6 Scary Films For Halloween Consumption

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By Johnny Pomatto

I remember a wonderful time when Halloween was a holiday for children.  But these days trick ‘r treating has been pushed aside to make room for booze-filled, elaborate costume parties, where adults show off their creativity and try to get laid.  That might sound very appealing for some of you readers out there, but I prefer to spend the month of October watching frightening films to put me in the seasonal mood.  Tomorrow night I’ll be staying in, handing out candy to costumed kiddies, and watching some old horror favorites between trips to the beckoning doorbell.  If I were choosing from my own vast film library, I might program a slightly different evening for you, but here I’ve picked films that you can all stream right now from the comfort of your living room, and ones that are hopefully new and unknown to you.  Their tones vary and they range from bonafide classics to current releases, but they’re all frightening, in some cases violent, and decidedly not for wimps.  For those seeking something family friendly, I suggest you watch your VHS copy of “Hocus Pocus” again, which I promise you is just awful and not as good as you remember it being.  For the rest of you, please take this one opportunity to embrace something a little darker, at least before Christmas movies start beginning to play next week.

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BONE TOMAHAWK 

How lucky are we to be getting two Kurt Russell westerns in one season? If you’re getting impatient waiting for Quentin Tarentino’s “The Hateful Eight” in December, S. Craig Zahler’s BONE TOMAHAWK may tide you over until then.  Russell, (sporting some outstanding facial hair), is a tired but noble sheriff, and when Patrick Wilson’s wife is taken by cannibalistic, savage, cave-dwelling Indians, he and some colorful characters from a one-street town form a rescue party and ride off into the hills.  They are old, outnumbered, and outmatched, with little hope of making it back alive.  This is a long movie that is in no rush to reach its conclusion.  Some of the best scenes occur around quiet campfires where Deputy Richard Jenkins, (channeling Walter Brennan and stealing the movie out from everyone), muses with dandy scoundrel Matthew Fox the best way to go about reading a book in a bathtub without getting the pages too wet.  It’s solemn moments like these that enrich these characters to the point that you’re going to feel really sad when some of them inevitably don’t make it home. Though the majority of this film is a quiet and classically traditional western, some truly gory violence and intense scenes give this tale a terrifying and bloody climax.  The savages, who have embedded hollow bones in their necks so they can communicate with each other through deafening howls, are vicious and scary, and some nasty moments of scalping and creative butchering of a human or two is enough to recommend this initially soft tale of the old west to horror aficionados everywhere.  I promise that your patience will be rewarded, and you may enjoy the journey along the way.  This is one of my favorite films that I’ve seen all year, and it gets my highest recommendation no matter what the season is.  (On Demand)

BRETT KELLY as Charlie Corrigan and DYLAN BAKER as Steven Wilkins in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary PicturesÕ horror thriller ÒTrick Ôr Treat,Ó distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION.

TRICK ‘R TREAT

One reason that horror is often regarded as a terrible genre, is because most flms can’t even sustain a compelling, scary story for a full 90 minutes.  This is why the anthology film can be such a refreshing remedy for boredom.  I was hoping I would be able to recommend to you a new release currently streaming on demand called “Tales Of Halloween,” but upon testing it myself, I found it pretty spotty and inconsistent at best.  Remaining the best source for brief but potent scares this side of “Tales From the Crypt” is Michael Dougherty’s love letter to the holiday, TRICK ‘R TREAT.  This collection of spooky tales that might not be able to succeed at feature length but are perfect in fun size morsels is full of creepy scares that will make you grin.  You’ll observe a red-hooded Anna Paquin encountering her own big bad wolf and some nasty children get their comeuppance after attempting to frighten a shy school chum.  The best stories involve Dylan Baker as a school principal who uses the holiday as a chance to murder his more hated students, and Brian Cox as a Scrooge-like Halloween-hater who encounters a devilish ghoul who delivers homicidal tricks to earn his treats.  For a genre of films that is notorious for spawning constant unwanted sequels, I’ve become increasingly impatient for Dougherty to provide a follow up with more frightening tales, but for the time being I don’t mind revisiting these again and again.  While the film is decidedly R-rated, it’s one Halloween movie that will make you feel like you’re celebrating the holiday as a kid again, and watching it will make your candy taste that much sweeter. (HBO GO)

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THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI

And now for my hipster selection.  Robert Wiene’s silent masterpiece didn’t invent the horror genre by any means, but it is an early example that you can watch and spot tropes that are still being used to this very day.  For those who think that a silent, black and white film can’t deliver the shivers, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI will still haunt your dreams with its hypnotic imagery, like a German expressionistic painting come to life.  The film is short and its tale is simple.  Two young lovers are hunted and tormented by mysterious carnival performer Dr. Caligari, who controls a ghoulish sleepwalking murderer.  One thing that you might be able to give this film credit for is the invention of the twist ending, and this one has quite a doozy.  I know many of the kids today don’t have the patience for a silent film to get their frights from, but consider this: being a silent film, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI is the perfect film to have on in the background of your Halloween party, for you more social celebrators out there.  As your guests mingle about, you might notice them start to slow down and become entranced while passing your television, and what they observe even subconsciously, may stick in their memories for years to come. (Netflix)

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GRAVY

Apologies for recommending two cannibal-centric films on one list, but people-eaters tend to be one of my favorite horror villains.  In James Roday’s new gruesome comedy GRAVY, the employees of a greasy spoon restaurant are visited by three costumed, charming psychopaths, who inform their captives that every Halloween they take over a random restaurant and don’t leave until their bellies are full.  Of course, it is the employees who are on the menu, and they are treated to comedic and absurd torture as the hungry cannibals determine in what order to devour their prey.  At one point, a very high stakes game of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” is played.  As the murderous villains, Michael Weston, Jimmy Simpson, and Lily Cole are so casual and matter of fact about their cannibalism that you’re almost rooting for these comedic characters to succeed.  Sutton Foster does a nice turn as the smartest and most strategic of the victims, and the film is bookended with a hilarious cameo from Sarah Silverman.  GRAVY is far from a perfect experience.  The comedy could be a little funnier and deaths could be a bit more inventive, but it’s a noble effort for the genre and might be fun to watch after a big meal.  (On Demand)

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CURSE OF CHUCKY

Horror franchises rarely have many great films past their initial outing.  When Don Mancini created Chucky the Killer Doll for the 1988 movie “Childs Play,” the results were surprisingly great, considering the silly subject matter.  But after four sequels of varying quality, Chucky had just become a joke, with his scares being sidelined in favor of laughs and doll-on-doll sex scenes.  Imagine my shock when I discovered that Mancini’s latest Chucky film (CURSE OF CHUCKY, which was released direct to video, no less), was a refreshing return to form for the saga.  For the first time in a long time, Chucky is treated as something to be feared.  He has minimal witty one-liners after kills, and in fact we don’t even see him move or talk on his own until over halfway through the film.  This allows some time for his latest batch of victims to be treated as well drawn characters themselves, with back-story and motivation, rather than simply props to put knives into.  Now the story isn’t going to win any major prizes here.  It’s a typical rehash of the first few films, with Chucky determined to possess the body of a child and killing anyone who gets in his way.  But there’s genuine suspense and some good jolts along the way.  By the time you get to the end, when Chucky finally starts winking to the camera and tying in a few clever nods to previous films of the franchise, you might consider the conclusion well earned.  Of course, if you haven’t seen the original “Childs Play,” by all means make that a priority, but this is one of the rare franchise sequels I will actually give my stamp of approval to, an honor that can’t necessarily be bestowed on any sequels from either the “Friday the 13th” or “Halloween” series.  (Netflix)

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SLEEPAWAY CAMP

In this new age where physical media is being made obsolete by streaming services, one of greatest champions of DVD and Blu-Ray sales is Shout Factory, which releases both classic films and television on DVD, and through their label Scream Factory, some of the best cult horror films from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.  But even Shout Factory is getting into the digital racket and just this year launched SHOUT TV, a place to stream various films owned by their label, all for free.  They have some fantastic titles to explore, and a sizable chunk of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” episodes, but one film that I can’t not watch each October, is the bizarre cult classic SLEEPAWAY CAMP.  On its surface, it seems like a typical summer camp slasher movie, and a bad one at that.  The production values and acting are terrible, but all that adds to its charm and mystique.  If it were not for its genuinely intriguing mystery and shocking twists, this would simply be considered a forgettable genre flick, but the truly horrifying revelation in the final shot is so unique to the genre that it makes you rethink everything you saw up until that point.  You’ll never be able to get the film’s final image out of your mind, and I hope you’ll appreciate this cult favorite that has lived far too long in the shadow of the far less nuanced “Friday the 13th.”  Whether you watch SLEEPAWAY CAMP for chills or for campy laughs, you’ll come away from it changed forever. (shoutfactorytv.com)

Hear more of Johnny Pomatto’s reviews on his podcast MOVIES AND FILMS WITH JOHNNY AND FRIENDS available on iTunes

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