Your 2016 Halloween Primer
Above: Photo via latimes.com
By Arts Editor Brendan Barlow
October is upon us, and for some that means nothing, but for those of us who love this season, it means swimming gleefully through an infinite sea of horror movies, books, podcasts, and video games, seeking out scares between now and Halloween. Here are some suggestions to help you navigate that endless sea and find some new ways to scare yourself this month.
Halloween III: The Season of the Witch (1982)
Surely many of us, even those who dislike horror, are familiar with the Halloween franchise, or at the very least the mask-and-overalls wearing killer, Michael Myers. Well, Halloween III: The Season of the Witch is a film you may be much less familiar with, because its plot has absolutely nothing to do with any of the other films in the franchise, and doesn’t even feature the icon Mr. Myers. You see, the Halloween series was originally intended to be an anthology, with each film plot being unique and based around Halloween. The first film in 1978 was so successful, however, that this plan was scrapped for the second film. An attempt was then made to revitalize it with Season of the Witch; unfortunately, it was too late, and audiences were ultimately disappointed with this complete change of story. So Season of the Witch is often overlooked, and that’s really too bad.
Season of the Witch is silly, fun, and even a little bit scary in a few places. The story is simple: a company called Silver Shamrock has released masks for Halloween which are very popular, and a police officer seeks to uncover a sinister plot. The officer is played by the spectacular Tom Atkins, and the film was directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, who directed the 1990s mini-series starring Tim Currey (IT). The movie is a whole lot of fun, and shouldn’t be missed.
An absolute classic of the genre, Nosferatu is a silent, black and white, piece of German expressionism that is required viewing for horror fans, and is a really fabulous film to show at any Halloween party. Starring the haunting Max Schreck, and directed by F.W. Murnau, Nosferatu follows the story told in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and absolutely sets a standard that most vampire films have fallen short of meeting. Even just the way the film looks makes it an exceptional experience, the film is beautiful on its face, and manages to have an excellent balance of being quite disturbing and even funny at the same time. Considering the film is nearing 100 years old, it has aged very well (which can’t often be said of films released even just a few years ago).
For those of you looking for a little space-terror, Ridley Scott’s Alien is the gold standard in that department. Owing a lot to the incredible monster design by H.R. Geiger, and to the overall claustrophobic feeling that the crew of the Nostromo experiences, Alien holds up as one of the scariest horror films ever made. On top of being frightening, you also have a rarity in horror (or any other genre for that matter): a bad-ass female protagonist, Ripley, played expertly by Sigourney Weaver, who goes on to face-off against the terrifying Xenomorphs in the subsequent sequels. This movie is scary, it’s disturbing, and it’s excellent as both a horror film, and as a film in general.
Fun fact: The chestburster scene in Alien features genuine reactions from all of the actors. Apparently, the actors knew what the scene entailed, but had no idea that an alien would come bursting from their co-star, and cover them all in blood. A great tactic for capturing a good performance.
What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Not a huge fan of being scared? Looking for something a bit lighter, but still want something that feels like an appropriate Halloween movie? You could do no better than the exceptional piece of comedy genius that is What We Do In The Shadows. Written and directed by Taika Waititi and Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement, who both star in the film as well, Shadows is a mockumentary that follows four vampire roommates as they go about their daily lives. The film is absolutely hilarious, and delivers on its premise in the best possible way. It feels like a proper documentary, and even offers up some hilarious (if not a bit disturbing) gory moments. Conchords fans will also no doubt notice the appearance of Rhys Darby, leader of a gang of werewolves, who steals the show in some of the funniest exchanges in the film.
Clive Barker’s Nightbreed almost shouldn’t exist. In fact, the film studio worked really hard to make sure that it didn’t. The version released in 1990 was a pared down, chopped up version of Barker’s original film, and was released to very little fanfare. As a result, the movie came and went amidst poor reviews and lacklustre audience response. It has since gained a bit of a cult following, and recently a director’s cut and extended edition were released on Blu-Ray. These special features show a better representation of what the movie had been intended to be. The film oozes ’80s and ’90s sensibility, and manages to be both cheesy and frightening, much like Barker’s other and more well-known film, Hellraiser.
Nightbreed manages to create a world within its relatively short run-time that feels fleshed out, complete, and deserving of so many more films that explore the universe. There is a real sense of mythos and intrigue present, and it works so well.
IT by Stephen King
Admittedly the longest book on this list, but if you get yourself started now you might be able to get through it by Halloween. It is easily one of the scariest books by King that I’ve ever read, and is of course the inspiration for the hugely overrated TV mini-series of the same name. The series follows a bunch of kids as they are tormented by a being that takes the form of a clown. It’s a great and frightening book for those of you looking to spook yourselves with a good book this October. Plus, with the new film adaptation coming in 2017, now is as good a time as any to get a primer on the story.
Hell House by Richard Matheson
Published in 1971, Hell House appears to be the foundation upon which most haunted house movies are built. There will be a lot of familiar territory in here, particularly for those of you who have seen movies such as The Haunting or House on Haunted Hill. Essentially, this book lays the groundwork for most of the “Big Haunted Mansion” movies that have been released. A spooky ghost story, and a fun one for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. Plus, it comes from the author of A Stir of Echoes and I Am Legend, which are both great works in their own right.
Cabal by Clive Barker
Cabal is the Barker novel that Nightbreed (mentioned above) is based upon. Full to the brim with monsters, sex, and violence, this one is well worth your time, especially for those of you who need to read the book before you see the movie. Cabal expands on the mythology of the world, and contains elements removed from the film, that add so much more to the story, and the world it creates. This is not a book for the squeamish, or the faint of heart, but one that horror fans will love.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
A classic, and a damn good one. While many of us are familiar with Frankenstein as the green monster with bolts in his neck, Shelley’s original vision gives us a very complex character in The Wretch. Where the film representation of the monster seem to be focused on making him inhuman and monstrous, Shelly’s version, The Wretch, speaks english and develops as a character, rather than simply a monster. Told in the form of letters between characters, Frankenstein has earned it’s place as a classic of horror, and a classic of literature as well.
John Dies At The End by David Wong
Cracked writer David Wong gives us this dark and disturbingly funny book. The plot follows two friends, John and David, on an adventure involving a drug called soy sauce, alternate dimensions, and a monster made entirely of freezer-meat.
“Lore is an award-winning, critically-acclaimed podcast about true life scary stories. Our fears have roots. Lore exposes the darker side of history, exploring the creatures, people, and places of our wildest nightmares.”
The non-fiction element of this, and the excellent narration, make this one of the strongest podcasts out there right now. Apparently it’s also being adapted for television, so get on this one pronto.
The NoSleep Podcast
“A multi-award winning anthology series of original horror stories, The NoSleep Podcast features a cast of talented voice actors, rich atmospheric music and sound effects to enhance the frightening tales.”
The productions on Nosleep are becoming more and more impressive, and the back catalogue is extensive. Horror fans need to check this out and get ready for a good scare. The quality of the stories can be a bit inconsistent, but it’s worth the time regardless.
The Black Tapes Podcast
“The Black Tapes is a serialized docudrama about one journalist’s search for truth, her enigmatic subject’s mysterious past, and the literal and figurative ghosts that haunt them both.”
It seems that radio-drama has had a resurgence in the last few years, and The Black Tapes is on the forefront of this. Adopting the style of Serial, but adding paranormal elements and a grand conspiracy, The Black Tapes is a wildly spooky time.