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.
# 28 Night of the Demons
(Written by Joe Augustyn, Directed by Kevin Tenney, Starring Alvin Alexis, Allison Barron, Lance Fenton, Billy Gallo, Hal Havins, Cathy Podewell, Linnea Quigley, Philip Tanzini, Jill Terashita and Amelia Kinkade)
Granted I watched the very first Night of the Demons when I couldn't have been any older than 11 years old. I secretly rented a copy of it one night when I was staying at my Grandparents' house and then fed it into their VCR after they retired to bed. It was, for an 11 year old, an absolutely hair-raising 90 minutes wherein I believe for 75% of the time I was experiencing unadulterated, distilled terror. No joke. I barely made it up the stairs and into bed alone that night. However viewing it as an adult, Night of the Demons is a flawed film, I get that now. The acting from more than a few involved is downright laughable at certain moments ("Whats the matter Helen?"), and to the point of distraction occasionally. It has it's champions in one corner and it's deriders in another, and both of them are justified for standing in either camp. But ya know what? I'm gonna give it a pass. Because sometimes even I ain't looking for Lynch, Croneneberg or Von Trier. Sometimes, all this movie buff needs is tits and ass and buckets of blood presented to us with a least a modicum of talent. Well, Night of the Demons has plenty of all three. Yeah, there's talent here. Lot's of it. B-Movie it might be, but one of the best, relentlessly snarling of it's kind. You disagree? Well then take your snooty ass elsewhere, us enlightened folks have things to discuss. Okay, now that that bad energy has left the room, let's get to it shall we?
It's a story as old as the genre at this point, ten disparate teenagers, led by the commanding Angela Franklin* (Amelia Kinkade, who gets better and more assured with each subsequent entry) throw a party on grounds they seriously never should have set foot on. In this case, it's the old isolated Hull House mortuary situated on cursed land and surrounded by an underground stream (pertinent to the last act, spirits can't cross water you see). But Hull House isn't haunted though, it's "possessed"...okay, whatever. What matters is that entering it is a one way ticket straight to hell. After some amusing hobnobbing between the ensemble dancing and partying like lovable buffoons (with Hal Havins as Stooge stealing every scene, seriously every possessed Funeral Home flick needs this guy) and some simultaneously hokey and creepy Halloween parlor games (a séance and a game of "past lives"...okay, again whatever), the silly fools let loose a demon locked away in the home's crematorium (strangely resembling something straight out of Disney's Dragonslayer, ahh the 80's) and the real party (and screaming) begins. One by one (starting with Angela, the franchise's lead villain) the unlucky kids are murdered by their own possessed comrades, their corpses then taken over by the insatiable entity from the basement and the army of gravel voiced, growling demons swell.
If you are willing to tuck away the aforementioned bad acting, the good things that Demons has going for it are sure to win you over in spades; First off, there is the rich atmosphere of eeriness, thick as the mortuary's cobwebs, that hangs over the entire proceedings. From Hull House's decrepit coffins, murky basement, long maze-like hallways, the set decorators certainly created one of the 80's most memorably evil abodes. Even some of the house's lesser, more sparse rooms carry this weight. You couldn't pay me to enter this house. The prosthetics and monster designs are divine, with Angela's possessed ugly mug taking the cake. In all my years of being a horror fan (from birth onwards) there are few things from the genre that stick with me for life and raise the hairs on my arms regardless of age but Angela's iconic visage, howling in demonic glee, floating down the corridors of the funeral home in her black wedding dress in a maddened search for souls to devour, is definitely one of them (I honestly don't know how I didn't wet myself in my Grandparent's darkened living room all those years ago). UN-fucking-pleasant she is. The wrap-around story that bookends the film, starring a cantankerous old man who hates children and Halloween, is a lovely spot of black humor with a cringe-inducing punchline worthy of applause. Those ass-kicking, animated opening credits. The film's climax, involving a last ditch, desperate attempt by our two surviving leads (one of them African American, a welcome surprise) at escape by scaling the brick wall that surrounds the property using only the criss crossing barbwire clinging to its side at leverage, is downright hair-raising. And incidentally the one moment when Cathy Podewell (as Judy, and out of her league even by B-movie standards) really sells it. Hanging on for dear life by mere fingers, her hands sliced to ribbons on the barb wire she struggles to grasp, her legs being sizzled in the clutches of the army of demons clawing at her from below, Podewell lets loose with agonized, terrified screams that would make any Scream Queen weep with envy. Bravo girl, it was in there somewhere after all. I'm sure no Night of the Demon's review would be complete without mentioning Linnea Quigley's famous lipstick through the nipple scene, probably the single most referenced moment in the cult classic's life. So there, I mentioned it because I would instead like to tip my hat to what is my personal favorite moment from the film: Angela's bewitching and disturbing cavorting to Bauhaus' Stigmata Martyr. With the aid of a strobe light, genius editing (that comes off less as flash and more as a special effect of the demon's abilities), some enticing lingerie and that flowing and twirling black wedding dress, Kinkade and Bauhaus bring the show to a screeching halt for 1 minute of pure rock and roll horror heaven. This in a movie that I'd already call pure horror heaven from beginning to end as it is.
*Editor's Note: Justin Graves would like to know where in the hell his Angela Franklin collectible action figure is already. It's 2011, get with the program toy makers.