No genre of cinema has an internationally recognised calendar date set aside, on which fans are expected to undertake marathon DVD screenings, besides horror. (Admittedly, one could make the case for Valentine’s Day neatly dovetailing with romance films, but unless you’re feeling the warm embrace of a loved one, February 14th should not be spent curled up on a sofa in front of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet.) So, to coincide with Halloween, we at Film Jam have compiled our own personal choices for the scariest night of the year. Not all may be horror, not all may be particularly frightening, but all reflect the macabre ambience associated with October 31st. Wrap up warm!
Michelle McGlynn picks… Freaks
Freaks is not a horror film in the conventional sense, but despite how desensitised audiences have become since the film was released in 1932, it remains a firm favourite with the majority of horror fans. The film has been hailed as a masterpiece by many. However, it was extremely controversial at the time, with many places even banning it. The film follows a group of “circus freaks”. The beautiful trapeze performer takes advantage of fellow performer Hans by marrying him for his fortune. Director Tod Browning was fresh from his great success with Dracula the previous year. Many criticised him for creating Freaks and his career suffered greatly. Browning masterfully blends the lines between normal and abnormal, moral and immoral. Browning’s skillful handling of the subject matter creates a film that is hard to forget.
Michael Clancy picks… Halloween
Who would have imagined that one of the most iconic images in horror would owe so much to William Shatner? John Carpenter managed to turn a painted and slightly altered Captain Kirk mask into one of the most haunting and terrifying faces in cinematic history. Viewed today it may seem quite tame, but it still manages to pack a powerful punch with its slow-burn build of tension and dread.Halloween also holds the honour of introducing ‘scream queen’ Jamie Lee Curtis to the silver screen. The instantly recognisable theme, the brooding hulk Michael Myers, Donald Pleasance’s wonderful histrionics and the quotable dialogue, all combine to make this a perfect scary movie experience.
Padraic Coffey picks… The Fly
The Fly stands alone in David Cronenberg’s body of work. A schlocky, B-movie premise on paper – scientist is accidentally fused with insect, creating a monstrous hybrid – is transformed into a tragic melodrama on screen. Kafkaesque nightmare, Jekyll and Hyde update, AIDS allegory – The Fly is all of these and more (though Cronenberg himself dismissed the AIDS comparisons as coincidental.) And in an age of slick but detached CGI, Chris Walas’ Oscar-winning makeup and practical effects etch images onto the brain which, once seen, can never be forgotten.
Cora Quigley picks… The Lost Boys
Okay, I’ll admit that this isn’t the spookiest feature in the world, but it sure as hell frightened me as a youngster and it’s still an enjoyable watch – albeit for different and admittedly camper reasons. The Lost Boys follows a family who have just moved to a new town, as their lives become more and more entangled with a brood of local vampires who are up to no good. Predictably, the sexy lady vampire is quite the siren and totally entices the older brother and now he’s feeling a tad bloodthirsty. Oh, and what’s up with Mom’s new boyfriend?! Corey Feldman also excels as a wannabe vampire hunter in this classic romp of cheesy 80s fun.
Kerrie Costelloe picks… Hocus Pocus
If I were to try and define Halloween to some manner of alien, rather than using words (because who has time for that?!) I would simply refer them to Hocus Pocus. The year is 1993, the hair is… floppy, and the witches a most amazing combination of sass and scares. Hocus Pocus follows Max and his younger sister Dani (played by a fantastic little Thora Birch) having just moved from California with their fancy tie-dye and big city liberal ways, to Salem, where Halloween is a pretty big deal. One such reason for this is the legend of the Sanderson Sisters – three witches who lived in the town hundreds of years ago who, having killed a girl, were hung by the townsfolk, but who can be awoken by the lighting of a candle by a virgin. Of course, Max is having none of this malarkey, I mean, why would he? He’s got a drum kit AND a tie dyed t shirt! His cynicism is put to the test however when, trying to impress Allison, the girl with the best yabbos in town, Max lights the candle, awakening the sisters. Adventure ensues, as the three youths (and our favourite boy-in-a-cat’s-body Thackery Binx) try to stop the sisters. You can’t get better witches than Bette Middler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker – and there’s a lot more talk of virgins than I recall from my childhood.