The Film Geek’s Guide to Halloween

October has arrived in full force. Jack o’ lanterns have started to populate the landscape. Children will soon be donning their best ghoul and goblin costumes while going door to door seeking sugary treasures. And that means that it’s time to start watching movies that possess a supernatural flare. You don’t have to be a gorehound to get in on the fun. There’s more than enough creep to go around for everyone. Here are some top-shelf selections, perfect for Halloween:

Kwaidan (1964)
One of the forerunners of J-horror, Kwaidan is a spectacular ghost story anthology, perfect Halloween viewing for film geeks. It’s thick with suspense and hits home as colorful eye candy. The four stories that make up the anthology are as good as ghost stories can get.

Carnival of Souls (1962)
The best part of Herk Harvey’s creepy little b-movie is that he aimed high, very purposely giving it a taste of Bergman, Resnais, and Antonioni. He didn’t always succeed but the way he swung for the fences is downright admirable. And the imagery is haunting.

The Universal Studios Creature Features
Specifically, I’m referring to Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Wolf Man (1941), and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). These films were a tremendously important piece in filmmaking history, serving as a link in the evolutionary chain between German Expressionism and the American Film Noir. The atmospherics, the suspense, the pacing, the long shadows on rainy cobblestone, the wrought iron backdrops… these elements were incredible forerunners to a large part of the rest of film in America. My personal favorite was…

The Wolf Man (1941)
It’s astonishing how much depth there was to the seemingly benign Wolf Man. The most obvious example is how hard screenwriter Curt Siodmak worked to turn the film into an allegory for Germany under the Nazi state. Larry Tablott functioned as the vicious Nazi citizen–a friend one day, a terrifying monster capable of atrocities the next. It’s no accident that the werewolf’s future victims bear the mark of a star. The story itself is as old as they come. It’s biblical. “The sins of the father shall be visited upon the son”.

Häxan (1922)
Benjamin Christensen’s Danish/Swedish film was intended as a documentary with dramatized portions. It plays out like a horror. There’s something to be said for eerie imagery when it’s coming through without spoken language, with heavy grain. Christensen’s film produces more creepy visuals than any other on this list.

Ugetsu (1953)
Another Japanese ghost story, Ugetsu makes hay with a rich storyline heavy on the importance of family and traditional themes from the Golden Age of Japanese cinema. Make no mistake about it. It is a wonderful ghost story at heart.

Peeping Tom (1960)
Many critics compare it to Hitchcock’s Psycho, and rightly so- murder, Freudian overtones, and parenthood gone horribly wrong permeate Michael Powell’s film. The difference is that the father, rather than the mother, is the source of the psychological issues. The idea of using a camera to commit murder adds a really neat depth to it all.

Eyes Without a Face (1960)
The plot is a rather grisly one for 1960. It revolves around a father who murders women in the hope of grafting their faces onto his own daughter’s disfigured visage. Peppered in throughout the movie are shots of his daughter, who wears an expressionless doll-like mask. It’s had a lasting influence, right down to inspiring John Carpenter’s version of Michael Myers in the Halloween films.

Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara
The trilogy includes Pitfall (1962), Woman in the Dunes (1964), and The Face of Another (1966). The first in the trilogy- Pitfall- works as both a tremendous ghost story and a scathing indictment of greed. Woman in the Dunes tells the tale of a man hopelessly trapped, fighting a widow and the specter of menacing, ceaseless natural elements (specifically, sand). The Face of Another gives us corporeal horror, a man trapped in his own faceless disfigured body, gradually becoming more and more distant from society.

Videodrome (1983)
Speaking of corporeal horror, this list would be incomplete without the inclusion of David Cronenberg. His Videodrome features James Woods as a shameless media mogul who will stop at nothing to find the next big thing. His body deteriorates in surrealist ways, just as his own reality begins to fuse with the horrifying images he has discovered in his search. What comes out is a horror film that gives us both sexual and social commentary.

23 Comments

Filed under Foreign Film, French Film, Movies, Silent Movies

23 responses to “The Film Geek’s Guide to Halloween

  1. As I didn’t grow up with Halloween it doesn’t mean too much for me personally. Horror is also the genre I watch the least, can’t enjoy scaring myself…I assume the old movies you mention aren’t very scary?

    • It’s tough for me to say because I’m very desensitized to being scared by a movie, but I think it’s a fair assessment. I don’t think anything on here will jump out at you, and there’s nothing particularly gory on here other than the really odd imagery of Videodrome. The Haxan trailer is a really good example, I think, of the type of stuff you’d be in for if you watched these movies.

  2. Wow! Very complete topic! My favorite Universal Creature is The Mommy! Since I’m a passionnate about everything on Egyptology it was predestined for me to love it! I also love Karl Freund’s work on this one.
    Videodrome is one of my favorite movies! I always list it as my number one Cronenberg!
    I still need to see Eyes Without A Face and Peeping Tom two films I have on my most wanted list for many years.
    And I also agree on the qualities of Kwaidan an underrated masterpiece in my opinion!

    • My very good friend is in the same boat. His childhood fascination with Egyptology led him to The Mummy as his fave.

      Peeping Tom took me five minutes before I knew I’d love it. I became a fan that quickly.

  3. Phil

    Funny, I was watching The Face of Another just last night. The Wolf Man is my least favorite of the Universal Creature movies. I wasn’t thinking about any of the allegories and Lon Chaney is too wooden of an actor for me.

    • I laughed pretty hard the first time I saw it as an adult because it’s supposed to be in London, and here’s the big dopey (but, IMO, likable) Lon Chaney Jr. He’s about as far from British as you can be.

  4. Yea I very rarely watch horror movies as I was traumatized by the likes of “The Exorcist” and “It” at a very young age :) Now, it doesn’t feel scary anymore but I still avoid the ones that are known to be scarier ah!

    • The Exorcist is such a classic. The ones that got to me when I was a kid (and this will probably be a list down the line soon) would definitely include The Thing and Poltergeist.

  5. A great list. I’ll probably be watching some horror films but not too many. I just watch what’s available, no matter what genre it is. My watchlist is too big to just jump to a certain genre. But there’s definitely gonna be some horror-related posts on my blog later in the month.

    • Do you all have a Halloween-style holiday this time of year in NZ? Or any time of year? I think that Europe has their All Saints Day and Mexico has the Dia de los Muertes. Here, we have Halloween. But I have no idea what goes on in the eastern hemisphere.

      • Yeah, we have Halloween on October 31 like everyone else. It’s things like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Labor Day that we have at different times.

  6. The guy who met Kevin Meany

    I think our collective idea of what scares us changes and evolves. I think with a horror movie list, it needs to be broken down by decade. I know we are getting the film geek list rather than the general consumer list, however when I was a kid, Halloween/Friday the 13th/Nightmare on Elm Street (boogie man killer sub-genre) scared me to death. Those aren’t really scary to me any more. Last year and the year before, Paranormal Activity (and its prequel) in a theatre scared the shit out of me. Its easy to become desensitized to certain forms of scary and the genre has to continuously evolve. I don’t count creative death/torture (i.e. Final Destination/Saw) as people don’t watch those to be scared but to see interesting death scenes/torture.

    • Yeah, it really takes an extra step to look at this stuff through a different filter. I don’t think there’s a single film on this particular list that I’d call scary by any stretch.

      I’ve always thought that the horror genre worked as a great sociology experiment in that the horror films that are popular will tell you a lot about what a society is afraid of at the time. Creature from the Black Lagoon, for instance, is all about Darwinism and evolution. Or all of those goofy sci-fi/horrors that came out in the 50’s and 60’s when space travel was happening. Or remakes of stuff like The Orphanage and The Thing because people today are apparently scared shitless to make new original movies.

  7. Great list! Kwaidan is awesome, and Videodrome is one of my all time favorite films.

  8. I will definitely try to get at least horror film seen this halloween. I did watch a awesome horror movie that isn’t to gory last year called Session 9.

    • It’s great that Session 9 has picked up quite a following after so many years of flying under the radar. It gets lots of kudos this time of year from horror fans.

  9. Great list of films I will never see!! HAHAH

    Not the best Film Geek, and definitely not the best HORROR fan!! LOLzzzz

    Kudoz for a great post though matey

    • rtm

      Ditto on Scott’s response. Not big on horror nor Halloween, in fact, I might watch something totally un-Halloween-like on Oct 31, I dunno, something like Sound of Music? :D

      • Ooooh noooo! Not a musical!

        While this list is pretty tame by horror standards, I will admit that I’m not sure which one you might try, Ruth. Probably Ugetsu? In fact, I’ll go ahead and say Ugetsu. It’s a beautiful film that certainly doesn’t have anything scary in it so much as it’s haunting. And has ghosts.

        • rtm

          Ahah, what’s wrong with a musical?? Ok, how about a comedy then, as the opposite of fright is laughter right… so I’ll watch Gods Must Be Crazy then :D

          Ugetsu is a Japanese horror flick?? I find Asian horror films to be even scarier than American ones. I actually saw this Chinese horror flick when I was a kid, the main ghost is a woman with long hair draped in white sheet, kinda like Ringu, and man that’s one of the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen!! She devours a man’s heart in one of the scenes and I still can’t get that out of my head even years later.

          • Oh yeah… there’s no heart devouring here at all. It’s more in the vein of The Others, or even The Sixth Sense (but with a better story, nothing against Sixth Sense or The Others).

            I… struggle with musicals. A lot.

    • Hmmm… this list could be good for your newfound adventuresome spirit, Scott.

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