31 Days of Horror: #30 – Hocus Pocus

31 Days of Horror: #30 – Hocus Pocus

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

HPHocus Pocus (1993)

Directed by Kenny Ortega
Written by Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert, story by Mick Garris & David Kirschner

Starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy

There simply cannot be a Halloween discussion without mentioning the one, the only, Hocus Pocus. Full disclosure – this film must be watched, in its entirety, each and every time it’s broadcast on television (which is a lot), regardless of what time of year it is. But, on Halloween night, it’s particularly special. Long the chosen flick for exhausted trick ‘r’ treaters, intent on getting through their sacks of sweets before the night was out, Hocus Pocus takes on a special quality in adulthood. The tale of three, ancient witches, brought back to life in the modern day by some unsuspecting teenagers is somehow even more magical the older one gets.

Hocus Pocus is like a big, warm blanket we can wrap around ourselves when we’re sick, tired or just fed up with being adults. But, on Halloween, it becomes something more. On Halloween, the magic of Hocus Pocus is undeniable. A film that, much like its three villains/antiheroes, does not age, Hocus Pocus is best watched with young children who, for some terrible reason, are unaware of its existence. Educate them on its brilliance before next year and watch it instantly become their favourite holiday flick.

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31 Days of Horror: #29 – Satan’s Little Helper

31 Days of Horror: #29 – Satan’s Little Helper

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

SLHSatan’s Little Helper (2004)

Written & Directed by Jeff Lieberman

Starring Alexander Brickel, Katheryn Winnick, Amanda Plummer

Landing anonymously in the UK DVD market in October 2005 thanks to the now defunct regular softcore label Third Millennium, this overlooked yet quite outstanding Halloween tale deserves a place in the pantheon of Samhain favourites. Little Dougie Whooly, played brilliantly by ten year old Brickel, is a kid for which Halloween is a major highlight. Obsessed with the video game Satan’s Little Helper, he’s looking to be just that and, thanks to a marauding serial killer resplendent in a Satan outfit, his fantasy world is about to become frighteningly real.

Brickel surely delivers one of the best ‘kid in a horror film’ performances for years with his adorable demeanour of wide-eyed innocence, while Lieberman – perhaps best known for Squirm and Just Before Dawn – mixes a deliciously dark element of black humour into the picture with a protracted ruse that will have you gasping at its audacity. Ten years since its release, Satan’s Little Helper has mysteriously failed to attract the acclaim it deserves, so much so that it could well be the finest Halloween based movie that you’ve never seen.

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31 Days of Horror: #28 – Trick Or Treat

31 Days of Horror: #28 – Trick Or Treat

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

Trick or TreatTrick Or Treat (1986)

Directed by Charles Martin Smith
Written by Michael S. Murphey, Joel Soissan and Rhet Topham

Starring Mark Price, Tony Fields, Doug Savant, Gene Simmons, Ozzy Osbourne.

Sammi Curr (Fields) is a rock god who dies in a hotel fire, his biggest fan is metal head Eddie (Price) who is distraught over Sammi’s death. He visits local rock-jock DJ Nuke (played by Kiss legend Gene Simmons) who gives him Sammi’s last ever recording and only pressing on vinyl. Eddie is being bullied at school and is in despair, he needs help and needs a friend but now Sammi has gone Eddie has no-one. But lets just hope Eddie doesn’t play the vinyl backwards.

Trick or Treat is the greatest Heavy Metal horror film made. It has a killer soundtrack from the band Fastway which features ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke formerly of Motorhead and features not just Gene Simmons but also has Ozzy Osbourne playing the Reverend Gilstrom. A fast, fun and very 1980s feature Trick or Treat is THE Halloween film you must see this year.

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31 Days of Horror: #27 – Clownhouse

31 Days of Horror: #27 – Clownhouse

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

ClownhouseClownhouse (1989)

Written & Directed by Victor Salva

Starring Nathan Forrest Winters, Brian McHugh, Sam Rockwell

Disguised as clowns, a trio of escaped mental patients terrorise three young brothers home alone for the evening in this goose-pimpling chiller; the feature debut of future Jeepers Creepers helmer Victor Salva. It’s a classic slasher set up but, like the sub-genre’s progenitors Black Christmas and Halloween, Salva’s emphasis is on suspense and mood rather than squirty gore and bloodletting, the then-fledgling filmmaker ratcheting up the tension with expert precision.

Sadly, Clownhouse is impossible to talk about without discussing the heinous events that surrounded its production: In 1988, Salva plead guilty to five counts of child molestation after sexually abusing the film’s twelve year old lead, Nathan Forrest Winters. Such an appalling crime has, quite rightly, hung over both the film and Salva’s subsequent career, which ranges from the Hitcher-riffing, direct-to-video gem Hatchet Man; to family drama Powder, and the aforementioned fan favourite Jeepers Creepers and its strictly so-so sequel. However, if one can look beyond such scandal, and judge the film away from its uncomfortable predatory subtext, Clownhouse remains a ruthlessly effective skin-crawler; a disquieting peach ripe for reappraisal.

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31 Days of Horror: #26 – The House of the Devil

31 Days of Horror: #26 – The House of the Devil

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

HOTDThe House of the Devil (2009)

Written & Directed by Ti West

Starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov

Eerily nostalgic in both its script and style, Ti West offers a sophisticated throwback to eighties Satanic Panic and babysitter-centric slasher features. However, being a lover of the genre himself, West masterfully uses horror conventions to his advantage – showcasing a chilling tale of suspense with some fantastic characterisation.

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31 Days of Horror: #25 – Sleepy Hollow

31 Days of Horror: #25 – Sleepy Hollow

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

SHSleepy Hollow (1999)

Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Andrew Kevin Walker, story Andrew Kevin Walker & Kevin Yagher, based upon The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

Starring Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Christopher Walken

It’s unclear why this deliciously dark slice of campy fun is so overlooked in Tim Burton’s back catalogue. Converting the classic tale of terror by Washington Irving into a playful whodoneit romp results in the perfect blend of the downright over the top and silly mixed with several choice scary moments.

The plethora of acting talent adds a great sheen of class and it is clear they are having the time of their lives with tongues very firmly in cheek. Depp’s detective, Ichabod Crane, is a fantastic fish out water performance. His cynical cowardliness and stiff-upper lip are violently stripped from him when confronted with bucket loads of blood and the genuine threat of the supernatural Headless Horseman. His numerous awkward reactions to the horrors he faces are nothing short of hilarious.

Along with superb acting, the gorgeous art style is distinctly none more gothic. The barren black forest trees, muted clothing, austere buildings and thick mists are combined with the film’s pleasantly self-aware nature that creates a wonderful ghost train. Indeed, it is evocative of a Hammer Horror. Guaranteed to inspire shrieks of both laughter and fear, Sleepy Hollow is a perfect fit for a fun Halloween viewing.

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31 Days of Horror: #24 – The Devil Rides Out

31 Days of Horror: #24 – The Devil Rides Out

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

Devil.Rides.OutThe Devil Rides Out (1968)

Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by Richard Matheson, from the novel by Dennis Wheatley

Starring Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Patrick Mower, Niké Arrighi

Based upon occult expert Dennis Wheatley’s novel, The Devil Rides out is Hammer at their grandiose best. Directed with Terence Fishers simple but skillful style, it spins a devilish tale about the nefarious goings on inside a cult who quite literally summon the devil and are generally up to no good. The Devil Rides Out isn’t as achingly Gothic as some of the Hammer catalogue, but with a script respectful to Wheatley’s occult knowledge and its hints at the esoteric goings on of high society it is a perfect fit for Hammer.

Dripping with atmosphere, and in possession of a genuinely surprising twist, it is both creepy and gleefully camp making it a fantastic pick for anyone in the mood for some old school Halloween thrills. Christopher Lee is wonderfully theatrical as The Duc De Richelieu – a rare good-guy role – and with The Devil himself making an appearance, and some Giant spiders just for good measure, this is a perfect Samhain treat.

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31 Days of Horror: #23 – A Rob Zombie Double! Halloween & Halloween II

31 Days of Horror: #23 – A Rob Zombie Double! Halloween & Halloween II

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

halzom1Halloween (2007)

Written & Directed by Rob Zombie

Starring Malcolm McDowell, Sheri Moon Zombie, Tyler Mane, Scout Taylor-Compton

Rob Zombie’s modern take on the legendary Michael Myers gets a lot of hate from horror fans – and for good reason. However, his rough, white trash origin story is, for the most part, exactly what it sets out to be – a modern retelling of a very well-known tale. Zombie charts Myers’ childhood, in a fucked up family with an abusive stepfather and a stripper for a mother, to his stint in a detention centre for the criminally insane, to his subsequent escape and return to Haddonfield. The first two acts, during which Zombie puts his own, bloodied fingerprints on the story, are strong, gory and dark. Myers, as played by hulking ex-wrestler Tyler Mane, is an absolute beast – as opposed to the everyman of John Carpenter’s seminal classic – and it’s easy to understand how terrifying it would be to meet him down a dark alleyway.

The film loses its way slightly when Zombie attempts to remake the original film, with an almost scene-for-scene stalk-and-slash on Halloween night. Thankfully, the dénouement, which takes place mostly in the dilapidated Myers house, is wonderfully tense, with a couple of well-judged set-pieces, and it ends the film on a high note. Halloween 2007 is the kind of movie a horror fan chooses to show friends who don’t usually dabble in the darker side of things – it’s scary, intense and it never lets up. It also ends with one of the coolest final shots in modern horror.

halzom2Halloween II (2009)

Written & Directed by Rob Zombie

Starring Malcolm McDowell, Sheri Moon Zombie, Tyler Mane, Scout Taylor-Compton

With Halloween 2 – a sequel Zombie swore he wouldn’t make, until it seemed someone else might ruin his “vision” – picking up immediately where the first film left off, the tension is ratcheted up even more, as every returning character has now become a damaged asshole and Myers, fresh from what was presumably a long-ass tour with a heavy metal band, is sporting a massive beard as he roams the Massachusetts wilderness in search of Laurie, who we have learned by now is his sister. Zombie should be commended for trying to put a psychological spin on his sequel, even if the representation of Mrs. Myers in a long white dress, with a white horse and a child Michael beside her, doesn’t quite come off as well as it should – especially when the kid, now played by a different actor thanks to a growth spurt, is cuter and less imposing than his predecessor.

H2 is a louder, shriekier, much more over the top affair than Halloween. With a higher body count – 20, to the first film’s 17 – and an even darker palette, it slowly builds towards a claustrophobic conclusion that, depending on which version you catch, may or may not involve Michael speaking. However, H2 is worth a watch for its stomach-churning, terrifying opening sequence alone, which sees a severely injured Laurie desperately trying to get away from her psychotic brother. Again, this choice is more suited to those who don’t usually dabble in horror – the trailer is enough to scare off casual fans, in the best possible way.

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31 Days of Horror: #22 – A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

31 Days of Horror: #22 – A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

ANOES3 (1)A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Directed by Chuck Russell
Written by Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont, Chuck Russell
Story by Wes Craven & Bruce Wagner

Starring Heather Langenkamp, Patricia Arquette, Craig Wasson & Robert Englund

Maybe it’s the fact Wes Craven came back from the first film to co-write this. Maybe it’s the fact Freddy Krueger had, by this point, well and truly made his mark as a ‘not-going-anywhere’ horror icon. Regardless, Dream Warriors is a masterful genre film. A cult classic and a firm fan favourite, and with a great soundtrack to boot, it’s the perfect Halloween flick; showing that sometimes – just sometimes – a follow-up can, indeed, better its predecessors.

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31 Days of Horror: #21 – Night of the Demons

31 Days of Horror: #21 – Night of the Demons

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

NOTD (1)Night of the Demons (1988)

Directed by Kevin Tenney
Written by Joe Augustyn

Starring Amelia Kinkade, William Gallo, Linnea Quigley, Cathy Podewell

Kevin S. Tenney’s directorial career hit the ground running with the superb Witchboard, followed by this little cracker, before then turning a little mediocre with such DTV rot as Arrival II and Demolition University.

Night of the Demons sees a gang of ten teenagers descend upon an abandoned mortuary, Hull House, for the ultimate Halloween party which has been organised by social outcast Angela (Amelia Kinkade). Following a séance – which naturally seems like a good idea at the time – they unwittingly unleash a dormant demon who begins to gradually possess each teenager one by one.

The predictability of the narrative thankfully doesn’t stand in the way of this film being an undoubted highlight of late eighties horror. The initial exposition requires a little endurance, but following that we have a heady mix of gore that features throat ripping, razor blade slashing and a glorious Fulci-esque eye-gouging; it’s no surprise that most of the SFX crew went on to big box office gigs. Great performances gloss over the clichéd nature of each of the characters (token black guy, fat guy, goth girl…), and by the end you realise that this kind of movie is what made you fall in love with horror in the first place: It’s just fun.

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