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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Pumpkins, Ghosts, Witches and Vampires: Must-Watch Movies Starring the Icons of Halloween

At Halloween time horror fans have no shortage of options. It’s a great time to revisit classics like The Exorcist or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; Halloween set movies like the eponymous series, Trick ‘r Treat, or Night of the Demons; or nostalgic family fare like Hocus Pocus and Nightmare Before Christmas. But what about films featuring those icons associated with the season, the ones that appear in decorations, costumes, and candy packaging?

Of course, Universal’s classic monster movies are a great place to find the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolfman. There’s also Fred Dekker’s beloved The Monster Squad starring royalty free versions of those heavy hitters. (My personal favorite monster mash is the ridiculous TV special The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t a.k.a. The Night Dracula Saved the World, available on YouTube.)

As for the true Icons of Halloween, here are some choice cuts you’ll find them in.


Pumpkins

Nothing says Halloween like a pumpkin, as evidenced by the omnipresence of jack-‘o-lanterns and pumpkin flavored treats this time of year. The obvious pumpkin feature—besides the classic TV cartoon It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)—is Pumpkinhead (1988). This cult classic, FX legend Stan Winston’s one and only directorial effort, makes many Halloween watch lists thanks to the title, pumpkin patch, and witch. The always great Lance Henriksen plays a grieving dad who seeks out the sinister Haggis (a creepy-as-hell Florence Schauffler) to avenge his son’s death, little realizing the consequences of the demon he’ll unleash or the crappy sequels he’ll wind up appearing in. Makeup pros Tom Woodruff and Alec Gillis bring the incredible Pumpkinhead to life, and Henriksen gives a typically excellent performance. It’s dark, spooky fun, with loads of great set pieces. 

A milder, but enjoyably creepy, pumpkin flick is Disney’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mister Toad. The latter half of the animated anthology dramatizes Washington Irving’s classic short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” albeit with a Halloween setting that’s historically inaccurate. The songs, sung by Bing Crosby, are fun, especially the moody “The Headless Horseman.” But the short is rightly remembered for the climax, in which superstitious schoolteacher Ichabod confronts the Horseman in a wild mix of humor and vividly scary animation. (Available on Disney+)


The Frighteners

Ghosts

White sheeted ghosts are a ubiquitous sign of the Halloween season. Probably the most fun (and family friendly) ghost movies are the original Ghostbusters (1984), which spawned an enduring Halloween costume (not to mention a new sequel sadly postponed to next year thanks to COVID-19), and Poltergeist (1982), the Tobe Hooper directed/Steven Spielberg produced thrill ride that perfectly blends heart and horror (perhaps owing to that odd but wonderful collaboration of talent). (Poltergeist is available on Netflix)

James Wan’s two Conjuring flicks (2013, 2016) are pitch perfect, old-fashioned scare fests featuring real-life ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (wonderfully portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). The films are certainly liberal interpretations of “real” events, but damned if they aren’t great entertainment. (The Conjuring 2 is available on HBO Max)

Finally, Peter Jackson’s sleeper The Frighteners is a high concept hoot, with Michael J. Fox as a good-hearted con artist turned hero with ghosts for friends. The digital FX are dazzling, there are fabulous performances from genre faves Dee Wallace and Jeffrey Combs, and the gloomy settings and Danny Elfman score make this highly appropriate for Halloween. (Available on HBO Max)


Witches

No Halloween is complete without witches; after all, it is the “Season of the Witch.” (Cue Donovan!) Robert Eggers may have made the definitive old fashioned witch movie with his breakout The Witch, originally advertised as “A New England Folk Tale.” It brings a historically accurate dimension to witchcraft, and gave us the first new horror icon in years in the form of Black Phillip.

Another visionary director, Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now), made a “children’s film” that doesn’t sacrifice the scare factor with his beloved adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches (1990). He translates a dark, inspired tale to the screen with wit and whimsy, and an entrancing performance by Anjelica Huston—assisted by absolutely dynamite makeup that transforms her into a disgusting hag. Robert Zemeckis’ upcoming version will have a hard time competing with it. (Available on Netflix)

Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem (2012) explores the legacy of the Salem Witch Trials in a completely different way than The Witch; while historical flashbacks to the “real” witches in the 1690s have a similar aesthetic, the movie’s gorgeously unsettling visuals and bizarre supernatural plotline venture into surprising territory. A troubled, newly sober radio DJ (Sheri Moon Zombie) finds herself at the mercy of forces beyond her control when she plays a mysterious record on her program. Little seen upon release, Lords of Salem is undergoing something of a critical renaissance. The eerie film is strikingly different from anything else in Zombie’s filmography, and features great use of real Salem locations and compelling work from Meg Foster, Judy Geeson, and others. Being set in America’s Halloween capitol– in autumn– also makes Lords of Salem perfect spooky season viewing. (Available on Amazon Prime)


Vampires

Plastic fangs are a Halloween staple for good reason. There are zillions of vampire movies to choose from, but for my money Francis Ford Coppola’s gorgeous, enjoyably self-indulgent Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) is among the very best. Featuring a terrific performance by Gary Oldman as the title character, and a, ahem, entertaining performance by Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker, Dracula is a lush extravaganza. Eye popping costumes, terrifyingly effective makeup, and a haunting score by Wojciech Kilar all add up to a stylish treat.

Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983) also has style to spare. Once derided as little more than a feature length perfume commercial, Scott’s decadent, Gothic opus has been embraced for its sensual performances, groundbreaking lesbian sexuality, and spectacular visuals. The opening, cutting between a club performance of Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and vampires Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie’s seduction/massacring of a couple, sets the tone. Soon, Bowie begins to age rapidly (courtesy of Dick Smith’s state of the art makeup) and the immortal Deneuve sets her eyes on a new lover, played by Susan Sarandon. So what if the ending doesn’t really make sense? This is a captivating slice of 80s entertainment that lingers in the memory. 

Another, very different, 80s vampire yarn comes in the form of Fright Night (1985). Tom Holland’s clever script pays homage to the monster movies of yore in a contemporary setting, and unforgettable performances by Chris Sarandon as villainous Jerry Dandridge, Roddy McDowell as reluctant hero Peter Vincent, and Stephen Geoffreys (976-EVIL) as the memorable Evil Ed make this an audience favorite. Gay cast members Geoffreys and Amanda Bearse and significant homoerotic subtext give the film extra appeal for queer horror fans. (Available on Amazon Prime)



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3637603/pumpkins-ghosts-witches-vampires-must-watch-movies-starring-icons-halloween/

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