Top Five Films To Watch Around Halloween – Jeff Konopka’s List

Hey everyone! Jeff here with a very special post… This one isn’t a movie review (at least not in the classic sense), nor is it in any way related to a podcast or a film festival… Nope, this post is my contribution to the Liberal Dead Staff’s “Movies To Watch Around Halloween” series.

If you can’t tell, October is my favorite month of the year; not just because it is when the Toronto After Dark Film Festival takes place, but because it’s home to my favorite holiday – Halloween – and it’s the one month out of the year where “normal” society seems to be okay with all things horror-related. But, then again, I’m sure you all understand that sentiment, so I’m likely preaching to the choir here…  As such, I won’t waste any time explaining my reason for jumping in on the fun of list-making.  I will say, however, that I initially thought it would be hard to come up with a list, as there are many horror films that I absolutely love, but once I started thinking about the movies that I watch almost religiously every year around Halloween, and that take place on the Holiday, it was a lot easier than I thought. Of course, there are a few more than five films that I watch every October, but these are the five that hold a special place in my heart…

Oh, and if you know me, you probably are also aware that I hate ranking things, so this list is presented in alphabetical order…

Ginger Snaps (2000)

I love werewolf films; especially ones that find a way to approach the genre in their own unique way. 2000’s Ginger Snaps, directed by John Fawcett, does exactly that by using the cycle of the werewolf as a metaphor for puberty – more specifically, that of a teenage girl. The Halloween setting is perfect for this story of a pair of young death-obsessed sisters whose bond is tested when the older sibling is bitten by a werewolf around the time of her first period. I realize that sounds a bit out there at first, but Fawcett manages to sell it hook, line, and sinker thanks to an absolutely wonderful script by Karen Walton – that is full of social satire and plays with gender roles in society – and a terrific performance by Katharine Isabelle (more recently of American Mary fame). It’s a shame that Fawcett hasn’t directed another feature since (he has done a lot of TV, though), and it’s equally shameful that this film has never received a proper US release, as it was dumped directly to DVD (Full Frame, no less!) in 2001. There is a great Special Edition DVD that was released in Canada (with bonus features and in the proper aspect ratio), but sadly, that release is also well Out of Print. If you can track down a copy, and can afford the pricetag, this film is well worth your time. Hell, even if you can only find the Full Frame release, I highly recommend it. Here’s hoping for a proper Blu-ray release some day…

Night Of The Demons (1988)

As a youngster, I remember seeing the cover art for Kevin S. Tenney’s (Witchboard) Night Of The Demons in my local video store. Everything about it stuck in my head week after week – especially the tagline, “Angela is having a party… Jason and Freddy are too scared to come… But you’ll have a hell of a time” – until, eventually, I broke down around Halloween of 1990 and rented it. My ten-year-old self didn’t know it, but I was about to discover one of those films that would stick with me even 20+ years later. Tenney wears his love for the Holiday on his sleeve with this nasty little film about a group of kids who throw a Halloween party at an old funeral home and end up unleashing an evil power that possesses them one by one. Night Of The Demons is the kind of B-Movie that just doesn’t get made any more; with loads of practical gore, nudity, inappropriate humor, some solid creepiness, and a pervasive sense of fun. Sure, the acting is pretty awful, but I’ll be damned if David Lewis’ Cinematography doesn’t look awesome upscaled on a nice 16:9 HDTV set; and Dennis Michael Tenney’s (the Director’s brother) score is perfect. This movie has everything I love about Halloween in it, and the animated intro is great. It was remade a few years ago, and while I don’t hate that film, I also don’t think it holds a candle to the original (though, I’m the first to admit that I have a great deal of nostalgia for this picture). For me, the original Night Of The Demons will always be a personal sort of Halloween “comfort food.”

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Although Tim Burton’s name is all over this film, and it oozes of his artistic style, Henry Selick (Coraline) was the man who actually brought this story of a town full of Halloween monsters that (unsuccessfully) attempts to adopt Christmas to life. Filmed in beautiful stop-motion animation, this film is not only great to watch during Halloween and Christmas time, but it is also the one film on this list that I can currently enjoy with my toddler son (he loves it… we’ll get to the others eventually; no matter what his Mother says). The story is charming, Danny Elfman’s score and musical numbers are the best he’s ever put to film, and the animation is nothing short of mesmerizing. Though the film wasn’t much of a hit upon its original theatrical release, it has since found a huge (after)life on home video, and it is probably the most “mainstream” of all of the films on this list. Still, any time this movie is on, I can’t switch the channel; and I make it a point to pop the movie on intentionally at least twice a year; around Halloween and Christmas. Say what you will about the legions of Hot Topic junkies who snatch up every piece of merchandise that gets released for this film, but it’s hard to deny its charm, uniqueness, and its place in Halloween Cinema.

Satan’s Little Helper (2004)

Director Jeff Lieberman will always be remembered as the guy who made the insane Natire-Gone-Amuck film, Squirm, the trippy Blue Sunshine, and the cult slasher, Just Before Dawn, but in 2004, he made a mean-spirited horror/comedy, called Satan’s Little Helper, that will always be my favorite of his works. The story, about a young boy who befriends a malevolent serial killer dressed as Satan and sets off to trick-or-treat and play “pranks” with him on Halloween, is full of social satire and inappropriate humor. In my opinion, this is one of those criminally underseen gems – though it has found a larger audience these days, thanks to Netflix Instant – and a perfect film to watch around the Holiday. Again, this isn’t chock full of Oscar-worthy acting, but it’s darkly hilarious in all the right ways, and if you haven’t given it a shot, I recommend you do so. It won’t be for everyone, but this low-budget horror film does a lot right and fits perfectly with the rest of the films listed here.

Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

I realize that I said I wasn’t “ranking” these films, but ironically, the film that comes last alphabetically is also the one that would be my Number One, if I were. Filmed and cut for a theatrical release in 2007, and subsequently shelved by Warner Brothers until 2009, when it was criminally dumped Direct-to-Video, Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat is quite simply a masterpiece of Halloween cinema, and it’s the best anthology film we’ve had in decades. If you haven’t seen it yet, the movie is made up of intertwining tales of the macabre that all take place on Halloween night in a small fictional town; all of which cross paths with Sam, a little child-like character with a burlap sack over his head. I won’t say much else about the stories – just watch it, trust me – but I will say that the film is a clear love letter from Dougherty to the Holiday and the films that he grew up with as a child. In the three years since the film hit DVD/Blu-ray, it’s quickly become a genre favorite that horror fans watch year-round (FearNet even plays it repeatedly for 24 hours on Halloween), which makes it even sadder that most have never seen it on the big screen; as it was intended to be seen. I did see this in a theater in August of 2009 as part of that year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival, and it’s a screening that will likely stick with me forever (partially because a tornado hit that same day, but also because Trick ‘r Treat blew me away), and I returned to the States raving about it to all who would listen. Anyhow, Trick ‘r Treat is a beautiful blend of everything I love about both the genre and the Holiday, and more than anything else, it’s one of the few movies of recent memory to capture the fun of the films that I grew up with. If you haven’t seen it, do so immediately (you can thank me later)… If you have: Watch it again.

Well, that about wraps it up for my list. I realize that there are many films I left out, and that people will no doubt chastise me for picking some of these films over those they believe belong on the list, but these things are personal, and as such, a big part of my love for them has to do with my history with the films. For example, I love Halloween, but it’s not my favorite John Carpenter film (that honor would go to Big Trouble In Little China or The Thing), and even though I usually watch it every year around this time, it’s not a necessity for me. In looking over the lists of my fellow staffers, there are several other titles that fall in the same category for me. They are great movies, and many of them are favorites of mine, but when pressed to choose only five to watch, they would have to get bumped for one reason or another.

Anyhow, with that said, I hope you had fun reading this list, and if there are any of these that you haven’t seen, now is the perfect time to check them out. I’ve included links in each blurb to places you can purchase the films (just click the main title for each). Most of them are readily available, and some can even be watched on Netflix Instant… So, whatever your favorite films for Halloween are, I hope you and yours have a spooktacular Holiday this year!

Until we meet again…

-Jeff

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