Halloween Banner (final)

If you do a Google search for “Best Halloween Movies” you’ll return endless pages of random personal lists. Typically, these will include either the classics you already know will be there (e.g. Halloween, The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead, etc.) or else will just be a catalog of recent gore films that may or may not have anything to do with Halloween at all. For me, Halloween is specifically about fun–it’s about monsters and candy, traditions and masks, the thrill of being scared and the incomparable joy of running around with chainsaws in the middle of the night.

What I offer here is a list of the overlooked Halloween movies that never had a chance and deserve to find their audience. I picked films that not only gleefully capture the Halloween spirit, but are also fairly easy to get your hands on for your next movie night or Netflix marathon. The movies on this list also span quite a few different subgenres of horror–some are funny, most are scary, but all are are tons of bloody fun.

 

5. Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010)

Directed by Eli Craig

Starring: Wash, the guy who plays Dale, and Cerie from 30 Rock

“Hidy ho, officer! We’ve had a doozy of a day. There we were, minding our own business, just doing chores around the house, when kids started killing themselves all over my property.” – Tucker

Right off the bat, let me tell you that this is not the scariest movie you’re going to see this Halloween season. It is, however, likely to be one of the smartest, bloodiest, and darkly funny romantic comedies you might ever run across. Set in the classic “Cabin in the Woods” scenario, Tucker & Dale enjoys twisting the well-known horror tropes that we’ve all come to expect. Two well-meaning rednecks find themselves caught up in a horrible splatstick comedy of errors . With one driven by his dream of a vacation home and the other caught up in a charming schoolboy crush, there’s a surprising amount of heart and empathy in this horror movie.

But as light-hearted and positive as the movie ultimately is, it never loses its horror edge. The bungled murders (or accidental suicides, depending on how you think of them) are surprisingly disturbing and gruesome, especially given the pace at which the movie (and the laughs) keep on coming. You barely have time to process the comedy before someone else gets slaughtered–with each death escalating to be more and more brutally creative. Since the setting is out in the country, you might already expect the obligatory chainsaw and wood chipper … but are you really prepared for the weed wacker? I wasn’t.

 

4. Fright Night (2011)

Directed by Craig Gillespie

Starring: Colin Farrell, the Chekov Reboot, McLovin, and Doctor Who

” Hey, are you enjoying your panic room, Master of Darkness? God, you are such a pussy … I love it!” – Evil Ed Thompson

As predictably as Hollywood will keep releasing remakes, fanboys will always hate it when someone tries to freshen up a classic. Yes, the original Fright Night from 1985 was noteworthy and amazing, but the modern retelling more than 20 years later can definitely hold its own. From its predecessor, Fright Night inherits much of the same plot structure. A young kid (Charley) starts to suspect his new next door neighbor (Jerry) is a vampire feeding off his friends and family. As in the original, he enlists the aid of a disappointing TV personality (Peter Vincent) who he assumes knows his vampire lore. While there are minor updates here and there (for example, Vincent’s character is now a goth magician in the stylings of Criss Angel), I’m most impressed with the treatment of the themes and symbols being re-explored from the original.

Like the classic, Fright Night does an excellent job of staging the horror to parallel its coming of age story, visiting the themes of masculinity, budding sexuality, and teenage rebellion. And what’s most impressive of all is that the flick never sacrifices how much fun it is to go hunting vampires, especially when it’s set to some kick ass music. In this case, the soundtrack boasts yet another remake–”99 Problems” by Hugo, covering Jay Z’s 2004 version, which is itself a reinterpretation of Ice-T’s track of the same name from 1993. When music gets covered it doesn’t seem to bother people nearly as much as when it happens on the big screen–so really, what’s the problem with a good remake?

 

3. Feast (2005)

Directed by John Gulager

Starring: Judah Friedlander, Henry Rollins, and Jason Mewes

“Monster sex.” – Hot Wheels

Ok, this movie is gross. Like, really gross. All manner of bodily fluids will be loosed by the time this monster movie is over. And it’s terrific. Like some of the other choices on this list, Feast is very aware of the genre in which it’s situated. In fact, it revels so much in its perfectly assembled cast of survivors that they don’t even have real names. Instead, they’re each just reduced to their character archetype–the macho leader they call “Hero,” the bumbling “Beer Guy,” the busty blonde “Honey Pie,” the aptly named ex-military “Vet,” and my personal favorite, the middle-aged biker chick they simply call “Harley Mom.” The only exception is Jason Mewes, who of course plays himself.

Feast is one of those great movies that wastes absolutely no time trying to explain the rules. Where do the monsters come from? What are their powers? What’s going on in the outside world beyond the Texas bar where the movie takes place? None of these questions are answered and they never need to be. Some of the best horror pictures succeed precisely because precious little backstory or information is ever given. It’s not just the suspense of the unknown–as in, “I don’t know the rules yet”–but rather the madness of the utterly senseless–as in, “Surprise! There are no rules, mother fucker!” Feast understands this, and pushes the senseless horror just about as far as it can go.

 

2. The Frighteners (1996)

Directed by Peter Jackson

Starring: Michael J. Fox, Gomez Addams, Gary Busey’s Son, and R. Lee Ermey

“Don’t stop ’til the screamin’ starts, you dig?” – Cyrus

Back before Peter Jackson was making Hobbit movies, he was making ridiculously awesome horror flicks. I’m guessing most of you have already heard of Dead Alive (or Braindead, as it’s known outside the U.S.), the absurdly grotesque, Freudian horror comedy from the early 90s. Far from overlooked, Dead Alive has achieved cult status, and there’s even been a resurgence of interest now that Jackson is churning out Hollywood blockbusters. Yet still The Frighteners, which came out only a few years after Dead Alive, remains relatively unknown.

The Frighteners has just about anything you could possibly want from a Halloween movie. Ghosts, psychics, psychopaths, hauntings, killings, and the granddaddy of all villains–the Grim Reaper himself. The scenes also ooze an undeniably Halloween flavor as we’re taken on a wild ride from a haunted house to a ghostly graveyard to an abandoned insane asylum. The tone of the movie also shifts rapidly, from bright, 90s-style bumbling comedy to an eerily sexualized, cold-blooded killing spree. Somehow Jackson is able to maintain both of these extremes without losing his audience, and the back-and-forth between genres will keep you off-kilter and guessing while still heavily invested in our protagonist. In Michael J. Fox’s last feature film performance, he plays a tragically flawed character who is at once both pitiful and heroic, full of courage but also dread as he runs from his past. And oh yeah, at one point he steals the Grim Reaper’s sickle and totally tries to kill him with it. I really can’t recommend The Frighteners enough.

 

1. Trick ‘r Treat (2009)

Directed by Michael Dougherty

Starring: Curt Connors, Rogue, and the Police Captain from Super Troopers

“Tonight is about respecting the dead. Because this is the one night that the dead–and all sorts of other things–roam free.” – Principal Steven Wilkins

And here we are at #1. There’s not a whole lot to say about this flick other than I think it’s the best Halloween movie ever made. Told as a series of loosely-related vignettes , Trick ‘r Treat loves Halloween, assumes you do too, and has a great time punishing anyone who doesn’t. Any amount of plot summary is going to create a few spoilers so I’m just going to leave it by saying this: if you’re going to watch one movie this Halloween season, make it Trick ‘r Treat. Get yourself a bowl of kettle corn, a bag of fun-sized candy bars, and just enjoy yourself. Trust me, you won’t regret it. Happy Halloween.