Everybody does it. Autumn hits, the leaves die off and turn pretty colors and little ghosts and goblins come knocking at your door to beg for sweet stuff. It's Halloween, that time of year that requires, dare I say demands, thrills and chills.
As I'm sure many can agree, this holiday comes with its own atmosphere that is unique to any other holiday we come across. There is the cold nights, the smell of dead leaves on the air, the dry rustle that is carried on night winds and a chill that that makes you bear down into your sweater and walk a little faster because you'd swear there's something back there following you. Luckily for us movie fans, there are quite a few horror movies that pack a unique atmosphere that feels much the same as these cold autumn nights.
With this feeling comes a natural sense of celebration that fits right in; horror movie marathons throughout the month. In an effort to help spur on your own movie marathons, I share with you my own top 10 choices of atmospheric horror flicks to watch on Halloween night, movies that strive hard to fit that special feeling of early autumn creep.
Sure, David Caruso can be a hard act to swallow, but when he's on he's on. Such is the case with Brad Anderson's "Session 9". Mix the neurotic twitches of Caruso with the decay of old buildings surrounding him and you have a perfect setting for scares. Then, add in a heavy back story of an old mental hospital and all the requisite creaks and howls in the distance, and you have a movie that is incredibly tense, heavily engaging and downright creepy when it needs to be. There wasn't much fanfare for "Session 9" when it came out, but it has gained a lot of ground with word of mouth. If run down buildings are the subject of nightmares for you, then this is your fix for some Halloween fun.
I know, some of you may roll your eyes, but "Lost Boys" has spirit and atmosphere in spades. Mix together the awkward prepubescent exuberance of Corey Haim and the Frog Brothers, the stubbled sex of mid 80's Kiefer Sutherland and a small town in California that looks like nothing you've ever seen, and you have a special little movie. Sure, it isn't scary but it is unique. There is a scene in opening of the film where we see from the point of view of the vampires swooping over a carnival. This scene sets up the feel of autumn for the entire film which continues to grow. You can smell the sawdust in the dirt, the popcorn in the air. The whimsy and wonder of open air comic shops and collapsed underground hotels. All of it makes Santa Clara a special place that I'm sure many from the 80's remember fondly. Except for all the damn vampires.
"Near Dark" is a quirky beast when it comes to vampire movies. In fact, there's really nothing out there like it. With its washed out colors and hazy view, this vampire movie takes on a heavy fantasy quality that creates an atmosphere we haven't seen before or since. Let's not forget that it has a hell of a cast and is actually a really good story as well. Tune in to see Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen doing the the fang thing and even Adrian Pasdar long before he became a flying super mutant on "Heroes". While the action is not in your face, this slow burner will capture you quick and refuse to let go leaving it as possibly one of your more unique viewing experiences on Halloween night.
Werewolves are excellent, even more so when they are redheads. "Ginger Snaps" throws change into a sub-genre that was met with nothing but mediocrity before. You have tons of social commentary, an excellent air of black humor and some female empowerment as well. All of this combines to give us a film that exists in its own little world separate from our own, but close enough to be familiar. Not to mention the fact that there is some blood and guts to enjoy too, and plenty of twisted laughs as well.
You can't have a holiday horror marathon without zombies. Since it is a special event, you have to go with the masters. For me, while the original "Night" was a superb film indeed, the next installment "Dawn of the Dead" ramped up the camp and made the movie even more fun. Here, we get a heaping helping of atmosphere as we watch the survivor mentality evolve in the residents of the Monroeville Mall which expanded even more on what Romero started in "Night of the Living Dead". We also get some good old fashioned b-movie horror stars to watch as well which always helps.
Monsters go hand in hand with Halloween of course, but often the confines of laboratories and crypts becomes a little tiresome after awhile. So why not change it up a bit with the isolation of the Antarctic? Not only are the creature effects and gore top notch here, the feeling of desolation and hopelessness is palpable. In the same manner of the old saying, "In space no one can hear you scream", in the middle of the Antarctic, nobody can come and help you. You are alone. It is this setting that makes "The Thing" go hand in hand with a holiday scare fest. You might want to bring a sweater however.
I won't lie, I'm biased on "Something Wicked This Way Comes". It is one of my favorite movies of all times. This flick drips atmosphere it is so thick. All thanks to a sleepy little town, howling winds late at night, distant calls of train whistles and so much more. This movie feels like Halloween. You can feel the chill in the air, the crackle of leaves under foot, the evil that emanates off of Jonathan Pryce, the dangerous allure of Pam Grier. For a huge plus, this is a horror movie you can actually watch with your kids! Well, not the tiniest tots of course, but for your elementary fiends, there's no better way to gear them up for a night of trick or treating with one wary eye watching over their shoulder.
Sure, this movie is an easy addition to a list like this but who cares? It deserves it. Michael Meyers has been the epitome of the late night boogey man for a decade or two now and in many respects, it has yet to be dethroned. The movie will still make you look over your shoulder when you walk out to the car on Halloween night and makes those dry blowing leaves seem just the slightest bit menacing. Often imitated, never bested, this tale of carnage on Halloween is a must see classic.
The new kid on the block. We've waited for it for a year or two, now we have it, and it has singled itself out. This movie is excellent, especially when it comes to Halloween atmosphere. There are few better. Heck, it's about the Spirit of Halloween for cripes sake! Still, with its murderous tales of things gone wrong on Halloween night, director Michael Dougherty has captured the essence of what makes this holiday spooky.
So here it is, my own personal favorite for Halloween scares. Don't go getting confused, this isn't the Angelina Jolie pile of cinematic crap with the same name. No no, this is George C. Scott at his finest. Every all hallows eve needs a haunted house and "The Changeling" delivers this in spades. This is a quiet movie that many may have missed. Heck, I did for years, having only seen it last year. But even after 19 years, this is one of the few movies that manages to be genuinely scary. This is the first movie in a very long time that forced me to leave a light on the bathroom, so that should tell you something. The sheer tension that permeates this movie cannot be missed and is guaranteed to make that cutie you brought home to watch movies with you crawl that much closer before it ends.