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Discussing Horror Movies (Part 4): Favorites & Holiday Traditions

October 30, 2017

discussing horror movies part 4 favorites and holiday traditions

Well, we’ve discussed horror movies at length, and we may have even flirted with adequate analysis once or twice. We hope you’ve enjoyed it so far, and now, wind down with the final part of this conversation in which Pat and I talk holiday traditions and some of our seasonal viewing favorites. In case you missed it, click here for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Tony: Well, here we are: Fall. The dropping temperatures, the crisp air, the color change and the other sensory manifestations of the season, not to mention Halloween, create the perfect atmosphere for watching horror movies. While I do like watching these kinds of movies throughout the year, some just feel enhanced when watched after the shift from summer to autumn.

What are your seasonal favorites? What are your tradition for the run-up to Halloween?

Pat: By far, my favorite tradition is making whiskey cider (easier to make if you don’t sample the whiskey as you go) and watching the Disney classic, The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow (1949). Maybe it’s because I live in the northeast, where Washington Irving’s descriptions feel so much like the neighborhood I grew up in (from the lay sway of golden wheat fields to the dreamy reflection of light on water) but the Headless Horseman always seemed like a ghost that would live in my backyard. The cartoon is also unexpectedly charming. One of my favorite scenes is when Brom Bones, the movie’s bully, gets hit on the head and sees double. In a daze, he watches his romantic rival, Ichabod Crane, dance with his hallucinatory double. It’s so slapstick and so endearing at the same time. As a bonus, it’s narrated by Bing Crosby whose voice has that laid back country patois, like a father about to read a bedtime story. And, as a bonus bonus, the VHS I have comes with two cartoons, both Halloween related that act as a fun preamble to the main event. If you haven’t seen this classic, my god, see it.

the legend of sleepy hollow 1949

The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow (1949)

It’s probably worth mentioning that The Simpsons Treehouse Of Horror is also a treat. The seventh iteration, with Kang becoming president is astonishingly always relevant and well written.

I remember one year, my mom made pigs in a blanket and we watched Universal’s The Phantom Of The Opera. A cheesy classic and perfect for a small party. Enough to marvel at, but not so head scratching that people are leaving existentially defeated.

A final classic I like to watch is Mel Brooks’ Haunted Honeymoon (1986) which, in my opinion, is grossly underrated. It has that Futurama charm, where if you hate the genre tropes or love them, you’ll get a kick out of this movie.

haunted honeymoon 1986

Haunted Honeymoon (1986)

So I have to ask—now that you have a family of your own, what traditions will you set in place? What movies are on your list? How do you create that spooky/fun atmosphere? In other words—what’s the best way to watch a movie beyond just picking a good one?

Tony: I love The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow! I haven’t seen it in a while, but I can still hear the Bing Crosby jingle (“Ich-abod… Ichabod Crane”). I’m confident I’d be able to find that same VHS at my parents’ somewhere. On that subject, I’m also quite fond of the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp version. I think it creates such a great atmosphere and ranks more or less right up there with the best works from Burton’s early days.

We don’t really have any major traditions for Halloween in our household. One thing I definitely recommend is listening to Orson Welles’s radio play version of War Of The Worlds. Even though it’s all in good fun, it’s pretty chilling to think about how some people listening to the original broadcast didn’t realize it was only a dramatization.

As for the best way to watch, I like to sit down to a movie right around or just after sundown. No distractions, other than maybe some snacks. Horror movies are great to enjoy with snacks. Beer can really enhance either a horror comedy or a “so-bad-it’s-good” movie. In theory, I like holiday-themed snacks, for instance custom-decorated cookies or just changing the name of something you’d normally eat to something that sounds creepy or disgusting. As for picking a good movie… there really are too many great horror movies to cram into one month, or even two. This makes it all the more important to put thought into what you watch around Halloween, since time is precious. Here are a few that I highly recommend and that I get the urge to watch at least once a year:

slither 2006 / trick 'r treat 2007

Slither (2006)/Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

Trick ‘r Treat (2007) is a dark, but funny, little anthology film about a bunch of spooky things going down in a small town on Halloween. This is one that I do try to get in every year, and it helps that it’s one of the few horror movies that my wife likes.

Slither (2006) is a great creepy-crawly alien invasion comedy, written and directed by James Gunn, who has gone on to bring us the Guardians Of The Galaxy movies. It’s loaded with awesome TV and “B” movie-type actors like Elizabeth Banks, Nathan Fillion, and Michael Rooker. It’s hilarious and should also genuinely make you squirm.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978) and The Blob (1988) are two I decided to just lump together. They are both remakes of 50s movies that I consider to be better than the original. Both are supremely creepy, conspiratorial horror movies, perfect for a crisp fall evening. Particularly with The Blob, which has a small-town trick-or-treating vibe even though it isn’t actually set on Halloween. I love them both and find myself revisiting them pretty frequently despite having only seen them each for the first time within the past few years.

invasion of the body snatchers 1978/the blob 1988

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)/The Blob (1988)

Last but not least, I love to dabble in some actual Halloween action. It’s my favorite of the major horror-icon franchises, mainly because I love the fall atmosphere, the inherent creepiness of trick-or-treating, and the goofy mythologies these movies invent. The franchise definitely has some stinkers, but most of them are highly rewatchable. Plus, there are a bunch of different viewing strategies for those who don’t want to watch all 10 of them. You can watch the unofficial trilogies of Parts 1, 2, and 4, or Parts 1, 2, and 7. You can go 1, 4, 5, 6. Or like I do, just cherry-pick your favorites, often in no particular order at all. Aside from the original, I just need to put it out there that I highly recommend Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982). It’s otherwise known as “the one without Michael Myers.” That’s right. There’s a Halloween movie with no Michael whatsoever. But it’s so great and cheesy in equal measure. Without getting into it too much, it’s probably my second favorite in the series after only John Carpenter’s original.

That’s my knee-jerk guide to Halloween viewing. I’d like to hear any additional input you have on the subject.

Halloween 1978/ Halloween 3 1982

Halloween (1978)/Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982)

Pat: The third Halloween is sadly overlooked. No other adjective quite sums up that movie like wonky. It truly is a hidden gem with enough weirdness and gore to satisfy the late October cravings. Probably the most shacking moment is when that annoyingly catchy Halloween jingle plays (“one more day to Halloween!“) and the main character scrambles to save his family. Creepy stuff.

It’s funny because when I think about watching movies, the act isn’t so singular anymore. I might be watching a movie, but I probably have my notes in front of me. Or I might be scrolling through my phone. If I’m with a group of friends, we are all chatting as the movie plays on. It’s very rare now that I can sit and uninterruptedly watch a horror movie. I almost have to will myself to sit still. Maybe I am a product of our generation, but this is also why I love going to the theater. I am obliged to sit quietly and absorb the movie.

Tony: Following up on the ideal movie watching conditions, I do like watching with others, but, living in relative isolation as I do, I don’t regularly get that opportunity. This makes it easy for me to be pretty rigid. I sometimes watch with my phone in another room so it won’t distract me, though I’m certainly not perfect when it comes to giving a movie my undivided attention. It’s actually become something of a barometer for how good a movie is. If I never feel the urge to even peek at my phone, then that’s a good sign that I’m watching something really special. If I spend half the run time studying up for fantasy football or (gasp) checking email, then it’s probably not that great a movie.*

Changing gears, I know there are a lot of people who avoid horror movies altogether. Do you have anything to say about horror movies directed toward people who DON’T like horror movies (or at least think they don’t)?

Pat: Horror turns so many people off and unfortunately, most are not willing to cross the bridge into horrorland. My method for getting them to see the good side of horror is to find hybrid pics. For example, some movies have horror mixed with comedy or family film tropes, and some are considered classics. By exposing people to these movies, they might find a thread that can get them into the larger genre.

Below are some recommendation I think anyone can appreciate:

Ernest Scared Stupid (1991): Jim Varney was one of the great character actors of our time and his passing was a hard one for fans of the Ernest series. To me, Ernest Scared Stupid, is the quintessential Ernest film with a good mix of situational and physical comedy, paired with enough heart and good ol’ scares to give the movie the excitement factor.

the birds (1963)

The Birds (1963)

The Birds (1963): Really, anything Hitchcock will do the trick, but oddly, a movie about killer birds is a good gateway drug into his more cerebral works (like Vertigo). As a classic, more people are open to watching Hitchcock since he is a tried and true directorial mastermind.

Gremlins (1984): Sort of a Christmas movie, Gremlins is one of the most exciting movies I have ever seen. With enough practical effects to keep new audiences wondering how certain scenes were accomplished, Gremlins offers both joy and terror. Plus, Gizmo is super cute.

The Sixth Sense (1999): This is a sore spot for me. The Sixth Sense, while a great movie, isn’t one of the first I would put on my list. But it gained credibility “because the Academy said so.” I hate the mindset that just because some virgin old men gave the movie their seal of approval, it suddenly is a must-see. However, I can’t deny its cultural impact and for those not too familiar with the genre, they may be more prone to see a movie that has more renown.

Ghostbusters (1984): Another great film that treads the line between horror and comedy. It’s always a fun movie to revisit, especially to wash out the taste of the newest remake (blech).

The Silence Of The Lambs (1991): Not for the faint of heart, this cannibalistic thriller is one of those movies that can draw in movie goers who want something that taps into the seedier side of the police procedural. I would also recommend Red Dragon (2002).

poltergeist 1982/creepshow 1982

Poltergeist (1982)/Creepshow (1982)

Poltergeist (1982): An absolutely frightening that perfected so many of the genre tropes of the time. The most surprising aspect of the movie is its incredible balance of horror tropes and family movie tropes. I don’t know if I can say “it’s a movie for the whole family!” but it definitely has those themes about sticking it out through the tough times.

Creepshow (1982): A masterwork in horror anthologies. Creepshow is the right amount of scary and cheesy. It’s perfect to put on in the background for Halloween parties. The material is interesting, the actors are having fun—what’s not to love?

The Babadook (2014): One obstacle new horror enthusiasts have is that the content of horror movies seems so old. Sometimes it’s the black and white. Sometimes it’s the bad effects. In order to show these folks the light (or the darkness) a newer film is a good starting point (then work backwards). The Babadook is a great newer film that not only stands in its own right, but also hearkens back to a lot of black and white tropes, perfect for whetting the appetite.

Bride Of Frankenstein (1935): How could I make this list and not put a black and white movie on here? Brideto me, far surpasses the original Frankenstein, due in no small part to the exaggerations of Dr. Pretorius. For new audiences, it’s a glimpse at one of the best classics and a twist on the original tale.

Tony: That’s a great list. When you start accounting for movies like The Birds, The Silence Of The Lambs, and even something like Black Swan, there are plenty of great crossover titles that are exemplary horror movies with prestigious pedigrees.

*Shout-out to Dave Jacoby for introducing the concept of TSOP (time spent on phone) during the Grantland days.

Happy Halloween to all, and thanks again for reading! If you are trick-or-treating, imbibing, or otherwise celebrating, please do so safely. If you have a moment, what are your favorite viewing traditions this time of year?

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