Happy Halloween to all of you nice people who visit here! I’m off to see CRIMSON PEAK as per the advice of our pals over at FASCINATION WITH FEAR but I hate to leave you with nothing to watch so here is a double feature of the classics THE HALLOWEEN THAT ALMOST WASN’T and WITCH’S NIGHT OUT ! Remember to eat tons of candy while watching!
It doesn’t quite feel like Halloween unless I get some black-and-white films in my diet. I know y’all know to check out the classic UNIVERSAL stuff that includes all the usual suspects (FRANKENSTEIN, WOLF MAN, THE MUMMY, et al.) and I know you’ve heard me harp on and on about supernatural favorites like THE HAUNTING, THE INNOCENTS, BURN, WITCH, BURN, CURSE OF THE DEMON, THE UNINVITED and HORROR HOTEL. And certainly you know enough to salute any and everything within a seven mile radius of the name VAL LEWTON (GHOST SHIP, 7TH VICTIM, CAT PEOPLE and assorted kin) but here are five more glorious and nutritious mood setting B&W features that deserve a tip of the pointy witch’s hat this time of year!
THE UNDYING MONSTER (1942)
I’ll never forget the fine night I fell asleep in front of the TV and woke up to this gem and was instantly mesmerized. Somehow this one is known as a tag along B-flick but it could have fooled me with its incredible atmosphere and memorable visual flair (which includes a smoke-framed POV shot from within a fireplace). There’s a gloomy, fog-dipped mansion on a seaside cliff (with massive stain glass windows), an ancient family curse involving a ferocious fuzzy beast and wall-to-wall off-beat characters trying to figure it all out. My only complaint is that it’s too short!
ARSENIC & OLD LACE (1944)
This FRANK CAPRA flick based on the popular stage play is a well-known classic of course but I don’t think we’ve mentioned it enough around here. CARY GRANT should be more than enough to charm you into checking it out but if horror fans require more: it includes plenty of murder and mayhem; it takes place on a Halloween day littered with swirling dead leaves; and it features PETER LORRE and RAYMOND MASSEY doing a fine impression of BORIS KARLOFF, his costar in another B&W necessity, JAMES WHALE’s THE OLD DARK HOUSE.
THE WOMAN WHO CAME BACK (1945)
Please don’t act like you’ve seen enough movies starring THE BAD SEED’s momma NANCY KELLY because you know you haven’t. Here she stars as a lady who returns to her hometown after surviving an incredible bus accident (the special effect showing a toy bus falling over a miniature cliff is adorable) and begins to suspect that thanks to her witch hunting ancestor, she’s living under a witch’s curse and may be possessed by a dead witch herself. I certainly could do without the tacked on ending that explains all of the cool stuff we’ve witnessed away (boo, science!) but otherwise this is one highly entertaining and pleasantly spooky flick.
THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1946)
Exactly one year ago today on October 28, 2014, I was singing the praises of this movie so jump back in time and read all about that HERE.
SCREAM OF FEAR (1961)
This is another one we’ve talked about before (HERE) but I’m bringing it up again because it was just recently finally released on DVD (under the title HAMMER FILMS COLLECTION) thanks to the wonderful and generous folks over at MILL CREEK. I got my copy for less than 5 bucks and it includes four other movies for crying out loud! You can’t beat that kids, not even with a broomstick!!!
Ack, can’t we slow this October thing down? This weekend is Halloween and I’m not even properly spooked yet unless you include the other night when I had to get up to use the bathroom and I was super worried that I’d have a heart attack if I bumped into that scary plague doctor dude from that creepy Polish viral video.
To be honest, as much as I appreciate everybody’s enthusiasm for the holiday, sometimes all the desperate commercialism and pumpkin latte caramel spice crap can dampen my fervor and that’s when I need to go old school! In an effort to achieve the desired mood, the other night I realized that I had to find a super rainy movie with lots of howling wind and tons of hoary lightening sound effects. I’m comforted by the fact that nearly every stormy seventies TV offering features the same familiar cracks and crashes. If I’m especially lucky I’ll stumble into something that sports the same stock footage of lightening that appears at the beginning of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND.
Happily I stumbled into the 1972 TV movie THE VICTIM starring ELIZABETH MONTGOMERY and holy crap, EILEEN (BAD SEED, BURNT OFFERINGS) HECKART!!! If you’re keeping tabs that’s a score, a score and a double score (I probably just lost some of our younger readers just then to whom I say buh-bye). MONTGOMERY plays a lady named Kate who visits her sister unaware that her sister was recently murdered. The killer decides that they might as well kill Kate too and the whole movie is her running around in an empty house in the middle of the night trying to avoid being murdered. It actually has a very similar premise as this Australian movie I just watched called LADY STAY DEAD (1981) but it also reminded me a bit of THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL with its minimalism and limited location.
The ending kinda sucks. I’ll be real. It’s even a little extra frustrating because it could have been easily saved by one line of dialogue. It sort of just leaves you hanging and even though I can’t say it doesn’t give you all the information you need, it certainly doesn’t emphasize it in a satisfactory manner. But that’s just the very end and I can’t negate an entire song just because of one weak note at the close. Otherwise, I absolutely dig the mood and music of this baby and felt it hit the spot. Even though I never caught this corny creeper as a kid, everything about it makes me feel like I’m staying up late and braving the danger zone. If you are of a like mind check it out but I’d say wait till late at night and make sure to pretend your computer is a portable television set. It’s not at all scary but it will put you in the mood to be scared and that tastes a lot better than cinnamon pumpkin spice gingerbread crap.
It’s that time of year when I tend to watch every movie in the HALLOWEEN series and yes, that does include ROB ZOMBIE’s 2007 stab and especially its profound 2009 sequel. With the news announced that the next HALLOWEEN installment will be a direct continuation of 1981’s HALLOWEEN II, I guess I’ll have to get used to the fact that I won’t be seeing ROB ZOMBIE’s HALLOWEEN 3 anytime soon.
That’s just what you naysayers would like, isn’t it? Well, it just so happens that I am not bound to the laws of your puny reality and in fact, I have already carved out my own dimension in which ROB ZOMBIE’s HALLOWEEN 3 does indeed exist! What’s more, it’s standing right there under your pointy nose and it just happens to be called THE LORDS OF SALEM! You heard that right, from this day forth I’m just going to watch TLOS as if it were a very loose remake of H3:SOTW. Go ahead, try and sue me! No professional lawyer in his or her right mind would take your case! To be on the safe side though, let’s look at the mountains of spurious evidence I’ve haphazardly compiled. Shall we?
Let’s get the most obvious similarity out of the way first and that similarity is the overall lack of similarity! LORDS OF SALEM is to ROB ZOMBIE’s two back-to-back HALLOWEEN films as H3: SEASON OF THE WITCH is to the original HALLOWEEN films in that they both feature a completely different storyline. Not for nothing, both movies directly focus on witchcraft and the pestilential use of black magic. And hey look… TLOS and SOTW have only one letter that differentiates them in the initials of their respective titles too! That probably doesn’t seem like a big deal but when it comes to witchcraft, stuff like that matters. I think.
*Both films feature an actress who appeared in the first two installments (alive in the first, dead in the second) now playing a completely different role and sporting a hairstyle I’m not entirely on board with.
*HALLOWEEN 3 famously features a song that has the power to corrupt and destroy (The Silver Shamrock jingle) and yep, that’s a pivotal part of TLOS too.
*Yikes! Silent, robot-like henchmen are seen roaming about!
*Look at these three darling ladies! They look harmless enough but that’s not the case! They are wearing masks, so to speak, and should not be trusted!
Stand warned, troikas are powerful and the most powerful troikas fit a somewhat particular design. There is the grounding mother/boss (witch) symbolizing birth, there is the more jovial prankster (pumpkin) representing life and the final is the darkest, death (skull) representing conflict, closure and the proverbial kicking of the bucket. These three can be found in the duplicitous witches in TLOS and they appear in baser forms as H3‘s iconic Silver Shamrock masks. Here are some other examples:
(In some cases there may be overlapping characteristics here and there but you get the idea.)
It is important to note that in both the case of SEASON OF THE WITCH and THE LORDS OF SALEM, the nefarious plan to utilize witchcraft to trigger devastation can be deemed successful and that our heroes’ attempts to alter the outcome are for naught. In one flick, the darkness seeps in thanks to a door left open by a nationwide addiction to consumerism and in the other, a more personal rekindled drug addiction is to blame… but what’s the difference when the end result is pretty much the same?
Still not convinced? Neither am I! Oh well! What can I say; I enjoy a facetious fan theory every once in a while. I guess my point is that a fellow needs to watch something after they’ve finished the entire HALLOWEEN series and THE LORDS OF SALEM hits the spot for me because….witches! You can’t do Halloween without witches! Nope, there’s no replacing the one of a kind insanity-mobile that is H3: SOTW but I still hold strong to the belief that two films concerning witches scheming to cause mayhem on a massive scale can stand side by side in harmony! If witches have taught us anything it’s that there’s strength in numbers!
Happy Halloween! Love, Kindertrauma & VACACIONES dE TERROR 2!
- IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN!
- PROJECT RUN SCARED: THE TEN WORST HALLOWEEN COSTUMES
- JAMIE LEE CURTIS’ FOLLICLE FUNHOUSE
- THE LIVES AND LOVES OF LAURIE STRODE
- HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (A HOLIDAY CLASSIC!)
- 12 HORROR HOUSES TO AVOID WHEN TRICK OR TREATING
- HALLOWEEN, IT”S NOT JUST FOR HALLOWEEN ANYMORE
- HALLOWEEN: DEATH AND THE MAIDEN
Today is the day I finally realized without a shadow of a doubt that I am trapped in the wrong dimension! I do not belong in this hell world where the pilot for THE ELVIRA SHOW went unaired. I belong in the alternate universe where THE ELVIRA SHOW ran for six seasons and now airs nightly repeats in syndication. Get me out of this damned dimension! I want to go home!
UNK SEZ: A couple years ago I listed ten of my favorite movies that took place on Halloween (HERE). There’s probably not too many surprises on that list but hey, I had a relatively limited barrel of apples to bob from. This year I thought it might be better to pick out ten films that have NOTHING to do with Halloween but that still somehow carry something that feels like the Halloween spirit to me. These movies don’t involve the holiday itself, but their tone or subject matter is simpatico and regardless of their aspirations or taste level, they all share a healthy respect for the eerie unknown.
BURN WITCH BURN (1962) Behind every great man is a great witch. Skeptic Norman Taylor learns the hard way which side his bread is buttered on when his life goes to pot after he forces his wife to can her craft. BURN (aka NIGHT OF THE EAGLE) earns extra charm points for allowing me to cram THE INNOCENTS into the conversation as its star PETER WYNGARDE appeared in that classic as the menacing Quint!
CURSE (NIGHT) OF THE DEMON (1957) (not to be confused with NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988) which does take place on Halloween) When will science ever learn to take its hat off when black magic is in the room? You’ll find some kids cavorting in spooky masks in this non-Halloween tale and I swear the holiday itself makes a cameo in the form of a chillingly ominous windstorm. Non-believers beware!
THE EVIL (1978) What Halloween is complete without a visit to a haunted house and what better time period to dress the excursion in than the late seventies? Subtly is refreshingly kicked to the curb and any thoughts that you’ve seen all this before are swept away by a surreal eleventh hour house-call call by old scratch himself!
ONE DARK NIGHT (1982) Staying overnight in a haunted house is one thing but who would have the nerve to camp out in a psychically animated corpse occupied mausoleum? Possibly tame by today’s standards, who can complain when the company you are keeping includes MEG TILLY (PSYCHO II) and more importantly the one and only E.G. DAILY? Keep an eye out for my favorite tunnel (Los Angeles’2nd Street), which has also appeared in BLADE RUNNER and THE TERMINATOR among others!
WITCHBOARD (1986) If you’d like to know what it’s like to be the best Ouija board-centered horror move ever made, you’ll have to ask this one! I don’t know what’s more awesome, the first glimpse of bearded, axe-wielding evil spirit Malfeitor or seeing music video vixen TAWNY KITAEN dressed in drag. Extra points for yanking a still feisty ROSE MARIE and quirky character actress KATHLEEN WILHOITE into the mix!!
GHOULIES (1985) Silly though it may be, there’s something so weird going on in this movie that I have to give it a nod. I find the titular creatures more adorable than scary so I’m placing blame solely on “Greedigut,” the lady little person with the ill-fitting demonic voice (the late great TAMARA DeTREAUX) for my inexplicable unease. Joining the kooky chaos is JENNIFER’s LISA PELIKAN, KILLER PARTY’s RALPH SEYMOUR, TWIN PEAKS’ JACK NANCE and good lordy, MARISKA HARGITAY!
STIR OF ECHOES (1999) You’ll find a career high performance from KEVIN BACON here and even more impressively, a truly unique and refreshingly un-flashy presentation of the supernatural. What sets this flick apart is its sense of loss, after the scares have dissipated, there’s a rank tragic vibe that’s a little bit harder to shake. Extra points added for recruiting both ILLEANA DOUGLAS and the unnerving nightmare LIDSVILLE to take part in this spooky RICHARD MATHESON-penned mystery.
THE GATE (1987) Aw, remember the giddy fun it was when your parents would take off and leave you alone in the house all night as a kid? Makes me want to pop corn and watch QUINCY M.E. This movie is tons of fun and the stop motion monsters are super cool yet how flipping scary is it when the folks return home but are not acting quite themselves? SPEILBERG would be proud (if he was drunk). Extra points rewarded for upgrading the usual dusty book with a heavy metal record played backwards!
DOLLS (1987) Knowing that killer dolls inhabit this film should be enough for anybody. This creepy compact dark fantasy takes place on “The longest night ever” and when it’s not fulfilling your requirements for biting bloodshed, it’s making you chuckle like hell. The opening scene that involves a teddy bear’s grizzly revenge is too good to be true and the moral warning that if you don’t keep the kid inside you alive, you’re likely to end up a puppeteer’s plaything, is one we’re always happy to back up here!
DEMONS (1985) O.K., now it’s time to get a little rowdy. Who can say no to a free ticket to a horror movie? Not me. The premise, about a demon outbreak occurring during a movie show while the audience is trapped within the theater is wildly out there, so how come whenever I watch this flick I believe every thing it tells me as if it were the gospel? Ack! Maybe it’s my claustrophobia and fear of crowds that takes over, but I can never help putting myself in the place of the characters and noting that I would be a shivering wreck hiding under a chair looking for a way to kill myself and praying for a helicopter to land on my head. DEMONS has no time to explain itself. You’re already dead.
THE FOG (1980) While everybody and their brother was scrambling to duplicate HALLOWEEN’s success by lifting the more obvious stalk and stab aspects of the film, its co-creators took the less crowded route and delved head first into the uncanny ambiguity that really made the flick tick. What they came up with is the ultimate ghost story that is THE FOG. It may take place in April, but this telling of a night when the supernatural world collides with ours is arguably just as appropriate for the holiday as its predecessor. Plus you get to see what really happened to Laurie Strode after the night he came home, she changed her name to Elizabeth and went hitchhiking!
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.
We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.
Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.
We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.
Since then ’tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.
The first time I saw Michael Myers’s face (mask, really), I turned (sprinted, really) away. It was during a review for HALLOWEEN on SISKEL & EBERT and it was just a clip but I had to leave the room and shake his visage from my mind by jumping up and down. His image is now so familiar (especially this time of year) that it takes some effort for me to recall just how alien and menacing it was upon first view. I had no knowledge of whom or what he was within the story, no idea of how iconic his likeness would become and certainly no inkling of his countenance’s debt to Captain Kirk. I saw a white face with hollow black eyes and it almost appeared as if it were floating in the darkest of space. He was a levitating skull and skulls don’t have to speak to say loud and clear, “Poison, death, run.” Some primal million years old memory stored in my DNA awoke and manipulated my legs as if they were connected to marionette strings. (My cat feels the same way about the vacuum cleaner). Some movies are bigger than movies; some movies unknowingly chant ancient spells. I never wanted to see that face again so I began to seek it out.
To best understand HALLOWEEN (both the film and the holiday) it helps to be a certain age, somewhere between bright summery childhood and cold mature winter, somewhere on the cusp of adulthood lazily observing the world transform with a crisp mix of excitement and apprehension. It helps to be a teenager in autumn. It helps to be knee-deep in change. Here comes Laurie Strode! She’s carrying a wall of books in front of herself like a shield. She’s different than her friends, more cautious, structured and on guard and those who reductively sum up her identity by her level of sexual experience, are evaluating a universe based on one dying star. Here we have one of horror’s most beloved and identified with protagonists. She is a hero and earns the right to be called one. This status does not fall into her lap because she abstains from sex throughout the course of the film. HALLOWEEN is often cited for forging the spurious template that demands only virgins survive a slasher film and that all those who dabble in sex and drugs must die, a condescension that ignores not only Laurie’s internal journey but also the fact that she gets stoned before showing up at her babysitting gig.
Of more pertinence than Laurie’s presumed “purity” is the way in which she interacts with others and the things that she says about herself. We get the gist that she is considered a “good girl” but it appears she achieves that recognition by fulfilling the wants of others while her own desires are shelved. When she bumps into young Tommy Doyle her reply to his every request is a quick, “Sure, sure, sure” but she has no real answers when he bombards her with, “Why, why, why?” She runs errands for her father; she picks up the slack for her friends, and when she jokes about being a “girl scout” it may have less to do with her moral standing than it does the accommodating, nearly subservient position she holds. More pressing than her love life is Laurie’s subtle struggle with her own acquiescence. HALLOWEEN is a classic that is highly regarded by people of various ages but it’s notable how the film tends to strike a firmer, more formative and enthusiastic impact with audiences members roughly Laurie’s age, young adults naturally beginning to wonder if they are mapping out their futures for themselves or based on the expectations of those (parents, friends) around them.
What is the cost of subverting yourself in order to facilitate everybody else’s goals and agendas? Laurie sees, intuits death. While giving a prompted answer regarding fate in class, death appears; while being goaded and chided by her pals on the sidewalk, death appears; while staring out the window at the drooping result of domestic chores, a full clothesline, there stands death again. The paychecks for not rocking the boat become fewer as the taxes for bottling her true self pile up. Laurie admits she’s interested in a guy named Ben Tramer but as soon as proactive pal Annie clears the path towards him, she recoils and coyly cowards. C’mon Laurie! Really? You know what? If you keep neutralizing and diluting yourself, the invisibility you are conjuring is going to manifest. Do you know what that will be like? It will be like running down the street as shades are drawn and porch lights extinguish screaming “Can’t you hear me?!!!”
HALLOWEEN is frequently made to fess up its debt to BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) but the blank-faced yet somehow accusatory dark figure, the central challenge haunting its heroine to fully take form and the overall poetic, uncanny atmosphere favor even more so CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962). Feel free to toast the late BOB CLARK for the P.O.V. shots and the holiday setting but when it comes to the death-and-the-maiden motif, we’re dealing with a theme so firmly rooted that you wouldn’t be off base high-fiving EDVARD MUNCH and EMILY DICKINSON either.
Laurie is locked in place but her tango with mortality will bestow traction, this dance with death is not new. It’s Halloween night and we’re celebrating the end of summer (Halloween is linked to the Celtic “Samhain” which is derived from “Sumuin” which literally means “Summer’s end”). It’s a night when it’s said that the supernatural world and our world overlap and ghosts from the past return (home). It’s a night that honors the dead but more importantly here, in turn, celebrates the bounty that is change and renewal.
“Why won’t anybody help me?!” Poor Laurie, always happy to lend a hand but when she needs one herself she’s own her own. She’s found her voice but nobody is listening. There is a panicky “Boy Who Cried Wolf” element afoot as Laurie discovers how easily she is overlooked and forgotten. She reenters (thanks to a half asleep Tommy) the Doyle house and things markedly change. It’s unfair to say Laurie transforms, rather, she finally allows herself access to what was available to her all along. She stands her ground. We’re about to find out her commitment and responsibility towards others is a vulnerability easily flipped on its head to become a source of power. With two children counting on her, Laurie drops the wavering and amasses control. It’s a struggle, as well it should be, but this “day of reckoning” has been brewing for some time. For the audience, the battle is as cathartic as it is suspenseful. We’re watching someone not assessed too grandly by her peers carve some turf in the world and refuse to roll over. We’re witnessing a rite of passage. Laurie is accepting the challenge to move ahead toward autonomous adulthood. Who would understand that something so benign and mundane seeming as a knitting needle could be a devastating game-changer? Laurie.
Sheriff Leigh Brackett: A man wouldn’t do that.
Dr. Sam Loomis: This isn’t a man.
Is there really such a mystery to the “The Shape”? The very first thing we learn in HALLOWEEN is who he is. He’s that mouth-breathing scamp who severed his sister from her rightful adulthood in the very first scene of the film. He’s frozen in time. He has no voice. You can paint him in as many dark shadows as you want but he’s still the poster child for arrested development. (He even hangs out in the wreckage of his boyhood home.) I’m not saying he’s not scary (nothing is scarier than a dullard with a sharp knife and nothing to lose), I’m just saying we tend to deny that we’ve all seen behind this mask. Haddonfield residents may have molded him into “The Boogey Man” but even as such, he’s chained to the fears of childhood and that is where he belongs. He is something to be outgrown (“Well, kiddo, I thought you outgrew superstition”). Laurie is purposely moving away from Michael a.k.a. “The Shape” (a voiceless shadow linked to the past) and toward Loomis (an outspoken eccentric who follows his own compass forward). Although the Myers monster was consciously conceived to be a “blank slate” that audiences could project an infinite amount of fears upon, for Laurie, being a “blank slate” could be, in and of itself, the ultimate fear and the ultimate death. The creature she is battling is the void she might become.
So yeah, I see a coming-of-age film lurking in the shadows of HALLOWEEN. Instead of “The Shape” conservatively punishing the characters for premarital sex and alcohol consumption, I see him raging against the common rites of passage that lead toward adulthood that he has denied himself. Laurie does not live due to the magical power of prudence, on the contrary; she survives because she loosens the grip on her own reigns. I’ve heard it said that HALLOWEEN is a throwback because Laurie must wait for Loomis to save her, a comment that makes me want to partake in a killing spree of my own. It’s an insult to Laurie’s cavalry, the universality of the tale and the fact that this movie, by my estimation is the greatest cinematic collaboration between a man and a woman…ever. We’re talking JOHN CARPENTER and DEBRA HILL (CARPENTER readily identifies the film as “a 50/50 collaboration”.) If you understand HILL provided Laurie’s essence and CARPENTER Loomis’, it’s only fitting that in the end, they team up not to destroy, (You can’t kill the boogeyman!) but to push the destructive darkness back into the night. Loomis has been struggling to be taken seriously too why should Strode have all the (redemptive) fun?
HALLOWEEN hardly needs any endorsement by me. Its artistry is well observed and the long-standing devotion its characters have garnered in fans says everything you need to know. Still, as the years pass, I have become more in tune with just how succinctly the movie captures the spirit of the holiday itself (regardless of the conspiratorial green trees that wave from the horizon). Maybe phantoms don’t actually cross over into our world on All Hallows’ Eve, but I for one can always count on being visited by the ghost of my youth. Halloween and autumn stand responsible for many a child’s earliest awareness of the fleeting stages of life and who didn’t feel the wasp sting the first time they heard, “You’re getting too big for trick ‘r treating!”? (Oh, if only I knew then that adulthood would also mean no one ever telling you again what costume to wear, how late to stay up watching horror movies, what candy to throw away or what demons to dread.) Getting older may include leaving certain things behind but I’ll never let go of Laurie, Loomis and Tommy all trying to make their fears heard, Bob and Lynda both trying to get laid, sarcastic Annie trying to get that butter stain out of her shirt, and her poor good natured pop just trying to keep things in order. And I’ll never lose sight of “The Shape.” He’s not as enigmatic as he once was but maybe that’s because he’s moving closer. That empty, vacant face still scares me, and everyone, no matter their age, is entitled to one good scare.