We are fast approaching the scariest time of the year (unless you consider that to be Valentines Day, of course) – it’s Halloween! And AEISD Contributor Mark Searby lists ten films that will make ideal viewing this October Thirty-First…
Mark Searby: Horror geeks were the first big nerd group to break out of the underground and into the mainstream. Scary films became big business, horror festivals appeared all over the globe. Then the studios caught on and started to introduce spine-tingling elements to their franchises. Getting a little scared now and again during a film heightens the excitement of the viewing experience. But what makes a geeky/nerdy horror movie? Well, that’s the ultimate question. Does it need to be scary? Not really. Does it need to be funny? Not really. Does it need to have horror elements? Yes! And that is what links these 10 movies I have selected for your scream-inducing pleasure.
“The horror… the horror!!”
TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL
While watching this film, you’re allowed to think it: “Bloody hell, Wash from Firefly is alive and living in the backwaters of America”. CON MAN creator and all round nice chap Alan Tudyk is the initial draw here, but stay around for some over the top fun and gruesome antics from two hillbillies who are accidentally killing preppy college kids. Enough buckets of blood to give the Saw franchise a run for its money and plenty of idiocy from Tudyk and Tyler Labine ensure this is a cult classic. And damn! If you won’t do a little cheer as they off some of those obnoxious teenagers.
2. SCOOBY DOO ON ZOMBIE ISLAND
They are universally accepted truths about SCOOBY DOO: the original cartoons were classics. The movies sucked. There is only one Casey Casem. So when the cartoons were given a reboot, fans were forgiven for instantly reacting with a hardy ‘Ruh Roh!’. But this resulting effort from 1998 ended up being pitched just a little too adult for the kiddies, with a much darker tone than we would usually associate with Scoob and the gang.
The story is simplicity itself: our ghostbusting gang reform to investigate the spectre of a pirate. However, the big surprise for anyone expecting your standard SCOOBY DOO fare discover that some of the ghosts are actually very scary, worthy of their own horror movies spin-off. It This reboot received great acclaim and herded in the new era of Scooby cartoons, just don’t expect some of the masks to come off so easily in this movie. Also there is a shocking post credits sequence that goes against all we know about dogs.
3. CASPER’S HALLOWEEN SPECIAL
Before the 1995 film brought the friendly ghost back to the world’s attention, there was a television special that aired on 30th October 1979. With Halloween falling out of favour and on its way out, Casper sets about trying to save it in this heart warming story about trying to save something you love. When Casper tells the kids he is a real ghost, and shows them he can disappear, it’s not a scary moment, more a case of kids not judging people (or ghosts). The animated kids in the film appear to be a cross between SCOOBY DOO‘s gang and those from FAT ALBERT. Whilst this might not be a classic, this short film does showcase what the character of Casper is all about.
4. TRICK R TREAT
This was a straight-forward horror film that caught a lot of people by surprised – with very little in way of marketing or promotion, it relied on word of mouth to spread the word. On first inspection, this portmanteau film doesn’t offer anything new or alternate of the horror anthology except for its iconic addition to the horror lexicon: the mysterious trick-or-treat’er himself, Sam. Upon closer inspection, TREAK R TREAT has stories that were both pretty damned scary and yet blackly comic in tone. Blood is shed and plenty of grisly deaths are ensured.
The film oozes a darkly comic John Carpenter-style atmosphere that trickles throughout, with a finale that sees little Sam himself finally have a bash at what he is seeking throughout the movie. There are many horror films about Halloween that attempt to be scary and funny but one that truly pulls off putting the chills into an audience, while weaving in real belly laughs, is a rarity. That’s why TRICK R TREAT is rightfully considered a modern day cult classic.
5. RETURN TO OZ
Baum’s original Oz books may have listed in to the dozens but the classic film stands alone, which begs the question: who in their right mind commissioned this sequel to one of the greatest movies ever made? And, on top of that, that the resulting film is one of the most chilling kids movies ever, with some of the most bizarre and unsettling imagery every committed to screen. Dorothy has to return to Oz to save the land she loves. But when did this land become an off shot of the minds of Tim Burton and H.R. Giger?!
Anybody growing up at a time when this was on TV (and it was always showing) can’t fail to still be terrified of the Wheelers, a bunch of bizarre characters that had wheels for hands and feet and rolled around chasing and scaring. Follow them up with the Nome King, an actual stop-motion puppet that looks more like a creature from gothic gorefest PUMPKINHEAD. and if that wasn’t enough, there is cherry on the top of the cake which is the Wicked Witch Mombi, a woman so foul she keeps thirty beautiful heads in glass cabinets in her hall way. RETURN TO OZ is an odd, bleak and utterly terrifying movie.
6. THE WITCHES
Adapted from Roald Dahl’s fantastic kids book (He wrote so many classic kids books). I’m sure this film wasn’t meant to be scary, but when you turn a boy into a mouse because he discovers a cauldron of witches are staying in his hotel, well that is more horror than should be in a children’s movie. Add into the mix legendary director Nicholas Roeg, who has previously experience of making classic horror movies, and you can start to paint a picture that maybe the studio were not going for the traditional fluffy kiddie movie.
The film bumbles along with plenty of cackling witches, until they reveal their true forms. That footage of them finally shedding their skin is still terrifying to this day – no child should have to watch that. Neither should they have to watch one of their own (a kid) be turned into a mouse. That’s the type of nightmare imagery Guillermo del Toro puts into his movies. This is a darkly mischievous movie about vengeance… so are we still saying it’s a kid’s movie?
7. CABIN IN THE WOODS
King Of The Nerds Joss Whedon decided to write a horror movie that re-invented the slasher sub-genre and was a commentary on the torture porn movies. Kids trek off to a cabin in the woods, but as they are killed off there is a different force at work than anticipated.
Here is the thing with CABIN…: it has Joss’ fingerprints all over it – the black humour, the slightly weird monsters, the fleshed-out bad guys (no pun intended). But it’s Drew Goddard’s direction that lets the monsters out, the finale that shocks and scares could only have been done by someone who really understood the lower budget b-movie video nasties of the 80’s. CABIN IN THE WOODS re-invigorated horror and forced a re-think throughout the entire genre.
8. SHAUN OF THE DEAD
Nerds playing nerds about a nerdy subject? Yes please. If any film is accountable for making the horror comedy become mainstream then it’s this. An absolute riot of a film that see’s two flat mates have to deal with their leafy London suburb turned into the zombie apocalypse. Filled with more gags than is possible to pick up on in ten viewings, this has the re-watch value of such classics as Monty Python and Blackadder, with the added anarchy of Bottom.
Filled to the brim with a who’s who of British comedy talent, this is pure brilliance from the writing, the directing, the acting, even down to selections of the soundtrack which is almost Tarantino-level. Also, you know the film is onto a winner when the decided place to barricade themselves into is the pub. That’s right, the pub! Whose round is it??
9. PAN’S LABYRINTH
This isn’t a geeky/nerdy film I hear you say, and yes it isn’t. But the man behind it – Guillermo del Toro – is one of the biggest horror geeks going. I could have chosen nearly any of his movies, but this is by far his masterpiece. A two handed tale about living in Spain during a fascist regime and also a look inside the fantasy world that a young girl escapes into.
Startling and scary imagery has always been del Toro’s style. But also his ability to scare using the most human things, such as war, is equally disturbing. The fantasy world is as uncomfortable to watch as the real world. Grounded in the oppressive atmosphere of war, PAN’S LABYRINTH is phantasmagorical cinema at its finest. Alice In Wonderland for horror nerds.
If an Alan Tudyk film kicks off this list, then it’s fitting that a Nathan Fillion movie should finish it. This is precisely the type of fun, over the top horror film that keeps the spirit of B-movies alive. Residents of small town America being turned into zombies and monsters. It’s silly comedy horror that also is slightly scary. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY director James Gunn pays homage to some of the horror masters throughout with subtle nods to Carpenter, King, Craven, Cronenberg, Raimi and more. It oozes blood that looks like tomato ketchup and splatters liberally throughout. The slugs entering into humans via the mouth is very disturbing and makes you keep your mouth closed during the entire movie.
Fillion is great, of course – let’s be honest, no great surprise there – and there is some fun scream queen work from Elizabeth Banks (THE HUNGER GAMES). But by far the best work is by THE WALKING DEAD‘s Michael Rooker who hams it up so disgustingly it’s hugely enjoyable to watch. SLITHER is funny and gross in equal measure and plays up to the b-movie status.