Must Watch Horror Films For Halloween
So here is the thing folks, I generally hate most of what passes as Halloween "Must Watch Horror" lists that make their way into every periodical and spring up all over every website, come this time of year. And while yes, I am always happy to see our genre get some ink in newspapers, magazines and on assorted blogs, who wouldn't say at this point that those lists have become just about as predictable as the sun rise? Admittedly, there are certain mainstays that belong on every list, every year; John Carpenter's Halloween, William Friedkin's The Exorcist, George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist and Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street to name but a few. But this just leads me to my other problem with the majority of the selected films on the majority of these lists: very few if any of them are actually about or set during Halloween. And if you are a dyed in the wool horror fan like me (if you're not, then what the hell are you doing here), chances are you watch any of the aforementioned films once or twice a year anyways. You're looking for something a little bit more specific yes? You want to really celebrate your Halloween by digging into 31 films set during or around your favorite time of year, right? Well, fear no more dear readers, we here at The October Country have compiled to be what we think is the real list of Must Watch Horror Films For Halloween. Yes, there will be a number of expected titles on hand (Halloween and few of it's sequels deserve the seasonal recognition they've carved out for themselves) but there will also be some overlooked gems, truly great films that celebrate the holiday just as much as anything starring The Shape or Sam (Halloween's new mascot), with his little hay sack face and candy knives. So check back in with us when you can , as a new film will be added to the list everyday.
#30 Pet Sematary II
(Written by Richard Outten, Directed by Mary Lambert, Starring Edward Furlong, Anthony Edward, Clancy Brown, Jared Rushton, Darlanne Fluegel, Jason McGuire, Sarah Trigger and Lisa Waltz)
I know I'm probably gonna take a lot of flack for this comment, but here goes: "I think Pet Sematary II is an improvement over it's predecessor." There I said it, and about a sequel that is almost universally panned, hated, mocked and loathed. Sure, the original Pet Sematary has the crippled, terrifying Zelda (Andrew Hubatsek under heavy prosthetic) whose unnerving appearances stick with just about everyone with a pulse long after the film ends. It also has the amazing Fred Gwynne as dear ol' Jud Crandall. Let's see, it's final 15 minutes are a real nerve shredding time, achieving a feeling of near breathless, otherworldly menace and doom. But what about the first 90 minutes? Yawn. What about it's super important and meandering mediation on life and death and loss? Okay, I tear up at little Gage's funeral ("Daddy noooooooo!") but other than that I just....*snooze*. Hmm, Elliot Goldenthal turns in a lovely, and I do mean lovely, score. But...but...that's it. Nearly the entire film is miscast (Tasha Yar you ain't doing us any favors at this juncture and Dale Midkiff just stay in that bathtub a while longer..no really, stay in that bathtub) with the exception of Gwynne and the talented Miko Hughes (but he was still in diapers and wouldn't really get the chance to shine until some years later). The tragedies unfold like melodrama, seriously downer melodrama but melodrama all the same. Written by the author himself, Stephen King, and directed by the talented Mary Lambert, there really is no excuse for Pet Sematary to just...lay there, limp, the way it does. And that's my problem with it. I find the entire exercise to be limp. Stale. Artless. Devoid of style or heart. Thankfully, Mary Lambert was given another chance to rectify her snore inducing direction of the first and returned for the sequel, unarguably a much livelier beast. I can hear you screaming now, "Pet Sematary? How could you! Pet Sematary II? Give me a break!" followed by "How could you!" Hear me out.
You all know the story by now. People die in and around the small hamlet of Ludlow, Maine and a every now and then an unlucky few are trotted off by their grieving loved ones to be buried at the old Micmac Indian burial ground (just a ways past the titular pet cemetery), wherein they soon return to undead life. Admittedly there isn't much new going on here. The franchise's plot nearly paints itself into a corner as far as doing anything groundbreaking is concerned. However, it's in presentation where Pet Sematary II gets a severed leg up on it's creaky progenitor (I know, I know, I stand alone...onward I go though).
First off, the entire cast this time around is decidedly not miscast with nearly every character getting the chance to emotionally connect with the audience. I mean that. Louis and Rachel Creed just seemed like another unfortunate (and dull) horror movie family buying some unlucky real estate the first time around. The Gilberts in part two however, come off as the real deal (fucked up, dysfunctional, mildly abusive and with a real flesh and blood history to their names). Edward Furlong shucks his teen heartthrob image following his success in Terminator 2: Judgement Day and goes to some pretty dark places (90% successfully). But it's the always reliable Clancy Brown that steals the show as the at first intimidating and reproachful lawman Gus Gilbert and then later as the psychotic and evil zombie lawman Gus Gilbert. His character, once resurrected, very nearly comes close to undoing any attempt at seriousness the movie might ask you to believe in but thankfully, Brown is up for the job and balances the mixture of humor and grotesque horror perfectly. Even though I find the first film to be such a drag, I don't think that the story was begging for jokey dialogue punctuating the mayhem. But if it has to be there at least it's being delivered by the likes of Brown, who sells it.
Secondly, dogs are scarier than cats. End of story. I may love dogs and hate cats, but a snarling, rotting 100 pound behemoth like Zowie is certainly gonna make me start slowly backing away, piss running down my pant's leg, long before some pissy little furball like Church would (plus, cats are always being pissy, vicious furballs....who can tell the difference, not I).
Third, the direction of Lambert this time around excels in nearly every way; In the staging of scenes (the car chase that abruptly ends with a collision into a potato truck, all set to The Jesus and Mary Chain's badass Reverence). In the film's choice of color palette (autumnal reds, browns and oranges replace the original's lack of color palette). In it's wackadoodle off the wall weirdness (see Anthony Edwards' fucking of his deceased, dog-headed wife...necrophilia and bestiality in the same scene, I'll drink to that twistedness). In the way that the film begins on a cheesy, unreal looking Gothic movie set and as reality spirals out of control in the last act, Jeff (Furlong) buries his mother Renee (Darlanne Fluegel) on a clearly unreal looking movie set similar in effect to the one she originally died on. Oh yeah, Renee's dying, demonic howls of "Staaaaay with me!" as flames engulf her living corpse (serious chills, shudders and goose pimples). The film's mean streak and the subsequent offing of incredibly likeable characters (see the aforementioned potato truck). That kickin' soundtrack (hello L7, hello Miranda Sex Garden...even if we do miss Mr. Goldenthal's contribution this time around). The fact that the entire coming of age angle is like some Ray Bradbury nightmare on crack (those autumnal hues, that small town with a dark secret, two young friends transitioning from boyhood to manhood, discovering how cruel life can be...why wisps and memories of Something Wicked This Way Comes nearly threaten to blow in). The brief high pitched bleats of a child getting his face violently ground to hamburger by the spinning wheel of his motor bike (Clyde, you dick, you get my sympathy for all of two seconds). But most importantly, the fact that all the carnage begins on a nicely realized, small town Halloween evening. As the film's disaffected teenagers sit around a campfire at the dilapidated pet cemetery and tell ghost stories about their home's checkered and bloody past (specifically, a sensationalized recount of the first film's events), on the night when the veil between the living and the dead is at it's thinnest, trouble suddenly rises up on the horizon and on Halloween, everyone is about to discover how thin the veil truly is. It's not a perfect film by any means but for my money, it's a helluva lot more fun, alive, affecting, tense and horrific.
Okay, so I probably didn't change anyone's minds. You probably still worship at the feet of Pet Sematary and Pet Sematary II still makes you want to cry "Whyyyyyyyyy" for your own reasons. I get it. Pet Sematary is the "serious" horror film and Pet Sematary II is the slightly askew, redheaded step child that tells inappropriate jokes immediately following Aunt Millie choking on her crumb cake in front of your horrified family. You wanna backhand it for being so unruly. It's the child you prefer to hide in the attic. That's how you see it. But if you come around these parts this October, you already know which one this household will be screening because we happen to be partial to redheads. Just mind the face will ya, when you wing that tomato in my direction.