Last year I mentioned that as an old guy living in a gated 55+ community, I no longer have to hand out Halloween candy at the front door, since no one does trick-or-treating. In addition to eating the last two Reese’s peanut butter cups, I get all the ones that come before them! Pretty cool.

These days I spend Halloween enjoying a horror movie marathon…three or four shockers, and sometimes more. The rest of the year, when I watch one scary movie I always balance it out with a comedy or musical afterward. Not on that day; with over two hundred horror movies in my vast DVD library (as well as Netflix and Amazon Prime), I may scare the crap out of myself well into the night, assuming I can stay awake. Here is the likely playlist.

HALLOWEEN (1978)

This is THE classic Halloween movie, so it is a given. Whatever my other choices are, I watch this one every October 31st. The film was director John Carpenter’s first major success in the genre, and it launched scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis into a long and successful career. Made on a budget of $300,000, it grossed about $70 million, making it one of the most successful indie films ever. It carries a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a decade ago the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” All this for a film that barely had a promotional budget back in 1978.

Many people credit Halloween as the first in an endless line of teen slasher movies. Unlike many of its successors, the film has a minimal amount of blood and gore. It is just—well, scary. Its success led to half a dozen sequels, as well as a 2007 reboot. What was original in Halloween became cliché in many of the slasher flicks over the next two decades.

You doubtless know the storyline. With a tagline of, “The Night HE Came Home!” we have six-year-old psycho Michael Myers—in a clown costume, no less—murdering his sister on Halloween in a small Illinois town. He is committed to an asylum but escapes fifteen years later and returns to his home town to kill some more—on Halloween, of course. Most of his victims are horny teens, but not “good girl” Laurie Strode (Curtis), who will ultimately face off against the “boogeyman.” If the tension doesn’t get to you, Carpenter’s creepy musical score will.

HALLOWEEN 2 (1981)

I usually skip this one, but I haven’t seen it in quite a while, so what the heck. It did well at the box office, though it did not earn anywhere near as much as its predecessor and it did not resonate with the critics. But it was a direct sequel to the original, beginning precisely where Halloween ended, with Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) shooting Michael Myers a whole bunch of times, then discovering that the boogeyman simply got up and walked away. Pleasence and Curtis reprise their roles in a film that is more reminiscent of the era’s many teen slasher movies. In other words, a lot more blood and gore.

PUMPKINHEAD (1988)

With that title this “dark fairytale,” directed by special effects master Stan Winston, seems like a natural for Halloween. But in truth the head of the film’s monster is quite creepy and looks nothing like a pumpkin. The locals in this Southern backwoods setting call it that because, when summoned, it emerges from a small pumpkin patch located in the middle of a cemetery. Weird…

Lance Henriksen, veteran of many sci-fi and horror films, plays Ed Harley in this cult classic. As a boy he sees his father deny a doomed man entrance to their cabin and then watches from the window as the guy is killed by Pumpkinhead. Flash forward a few decades, where Ed, now a widower, lives with his young son, Billy, whom he loves dearly. Together they run a small grocery store.

The requisite gaggle of older teenagers soon shows up, recklessly riding their dirt bikes near the store. Unlike most slasher films, there is only one real asshole in the bunch. Ed leaves his son to watch the store while he makes a delivery. Billy goes outside to watch the bikers and is accidently killed. All but one of the teens head off to a nearby cabin. Ed returns and is devastated by his son’s death. The teen tries to explain what happened, but the look on Ed’s face says that the kid and his friends are in deep shit.

Ed takes his son’s body to an old “witch woman” in the mountains, hoping for a miracle. Failing that, he wants revenge; he wants Pumpkinhead. He digs up the monster’s corpse and carries it to the old woman, who restores it to life. Let the slaughter begin—though with some interesting twists, as I do recall.

GRAVE HALLOWEEN (2013)

Once again the title is a bit deceiving. While it does take place on October 31st it is less about the holiday and more about Aokigahara, the so-called Suicide Forest at the base of Japan’s Mount Fuji. If you read this blog you know that I’ve written about this chilling place, where truth is stranger than fiction, a number of times. (See my post, “Myths and Legends: The Angry Ghosts of Japan’s Suicide Forest.”)

A Japanese-American college student named Maiko is grieving the loss of her mother, who weeks earlier had committed suicide in Aokigahara, so it is presumed. She decides to go into the forest to search for her mom’s body. Two of her classmates accompany her in order to make a documentary for a school project. They are joined by a strange hiker inside the forest and are also followed by three other classmates—the requisite assholes—who pull an ill-advised prank. The consequences are…well, what do you think?

THE WITCH (2015)

If you like teen slasher films, with high body counts and buckets of blood and gore, then The Witch is not for you. This understated, critically acclaimed story takes place in seventeenth century New England and follows the (mis)fortunes of a Puritan family of six as they are banished from a colony of other Puritans for some ridiculous reason. They travel far from the settlement and establish a farm near the edge of a forest. Soon the mom gives birth to a fifth child, and it is from this point that the “fun” begins.

The oldest daughter, Thomasin, is playing with the baby one day when the boy suddenly disappears. A witch lives somewhere in those foreboding woods, and we find out that she took the baby in order to crush his body and make some kind of flying ointment. (Eeyeww!) Ultimately the family will be victimized by other incidents and will begin pointing the fingers at Thomasin. Is she really a witch? This atmospheric tale slowly builds up the tension and the horror to where, as one reviewer noted, you’ll want to leave the theater and head straight for the nearest church.

However you spend All Hallows Eve, I hope you have a safe—and scary—one. Happy Halloween!

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