Mike’s Underrated Gems for Halloween
We’ve finally reached every horror hound’s favorite month of the year: October. A time when the weather starts cooling down (allegedly), folks start hitting the apple cider pretty hard and pumpkin spice everything starts filling the grocery store shelves. All of those are fine things depending on who you are, but the true glory of this time of year is the re-emergence of Halloween classics filling your television waves and streaming services alike!
Everybody knows the essentials, but there are many great spooky films that casual film goers may have overlooked in the ever-growing catalogue of horror films. I’ll go on record and say that a lot of the films I’m going to discuss are certainly for “mature audiences” and almost absolutely not for the faint of heart. The loveliest element of many a great horror film is their taboo, over-the-top violent nature; so, if that’s not really your thing, the Disney Channel runs a lovely marathon of original seasonal films geared toward pre-teens and babies.
A great starting place is with a familiar face, even if that means said familiar face is typically wearing someone else’s. That brings us to the 1986 cult-classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Tobe Hooper decided to up the absurdity in this one and it pays off wonderfully. The original film is a bone-a-fide (get it?!) horror masterpiece and its sequel is tonally very different. So much different that the first time I saw it, I was put off and couldn’t understand how the same writer/director had any involvement whatsoever.
The overall feel of this movie is not dark or menacing, it’s over the top and straight campy. The characters feel like cartoons that busted straight out of an Adult Swim show on its most deranged day. Nothing about this film, save for a few familiar faces, made any sense to me at the time. I was a horror hound and this movie was far from what I expected.
The premise of the film sees an alcoholic sheriff and a plucky radio disc jockey fighting for their lives against the sadistic family of villains from the original film. Long removed from their farmhouse, the family is on the run and holed up at an abandoned amusement park where they’re continuing their cannibalism and thirst for gore. Leatherface, this time around, is looking for love and the unfortunate disc jockey falls right into his sights. She’s all screams, however, and Junior’s family isn’t about to let their little bubba go on heartbroken.
The movie’s humorous tone also works well in its favor. The approach is very similar to movies like Return of the Living Dead and Army of Darkness. It’s set against the background of a conventional horror film, but its characterizations of human beings are about as over the top as one can imagine. Dennis Hopper, who plays the film’s protagonist, is at times more insane than the family of serial killers he’s trying to slay.
If psychotic cannibal families and chainsaw duels with Dennis Hopper aren’t your thing and you’re more inclined to catch something foreign, there’s no better place to look than Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 cult mind bender House.
Rarely has a film ever defied genre or explanation as often as House does, but it maintains its pace of absolute ridiculousness from start to finish. Arguably one of the finest theater experiences I’ve ever had and one of the few movies I’ve ever seen to garner a standing ovation.
The delirious special effects, incoherent storyline and cartoonish violence are all major selling points of this feature. The film tells the tale of a group of high school girls visiting the home of one of their aunts in the distant countryside. Surreal as it is at first, the experience shifts into total terror as the house begins turning on them and vengeful spirits begin picking the teens off one by one in often hilarious fashion.
Disembodied fingers playing a piano melody, watermelon salesmen turning into skeletons and a cat painting that spews blood are just a few of the highlights. This movie never pulls punches and just when you think you’ve seen it all, it keeps offering more. I can’t recommend this movie enough. It’s an unforgettable experience in weird and it’s truly one of the most original films out there.
The final film I’ll offer is David Lynch’s 1977 film debut Eraserhead. This is a movie that epitomizes weird and really showed the world what kind of artist Lynch was destined to become. It’s black and white color pallet, moody tones and organ laced soundtrack by the late great “Fats” Waller really set the tone for something uniquely strange.
It’s a story of growing up, starting a family and chasing the American dream… sort of. Our frizzy haired protagonist Henry wants nothing more than to get a good night’s sleep, but his mutant child won’t stop crying. His sanity begins to wane as the film grows to its eventual and darkly intense finale.
This is a movie that might be hard for some to hang with, but its bleak nature and sinister tone will really pay off for some. Eraserhead takes us to a wasteland of rusted out appliances, shattered individuals and dilapidated apartment ruins. It’s got moments of genuine humor and those of uninterrupted dread, sometimes occurring at the same time. It’s kind of like watching the weirdest college art project of all time.
Those are the three movies I will unapologetically recommend. They’re all weird, vile and often times deranged. These are classics of the cult variety and if you’re feeling adventurous, they may serve you a scare or two.