Top Ten: Halloween Picks 2014

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2014-10-18 05:11

This year, our annual Halloween list highlights some of our favorites from every decade to make up a marathon for the ages. Without further ado, let's open this bag of treats...

10. Faust (1926)

    Kicking off this yearís top 10 of madness is the four years post-Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau created masterpiece involving the legendary tale of Faust, the man in the middle of a war waged between Satan and God. I havenít seen more impressive visuals, even in Nosferatu in any German Expressionist film than I witnessed here. In fact, Iím still reeling over the enormous, scope intense shots and horrifying FX that stand up today, nearly a century later. The use of deep blacks in the cinematography is what stood out the most to me, making the white in the shots pop from the screen in what could only be described as the ultimate visual nightmare-like experience in my years of watching horror films. Youíll be reminded of Tombs of the Blind Dead, Horror Hotel and even some Bergman and Tourneur. Faust influenced the ages. (Brett H.)

9. Murders in the Zoo (1933)

    Conventional wisdom holds that Psycho is the alpha point for slashers, and while it certainly hacked open the floodgates for gory imitators, it was hardly the first to suppose that man is capable of savagely consuming each other with its own bloodlust. Case in point: 1933ís Murders in the Zoo, a lurid bit of pre-Code nastiness teeming with wild animals, the most untamed of which is Eric Gorman (Lionel Atwell), a psychotic big game hunter rashly compelled to violence against anyone who even looks at his wife (Kathleen Burke). His tendency towards violence is evident from the filmís opening scene, which climaxes in the staggering image of a man who has literally had his face rearranged by the jealous husband. When another potential interloper (John Lodge) enters the fray, he finds himself at the mercy of Gormanís creative (read: murderous) employment of the local zoo animals. Only the presence of Charles Rugglesís screwball press agent (who insinuates that he shits himself at one point) distracts from the fact that Murders in the Zoo is an especially nasty effort, where poisonous mambas and ravenous alligators are agents of mankindís cruelty. Between the threats of marital rape and the filmís grisly murders, the film features the sort of graphic material that would be difficult (if not downright impossible) to bring to Hollywood big screens for nearly thirty years. (Brett Gallman)

8. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

    The crescendo of Universalís golden age, this first monster mash more than adequately fills any marathonís creature quotient, as one of the studioís earliest icons crosses paths with what was the new kid on the block in the early 40s. While Bela Lugosiís subbing of Karloff in the role of the former diminishes the appeal a bit, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man still manages to deliver the thrills expected of such a novelty. Most importantly, it does so quite deftly: for all intents and purposes, itís simply a sequel following the still-tragic exploits of the forever forlorn Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.), whose travels bring him in contact with a Frankenstein descendant who might hold the key to curing his lycanthropy. In lieu of this, he finds only conflict, as the infamous familyís long-dormant Monster reemerges to touch off a clash of horror titans. Itís arguable that Universal never quite re-attained the heights of this initial crossover. Later monster rallies were clumsily handled affairs more concerned with novelty instead of plot, with both House films particularly managing to place one monster or another on the backburner. With Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, the studio strikes a proper balance between character, spectacle, and its signature brand of classic atmosphere. (Brett Gallman)

7. The Thing From Another World (1951)

    The short case for the inclusion of Christian Nybyís classic monster movie on this sort of list will point you to Halloween: if it was good enough for John Carpenter to immortalize it as an All Hallows Eve staple, then it needs no further credentials. Just wave it on through to your DVD player of choice as it flashes its distinction. But if it needs to make a stronger case for this particular company, consider this: in a decade haunted by paranoia and otherworldly creatures, The Thing From Another World is perhaps the best distillation of Atomic Age preoccupations. Set in an isolated, Arctic outpost on the edge of the world, the film is a chilling reflection of a bleak new post-War world; while the film still features square-jawed heroes (like Kenneth Tobeyís military captain), it also deals in discordance and distrust, as its small group must band together against both themselves and the mysterious creature stalking from without. Joining Invasion of the Body Snatchers as the decadeís pre-eminent Red Scare parable, the film continues to resonate as a spooky creature feature, with its closing warning to keep watching the skies proving to be an evocative reminder that nothing is more unnerving than the suggestion of malevolent forces lurking unseen. (Brett Gallman)

6. The Haunted Palace (1963)

    Simultaneously an outlier of the Corman/Poe cycle and one of the directorís best efforts from this era, The Haunted Palace deftly blends Poeís sense of the macabre with Lovecraftís forces of unfathomable evil. A loose adaptation of the latterís work it finds Vincent Price giving a brilliantly schizophrenic performance as both doomed-at-the-stake sorcerer Joseph Curwen and his century-younger descendant Dexter Ward. When the latter returns to the formerís abandoned abode, he is met with distrust by the spooked locals, whose fears are justified when the spirit of the dead warlock inhabits Wardís body and engages on a grisly revenge spree. With the film serving as a classic horror variety pack boasting Cormanís familiar aesthetic style, genre standouts (Price is joined by Lon Chaney), and a blend of dreamy, Gothic flavors and macabre violence, it makes for a fine representative of the decade that shook up the genre more than any other. The Haunted Place endures as both an echo and a harbinger all at once in this era of transition. (Brett Gallman)

5. The Vampire Doll (1970)

    If youíve ever wanted to walk the line between later Hammer gothics and traditional Japanese lore, look no further than this moody piece that is scarier than any film to come from the British kings of terror. Deception, rape and selling of souls are all in the cards for the Michio Yamamoto helmed Toho production running at a brisk 71 minutes. The pale, blue faced vampire with glowing eyes is a scary creature, undead from obsession and vengeance rather than a lust for blood. Thereís even a legit jump fright, a creepy little score and itís quite the little bloodbath to boot. A unique, ďthe same, but differentĒ addition to our 2014 Halloween list, The Vampire Doll can hang with the best of 70s gothic horror. (Brett H.)

4. Pet Sematary (1989)

    As we close out the last of the golden ages of horror, I canít help but be nostalgic and decidedly defensive about what I consider my favorite Stephen King horror movie, and has been so since I was about 5 years old. I canít think of many movies with as many heart-wrenching, rather terrifying scenes than the Mary Lambert feature has to offer and its depth is impossible to cover in a paragraph. Death of a child and its effect on a family, relatable characters, good performances, great quotes, a protagonist as visually creepy as anything Iíve ever seen, humble roots leading to paranormal devastation and the struggle of the inner workings of a man. Itís hard to find a horror film that stays with you for years, and it that is the highest honor I can bestow upon Pet Sematary. ĒThe soil of a manís heart is stonier, Louis. A man grows what he can and he tends it.Ē (Brett H.)

3. Cemetery Man (1994)

    In its 120 years of existence, the horror genre has produced few films that are as singularly astounding as Michele Soaviís Cemetery Man. It features an almost impossible clash of styles and tones, with Raimi-esque splat-stick absurdity bumping up against melancholy meditations on life and death as caretaker Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) must constantly confront the undead. When Dellamorte meetsóand promptly loses--the woman of his dreams (Anna Falchi), she continues to haunt him and sends him spiraling down the path of existential despair. Anchored by both Dellamorte and his similarly love-struck assistant (Francois Hadji-Lazaro, who has fallen for a severed head), Cemetery Man is a surreal but intimate reverie laced with gore, black humor, and an intense lust for both life and total oblivion. Fittingly somewhat of a swan song for the Italian horror movement (which has yet to even come close to such heights in the twenty years since), this is bittersweet zom-com that realizes what a mess life can be, especially when itís haunted by the dead. (Brett Gallman)

2. Antichrist (2009)

    Lars von Trier generates quite the stir when he releases a film, and rightfully so, as I learned last Halloween when I finally popped the Blu-ray in of a movie that I can say genuinely frightened me. Critics considered the film overly misogynistic and its utterly bleak feeling certainly will still leave a scar on even the most experienced gorefest fan. Except what is presented here is well done, artistic, perceptive and above all, totally fucked up. I never felt the shocks were forced, merely done in a more experimental way than any other horror film, feeling like a deranged cross between Saw and an art film. Excellent cinematography makes it hard to take your eyes off of even the harshest scenes and beauty is contrasted with tragedy in a scene that almost makes Pet Semataryís Gage death easy to take. If you want to be put on the edge of your seat and the edge of your toes this Halloween, let chaos reign. (Brett H.)

1. WNUF Halloween Special (2013)

    After the previous trio of soul-crushing films, youíre going to want to indulge in a sugar high to lift your spirits. Look no further than WNUF Halloween Special, a ďlostĒ broadcast from 1987 that captured the disturbing exploits of a local news crewís attempt to investigate a supposedly haunted house. Itís familiar territory for the found footage genre, but few are as absolutely committed to the gimmick as this film is, as it lovingly re-recreates a late-80s public access vibe, complete with vintage commercials and original programming. The effect is uncanny, particularly in its conjuring of a small-town America Halloween vibe: jack-oí-lanterns and cheap costumes abound in this nostalgia-laced treat. Watch out, though: itís also buried a few razor sharp barbs within to close out your festivities in fun, bloody fashion. (Brett Gallman)

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