25th Oct2018

Imperfect 10: The Alternative Halloween Horror Movie Marathon

by Rupert Harvey

halloween-horror

For years now, I’ve been hosting horror movie marathons around Halloween. It’s my favourite time of year: an extended excuse to trawl through the trash bins of ‘80s and ‘90s horror in search of legit gems. To save you the pain of suffering through dumpster fires like Chopping Mall and House 4: The Repossession, I’ve summoned a list of ten sure-fire horror party bangers. These are films which nail the venerable Venn intersection of scares, humour and murderous efficiency. (After all, however brilliant it is, you don’t bring Don’t Look Now to a drive-in!)

So, without further ado, and in no particular order…

Sleepaway Camp, AKA Nightmare Vacation (1983)

It’s not exactly laugh-a-minute, and in terms of gore it’s fairly tame, even for the period. But this summer camp slasher has one great trump card: uniqueness. Apart from its genuinely great twist (which passes the test of being both completely unexpected and holding up to repeated viewings), director Robert Hiltzik drenches the film in the strangest uncanny atmosphere. And while the offal may not be flying, the way Hiltzik lingers on the faces of the damned, twisted in their agony, sears itself onto your brain long after you come reeling from the final scene.

Cemetery Man, AKA Dellamorte Dellamore (1994)

Michael Soavi’s bonkers undead epic has the air of the best of Italian horror, going the Phantasm route of giving the audience no hope of guessing what’s going to happen next. But far from being weird for the sake of weird (I’m looking at you, Argento’s Phenomena), Soavi’s English-language film actually develops into something oddly profound, while not skimping on the flying disembodied heads. Rupert Everett is perfectly cast as the suicidally depressed, lovesick graveyard keeper, who finds a reason not to join the ranks of the walking dead.

Dolls (1987)

Stuart Gordon is the god of arch, trash horror. Re-animator is his best known work, and The Pit and the Pendulum is arguably his most accomplished, but Dolls is the right choice for pure fun. Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason are having an absolute romp as the creepy married couple, who invite the even-more-grotesque Bower parents, along with their angelic child, into their home one stormy night. Soon, more guests arrive – more fodder for the stop-motion dolls, which are climbing off the shelves. Gory, breezy and, at under 80 minutes, gloriously brisk.

The Monster Squad (1987)

It may have a sizeable cult following, but until it gets an official UK Blu-ray release, The Monster Squad must be considered obscure. 2018 is an apt time to revisit the film, seeing as Shane Black and Fred Dekker have just teamed up for The Predator. Here we can bask in a far more successful union, as they respectively write and direct this story of a bunch of nerdy kids saving the town – and possibly the world – from the threat of Universal Monsters running amok. There’s something fascinatingly cyclical about returning to a three-decade-old film which is itself a throwback to a previous era. Beautifully made, well-written, and suitable for younger viewers.

The Frighteners (1996)

This could have been Ghostbusters for the ‘90s, if the horror genre hadn’t been at an all-time box office nadir. Anyway, it’s the movie Sir Peter Jackson – who began with splatter films, lest we forget – made before The Lord of the Rings, and it’s an absolute hoot. Michael J. Fox is cast against type as a haunted con man, swindling people out of their money in order to exorcise the demons – with whom he has a special connection – from their homes. There’s also a pitch perfect cameo from Jeffrey Combs, who gets some of the funniest lines.

Basket Case 2 & 3 (1990 and 1991)

A bit of a cheat, this, as it’s a double-header. The original Basket Case was an intriguingly grimy, grindhouse curio, but it wasn’t until the sequel that Frank Hennenlotter really found his groove. Kevin Van Hentenryck plays a guy whose deformed, detached Siamese twin is a bloodthirsty monster – but he loves him anyway! Parts 2 and 3 focus on the siblings’ outsider status; it’s almost like a comedy Nightbreed. They have all the elements you need for horror party hilarity: excellent and varied monster makeup; grisly gore; an overriding weirdness; and biting satire and slapstick humour in equal measure.

Christine (1983)

Sometimes cited as a cash-grab for John Carpenter (it was the studio picture he made after the failure of The Thing) and therefore not part of his “real” canon, Christine is actually a smart, slick, darkly humorous character study, which constantly subverts the our expectations of the horror genre, not least by making the jock the good guy. It also includes some of Carpenter’s finest music. Everyone has seen the other Carpenter horrors, so this is a sound leftfield choice.

Night of the Comet (1984)

Thom Eberhardt’s film is such a mashup of genres that it’s hard to know where to start. After the titular comet annihilates most of the world’s population (we assume), it looks as though we’re in for a zombie apocalypse. Then it becomes a teen action flick. Then the conspiracy plot ignites and we’re in paranoid ‘70s thriller territory. Night of the Comet is creepy, unique, sweet-natured, and sumptuously ‘80s: there’s a montage sequence where the sisters dance around a deserted department store, trying on clothes, while listening to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”.

Maniac Cop (1988)

After The Evil Dead, Bruce Campbell’s second ‘80s franchise was this riotous mashup of the slasher and action movie genres (although he’s in the second film for less time than I am). Larry Cohen, of Q: The Winged Serpent and The Stuff notoriety, wrote the script. The sequels would filter out the horror and lean increasingly into the stuntwork – not to mention the recycled footage – but the original is a brilliantly efficient and consistently funny revenge horror.

Trick or Treat, AKA Ragman, AKA Death at 33RPM (1986)

No, not Trick ‘r Treat, Michael Dougherty’s exemplary anthology horror from 2007. This is Trick or Treat, about a bullied teenager named Eddie (Marc Price) who finds solace in the music and take-no-shit attitude of his rock hero, Sammi Curr, played by Gene Simmons. When Curr dies, Eddie is visited by his spirit via the old-fashioned practice of playing the vinyl backwards. In terms of direction and editing, it is well-made enough to conceal its budget restraints, and remarkably accomplished for a directorial first effort (it’s Charles Martin Smith’s sole credit). It has bags of heart, a wicked sense of humour, and a ridiculous poodle rock soundtrack. Oh, and Ozzy Osbourne as a moralist preacher.
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So what are your favourite horror movies to watch over Halloween? Let us know in the comments!

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