20 October, 2010

25 Movie Halloween Marathon

I was just confronted with an irresistible prompt on the classic rock forums (yes, I know, it's a music forum, not a movie forum), asking what 25 movies I would pick for a Halloween weekend marathon. Usually, making lists of this sort is a lot of hard work, and I tend to avoid it rather than risk battling my perfectionist impulses. But in this case, I couldn't resist. I committed myself to picking out the best 25 horror movies I could think of in a reasonable amount of time, with an eye towards what would be good in a public Halloween marathon (so I wanted to have variety, and focus on some of the classics of the genre, but every title is one I'm proud to put on there, and that I'd enjoy watching on Halloween weekend), and this is what I came up with. I will talk you through my selections.

We start with the quintessential slasher trio. If you think Halloween and horror movies, you can't avoid thinking of slashers. And it's rather convenient that the first one we start with is actually titled Halloween - John Carpenter's groundbreaking film that is the epitome of slasherdom. We follow that up with its slasher cousins, Friday the 13th, and the supernatural A Nightmare on Elm Street.

We'll supplement this trio with the gruesome Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and follow that with Motel Hell, to add some humor and lighten the mood - briefly. And speaking of Hell, we'll throw in the great Hellraiser, which also successfully weaves humor with unquestionable horror. And then we'll toss in The Howling, because every Halloween movie marathon needs at least one good werewolf film.

Now begins our zombie sub-marathon. We shall present the original George Romero trilogy with Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead (all original versions). And if watching the progression of the zombie apocalypse isn't fun enough, we'll finish with The Return of the Living Dead, with just enough humor to revive your cold fear-stricken corpse and prepare it for the rest of the weekend marathon.

Next up we'll run Dario Argento's Suspiria, which provides a terrifyingly beautiful audio-visual setpiece for Halloween, and introduces us to a mini-theme on witches and paganism. This will continue with the original version of The Wicker Man, and follow into The Blair Witch Project, the first of a "reality horror" double shot that includes Paranormal Activity.

Now with ghosts on the mind, we shall present the special effects-laden Poltergeist, a far cry from the previous low budget reality horror. That will lead into The Exorcist, widely regarded as one of the most terrifying films of all time. Fear of the devil will serve you well as we continue with Jacob's Ladder, one of my favorite horror films of all time, and a truly terrifying psychological puzzle of a movie.

After descending the ladder, we will ascend to the heavens, but instead of the divine, we'll find Alien - another terrifying classic! We'll come back down to earth for the overlooked Fire in the Sky, an effectively frightening telling of the standard alien abduction tale. And then we'll confront John Carpenter's The Thing (from another world), buried deep in the Antarctic ice.

And while we're digging, we may as well go spelunking and experience cave-horror The Descent. The paranoia is enhanced by claustrophobia. This will kick off the final leg of the marathon - modern horror. The vampires come out in the next feature - 30 Days of Night - this nightmare taking place amidst the Alaskan ice. The marathon closes with a modern two-shot resurrection of apocalyptic zombie horror - 28 Days Later, and its sequel 28 Weeks Later. If you can survive all of that, you must be a hero.

Here is the list, for reference:

Halloween (1978)
Friday the 13th (1980)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Motel Hell (1980)
Hellraiser (1987)
The Howling (1981)

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Day of the Dead (1985)
Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Suspiria (1977)
The Wicker Man (1973)
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Paranormal Activity (2007)

Poltergeist (1982)
The Exorcist (1973)
Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Alien (1979)
Fire in the Sky (1993)
John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)

The Descent (2005)
30 Days of Night (2007)
28 Days Later (2002)
28 Weeks Later (2007)

Go ahead and tell me which movies I left out, and I'll tell you why I left them out (or how I managed to forget them!). I'm considering putting Evil Dead in there, because even though the sequels are more humorous than horrific, and the fanbase is kind of...not in tune with my style...the first one was pretty good, to be honest.

I might swap out The Wicker Man for that one, because as much as I adore The Wicker Man (and I do), and as terrifying as the ending is, it's kind of less of a straight horror, and I'm a little concerned that it's more seasonally appropriate for the spring than the fall. That's the reason why I didn't include Black Christmas, because it just belongs at Christmas and not Halloween. But the truth is, Christian holiday sensibilities are far more ingrained in the public consciousness than pagan ones are.

And as for the werewolf movie, I do really like The Howling, but I'm not convinced it's the best werewolf movie I'll ever see, necessarily. I've heard good things about one called Dog Soldiers, which I intend to watch, hopefully between now and Halloween if I get the chance. I can't predict that it'll make me change my mind, though.

There is one obvious omission from the above list, and that's a good Asian horror. I chose not to include Audition because it's a little...intense...and also kind of a slow burner. Creepy movie, but I wasn't sure it fit in the context of the marathon. I'd put in Ju-on (a.k.a. The Grudge), which I really liked (all those years ago that I watched it), but I'll confess the true reason I didn't include an Asian horror title. I don't feel that I've seen enough of them to know which titles are the "classics" (apart from which ones were popular enough to be remade in America) and which are truly the "best", and I don't want to throw one on just because I've seen it and liked it. But if I did want to, I could see myself putting Ju-on up there in the ghost block.

Anything else? You'll notice the majority of these films are "serious" horrors, with a couple exceptions for breathing space. That's just because I'm more into serious movies, and those exceptions are just the few funnier ones I've seen that stand far enough above the crowd that I don't feel uncomfortable placing them alongside the others.

One thing you don't see is anything older than 1968. Sorry, not trying to be ageist, but I think the whole aesthetic of horror films pre-70s-ish is just fundamentally different from that of the films listed above. So, apologies to Monster Mash fans, but no Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, Wolfman, or Boo Berry here.

I did briefly consider Carnosaur, but that opens up a whole new world of low budget, b movie, and grindhouse/exploitation films. Perhaps that could be a whole different marathon. No Attack of the Giant Killer Iguanas (or similar) here either, because that type of old movies tends to be more cheesy than scary.

Also, I didn't consider Horrorfest movies at all, because they're too indie and non-mainstream. I would definitely put Autopsy on that list without shame, though. And maybe a few others. But that opens up yet another can of worms, and let's just leave those worms in the can, shall we?


  1. (deleted that post 'cause I wanted to add more to it...)

    Damn nigga, you should be a programming director. That's a quality list, did you post it on CRF2?

    My personal list would definitely include a whole bunch of Horror Fest titles as well as probably 2 Carnosaur films and maybe Feast. but my horror movie experience is notably limited.

    Though I've never even seen it, I would have considered including Cannibal Holocaust. Maybe not a traditional horror but I'm sure it is horrifying. That'd be the one you play in the dead of night so that children don't see it. It can be the lead in for... Hideous!!!

    'Cause I mean, it's Halloween, is there ever a better time to be horrified by something like Cannibal Holocaust? I like the idea of there being something on in the depths of a horror marathon that you really probably shouldn't watch... the idea that a horror movie marathon is a like a rabit hole and you may not want to go all the way down.

    In addition to Hideous I would also definitely play Incident in Lake County. Not the greatest piece of film ever invented but it's a personal classic. I guess I'm not as pragmatic as you are.

  2. "I like the idea of there being something on in the depths of a horror marathon that you really probably shouldn't watch... the idea that a horror movie marathon is a like a rabit hole and you may not want to go all the way down."

    Yeah, I can dig that. I feel like Cannibal Holocaust would slip over more into the "exploitation" or gross-out marathon. Ultimately, though, it's not the kind of movie I would recommend to just anyone, which is why I don't think I would put it on this list.

    No comment on Hideous. :p

  3. I remembered this post and came back to see if found footage was represented. Pleased to see not one but two! And likely the two best, sans PA's sequel(s).

    Actually I think I'm going to put together something similar to this, I've been thinking about it for a while. I like the idea of prefacing Blair Witch with Wickerman. I was thinking maybe prefacing [Rec] with Perkins' 14, and Paranormal Activity with... hmm... Poltergeist? Although Fire in the Sky is probably better I'm thinking Communion as a preface for Lake County.