The 13 Days of Halloween: A few scary movies to spend a cold, dark night with

Halloween is my all-time favorite holiday.  And it’s mostly because of the horror movies.  Ever since I was a kid, spending my Saturdays watching an array of cheesy slasher pics on Commander USA’s Groovie Movies, I’ve been hooked.  I figured it was only fitting to kick off the first day of my 13 Days of Halloween with a look at some of the films that will be giving me the shivers this year.

Every Halloween season, there is nothing I like more than to settle into a cold, dark room and spend some quality time with a series of horror films.  This list is what’s on tap for this year’s special Halloween-a-thon.  These aren’t all the best, creepiest, scariest, or goriest movies ever made, just what I’ll be watching this year, in no discernible order.

The Haunting

The original 1963 version of this film, based on the fantasticly creepy Shirley Jackson novel, “The Haunting of Hill House”, is a classic.  The black and white film, made with a minimal to non-existent soundtrack at times, is still one of the most frightening things I’ve ever watched.  The scene with Theo and Nell in the bedroom and the banging sounds out in the hallway coming closer and closer always gets me.  If only film directors today could take notes on how to build tension, we’d have a lot less splatter-fests and more genuinely scary stuff out there.  And for the love of God, please avoid the 1999 remake with Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson.  It’s an affront to Shirley Jackson’s memory.  And a really, really lousy movie.

Friday the 13th

Again, I’m talking the original here.  No absurd sequels or unnecessary remakes for me.  Back in 1980, near the dawn of the slasher pic, this low-budget flick set a new bar for these kinds of films.  The franchise was later built on Jason, the supernatural, unkillable mass-murderer, but he wasn’t even in this one (other than a brief dream sequence).  This movie is great because you don’t really know who the killer is until the end, so it’s kind of a mystery wrapped inside a horror movie.  And it has a very young Kevin Bacon getting skewered through the throat with an arrow.  For years after I first saw this, I had trouble sleeping on my back for fear of someone under my bed waiting to do the same to me.  And that nice old lady saying “Kill her, mommy,” in her best high-pitched little boy voice still creeps me out.

The Exorcist

What list of Halloween movies would be complete without a film about demonic possession?  It was a close call between this and the original The Omen, but even Gregory Peck couldn’t dissuade me from picking the end-all film for exorcisms.  Originally released in 1973, the year before I was born, I finally got to see it in the theater when some new scenes were added and it was re-released a few years back.  I lived in a fourth floor apartment at the time, with access by a rickety staircase around the back of the building.  I saw a late-night showing, and when I got back home, I found that it had gotten foggy and the staircase was shrouded in white mist.  Needless to say, I ran up those stairs like a bat out of hell.  Linda Blair set the standard for pea-soup spewing, foul-mouthed little girls in this one.

Behind The Mask:  The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Many people think Scream set the standard for poking at the culture of horror movies.  Well, this one does it way better.  Behind the Mask chronicles a young documentary maker’s film about an aspiring slasher preparing for his first slumber party massacre.  Some of the scenes are just priceless, when Leslie describes the inside tricks to being a slasher killer, like planting false newspaper clippings to set up his back story, rigging the location beforehand to steer his quarry where he wants them to go, and sabotaging all the available weapons that anyone could fight back with.  People think these guys just go nuts and kill anyone at hand, but Leslie makes sure to explain the ins and outs of the weeks of preparation that go into a proper slaughter.

Cabin Fever

If there’s anything I like more than a good scare, it’s a good laugh.  As cheesy as this movie is (and it’s pretty damned cheesy) I find myself laughing every time I watch it.  The scene where Paul washes himself off with mouthwash after having sex with one of his fellow flesh-eating virus afflicted cabin-mates is a classic.  And watch out for the old man in the country store.   This is an all-out gore fest, with bodily fluids oozing from nearly everyone, nearly everywhere.  After some serious scary stuff, a little bit lighter brand of horror is always nice for a mood shifter.

28 Days Later

Just like demonic possession, what’s Halloween without a good zombie flick?  There are other zombie movies that are better (the original Night of the Living Dead, for instance) but this one is very enjoyable.  Cillian Murphy wakes up alone in a hospital after being in a coma only to find everyone gone and the world in ruins.  (This scene, by the way, was ripped off wholesale by the zombie tv series The Walking Dead).  As he looks for any signs of life, he gets accosted by a vicious zombie priest, only to be saved by a pair of survivalists.  But when one of them gets infected, he watches as his other savior brutally hacks her partner apart with a machete.  Things get progressively darker from there, with what’s left of the British military harvesting women for sex and so forth.  There’s been a rash of infected zombie pics of late, most of them pretty lousy, but this one is well worth a watch.

So, there you have it, the six films I’ll be watching this Halloween season.  Don’t get too scared.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my previous collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

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