For whatever reason, people are always asking me to recommend good movies for Halloween viewing. With the weekend of spooky goodness upon us, I figured I’d put together a short list of some excellent choices, with an eye towards titles you might not be familiar with. These are not in any particular order other than the path they took falling out of my head.
#1: Kenny & Co. (1976) Director Don Coscarelli’s second film isn’t a horror flick, but as my buddy Don Adams says, it’s basically a dry run for Coscarelli’s following film, Phantasm (1979). Set in the days leading up to Halloween, Kenny & Co. is a sweet-natured coming-of-age story about 12-year-old Kenny and his pals (including Michael Baldwin, “Mike” from Phantasm) as they prepare for their favorite holiday. Over those days, Kenny learns about death, love and getting the living hell scared out of him while trick-or-treating (in a great sequence Coscarelli cites as being the inspiration to do a horror film after seeing the reaction from audiences). Watching this movie, it’s impossible not to see the roots of Phantasm scattered throughout — and Coscarelli regular Reggie Bannister also turns up as a cool schoolteacher. Kenny & Co. is one of my favorite movies and one I watch every year at this time.
#2: The Children (2008) Not to be confused with the 1980 flick about irradiated kids whose fingernails turn black, The Children opens as Elaine and Jonah, their teenage daughter, and their two younger kids arrive at Elaine’s sister’s house in the English countryside to spend a nice Christmas with the relatives. However, the kids begin to act weirder and weirder until all hell breaks loose. Featuring some great set pieces and some truly suspenseful, disturbing moments, The Children starts out very low-key and builds the tension slowly, so you have to be patient — but trust me, this flick pays off. One of the creepiest movies I’ve seen in years.
#3: Skinned Alive (1990) Produced by indie filmmaker J.R. Bookwalter (The Dead Next Door) and directed by Jon Killough, Skinned Alive is a super-cheesy and rip-roaringly entertaining low-budget flick about a twisted family that travels the backroads in their van, selling fine leather goods — and if you know anything about horror movies, you know the leather they use ain’t coming from cows. Featuring a great whacked-out performance from Scott Spiegel (co-writer of Evil Dead II and producer of the Hostel films) as one of the killers, Skinned Alive delivers the groceries with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
#4: The Monster That Challenged the World (1957) I’ve been a huge fan of this monster movie since I was about 8 years old, when me and my older brother watched it on Creepy Creature Feature and I nearly jumped out of my skin at one point. As the movie begins, an earthquake opens a fissure beneath the Salton Sea, releasing hungry (and freaking big) prehistoric mollusks that proceed to terrorize the surrounding area. Navy Officer Tim Holt joins forces with Hans Conreid and Audrey Dalton in an attempt to stop the creatures. The monsters themselves are supercool, and The Monster That Challenged the World is a flat-out great time from start to finish.
#5: Fiend (1980) Directed by the late, great Don Dohler (The Alien Factor), Fiend is about an ancient demonic energy-bug-thingie that reanimates a corpse, moves into a nice neighborhood, and proceeds to kill and kill again. Avoiding gore in favor of atmosphere, Dohler does a great job of delivering some creepy moments, one of which — involving a little girl behind the killer’s house — will have you squirming in your seat. It gets goofy in places, but that’s part of what makes it so enjoyable. Fiend is a must-see for anyone who loves old school late-night horror flicks.
Have a great Halloween, everybody!
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