We assemble, from various parts sourced in movie graveyards, a monstrous 24 hour (ish) recommended viewing list for Halloween.
At this time of year every outlet in the World Wide Web is handing out advice on what to watch for scares-a-plenty. So why should we at Diminishing Returns be any different?
Like any good mix tape, a wide variety and good balance is what’s needed to make it all work as a whole. As we’ve discovered on previous episodes Chris loves rules, so for this horrid playlist Allen has set some.
- Try to only select titles that have an Autumnal feel, taking place on or around Halloween, things where the leaves are turning and the cold is beginning to set in. So, no summer camp movies Sleepaway Camp, The Burning or Friday the 13th (see our last episode) or the like.
- The selections have to rely on spooks over splatter. I’d rather something was suspenseful like House of the Devil than an all out bloody assault like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Maniac or Near Dark.
- Try and make the selections unusual, no-one needs reminding Halloween is great or that The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror is an annual staple.
- Include family friendly entries for day time and kid free viewing for when it gets dark.
- Finally we did our best to avoid our usual palette of sequels, prequels, spin-offs and reboots! After all, as Randy pointed out in Scream 2, the horror genre was destroyed by sequels.
Links have been inserted to lead you to as many of the selections as possible.
What better place to start than some animated Edward Gorey from the intro to Mystery! on PBS. I only wish we had Vincent Price hosting this post for you. This does set the scene delightfully.
Eerie Indiana was one of those shows that was tailor made for oddball kids like us, it was weird, creepy and kooky, sitting somewhere between The X-Files and Twin Peaks. With Joe Dantes’ involvement references to horror and B Movies were part of the fun, like the werewolf episode Mr Chaney, but our pick is the Halloween episode America’s Scariest Home Video.
Next up is the excellent ParaNorman(2014). Norman, much like Eerie’s Marshall teller, is seen as being the strange kid in his town of Blithe Hollow. A kind of Salem-a-like with a history of witch hunting. Norman can speak to the dead, though no-one believes him, and is charged with protecting the town from a curse when his estranged, and just plain strange, uncle dies and leaves him in charge of a ritual of protection, to be performed for the town. The film and its animation are remarkable, and it gets pretty dark in places.
What would Halloween be without a scary castles and monster labs?
The hipster favourite Adventure Time has had some pretty great, candy coloured, spooky episodes in its run. Whether it’s the Candy People Zombies of the pilot episode or the J-Horror, by way of Creepy Pasta urban legend, of The Blank Eyed Girl the show explores different kinds of horror movies. We’ve picked The Creeps for a classic, visitors to a creepy mansion getting bumped off, story.
With Bugs Bunny in Transylvania 6-5000. Bugs, we can assume had trouble at Albuquerque again, ending up in Transylvania and tangling with a vampire count.
Then in Hare Raising Hare it’s Bugs v Gossamer, a monster creation of a Peter Lorre type mad scientist.
From Transylvania and spooky castles to a suburban Frankenstein lab where a young boy revives, a beloved pet, from the grave in Tim Burton’s original Frankenweenie. This live action short would later be expanded into a feature length, stop motion animated, version by Burton, but there is real B Movie charm to this Disney short.
All of the Ghostbusters movies are, of course, perfect spook filled fodder but too obvious. So we’ve selected The Real Ghostbusters episode When Halloween Was Forever. This episode of the cartoon series has the evil spirit Samhain unleash a ghost army in an attempt to trap the world in an endless Halloween night.
Things are a little more finite on Freaks and Geeks, and some of the Weir family are struggling with that idea. The geeks are possibly just too old for Tricks And Treats , but it’s more fun than Dostoyevsky.
We all love the Universal Monsters but for the next pair of selections we get a different take on the old Drac pack. First up an animated Cryptkeeper has a tale about a creepy trio of waxworks in Tales From the Cryptkeeper: the Works In Wax. Then Diminishing Returns favourite Shane Black and director Fred Dekker team up for their 80’s classic The Monster Squad, where a gang of horror obsessed teens have to finish off Van Helsing’s work and stop Dracula from taking over the world. The creature designs and special effects, featuring some of Stan Winston’s work, are a real treat in this kids V monsters movie.
A different type of horror descends in this classic Star Trek episode as fear, suspicion and potentially madness take hold in Wolf in the Fold. Following an accident on the Enterprise, Kirk and Bones escort Scotty on some recuperative shore leave. The engineer makes friends with a local dancer, but is later found in the foggy streets by his ship mates, bloody knife in hand and the girl dead at his feet. Could Scotty really be ye olde Jack the Ripper of space? (It is also frightening to think that in the 23rd century misogyny can be caused by a head knock and cured by hooking up!). Then madness sweeps through the suburbs in The Twilight Zone’s The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street. Fear becomes panic and paranoia when a blackout ,and a kids vivid imagination, see friendly neighbours turn on one another, in a wonderful bit of Red Panic set in Anytown USA.
Paranoia and guilt lead to madness in this animated version of Edgar Alan Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart. A nightmarish adaptation ominously (unreliably) narrated by James Mason, with the perfect delivery of a madman claiming sanity.
Then, what must be, one of the greatest episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer faces one of her most frightening foes, The Gentlemen, in Hush. Sunnydale descends into chaos as the townspeople are rendered silent. So that they cannot scream as the ghouls carve out their hearts. It’s up to Buffy and crew to find ways to communicate, really communicate with each other, and destroy all monsters!
After being praised for the high standard of dialogue in episodes of the show, creator, Josh Whedon set out to make an almost silent episode. It’s highly effective, and scary, and this installment is a real high point in the show’s run remaining the only Emmy nominated episode of the series.
A change of pace now with a few laughs in with the scares. With this segment from the Tonight Show, in 1986, Vincent Price shares the sofa with another tremendous horror host Elvira. The scariest thing though is probably Howie Mandel with hair.
Continuing with more lols and shocks. Some tainted Army surplus “taco” meat starts something resembling a zombie apocalypse at Greendale College in Epidemiology, one of the finest episodes of Community. I mean who hasn’t wanted to see a latter day Chevy Chase, dressed as Captain Kirk, turn into a zombie?
Robert Englund is of course a famous “hand guy” when it comes to horror. In Idle Hands he is the voice of Devon Sawa’s (Final Destination) severed demonic appendage. This movie flopped on release but it has a decent cast, some good scares, very 90’s costumes, a few laughs and it’s set on Halloween. This a lot better than you remember it.
The laughs of the previous entries were just there to soften you up for Ghostwatch, one of the most controversial British television broadcasts of all time. Shown under the banner of the Screen One drama series many viewer misunderstood what was happening and fell for the shows convincing documentary style, although recorded weeks earlier than its air date it was presented as live. There was panic, outrage, reported suicides, ptsd and soilings associated with the show, with a furore akin to that which followed Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast. The haunting of the Early family by poltergeist Pipes was given a more believable edge with the casting of familiar British TV presenting talent. Still effective today it’s a perfect Halloween watch.
Edgar Wright’s ‘Don’t’ trailer for the Tarantino / Rodriguez Grindhouse movie.
We’ll stick with haunted houses for the next few entries. The Scooby Gang find themselves in that well wore tale of having to spend a night somewhere creepy for a reward. In Scooby Doo Where Are You? A Night of Fright is No Delight the ghost hunting Great Dane is in line for a fortune if he, and his pals, can see out the night in the late Colonel Beauregard Sanders mansion.
Another helping of Rod Sterling with The House episode from the first season of The Night Gallery. An atmospheric tale of a fragile women troubled by dreams of a haunted home. With a neat Twilight Zone style twist in the tale.
In The Haunting (1963), based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Dr. John Markway leads a group into Hugh Crane’s cursed domicile to study supernatural phenomena. It’s one Allen’s favourite films and Martin Scorsese named the it at number one, on his list of 11 scariest horror movies of all time. Avoid the 1999 remake at all cost.
Ti West’s The Innkeepers rounds out the haunted house portion of the list. A modern film that stays very true to the haunted house template without being too hokey, or straying into Paranormal Activity territory. Sara Paxton and Pat Healy (who also appear together in the vicious and underrated Cheap Thrills) are young employees at the once grand Yankee Pedlar Inn. Staving off boredom and exploring the hotel’s supposed haunted past as the business winds down before closing for good. Hardcore horror fans may not like the low body count and the pacing, but it’s another film that demonstrates West’s deft touch with horror.
In the Amazing Stories episode Mirror, Mirror and the anime Perfect Blue the protagonists are being stalked leading to their grip on reality loosening. Scorsese directs the Amazing Stories episode which stars Sam Waterston and an unrecognizable Tim Robbins. Perfect Blue play like an animated Hitchcock thriller.
There is also some hallucinatory madness brought on for Tim (Simon Pegg) by some cheap speed, and too much Resident Evil, in the Spaced episode Art.
Madness abounds in Asylum (aka House of Crazies) an Amicus anthology film from 1972 starring Peter Cushing and written by Robert Bloch and features the most beautifully wrapped corpse in cinema history. There are so many great portmanteau films, you could program this whole list with just segments from them alone.
In this Fear on Film clip, Mick Gariss interviews David Cronenberg, John Carpenter and John Landis about horror films and their own work.
In what must be the most bonkers chocolate bar commercial ever Rob Lowe (yes, the republican, brat pack, sex tape pioneer) is one of several people to direct a segment of this very effective slasher parody with a confectionery tie-in Butterfingers (2011). It breaks the summer camp rule but was too odd to leave off this list.
Then mysterious killers are loose and the hunt is on in the Night Terrors episode of Star Trek the Next Generation and Kolchack: the Night Stalker. Kolchack is one of the most popular TV movies of all time and stars Darren McGavin as the disheveled but tenacious newspaperman Carl Kolchack. Both Kolchak TV movies and the subsequent TV show are a clear precursor to The X-Files.
Musical Interlude: Alice Cooper & The Muppets Welcome to My Nightmare
To round out this horror-thon three towns with terrible secrets.
In Dead & Buried (1981) the quiet coastal town of Potter’s Bluff has a series of bizarre murders which become even stranger when the corpses come back to life. We couldn’t completely ignore John Carpenter on Halloween. In his film The Fog (1980) another quiet coastal town, this time Antonio Bay, is under threat of a one hundred year old curse. (Again avoid the remake.) Then we move in land to The Town That Dreaded Sundown(2014). Texarkana’s annual Halloween celebration may have seen the return of a killer, long thought dead, in this clever meta-sequel to the 1976 film of the same name, based on the real life Phantom Killer murders of 1946. No need to see the original this slasher will fill you in on everything you need to know.
Then if you’ve got the stomach for it, the only way to finish this evenings entertainment is the intense horror from the most twisted of minds, that of Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace. Hilarious and horrid!
- ParaNorman (2012)
- The Monster Squad (1987)
- Idle Hands (1999)
- The Haunting (1963)
- The Innkeepers (2012)
- Perfect Blue (1997)
- Asylum (1972)
- The Night Stalker (1972)
- Dead & Buried (1981)
- The Fog (1980)
- The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)
- Eerie Indiana – America’s Scariest Home Video. Season 1 Episode 5
- Adventure Time – The Creeps. Season 3 Episode 12
- Bugs Bunny – Transylvania 6-5000
- The Real Ghostbusters – When Halloween Was Forever. Season 1 Episode 8
- Freaks & Geeks – Tricks And Treats. Season 1 Episode 3
- Tales From the Cryptkeeper – The Works in Wax. Season 1
- The Twilight Zone – The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. Season 1 Episode
- Star Trek – Wolf in the Fold. Season 2 Episode 14
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Hush. Season 4 Episode 10
- Community – Epidemiology. Season 2 Episode 6
- Scooby Doo Where Are You? – A Night of Fright is No Delight. Season 1 Episode 16
- The Night Gallery – The House Season 1 Episode 3
- Amazing Stories – Mirror, Mirror. Season 1 Episode 19
- Spaced – Art Series 1 Episode 3
- Star Trek the Next Generation – Night Terrors. Season 4 Episode 17
- Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace – Complete Series
- PBS Mystery! Titles
- Frankenweenie (1984)
- The Tell Tale Heart (1953)
- Tonight Show (1986) clip. Elvira and Vincent Price
- Don’t Trailer from Grindhouse (2007). Directed by Edgar Wright
- Fear on Film: Mick Garris talks to David Cronenberg, John Carpenter and John Landis
- ButterFingers (2011)
- Alice Cooper: Welcome to my Nightmare. The Muppet Show Season 3 episode 7