Saturday, October 1, 2016

31 Must-Sees for the Month of October

October 31st—Halloween—is just around the corner and I usually make it an annual event to start the month off watching a horror movie (or two) a day, starting with October 1st right up until a bunch of kids are ringing my doorbell, begging for candies.

A few years ago, I'd actually reviewed a movie each day of October, and quite a few of those movies are going to make this list of films to enjoy, so you might see some familiar favorites of mine.  But all of these flicks are definite musts for me to see each and every year during the spooky time of Halloween.  Some titles might actually be franchises, treating them as extended stories or sagas, and you also may know of some flicks that are not featured here.  One such series I've excluded from this string of films is the Friday the 13th series and that's because I see those movies as the start to summer, feeling that it eloquently represents the conclusion of fall and takes us right into the days of summer camp terror.  A Nightmare on Elm Street is another series that reminds me of the time of spring (for some reason), so I'll be discounting those films as well.  However, by all means, you can add those to your Halloween fun and have a great time with them...they are all great slasher films of the 80s and early 90s, so go for it.

The films I'm about to go over are just some of the horror films that I just associate with the Halloween season—whether I'd first seen them during that time or the setting of each one has specifically to do with that time of year.

So...let's get started.

31. A few years ago, in 2012, I'd taken a chance with a flick called Sinister that appeared very dark and terrifying in the trailer, leaving me wanting to find out what the story was all about.  Instead of starring a bunch of teenie-boppers and making the story take place in high school, the movie was refreshing to see it starred Ethan Hawke as a non-fiction writer of real-life murders.  In this story, he takes it a bit too far by moving his family into a house where a family was murdered.  Shortly after moving in and while looking around in the attic, he finds a movie projector and some reels of strange films that showcase other families being murdered.  He then tries to piece together the films and figure out what they all have to do with each other.  Sinister is a dark and spooky film that'll get under your skin pretty quickly...a perfect start to the Halloween season.  The film was followed up by a sequel in 2015—not as good—but you'll have a nice three or four hours of spooky fun with these two.

30. If there's any movie that'll make you change your mind about moving into a secluded house far away from any neighbors, it's the 2008 film, The Strangers.  Starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman as a couple appearing angry with each other and who were supposed to spend the night celebrating their engagement, but apparently someone said no.  Before long, a strange woman is knocking on the door in the wee hours of the morning, soon joined by another woman and man—all wearing weird masks.  It's an eerie home invasion movie that'll make you get up and lock every single door and window in your house, as well as getting an alarm installed—stat.

29. Though this movie borrows heavily from The Hills Have Eyes, the 2003 film, Wrong Turn, was—and still is—a pretty intense and terrifying film.  When a small group of people are stuck in the middle of nowhere with no one in sight and no way to contact the outside world, they soon have to evade the deformed inbred mountain men that are tracking the group and trying to kill them...for food.  It's an exciting romp with a lot of scares, gore and all around tension that'll put a test to your nerve-endings.  The movie spawned about five sequels, none of them as good as this first outing, so you can skip them.

28. Being a Stephen King fan in the 80s and early 90s was a great time to be alive.  In the 80s alone, the man had a bunch of his books turned to films—some great, some good and some horrible.  One film that had come out in 1993 was one of the better ones—The Dark Half.  It had such an interesting story, which delved into the weird and supernatural, about a writer who has an evil side to him when he writes books under a pseudonym.  When his pen name is threatened to be outed by some loser trying to make money, the writer decides to come clean to the world and has a mock burial for his alias.  But, as it turns out, that side of the writer comes to life and starts killing people around him.  The movie is one of my favorite adaptations from a Stephen King book and it's one I go to during All Hallow's Eve.

27. Anthologies are a nice go-to during the scary season and one I like to pop in the player is a three-story film called Body Bags.  The film was actually supposed to be the start of a television series on cable, much like "Tales From the Crypt," with John Carpenter hosting as a corpse in a morgue.  Although the series was never given the green light, the pilot film is one to be cherished and shows just how little cable television execs know when a good thing is presented to them.  Each vignette is memorable—a bald man wishes for hair but gets more than he bargains for, a new gas station cashier is terrorized by a serial killer, and an athlete who loses an eye surgically gets a new one but also becomes as deranged as the eye's donor—and the whole film is a nostalgic piece of early 90s horror movies.  You can't help but think how great this series could've been if someone had been smart enough to recognize the gold they'd been given.

26. If you enjoy the movies of the 80s that had always featured a group of children who band together for a reason—like E.T.: The Extraterrestrial or The Goonies—then you'll love 1987's The Monster Squad.  A group of preteens, who love classic monster movies and even have an extracurricular school club, end up banding together to go up against Dracula, The Mummy, and The Wolf Man.  With an endearing Frankenstein Monster that ends up being the hero for the children, you can't help but fall in love with this movie.

25. 1989's The Horror Show has a weird history throughout the decades since its theatrical release.  I remember seeing this flick in theaters back then, knowing it only as the title I'd mentioned above.  However, over the years, it's been known as a sequel to the House films and had some rights issues because of it.  I don't know why this movie would be related to that series, but I'm glad the film was finally brought to Blu-Ray by Scream! Factory not too long ago.  The film stars the staple of the 80s, Lance Henriksen, and is a perfect nostalgia flick for that bygone era.  Being a lot like the plot of Wes Craven's Shocker, the film is about a serial killer (Brion James) who's able to teleport himself anyplace and wreaks havoc just to mess with the cop (Henriksen) who arrested him.  I love this film...even the strange laugh that James emits throughout the movie.

24. A lot of people may know Sam Raimi, probably most for being the first director to get the comic book character of Spider-Man on screen.  But before that, he was known for a little indie film called The Evil Dead in 1981.  It was a simple little movie about a group of friends who decide to spend a week in a cabin in the middle of the woods.  They find a book bound with human flesh and a recording containing the words that unleash an evil entity, causing a gory nightmare in that cabin.  The movie also brought cult fame to Bruce Campbell, who stars as Ash in this little movie that spawned two sequels (Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness), an awesome reboot in 2013, and a Starz cable television series that's now in its second season.  What do I think about watching these movies during Halloween time?  Groovy.

23. Although I was an avid movie-goer in the 80s, especially when it came to horror movies, I'd missed this one...but glad I'd found it on Blu-Ray not too long ago.  1986's Night of the Creeps is a little bit of science fiction, mixed with the zombie genre, and it also has a few Invasion of the Body Snatchers nuances once it gets into it.  With the inclusion of Tom Atkins as the witty—yet badass—police detective going up against a whole college fraternity taken over by mid-controlling space slugs and also with the help of two geeky college kids, everything goes totally ballistic in this flick.  You'll have a great time with this one on a cold October night.

22. Back when remakes weren't prevalent in the movies, and were actually welcomed, The Blob appeared and gave us an unconventional retelling of the 1958 original.  With bad boy, Kevin Dillon, and good girl, Shawnee Smith, this 80s classic is one I go to even outside of the Halloween season.  When a small meteor dispatches a seemingly harmless slimy globule of alien gunge, it soon grows in size as it devours anyone-and anything-it comes into contact with, taking over a small town.  Up through the twist in the climax, divulging the origin of the unctuous monstrosity, makes this a pinnacle of 80s cinema.

21. 1981's An American Werewolf in London is a film that can easily stand in its individuality as having the best werewolf transformation scene in movie history.  The film is 35 years old, yet no other film has knocked this movie off of its mantle in that claim to fame.  Though there's a lot of humor in this film, once the story jumps to the werewolf scenes, it gets pretty intense.  With the classic convention of showing us less of the monster, slowly revealing it more and more, the climax of the film really stands out as the best of the movie.

20. A franchise that had started off strong with its first three films (though they tapered off a bit as those three came about), the films had a few silly outings before righting itself with its last one.  The series I'm speaking of is the Child's Play franchise.  The first outing in 1988 was—and still is—a classic, still entertaining as it had been in its release back then.  All of the films in the series—with the exception of Seed of Chucky—are completely enjoyable and, so far, finishes off nicely with the 2013 straight-to-DVD film, Curse of Chucky, which was responsible for the cancellation of the planned reboot (thank goodness).  It's rumored that we're going to get a seventh entry and I'm looking forward to it...and you should be as well.

19. The Paranormal Activity franchise has obviously run its course as of late with the last outing being so far off track and with a big plot-hole that all the included CGI couldn't hide.  But...when the first film in the series was released (originally screened in limited theaters in 2007 until it gained wide release in 2009), it had made a big splash and reinvigorated the found footage subgenre of horror movies.  It's funny, this film definitely needs to be seen at night, or at least in the dark, to truly enjoy it.  When you're in the right environment, this movie can easily get under your skin.  Followed by two worthy sequels, an iffy fourth part, a pretty well-done spin-off, and an off-kilter fifth a whole, this franchise has done pretty well.  All in all, the films are perfect to sit back and enjoy while you're waiting for all the kids to flock to your house, demanding candy.

18. As a child, not ready to get into the world of movies—though I'd wanted to do so very much—I'd seen quite a bit of movie trailers on television, making me yearn to see them.  One film that had intrigued me was John Carpenter's The Fog of 1980.  Just those thirty or sixty second spots on TV had me cringing yet wanting to see the movie.  Of course, Carpenter had made a name for himself after Halloween was released two years prior, so directing another frightening tale was a no-brainer for the master of horror.  I love the eeriness and slow burn of this film, making it a great ghost story as it takes place in a small coastal town.  With the acting staples of Tom Atkins, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, and Adrienne Barbeau, you can't go wrong.

17. Steven Spielberg was all over the Hollywood map in the 1980s, even going as far as taking on two films at the same time.  Though there are rumors and denials about what happened in 1982, it's pretty clear (especially if you know Spielberg's directing stylings) that he had quite a hand in the production of Poltergeist.  What makes the behind-the-scenes aspect of this film controversial is that Spielberg was in production on the film, E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, at the same time and in the same filming location vicinity.  Tobe Hooper gets the credit, but it just doesn't look like a Hooper film as you watch this definitive story of a family's home being overrun by spirits.  Whatever the case may be on whomever was sitting in the director's chair, this film is truly scary at times and so much fun as well.  Though the first sequel is not as magical, it can be a nice addition to view after the original.  However, you may have some trouble getting through part three, but it has its merits.  In addition, a remake was released recently, but just doesn't cut it when compared to the original.

16. Though I hadn't gone to the theater to see this when it was originally released, 2001's Jeepers Creepers blew me away when I'd first had Netflix deliver this DVD to me.  The beginning of the film has a little Duel vibe to it, gets a little creepy when Justin Long's character discovers the Creeper's lair, and has a typical slasher ambiance up until the end of the flick.  After watching the inferior—but still great—2003 sequel, you get to find out so much of the villain of this story, but as you go through this first film, the mysteriousness of the Creeper will freak you out.

15. Yet another 80s classic, which brings on the nostalgia of the bygone era of hosted television viewings of horror movies ("Creature Features" in my neck o' the woods by the late great Bob Wilkins), is the vampire flick, 1985's Fright Night.  A pretty interesting tale here, with a teenager obsessed with horror movies finding out his new neighbor is a vampire.  Though there are some cheesy moments (especially in the dance club), the film includes all the vampire mythos front and center.  From garlic to wooden stakes, as well as a great climatic scene, you'll love this movie.  A remake was released in 2011, with Anton Yelchin and Colin Farrell starring as the teen and vampire respectively, and it's not half-bad.  In fact, the reimagining of the 1985 classic is very well done and should be considered a great companion to the original film.

14. A while back, I had embarked on a crazy journey, deciding to review just about every movie adapted from a Stephen King novel or short story.  It had burned me out quite a bit and I really didn't want to use a keyboard or look at a computer monitor for a while.  Most of the films in his adaptation repertoire are enjoyable, depending on the time of year.  I like watching Carrie when school's in session, The Dead Zone when we're in the very cold winter months, and to watch the others when the feeling arises.  But Pet Sematary is one I like to watch during the month of October.  It's clear in the movie that the seasons change from October to November, so this makes it a perfect flick to set yourself up for the scary times.  At the time, I'd felt that this film was the best adaptation ever attempted and it still is a favorite of mine (obviously).  The film raises a lot of 'what-if' questions you may ask yourself, but the answer is very apparent: "Sometimes...dead is better."

13. 1988's Pumpkinhead is quite special to me because of a few things, one of them being-of course-that it's a horror movie.  Seeing that this is a flick from the era of the 1980s is also a plus with me.  But the one standout in this flick is that it stars the ubiquitous actor from that time—Lance Henriksen.  I really can't speak of 80s horror and sci-fi cinema without including Henriksen in the discussion.  From his small part in The Terminator, to the starmaking role in Aliens, this man has been there.  He's perfectly cast in Pumpkinhead as the humble country everyman, running a small store with his son off of the main road.  When his son is accidentally killed, he goes whole hog and gets revenge with the help of the local witch who summons a demon to hunt and kill the kids responsible.  It should be noted here that Stan Winston not only created the titular monster featured in this flick, but he also makes his directorial debut.  It's a fun movie with cool monster effects, so sit back and celebrate the month of October with this one.

12. 1981's The Funhouse is definitely one to see during October, with it going as far as copying the beginning of John Carpenter's Halloween during the intro.  It's really such a simple story, how a group of friends decide to spend the night at the local carnival, but end up witnessing a murder.  As the group is discovered by the killer, the movie turns into a cat-and-mouse game as the friends try to keep hidden from the masked freak and look for a way to escape the funhouse.  Even though the story has the typical slasher formula, it's still fun and nostalgic to sit through this gem, getting ready for the ghosts and goblins when they come around to trick-or-treat.

11.  To watch a classic film, especially one of the black & white variety, there is no better time than this period of fall.  The best of this lot is usually the creature feature types of movies, whether giant insects or people transforming into monsters, it seems the only times this was perfected was in the 30s, 40s and 50s.  In addition, the best of these films were created in Universal Studios of Hollywood.  One of the first on this list is The Mummy, starring the great Boris Karloff as the titular creature.  The tone and frightening glares from Karloff is enough to regale you all the way through this definitive motion picture.

10.  Many people put this film at the top of their list of the best horror movies ever.  I agree it's a terrifying film, especially if you watch this at the right time, and it's enough to give most people nightmares.  Even though this was made in 1973, The Exorcist is still a relevant and captivating movie.  The effects still hold up and can still upset the best of them.  Nothing is laughable in this film and it will make you rethink your beliefs as this is one serious work of art.  But for the sake of Halloween, check this classic out if you haven't already.

9. Although I still have a few other classics I'm going to mention on my list, 1941's The Wolf Man is one that stands out as one of my favorite characters out of all the Universal Studios Monsters.  Some younger crowds may see this character on screen and laugh about some of the displays they'll see—the monster walking around on his tippy toes, choosing to strangle its victims instead of biting them, always appearing in a long-sleeved button-up shirt—but this is a monumental film nonetheless.  As with the characters of Frankenstein's Monster and the Mummy, special effects makeup artist, Jack Pierce, creates another iconic character here that will be remembered until the end of time.

8. 1931's Frankenstein may be a movie that most younger people would not want to see.  I mean, come on, it's an 85 year-old movie, in black & white...but I'm captivated by this film and its 1935 sequel every time I watch them.  Though most millennials would probably never see this classic, you can't deny how well known Frankenstein's Monster is to this day.  Even if you were to show a picture of Boris Karloff in the famous Jack Pierce make-up, I'd hazard a guess to say that even a five-year-old would reply with the name of "Frankenstein" (as to which the monster is commonly known).  But both films have such great character and atmosphere to them, it's a must for me to see these films every October.

7. As with the classics I had mentioned above, Dracula sets the mood for Halloween like no other black & white film.  Being that it's one of Universal Studios' first "talkies" in 1931 (kids, you won't believe it, but movies prior to the 30s had no sound and you had to read all the dialogue on cards intermittently displayed on the screen throughout the film), the long silences and lack of a full score adds to the eeriness in the movie, making a lot of the scenes with Bela Lugosi feel intimidating.  Though there have been many vampire movies since, nothing compares to the dark and malevolent feeling you get while watching this staple of horror cinema.

6. I had mentioned the weird circumstances in my original review of 1985's Re-Animator, about how this movie suddenly appeared on our local channel—unedited—one night with my brother resourcefully recording the movie onto a blank VHS tape during the airing of the movie.  Man, I'd become such a fan of the film when I'd first seen it and was in awe of its raw special effects and how it blew my mind.  It's a gross-out flick, no doubt, but it's fun and crazy at the same time.  The movie's 1989 follow-up, Bride of Re-Animator, is respectable enough, but doesn't hold a candle to the original.  Do yourself a favor and pop this in to get in the horror movie mood.

5. The anthology subgenre of film had sorely been lacking since the 80s, when the Creepshow series was prevalent in its entertaining display of horror, being very sporadic with appearances in cinema.  Tales From the Darkside came close and so did Twilight Zone, but neither could really harness the magic that Stephen King and George Romero were able to capture.  You've already seen my views on Body Bags, but the one film that had had as much fun was 2007's Trick 'r Treat.  Although this film was made in 2007, it sat, shelved, for two years, finally released in 2009—straight to home media.  It seemed that Warner Bros. studio execs had no faith in this film and thought it wouldn't be worth churning out into theaters.  Guess what?  They were wrong as they always seem to be.  Remember how they'd repeatedly said R-rated movies didn't make as much money as PG-13 films?  And remember when Deadpool came along and changed all that, making those same studio dolts scrambling to release a Batman v Superman R-rated cut?  Yeah, those imbeciles know what they're doing, don't they?  Aaaah...if only us fans were running these studios, right?  Anyway, Trick 'r Treat is the perfect anthology for Halloween, all stories taking place during that special day of year and all of them intertwining with each other.  It's not very gory or upsetting, but it's a blast for anyone looking to get right into the October state-of-mind.

4. I had finally watched Night of the Living Dead, oddly enough, on a Halloween night years ago.  I'd mentioned this in my original review of this film, how it had been making the rounds on MTV back then for some reason.  Deciding to settle in and watch this old show when I couldn't make plans to go out with some friends was such a great choice.  Thinking it was just some silly old black & white flick, I wasn't prepared to be so creeped out and spooked by this viewing.  I had instantly become a fan of George Romero and decided to venture into all of the films in this series—from this one, right up until Survival of the Dead.  Even the remake that had been helmed by special effects master Tom Savini in 1990 is a great watch.  But I can't help but think of Halloween when I see the classic 1968's definitely a must-see for me every year.

3.  Now, the franchise of Creepshow has a storied past and it's shame that this series of films—especially the first one—has had a tough go of it, because it deserves much, much more effort to give the film—as well as the fans—what it needs.  The first film is such a favorite of mine and it gives me such a feeling of wistfulness that I can't explain.  The score, alone, is an awesome production in and of itself, masterfully crafted to be an epitome of horror music, which gives me a sense of the spooky season just hearing it without the movie.  Now, of the film, when anyone starts to discuss anthology films, this is the movie I go to, deeming it as the best in the horror movie subgenre.  The pairing of Stephen King with George Romero is totally ingenious and brilliant that I wonder why they haven't done much together afterwards.  Each vignette in this film has its own theme—from unstoppable zombies to a weird creature living in a crate—that your head will spin from the creative stories you'll witness.  Creepshow is a must—the first sequel is entertaining, the last one is unwatchable—and should be brought out every Halloween season.  If only we'd get a decent cleaned-up Blu-Ray of this masterpiece.  Warner Bros. is so fickle.

2.  Even though the first film of this series takes place closer to Christmas, Psycho is one I never miss during this time of year.  Starting off with the 1960 classic and going through the 1983 and 1986 sequels, I thoroughly enjoy these films for what they are.  The sequels are probably what fit most during the Halloween term since they're modeled after the slashers of that specific decade, but I watch them as a whole and usually throughout a binge-watching spree.  A third sequel, Psycho IV¸ was made as a cable television movie, but it's not as enjoyable as the first three movies.  But I do push my way through it when the occasion calls for it.  The 1998 remake isn't too awful and can be entertaining if you're in the right frame of mind.  However, the 1960 classic, followed by the sequels in the 80s, are the films to watch and will introduce you to the real meaning of October.

1. Finally—and I'm sure you can guess what franchise I hype as the number one series to go to during this season—the Halloween franchise is one I never miss during October of every year.  John Carpenter has definitely created the embodiment of what October 31st means and with what it's associated.  I won't say it's his masterpiece because I cite his film, The Thing, as the best he's ever created.  But Halloween brings in the trick-or-treat holiday to realization and gives most of us Generation Xers a feeling of nostalgia to boot.  To go through this franchise might be a bit confusing to anyone who's jumping into this for the first time (though I don't know anyone who hasn't seen some of these films), but let me break it down for you.  The first two films can be seen as one long film—the sequel taking place the same night as the first film.  Part three gets a little weird, as it was conceived by Carpenter to venture away from the Michael Myers character and make the franchise a part-by-part anthology of films.  When that didn't work, part four comes back to the Michael Myers saga and continues through the next two sequels.  Part eight—Halloween H20—completely ignores everything after part two, continuing on the saga with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).  The sequel to that one pretty much ended the series until Rob Zombie rebooted the original and made a sequel to that...leaving the series in the state that it's in right now—limbo.  But take the ones you want to watch (if you're a newbie, watch the original first two and the eighth part).  Whatever you do, don't discount Halloween III: Season of the's pretty good—yet strange—for being the redheaded stepchild of the series.

Well...what are you waiting for?  You've got 31 days to see all these films!  See for yourself if you agree with me on my views.

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