Lance Henriksen. The audience can truly feel his pain from the loss of his son. There’s a wonderful scene early on of the both at home in their everyday life. After the accident and after things are put in motion a scene springs up that truly breaks your heart. Driving home from his meeting with the witch, with his son’s body next to him, he sees a vision of the boy sitting up and asking what he had done. This and the sights seen through the demon’s eyes tell Harley that he had done wrong. He sets out to stop the creature if he can. And this is the heart of the piece. And it’s a big one.
JOHN CARPENTER’S THE FOG (1980)
This film tells another revenge story. This time it is for a crime that was committed one hundred years in the past. As Antonio Bay California is celebrating its one hundred year in existence a fog rolls in from the sea with something in it: it’s contains a ghost ship and a crew of murderous ghosts.
The first to see that something isn’t right about the celebration is Father Malone as played by Hal Holbrook. Late at night as the church’s handyman is leaving for the night a brick from the office wall falls to the desk below revealing a secret. Behind the wall is a journal written by Malone’s grandfather detailing a crime against a ship load of people who were planning to start a leper colony near the Antonio Bay. His grandfather was part of a group of conspirators who planned to lure the ship of lepers to the rocks to sink it and kill its passengers. While Malone is discovering this, a fishing boat with three friends is attacked by the ghosts, killing them all. These are the first of the descendants of the conspirators to feel the ghostly wrath of those who had been wronged so long ago.
Most of the film is from the point of view of those who are not descendants of the conspirators. Nick Castle (Tom Atkins), a friend of the three on the boat and a young female hitchhiker; Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh), a woman who is on the planning committee for the celebration as well as wife of one of the crew killed on the boat and her assistant Sandy (Nancy Loomis); and the local radio DJ Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) make up this group that is caught in between the ghosts and their intended victims.
Carpenter’s film was meant to be more in the look and feel of an old EC comic story. This look and feel is perfect for a Halloween film. But it doesn’t have the heart that Pumpkinhead has. What it does have is a lot of ghosts, fog, and fun.
BLACK SUNDAY (1960)
No list of horror films can ever be complete without as least one film by Mario Bava. And for films with a Halloween feeling his Black Sunday is hard to beat.
The first scene starts off with the witchy vampire Pricess Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) being executed for the usual crime that witches and vampires are usual executes for. But this sentence in brought forward by her very own brother. Before she is finally put down and the spike filled Mask of Satan is hammered upon her face to seal her doom, Asa promises to return to be a curse on the house of Vajda in the name of Satan. For its time this scene is rather graphic with Asa suffering a branding and the mask violently hammered on to her face.
Two hundred years later her words become true when Asa is accidently brought back to undead life by two traveling doctors, Thomas Kruvajan and Andre Gorobec (Andrea Checchi and John Richardson, respectively). After their horse-drawn carriage breaks down the two physicians venture into the crypt that houses Asa’s remains. Curiosity gets the best of one of them when the glass on the vampire’s coffin breaks and he removes the mask. They both see that her body may be wounded but is still intact. As they walk away to their repaired carriage blood left from a cut dips from a shard of glass onto the face of Asa. She then rises from her tomb with the plan to take over the body of her look-a-like descendant Katia Vajda (also played by Barbara Steele).
With more crooked trees, wind howling, low-lying mist, a ruined crypt, a gothic setting, and filmed in glorious black and white this film might just be the film on this list with the most horror show mood to offer. Bava sets great tension with some of the simplest tricks. When a darkened doorway suddenly is filled with movement that only turns out to be the door closing elicits a scare, you know you’re in the hands of a master filmmaker. Black Sunday is filled with such moments as well as very grim and sometimes violent ones.
SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)
In this Johnny Depp portrays Ichabod Crane who believes that the best method to solving of crimes is to use science. Putting this belief to the test Crane is sent to the remote town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate the decapitations of three men. But upon his arrival the town leaders lead by Baltus Von Tessel (Michael Gambon) assures Mr. Crane that they know who killed the men; it was a supernatural being known as the Headless Horseman. Crane proves to be a skeptic and doesn’t believe in the supernatural so he proceeds with his investigation. But even after an actual encounter with the Horseman there’s too much evidence of a motive for the killings (more murders do happen during the course of the film) that Crane can’t help but believe there’s someone guiding the being’s actions.
This is director Tim Burton’s tribute to the British studio Hammer which made many gothic style horror films much like this one. It has many of the trappings that you’d expect films like these to have like misty dim forests, sunless skies, witches, and a ruthless murderous monster. Filmed with rich yet muted colors Sleepy Hollow is by far Burton’s best looking film to date. And he doesn’t forget the scares. The murdering of family—father, mother, and small boy—is profoundly frightening. Though, as usual in a Tim Burton film, there is humor (mostly very well used), but there’s a moment or two that a bit too goofy for my tastes. But this is a small complaint for a mostly very successful film.