This article debuted last year on The Classical Mess, a newsletter I was creating on Substack until I found out they were giving money to bad people.
Halloween really shook up the squares when it first materialized in 1978. “Absolutely merciless” is how Roger Ebert began a breathless review that also includes the phrases “violent and scary,” “terrifying and creepy,” “frightening,” and “terrifying” twice more. The Los Angeles Times ran its write-up under the bold headline “SLAUGHTER, FEAR IN GRISLY ‘HALLOWEEN.’” Staffer Kevin Thomas called the slaughter in question “realistically depicted” and said director John Carpenter’s voyeuristic camerawork “makes the film a complete turn-off about halfway through.”
New York Times film critic Vincent Canby asserted that “the point of [Halloween] is to cause us as much distress as possible in the safety of our theater seats”; if only Canby had lived to see the Saw franchise. Graphic, invasive images have become such a steady part of our 21st Century media diet (whether we invite them or not) that Halloween is now a quaint showing. Yet Carpenter’s provincial horror continues to succeed on an uneasy ambiance fueled by the distressing truth that a killer doesn’t need a motive.
Anguish paints the face of Michael Myers the handful of times we see him unmasked but we never learn what, exactly, is up his craw. He’s just a disturbed young man who the system has failed. One of his health care coordinators admits as much; when Dr. Sam Loomis gravely intones that he “spent eight years trying to reach [Michael] and then another seven trying to keep him locked up,” one wonders why he didn’t spend the full 15 on rehabilitation. That’s got to beat the alternative — hoofing through suburbia, five minutes behind every smart-mouthed teenager Michael dispatches.
Demure and bookish, Laurie Strode seems like she’s got even less of a chance against Michael than her brassy cohorts. Surprise! Laurie’s instincts take over once this knife-wielding shadow reaches spitting distance and she goes on the offensive. At one point, Laurie gouges a coat hanger into one of Michael’s eye. Anyone else would take the L after receiving such a deep gouge but our antagonist merely calls a time out (they’ve made nine sequels to Halloween, so excuse the spoiler). Is this our first hint Michael Myers could be supernatural?
Not exactly. Much earlier in the film, when Michael makes his daring escape from the mental health facility where he’s lived since the age of six, he commandeers a station wagon and speeds off into the night even though it is highly unlikely he’s ever been in the driver’s seat of any kind of car before. This is the Halloween plot issue people love to shred like iceberg lettuce. Well, look, maybe this kid’s a tool of Satan. Maybe he’s just got an incredible can do attitude. You can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it — anything except killing Laurie Strode (or escaping your own horror franchise; they’re making two new Halloween movies as we speak).
By the way, if you think Michael Myers looks a bit like Joanie from “Happy Days” when they yank his mask off at the end, you aren’t crazy. The actor is Tony Moran, Erin Moran’s older brother. Small world!
For Halloween this year I finally answered the question what would it be like if Michael Myers went on a Florida vacation? No way he’s wearing the mask in this humidity. I don’t need it anyway—I’m pale and shapeless enough.
The aerobic figure to the right is actually Laurie Strode herself (click here for proof), though her appearance here is coincidental. My roommate is involved in legitimate theater and as such has an enormous print of Jamie Lee Curtis from Perfect. We stuck it on the side of the fridge a long time ago for reasons I fail to remember. Forgot she was there when I snapped the above pic.
Hope y’all had a spooky ooky Samhain. I sat around the house listening to Slayer and eating pierogies, because I’m an American and that’s my right.
The chilling climax of Assisted Living Dracula, which did not make the list.
Since I wrote a book about a horror punk band maybe people care to know my favorite horror movies. Emphasis on “maybe.” It’s understandable if you’re only here killing time until the next dumb cat video.
AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
So close to perfection you can barely talk about it. Seems like the most accurate portrayal of what lycanthropy might be like (see: uncontrollable gore, psychological fraying, corpse humor). David Naughton and Griffin Dunne are genius together, the Hope and Crosby of onscreen bloodshed.
THE BAT (1926)
Bob Kane copped much of Bruce Wayne’s alter ego from this story, and it’s not hard to see why. Such striking imagery, thick atmosphere (particularly for a movie that takes place almost entirely in one house). The Bat is the best pre-Burton Dark Knight, though this flying rodent has no heroic intent.
THE BLACK CAT (1934)
Lugosi. Karloff. A torturous secret. Great suspense. Delicious turns from two spook masters. Should be up there with Dracula, Frankenstein, et al.
EVIL DEAD 2 (1987)
Gonzo horror at its finest. Could you breathe the first time you watched this one? Bruce Campbell delivers a career-defining performance. Makes Elm Street look like “Sesame Street,” Friday The 13th look like Nancy Drew.
Bonkers carnival movie that also succeeds at skewering our country’s sick tabloid culture. Funny, sardonic, but I can’t stand to even glance at Alex Winter in that mutant bat makeup. Also, those giant sentient eyeballs with arms and legs (that are also Jamaican for some reason) wig me out.
The ultimate power trip: harnessing the fury of the atom to capture evil spirits for profit. Only bureaucracy stands in our heroes’ way. Even when it does, they still have that boss car and an endless stream of wisecracks.
The first time we realized William Shatner’s pasty visage could be an instrument of evil. What’s more horrifying, though: the anonymous killer hunting teenagers or the fact these teens have no grasp of local history?
Frightening beyond belief because there is no supernatural element. Sharks are real, and there’s nothing fantastical about them nibbling on a human.
Max Schreck’s makeup is amazing and his movements are hypnotizing. On top of that, Murnau’s direction is wonderfully feverish. None of it seems real. Sticks in your craw like the best kind of haunting.
It’s a testament to this film’s genius that so many decades and parodies later you can still watch it and hope against hope that Anthony Perkins is innocent. The score might be the greatest in horror history. The entire score, that is, not just the “ei ei ei ei!” part.
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)
Everything is sort of romantic and intriguing until Lon Chaney’s mask comes off. Then the fur starts flying. Unlike most modern horror movies where the titular evil is allowed to escape in case of sequel, here we get to watch a zealous crowd beat their ghoulish tormenter to death. Cathartic.
“The Simpsons” made a joke out of “can’t sleep, clown will eat me,” but in Poltergeist that terror is all too real. Ground zero for the movement against all grease-painted jesters. Not that I’m downplaying the movie’s bigger theme: manufactured communities are evil, as are those who develop them.
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991)
Not traditionally in this genre but sneaks in thanks to its bleakness. Two robots fighting over the seed of the only woman who has foreseen the apocalypse. Of course no one believes her, so they have her committed. Also, one robot is comprised of an indestructible liquid. Any way we can downgrade to evil clowns?
Please feel free to bombard me with angry comments and angrier e-mails concerning the lack of Leprechaun movies on this list.
Another lean year, but hey, it was the first. I had no idea what was going on. Nobody did. It was 2008! Justin Bieber hadn’t even been invented yet!
Restricted Words, Phrases, & Names During Meal Time
Crazy-Ass Dream: Curly Audition
Unsolicited Review of The Nine Leaked Guns N’ Roses Songs
Corey Feldman Has Issues (With Michael Jackson)
Fake George McFly Speaks!
Unsolicited Dark Knight Review
Steak & Ale: 1966-2008
Four Very Useless Photoshops
“I Want Him To Sound Like Truman Capote.”
Crazy-Ass Dream: Nirvana Kiddie Concert
Memorable Customers I Encountered During My 2 Year Stint At Taco Bell
Indiana Jones & The Oh Man, They Taste Like Old Cocoa Puffs
Sarah Palin Shoots Chewbacca’s Father Just To Watch Him Die
Uncensored Pictures Of Hot Steamy Greasers
Halloween ’92: Epic Fail
Commenting Upon Various Time Magazine Covers
“Speak Of This Not.”
No spirits or spectres made their presence known to me this year on 10/31. Wrote for most of the day, keeping an eye on my e-mail accounts for virtual poltergeist. No dice. Does Hook Hand not have my Gmail address? Need to update my undead contacts.
Went to a party that night dressed as Richie Ramone, the third drummer from that legendary band and the Ramone I most look like in my everyday life. Driving in the leather jacket wasn’t an activity I’d describe as carefree or fun. I guess that’s why the Ramones lived in New York City. You don’t have to use your arms on the subway that much.
The party was a hoot and a couple people even got my semi-obscure costume. Somehow abstained from drinking the candy corn-flavored soda in this couple’s fridge but I did eat a white chocolate Kit Kat. Note to Nestlé: if it ain’t broke don’t pour white chocolate all over it.
Came home and ate a bunch of Reese’s cups. Surprised scientists haven’t figured out a way to mine the oil outta those bastards for our nation’s fuel needs. Breaking free from our dependence on the Middle East could just be a peanut butter cup away.
All in all, a fine Hallow’s Eve. Not as exciting as the year my minivan was egged, oranged, potato’d, cheesed, and greasepainted with inside jokes by my friends but also not as dull as that string of Halloweens in my teenage years when I was too old to trick or treat but still too young to go to parties.
Last year I answered the door for a trick or treater. He was a boy of maybe eight, dressed as a Transformer or some kind of Power Ranger. I gave him a couple of bite-sized (“fun”-sized, as some call them) pieces of candy and this was his response:
“Thanks! See you at Christmas!”
Can you imagine if they encouraged trick or treating on Christmas Day? That might actually be a good idea, considering how many candy canes I see still cluttering up people’s houses in March.
Maybe this kid was in a group of holiday carolers and he meant he’d see me at Christmas when he came around to sing “Deck The Halls” dressed as Tiny Tim. If that happened I missed it, which is a shame because I love Dickensian-themed events.
Whatever he meant, I LOL’d pretty hard. Thanks, kid. Hope you bust more funny bones and get even more candy this year.
Yes, my mother has seasonal pool toys. For Christmas it’s inflatable candy canes. And you aren’t seeing a ghostly apparition to the left there—my legs really are that white.
Working on a book about the Misfits has sort of desensitized me to Halloween. I’ve been staring at pictures of guys in spooky costumes all year, trying every day to make a little more sense of their blood-soaked, cobweb-tangled, sharply pumpkin-flavored punk rock oeuvre. Life will probably seem vaguely normal tonight when I go out and see homemade zombies and d.i.y. vampires dashing around the streets.
This is how I imagine long term Disney employees feel when they go on vacation to Paris and catch a glimpse of someone wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt. It barely even registers.
Still, I should try to get into the spirit. So here’s Florence Henderson performing “That Old Black Magic” on Paul Lynde’s 1976 prime time Halloween special. Finally, Carol Brady enters the Satanic plane, satiating the Noseless One and preventing a global undead apocalypse.
Hard to believe this didn’t become a radio staple of the season.
Halloween is a mere fifteen days away, and for some harried folk, that statement really means Christmas is a mere sixty-nine days away. Oy gevalt! Why not kill two birds with one stone by listening to Yuletide-themed Misfits tribute act the Chrisfits? Finally, the melodious punk rock of Glenn Danzig without all that stomach-churning gore. In its place? Candy canes and mistletoe and other cheery crap.
The only info I have about the Chrisfits is that they’re from Canada and they’re awesome. Slightly more material here, including a tender retelling of the Christ child’s birth set to “Last Caress.”