Monday, October 24, 2016

Halloween Hearkens: A Throwback Viewing Guide

Halloween viewing lists are the new end-of-year music lists — but far more fun and fluid (mostly, the shiny red kind).

It's validating to see that so many more of my cohorts celebrate this fall tradition than, say, fawning over the latest pumpkin-spiced food-stuff creations. Taking into consideration several genres of TV and film, plus decades of biting fodder to choose from, it's easy for even the most squeamish among us to find a Halloween niche to revel in. (Just look up #31DaysofHalloween on any social media platform for inspiration.)

My only really parameter in choosing viewing material was a loosely-established "throwback" theme, mostly nostalgic stuff from my youth or about that era - plus some recommendations. I also found myself with more free viewing time than usual this season, and no one to fight for the remote, which helped when calling it quits preemptively on a few options, while marathoning through some others. And since I've never been a fan of graphic horror, this collection is definitely on the milder side.

Ultimately, my list isn't meant to be a hard-and-fast guide - merely some ghoulish guidance from someone who sat through 'em. In no particular order:

Fright Night - Championed by my man as his favorite '80s vampire film, it's easy to understand why a then-young boy would have loved it (two pairs of free-range boobs within the first half hour). But there's also the perfect mix of campy humor, shape-shifting gore and '80s high style. Definitely check out this version before trying on the 2011 remake.

The first 10 minutes of Penny Dreadful, The Addams Family, Underworld - Too dry; too dated; too trite. In that order.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth - There are very few movies I can quote by heart, and this is one of them. Delving into Pinhead's human back story while introducing a new female protagonist, this is by far the best installment of the Hellraiser film series. There's also so much '90s nostalgia to enjoy: the faux Limelight club, Terry Farrell's cheekbones, Armored Saint's performance—there's even a Cenobite made out of CDs! Then there are Pinhead's endless blasphemous one-liners, like the one below, and Motorhead's official theme song.

Nightbreed: The Director's Cut - Based on a classic Clive Barker novella, this newer extended edition of the 1990 film only serves to embellish the already exotic feeling and arty nature of the original. It's always been easy to perceive Nightbreed's underlying allegory about how outliers and "freaks" are misunderstood in greater society - in this case, one made up of Al Binewski's dream cast.

American Ghost Hunter - As a fan of A&E's Paranormal State, I was hoping for a bigger ending to this full-length documentary about frequent guest Chad Calek's return to his haunted hometown to seek personal closure. Throughout, I kept thinking, "Why is this jerk smoking cigarettes around Ryan Buell? Isn't Ryan sick?" Then I read THIS. Oops. 

American Horror Story: Hotel - Let's just get it out of the way - Lady Gaga is no Jessica Lange; and nothing will ever top the goth factor of Coven. Still, Hotel breaks away from past seasons of AHS if only by unfurling a seemingly linear (ie: not totally bat-shit) storyline. There are still plenty of traditional AHS staples, including loads of rich styling, copious flesh-filled grotesqueness and cheeky nods to real-life historical villains, including Lily Rabe's spectacular take on Aileen Wuornos. 


Sleepy Hollow - Having only seen it during its 1999 theatrical release, I'd truly forgotten how much I missed the Lisa Marie Smith era of Tim Burton's films... and young Johnny Depp. This lush, atmospheric film is rounded out by an even more extraordinary all-star cast, including a cherubic Christina Ricci and a sharp-toothed mostly-headless horseman aka The Hessian, played by Christopher Walken. And let's not forget how ahead of its time Sleepy Hollow was with the Steampunk aesthetic. Proof? Take one look inside Ichabod Crane's bag of homemade contraptions.

The X-Files, various episodes - How does one decide which episodes are spooky enough for the season? Find a list online, duh. Though "Home" and "The Host" can easily be singled out as the creepiest of them all, a few resources I relied on quickly pointed out dark gems like "Folie à Deux," "Die Hand Die Verletzt" and the Stephen King-penned "Chinga." But really, the only way to lose with The X-Files is by watching Season 9.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Halloween episodes – To be fair, BTVS is good all year round. ALL. Year. Round. But a few of the holiday-themed episodes throughout the series exist to tickle your fancy, like Season 4's "Fear, Itself" and Season 6's coming of age, "All the Way." But the quintessential episode to watch is Season 2's appropriately titled, "Halloween," in which the kids of Sunnydale take on the personas of their haunted costumes - and Buffy is stalled as a helpless 18th Century courtesan. Quoth Willow: "She couldn't have dressed up as Xena?"

Dead Like Me, Seasons 1 & 2 - To be fair, the long-gone cult Showtime series is more comedy than fright. But this chronicle of corporeal soul reapers, with a sassy Daria-like lead in Ellen Muth's Georgia features so many random, uncontrollable, sometimes Darwin Awards-worthy deaths that it had me scared to leave the house after a mini marathon. Know that "What If?" domino-effect speculation you feel after catching a Final Destination flick? Imagine that vibe after seeing 29 cleverly devised dances off the mortal coil in Dead Like Me.

Now, on to the new season of Black Mirror, Nightmare Before Christmas and Luke Cage (Mike Colter can stoke my November Coming Fire any time!).