At The Advocate, we plan on celebrating Halloween all month long, and we’d like you to celebrate along with us. There’s no better way to get into the spirit of the season than to live off a steady diet of candy corn and some spooky-as* movies throughout October, so here’s some of our suggestions.
Good news, everyone! Nicholas Cage is cool again! Mandy is the brand new film from fledgling psychedelic horror auteur Panos Cosmatos. Cage plays a rugged, content, and handsome logger who lives in the woods with his chill, heavy metal-loving wife. He becomes decidedly less content when an LSD cult led by an insane failed musician shows up and burns his wife alive in front of him. Cage gets up, dusts himself off, forges a battleaxe, and seeks some vengeance. This two-hour splatterfest features a cheddar goblin, disfigured demon bikers, doin’ coke off a big knife, and a beautiful doom metal-infused original score by Johann Johannsson (his last). Cosmatos describes Mandy as a companion piece to his previous film, Beyond the Black Rainbow, and we strongly encourage a double feature. Cosmatos’ filmmaking style is nothing short of transportive, so much so that you might want to save this one (or two) for Halloween night.
It’s not every year that we’re treated to two borderline horror masterpieces, but 2018 came through for us. Hereditary is essentially an exploration of toxic familial relationships, opening with Annie Graham (played by Toni Collette) speaking at her mother’s funeral. Graham’s mother, to say the least, was a mysterious and contentious figure in the household, whose living dealings would soon become much clearer to Graham, her husband, and children. This film builds a colossal amount of tension and dread before punching the viewer hard in the gut, and subsequently continuing to do so, over and over and over. Hereditary has been heralded as this generation’s The Exorcist, but viewing Hereditary might be even more of a brutally punishing and exhausting experience, making The Exorcist look like a simple bowl of pea soup. Watch if you dare, but be sure to carve out a few hours in the schedule for a shower and a nap afterward.
It Follows (2014)
It’s the film that took the tired teen horror genre and turned it on its head through the use of the age old “sex kills” trope. A teenage girl played by Maika Monroe falls victim to a sexually transmitted curse, and is stalked by a vicious entity that may take any form. Writer and Director David Robert Mitchell, with some help from Detroit, creates a world just a little off from our own; a sort of barely alternate reality that throws the viewer just slightly off balance. Add in a dead-eyed demon that resembles your Dad and staggers toward you through the night, only intending to attack at your most vulnerable moment, leaving your corpse twisted and disfigured. This unsettling film might just have you evaluating your living quarters for escape routes.
We couldn’t, in good conscience, let this film slip by, not in October 2018. Some horror is designed to scare a specific audience, with Teeth taking aim at rapists. This film centers on a teenage girl who discovers that she has “vagina dentata,” razor-sharp teeth inside of her vagina. Imagine a world where rapists lose their members instead of being granted seats on high courts. Let us whisper of a dream*. This film contains graphic scenes of sexual assault, but unlike in so many real life instances of this heinous crime, there is justice.
*No, we don’t actually advocate for the physical maiming of a human being under any circumstance.
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
Horror that is self aware doesn’t always hit the mark, but Cabin in the Woods really couldn’t care less. This unique, captivating, and at times, fiercely hilarious film manages to be meta without being corny or overtly stupid, like say, the Scream series. A very typical group of young college students stumble into a very typical horror movie scenario in the woods, but you know this film wouldn’t be on this list if the plot was simply this vapid. The situation is being manipulated by two wise-cracking controllers who are seemly part of a large corporate infrastructure, watching and pulling strings. This film starts off great, and explodes into total madness about an hour in. Bonus points for using the phrase: “Bind them with ancient logics,” and finally addressing the fact that regular zombies and “zombie redneck torture family” are quite similar, but not the same thing. Also R.E.O. Speedwagon. Any fan of horror, or just fun in general, should immediately put this film at the top of their list.
The Thing (1982)
The 80s were a horror Renaissance, when filmmakers vied to outdo each other by featuring the most bizarre and stomach-turning practical special effects possible. Horror master John Carpenter emerged the clear winner with The Thing, the second film adaptation of the 1938 novella, Who Goes There? A group of researchers in Antarctica led by Carpenter’s favorite hunk, Kurt Russel, battles an alien capable of replicating itself and perfectly imitating any life form it pleases. To this day, it’s the only film that spotlights a human head melting off a burning Cronenberg of flesh, sprouting spider legs, and scurrying into the shadows. Well, the only one that we know of, at least. Creating the special effects was so grueling for effects designer Rob Bottin, that he reportedly ended up in the hospital for exhaustion after filming.
Don Coscarelli’s cult classic is nearing its 40th birthday, and continues to be well beloved by ardent fans of the horror genre. Phantasm revolves around an evil and freakishly strong mortician dubbed “The Tall Man,” and his plot to murder the residents of a small town, refashioning them into his undead minions. Standing in his way are a young boy, his older brother, and an aging hippy ice cream man. The real star of this film is The Tall Man’s flying metallic sphere, which zooms around springing knives and bloodletting people’s heads. Turns out, there’s a lot of blood in a person’s head. This film persists because it’s batsh*t creativity translates its low budget quality to something almost endearing. While the 4k digital remaster of the film is impressive, we suggest that you watch this one on grainy VHS.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Let us all ignore the fact that the zombie subgenre has been stomped into the cold, cold earth, and appreciate this forerunner for what it is: an excellent film. This is George Romero’s sequel to his ground shattering classic Night of the Living Dead, which we wrote about last Halloween: http://www.corvallisadvocate.
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
John Landis directed two of the great comedies of our time back-to-back—Animal House and The Blues Brothers—and immediately followed up by directing one of the great horror classics: An American Werewolf in London, a screenplay Landis wrote when he was just 19 years old. You’ll find this film on numerous special effects top-ten lists due to its visually harrowing transformation scene, but that’s only a piece of Werewolf’s enduring legacy. This film managed to spur the horror-comedy genre that would eventually give us Dead Alive and Shaun of the Dead, and did so without ever being objectively silly, just darkly hilarious. Never has there been such a potent mix of fun and total bummer, and that juxtaposition in and of itself is a powerful weapon to induce unease.
Nine films just aren’t enough to last the whole month, so here are some runners-up: Creepshow (1982), Return of the Living Dead (1985), Hellraiser (1987), Train to Busan (2016), and if you’re looking to get really serious, dig into the catalogs of Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento.
We could keep going, but that’s about all we can fit on the page, and we know that we missed some of your favorites. We’d like to keep the spooky times rolling throughout October, and we need you to help us out. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, tell us your favorite horror movie and why, and we might include your review in our Halloween coverage. Until then, keep to the road, and beware of the moon.
By Jay Sharpe