So rather than give a list that will of course be contested of the scariest movies, books, etc, I think it’s better to give you my Top Thirteen Halloween Pop Culture Experiences. Some scary, some silly, some funny, but all are part of a good Halloween for me. Note there is no torture porn because torture porn is gross. Instead, in no particular order, My Favorite Halloween Treats:
- Watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” on network television. We own it on DVD, but it needs to be on television for it to count. There is something sweet and sad at the same time about this world. And who hasn’t literally or metaphorically at some time or other gotten ‘a rock’?
- Hearing “Thriller” and “The Monster Mash” on the radio. Yes, I know I can download these, but again, it has to be on the radio, a randomly occurring act, for it to count. It gives me faith in humanity that somewhere there is a DJ who still plays them. And while we’re on the subject . . .
- Watching Micheal Jackson’s full “Thriller” video. Remember when music videos were an event? When you did have to Youtube them to see them? Me too. Say what you will about Michael Jackson, but he, like Madonna, knew how to rock a video. It has Vincent Price for crying in the mud! And even though it seems so 80’s now, that make up and dance still totally rock.
- The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” episodes. I rarely watch this show, past or present, but there is something fun about this recurring treat each year where you don’t have to understand the world of Springfield to enjoy it.
- Halloween. I will confess that I have not seen the Rob Zombi reboot, but I am huge fan of the original. I find Michael the most frightening of the 80’s teen killers (Jason and Freddie, eh). Something about the spray painted Shatner mask, menacing walk, and Jamie Lee Curtis screaming her face off just works for me.
- The Shining. I know Stephen King doesn’t care for the Kubric version, but I don’t care for his bloated, self-important television version. The ultimate haunted house film, this is one of those films where the score and directorial choices (maddening steadicam) make the movie.
- The Omen. I love a movie with a creepy-ass kid. I love a movie with the Devil. That makes this a win-win. And I am not speaking of the lame remake. Gregory Peck all the way.
- Rosemary’s Baby. Women, particularly pregnant women, are prone to bouts of crazy paranoia. What if that paranoia for a damn good reason? Like good scary movies this one also includes comic characters which turn out to be downright freakish (I speak of Ruth Gordon who won an Oscar for her role as a painted, eccentric neighbor.) For the me the scariest moment of all is doctor Charles Grodin’s turn on a woman on the edge of the abyss.
- Psycho. It’s become part of our cultural language now, but there is so much subtly and intrigue in the Hitchcock classic, that if you haven’t seen it recently or at all, it deserves a revisit. Note childlike Norman eating candy, the emphasis on shadows and birds, and how Perkins manages to make you feel sorry for the lonely owner of the Bates motel. Granted Janet Leigh isn’t my favorite Hitchcock blond (Kim Novak, please stand up), but her performance is also stellar.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas. Halloween movie? Christmas movie? Who knows? Although not directed by Tim Burton, it certainly represents his creation and vibe. What I love best about it is that it is a kid’s movie (kinda) that centers around long soliloquies performed by a skeleton having an existential crisis. It also represents some of Danny Elfman’s finest work.
- Carrie. Another King entry, and this time the movie is decidedly better than the book. The manifestation of teenage cruelty and the ultimate mean girl revenge film, it’s scary and heartbreaking at the same time. And admit it, that final moment still freaks you out.
- Frankenstein and Dracula. Go old school and search out the guys who knew how to get it done: Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Before the former was The Grinch and the latter was trying to feed his morphine habit in Ed Wood films, these were the original monster men. Keep in mind that they didn’t have the special effects to ‘transform’ them. It’s some grease paint and a ton of talent.
- The Exorcist. The original. Not remake, prequel, sequel, blah blah blah. There is so much amazing stuff about this movie that, like Psycho, we often forget in the face of flashier modern versions. Often studied, it remains chilling, in part for the realistic touches. In particular, Ellen Burnstyn’s performance as a mother just trying to help her daughter, is wonderful (but I have a weakness for these types of roles–Toni Collette remains my favorite part of The Sixth Sense). Questions of faith, corruption, God, the Devil, Evil, Good, and the price of a soul are worth considering, even after the credits role. Obviously I have a weakness for things that involve the Devil or possession because: a.) I find the connection between fear and religion fascinating, and b.) I, like the Catholic church, believe that exorcisms can be real.
That’s it for this time around. Thanks for reading!