The Rewind Movie Podcast’s very own HalloRe’ewind returns—this year, chillingly curated by Scarious Artists (aka me, Matt), featuring an unlucky dip… a ghoulish grab bag… a petrifying potluck… a gruesome gumbo—you get the point. A spine-chilling selection of haunted holiday horrors await!
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) 25m
Good morning, you blockheads. Oh, brother. It’s clearly too early for this nonsense, isn’t it? But if inhumanly possible, gently rouse yourselves from your warm, quilted graves, and let’s re-animate HalloRe’ewind for 2022!
“There are three things I’ve learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”Linus, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Head back to the sixties for this charming, endearing, and sincere tale of the Great Pumpkin—penned by Charles M. Schulz, featuring worrywart, Charlie Brown, and friends—a gang of little ‘uns, all depressive and dour, with crushed-in eyes, prematurely balding bonces, pained expressions, and forever-furrowed brows. These children—all droll and sarcastic, with down-turned mouths, somehow exist as the put upon adults in an adult-less, cartoon world.
Surely a Hallowe’en staple for the ages; there are ghosts, witchy costumes, a fall palette of red, orange, and yellow, Charlie making his yearly fool of himself (“Oh, good grief”), gargantuan pumpkin carvings, autumnal leaves, wet sucker lollipops, and everyone’s favourite anthropomorphic beagle, Snoopy, as a World War I flying ace, complete with goggles, helmet, and scarf—indulging in a fantasy subplot showcasing a psychedelic doghouse-dogfight. The minimalist sound design still pops, as does Vince Guaraldi’s immediately recognisable, jaunty piano score.
As Linus informs us, “On Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin rises from his pumpkin patch, and flies through the air with his bag of toys to all the children.” So take a seat, and sing some pumpkin carols! If this doesn’t get you in the Samhain spirit, you might as well shoot off.
Labyrinth (1986) 102m
“If she’d kept on going that way she’d have gone straight to that castle.”Worm, Labyrinth
Jim Henson’s directorial opus, Labyrinth, when dissected, has the logic of a dream, contained to an adolescent girl’s bedroom—a safe, anxiety nightmare fable, existing solely in her imagination, about friendship, being extremely careful what you wish for, a fear of abandonment, father issues, letting go of life’s expectations, and not allowing trepidations to gain power over you. As the film concludes, it becomes evident everything we witness was plucked from Sarah’s powerful, frustrated female imagination. She conjures up the entire narrative in a desperate attempt to process and understand her predicament—just as each night we process our lives in sleep states. Sarah “should” have a date, but doesn’t, and with Jareth’s entitled vocalisation of her own concerns reverberating through an uncertain teenage mind—”I ask for so little. Just let me rule you, and you can have everything you want. Just fear me, love me, do as I say—and I will be your slave,” who could blame her? Believing that’s what relationships demand, Bowie as Jareth—the snug-jodhpur’d Goblin King, becomes her mental construction, even appearing in Sarah’s scrapbook.
As with many of the Muppet movies, there’s a superb screenplay, which doesn’t pander to younger audiences, and retains a Python panache and delivery, courtesy of Terry Jones. I love the diversity of accents on show—everything from cockney, to Scottish, some even sound Italian, Spanish, and Japanese, others Jamaican. I’ll be damned if someone, or something, doesn’t utter the phrase, “Your mother is a fucking aardvark,” and I’ll die on that profane hill. Amid the fun and games, there are several authentically cinematic moments, including the gravity-defying, Dutch-angled, Escheresque “Within You” sequence, the scary descent into the cavern of the helping hands, the Bog of Eternal Stench’s art and sound design, the truly frightening goblin abduction of baby Toby, the psychedelic, head-tossing Fireys, and Bowie himself—all bulge, owl eyebrows, trademark teeth, and dualtone eyes, performing “Underground,” “Magic Dance,” and my fave—the underrated, “As the World Falls Down.”
Our eighties Alice—the 16-year-old Sarah, takes her life for granted, she chucks bratty tantrums, but her innate kindness wins through. The mention of the “oubliette”—a dungeon to place people, in order to forget about them, becomes an eternally powerful and emotional concept the older we get. As does the line, “Should you need us,” which never fails to move me. Sarah’s loyal companions from her journey are all present in her room—and likely always were. It’s Snow White, The Wizard of Oz, Lewis Carroll, Hans Christian Andersen—an endearing melding of everything fairytale fantasy. Don’t eat Hoggle’s peach; make an annual appointment with the Four Guards, the Door Knockers, the Wiseman, Sir Didymus—a fox-terrier and his loyal canine steed, Ambrosius, Ludo—a benign beast, Hoggle—a fairy-snuffing dwarf in a leather waistcoat, who enjoys plastic jewellery and pissing in ponds, Bowie’s prominent crotch, and indulge in some goblin-kicking, and baby-throwing this All Hallows’ Eve.
Star Trek: The Original Series “Catspaw” S02E07 (1967) 44m
It’s time for a light breakfast aboard the Starship Enterprise, with the one and only (unofficial) Hallowe’en episode from the Original Series, entitled “Catspaw.” In spite of missing Star Trek entirely (due to my dad insisting we watch the Beeb’s boring Six O’Clock News), back in my early-mid twenties, my film school days would inevitably begin (and more often than not, continue) with some herbal jazz, a homemade Nesquik® milkshake, and a double dose of Star Trek: The Original Series on Screen Select (later LoveFilm) DVD rental. I have forgone the stickiest of the icky for the last fifteen years or so, but if you are of the green persuasion, please use this opportunity to wake and bake—no one will judge you here. During this era, I began to clock how much Hollywood had drawn upon these serial stories, and to also appreciate Star Trek from a distance as an often intentionally—sometimes unintentionally comedic show.
This Halloween oddity from the original series sees Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to a misty planet to investigate the disappearance of three crew members, and encounter castles, cobwebs, dungeons, and the hovering heads of three witches, who warn them to turn back—all drawn from the subconscious fears of mankind. Turns out, if Chekov’s wig is established in act one, it will almost fall off in act three—or something. Look out for Uhura’s sparkly disco sweat, a shape-shifting female, a giant black cat, hokey punch-ups, Spock overusing his logical pronunciation of “sens-or,” some weird Shatner snogging, and a cucked bald man with prominent fillings, whose equally alien partner longs to understand what it is to be human—to coexist, as female with male—to understand the longings, and naturally sets her sights on the captain of the Starship Enterprise. Although it defintely dips in the middle, and we start to wonder why we’re still there, it starts strong and has several laugh out loud moments—including the team falling over with cheap shaky-cam effects, and potentially the worst two little alien bug creatures to ever grace the series. A gentle entrée to the deliciously devilish day ahead, but this is just about as tame as it gets.
My favourite Star Trek episode was always “Shore Leave,” as it lifted the veil on how daft the show really was, exposing the unabashed campiness, stoner humour, and entirely preposterous nature of almost everything the team encountered. My “in,” of sorts, was realising Bill Murray crying out for “Esteban! Esteban!” in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, was pinched directly from that very installment.
Please note: Bill Shatner does not slap himself in this episode. To see that particular pleasure, pop on, “Plato’s Stepchildren.”
The Norm Show “Norm vs. Halloween” S03E05 (2000) 22m
After losing a truly great one this year, it felt fitting to honour the late, Norm MacDonald. So here, in this Halloween episode of his short-lived, kinda underrated (and un-syndicated—at least to the UK) community service worker sitcom, Norm attempts to hit on his foxy, office Catwoman colleague by dressing as a firefighter, praises Satan, and along with Dirty Work compadre, Artie Lange, takes some kids trick or treating—pulling a fire alarm on the residents when they refuse to hand out candy. The Norm Show ended after five seasons in the US, but they’re all currently available on YouTube for nish, in glorious 480p. A gentle palette-cleansing pick, before we stray into more gruesome fare.
The ‘Burbs (1989) 101m
“Smells like they’re cookin’ a goddamn cat over there!”Mr. Rumsfield, The ‘Burbs
Sardine? Join me for, “a week in Jonestown,” with The ‘Burbs—which skews us nicely into the unmistakable realm of a real, childhood filmmaking staple of mine, Joe Dante—director of Gremlins, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and Innerspace. Here, a slightly peculiar-looking Universal logo morphs, as we track in until we’re directly over a neighbourhood—not dissimilar to my own cul-de-sac as a kid, albeit giant-sized and Americana-fied, complete with spinny sprinklers, a mornin’ cuppa Joe, and a paperboy straight out of the ‘80s computer game. Already, the film’s lofty statements on comfort and country are steadily unfurling. The clinking and clanking of the score accompanies the continuing push-in to a fantastic miniature, as a harpsichord plays, and a basement ignites with light, as we’re introduced to our man of the hour, and hero of the piece—Tom Hanks’ pajama-clad, Ray Peterson. Yes, Mr. Peterson makes fun of hydrocephalus sufferers, and impulsively chucks coffee at kids, but he’s a decent man—he just wants to hang around the house and be lazy.
The zany, whacked-out Dante tone mostly consists of a blend of heightened slapstick, or jet black humour, light moments of clever comedy, along with elaborate action scenes, and horror-inspired surrealism, such as Ray’s freaky ‘burbsmare—featuring cannibals, and a satanic, Idi Amin BBQ, dream sacrifice with a chainsaw. Clearly inspired by vintage animation, Art’s body-shaped hole in the shed roof, is straight out of Roadrunner—fitting, as Dante would go on to make Looney Tunes: Back in Action in 2003. The ‘Burbs‘ use of classic horror tropes and homages, such as The Exorcist, and Leatherface on the TV, the crooked porch swing that’s straight outta The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or The Evil Dead, owls hoot, ominous clonks resound, and echoes of The Addams Family, and The Munsters are loud and clear, and The Klopek’s interior uses canted framing—the Dutch, to articulate that something’s off, as Ray and Art do their breaking and and entering bit. This isn’t really a shock from the director of Piranha, and The Howling, but what’s magnificent about Dante is his seamless blending of disparate qualities to communicate his unique vision, and retain the levity of the picture. He shepherds this Dante mood with flair and poise, and manages to maintain his distinct voice. It’s enviable—to take material like this, carve out a personal perspective, and never let it overpower the story—just compliment, and flavour it. Dante’s awareness of cinema in general means we feel as if we’re in safe, knowledgeable hands. He’s a filmmaker who has studied movies, and therefore knows when to hit us with the clichés, and when to veer away for maximum surprise, and satisfaction. The spaghetti western reference, where he tracks in on Queenie the dog, says it all, and reminds us exactly where he stands. It’s all for fun—film-literate fun.
The ensemble is a dream. First and foremost, as obvious as it may be to state, one of my absolute favourite actors of all-time is Tom Hanks. His mile-a-minute mind, and exasperation expressed with faux-yelling, an erratic crushing of beer cans, and hysterically yelping like Woody in Toy Story. Hanks emerging from the Klopek’s nightmare inferno house like a half-destroyed T-800 is always hilarious, as are his pitch-perfect, cacophonous, sardine allergy sneezes. Actor and comedian, Rick Ducommun, as Art Weingardner, is no doubt an acquired taste—but in small doses, as seen here, he’s actually excellently cast. Nutty, crotchety veteran war machine, Mr. Rumsfield (Bruce Dern), has the coolest title credit bestowed upon him, and the foxy Wendy Schaal as the scantily-clad, no-tanlined, Mrs. Rumsfield charms as per. Carrie Fisher is more than welcome as Carol Peterson—in a decent, kinda maternal role, as Ray’s put upon wife, sick of his nosiness and unhealthy obsessions with the batty neighbours, which she pairs marvellously with a cool detachment, and simultaneous understanding. Finally, Corey Feldman dials in one of his better performances as Ricky—a chirpy, chipper, stoner dude, who relishes in the ensuing suburban drama, loves his street, and boasts it’s better than television.
The Klopeks represent everyone we ever wondered about. Have you ever hypothesised about someone’s nocturnal habits? Are they unusual, or are we? Are we the lunatics? There’s a profound statement in there—it just takes one nosy parker to start the fire of paranoia, then it spreads via fear. Fear of foreigners, and new residents in the cul-de-sac, and a crippling fear of differences, and standing out in any way at all. Then finally, just when you thought it was safe, The ‘Burbs’ death rattle wrap-up ultimately echoes Kurt Cobain—via Catch-22’s rich sentiment of, “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you.”
Eerie, Indiana “America’s Scariest Home Video” E05 (1991) 24m
It’s gentle jump scares, terrified trick-or-treaters, Dawson’s Creek hot mum Mary‑Margaret Humes, as Mrs. Teller, Mothra and Godzilla the pet lizards, and Bush Senior and Gorbachev masks, as we loop back to weirdness central to wrap up a Dante double dose, with Joe acting as creative consultant here, on this Hallowe’en episode of a personal childhood Saturday morning fave—Eerie, Indiana.
After a botched attempt to claim $10,000 from America’s Funniest Home Videos goes awry amid the You’ve Been Framed-style shenanigans (minus Jeremy Beadle), “Scariest Home Videos” aka “America’s Scariest Home Video,” sees our dynamic duo of Marshall Teller and loyal buddy, Simon, negotiating the horrors of reluctant, forced babysitting and must attempt to undo the misplacing of Teller’s younger sibling, Harley (Christian and Joseph Cousins of Kindergarten Cop fame) when the youngling is mysteriously transported into horror movie, Bloody Revenge of the Mummy’s Curse, and replaced in the real world by jaded British thespian, Sir Boris von Orloff, who, as a movie star mummy in suburbia, proceeds to haunt, and pursue our two tween heroes. Impervious to nonsense and the peculiar goings-on, pervading over the town of Erie, as always, is the fearless and assertive older sister, Syndi. With so many authentic, lovingly added, vintage horror references—from Boris Karloff to Count Orlok, it’s easy to see where my love for all thing horror likely originated.
Thank you, Joe Dante.
Poltergeist (1982) 114m
“You only moved the headstones!”Steven Freeling, Poltergeist
With any luck, this one will have you cowering under your Star Wars bed sheets. Another film seen too young—Tobe Hooper’s ghost-directed (or was it?) suburban disaster sees the Freeling family terrorised by entities, after moving into a new residence, you guessed it—situated on an ancient, American Indian burial ground. Something’s bending the cutlery and it ain’t Uri Geller—actually, that may have been worse. Cue eerie whispers, swirling room furniture, doors opening and closing on their own, tables arranging themselves, chairs gliding across kitchen floors—then before long, gigantic black twisters, a clutching tree kidnapping, and a creepy clown bed attack. Dad, Steve (Craig T. Nelson)—whose property development company, Cuesta Verde Estates, built the houses—evidently oblivious to the fact that profiting from something that does not belong to you may result in supernatural karma of the highest order—and mum, Diane (JoBeth Williams) are the pot-smoking Reaganite parents. Is Poltergeist anti-American? It’s certainly a tale of greed, and sacrilegious disrespect. Horror has utilised the trope—now cliché, of Native American vengeance to death—most notably here, and also in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Granted, it’s played out now, but looking back, it was revealing a country’s guilt, and a desire to process—punish itself perhaps, for the nation’s sins of the past. I’m certain the “Star-Spangled Banner” outset is no accident. Nor is the (room) 2:37 TV clock time, which, again, connects Poltergeist to Kubrick’s tackling of the Native American genocide via ghost-revenge in his picture, just two years previous. While we’re addressing influences, I noticed some stolen techniques—namely the spinning gimbal room à la A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the suggestive, Exorcist-style shirt-lifting violation. Conversely, Poltergeist also evidently paved the way for, and influenced Sam Raimi’s supernatural sequel, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn—with Diane’s traumatic streak of grey Ash hair, the “apple head,” a house demolishing itself, a room-sucking vortex, and the crossover involvement of effects maestro, Mark Shostrom.
Poltergeist, aka A Nightmare on E.T.’s Street (soz), was notoriously nerve-racking—an infamous film, in fact, for me as a child, and happened to be released on the year of my birth. It made TV static scary, and was another cinematographic mood-setter I pinched for my short, The Self-Seers. Poltergeist is arguably too talky, a tad slow, and drags in the middle—whilst a certain cherubic character remains lost in limbo, waiting to go into the light without a guide, the movie sadly does the same. However, stand out scenes include majestic, matte painting storm fronts, impossible corridor trombone shots, wee hobgoblina, Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein) adds a new dimension 😉 and brings a real, memorable presence 😉 to the picture, Predator madman, Sonny Landham, appears as a pervy pool worker, the excess of the muddy swimming pool corpse-skeleton scares, and the bit where the Spielbeard doppelgänger pulls his own face-meat off to reveal the skull beneath.
Spielberg’s story, screenplay, and producing roles—plus the fact his visual style is prevalent throughout—the familiar, E.T.-tinged, grand scale, Hollywood gloss of Poltergeist‘s BMX paperboy suburbia, the Kate Capshaw-esque mum, the Raiders-style TV people, and Spielberg regular, Michael Kahn, on editing duties, didn’t help rumours of Spielbergian aid—and even alleged “interference.” So, did a clause in the beard’s Extra Terrestrial contract prevent him from making another movie while in pre-production? Was it just a Steven Spielberg production—or perhaps more? Was Hooper left to his own very capable devices, or did Steven call the shots? These directorial step-in claims have been dismissed by big Tobe Hooper guy, Mick Garris, but more-or-less confirmed by one of Poltergeist‘s actual crew members, John Leonetti—director of 2014’s Annabelle. Loath as I am to print and propagate the myth, it’s clearly still a point of contention—believed by some, dismissed by just as many. Whatever the truth may be, when we factor in this auteur speculation, Poltergeist becomes a far more interesting piece to analyse.
The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” S02E03 (1991) 30m
“You will die, you will die slowly. Your stomach will swell, your intestines will writhe and boil, your eyes will burst; and some horrible stuff, possibly your brains, will start coming out through your nose…”Evil House, “Bad Dream House”
Living in Korea, I have to actually make an effort to watch The Simpsons for the first time in my life, as opposed to it just being on every day in perpetuity. So these days, I really appreciate it, and never take it for granted. The first ever Simpsons Halloween Special has haunted houses of horror tropes galore. Bart’s tale of the “Bad Dream House” is the Poltergeist one, where Homer buys a fixer-upper, and the family attempts to stay the night. Its foundations were once an ancient, Indian burial ground—sound familiar? Strange goings on ensue, with floating books, bleeding kitchen cabinets, a murderous voice urging the family to kill—apart from Marge, who is unaffected by the evil, a levitating, axe-wielding Homer, and a swirling vortex gateway into another dimension—into which, Homer throws an orange, and the house collapses into itself. It’s as charming as ever—right down to Danny Elfman’s harpsichord theme tune over the end credits.
The Skeleton Dance (1929) 6m
Pirouette through a ghoulish graveyard with four twerking, thrusting, groovy skeletons in this bewitching, hypnotic animated short, featuring hooting owls, dogs howling at the moon, a gravestone cat battle—then when the cockerel crows, the bony-bodied gang all clamber back into their gray graves.
The most remarkable facet of The Skeleton Dance is the synchronicity of its animation, and the music by Carl W. Stalling. Charming in its rudimentary repetition—the imagery, sound design, and score, echo each other and merge to become one, creating a syncopated montage of melody. Take the tuneful chomping of a skeletal jaw, teeth clacking, playing a spine like a xylophone, a skull like a drum, and a cat‘s tail like a fiddle.
Directed and produced by Walt Disney—in a brief six minutes, this first ever Silly Symphony by Disney Cartoons does more to summon the spirit of Allhalloween than most features, and is vital viewing this time of year.
Dolls (1987) 77m
“Toys are loyal, and that’s a fact.”Gabriel, Dolls
The very first word yelled in this film is, “Wankers!” by a pair of ropey, hitchhiking, cockney punk rocker girls. Need more? The mythology of Dolls—Stuart Gordon’s Hansel and Gretel-homaging, killer-Toy Story, haunted house horror show—is simple. Random strangers get conveniently stuck in the mud in the middle of nowhere, and must seek solace in a toy maker’s mysterious mansion, where they are typically murdered horribly, and promptly transformed into bad dollies. Here, a storm forces a bickering, fractured family to join the elderly, kindly, marionette-mad Gabriel, and his witchy wife, who lend a seemingly caring hand. Buggering around the mansion quickly becomes a slasher spectacular, with our gang getting cut up left, right, and centre by knife-wielding, bitey, stop-motion puppets that hit you with hammers, saw off your arms, gladly stab you in the back, and will merrily hacksaw your feet right off. Viewed from the perspective of Judy—a periodically daydreaming child, Dolls excels at establishing a schlocky, comedic tone, with some seriously eerie effects, and then cleverly juxtaposes it with savagely violent, blood-spattered death scenes—clashing ’em together with childlike wonder, and a playfully mischievous singsong spirit. Stephen Lee is an actor who resembles a chubbier Sean Astin, who I knew solely as Duffy—the bent copper from RoboCop 2, who gets his mush smashed repeatedly into some arcade game screens. Here, he plays the childlike, good Samaritan, Ralph.
Perhaps the crowning achievement of Dolls is that its nasty offings are so ferocious, wicked, and ingeniously well-designed and executed—almost too well for a film that features a fantasy werebear mauling. There’s a mean, rich stepmother, skeletal, melting, pixie-goblins, a chatty, bite-happy, power tool wielding Mr. Punch—who suffers his own American Werewolf in London meets Nicolas Roeg’s The Witches metamorphosis, executioner elves, sinister playthings with spiky, Barbarella teeth’d mouths that curl up and across menacingly, and somebody blown to bits by a merciless firing squad of toy soldiers. The most haunting image is perhaps Isabel, who, after being turned into a porcelain-headed doll-woman, must collect her own eyeballs from a pool of blood.
Prepare for the longest night in the world—and also one of the shortest features. The most appealing quality of Dolls, initially anyway, and aside from already digging the director and synopsis, was its snappy, 77-minute running time. It’s a beautifully brief film, that proves a straightforward, grotesque fairy tale can be told on film in under 80 minutes, in an extremely satisfyingly manner. In fact, why aren’t all movies this length? Except Terminator 2—that’s exactly right.
The Lost Boys (1987) 97m
“Death by stereo!”Sam, The Lost Boys
Anyone who’s ever upped and moved to a new town recognises The Lost Boys’ eighties, tropey Karate Kid vibes. I responded immediately to the plight of the Emersons—not because I ever relocated myself as a child, but as I’m from Catterick Village—ten minutes from Catterick Garrison, which remains the biggest army base in the UK, my school friends’ dads would regularly get posted, meaning they were history. I was relieved to have stability—to feel comfortable, but it was always sad to lose friends so often. This was also the first film in my life that induced a nightmare, and without me even seeing the full film. It was merely a trailer, or a clip, which showed the vampiric lads initiating Michael into their flying bloodsucker gang by dangling beneath violently juddering tracks, as an approaching train neared, until the inevitable happened, and their weakening grips faltered, sending them plummeting into a misty abyss—only their voices still carried, undead; alive in the wind. In my dream, I was also hanging from the same rattling rails, and unless I let go in time, would’ve had my fingers severed. Of course, as soon as the rollicking train was overhead, I woke up startled.
I don’t know what planet this is—Planet Schumacher, I suppose, but I don’t care. It’s so compelling to watch, and his liberal use of the fantastical has a welcoming, inviting feel. Yeah, it goes haywire. On one hand, you’ve got Corey Haim singing in the bath, and on the other, Jason Patric, going full, existential Brando, amid a junkie crisis, and it amazingly plays. It’s a remarkably odd fluctuation, and combination of tones, but it works. It turns farcical at the end, but wraps up excitingly with a final, action-packed sequence. The comedy lands, there’s enough at the core, enough subversion, and it’s enough of an update to the vampire subgenre, with a myriad of improvements and additions. Vampires have always had an applicability—they’re a readymade device for exploring the human condition. Although ever-evolving, the vampire lore archetypes are pre-established, and well-known by audiences, so Schumacher could immediately play with them here—the nature of the half vampire, garlic, holy water, crucifixes, transparent reflections, hypnotic abilities, inviting a vampire into your home renders you powerless, regenerative healing, sunlight burns their flesh, the ability to fly, and the bat bit, where the guys are all kipping upside down, hanging from the rafters. It’s a movie that cleverly adopts certain tropes, and discards others.
Is The Lost Boys, in fact, a gay parable? I believe it to, at the very least, contain elements of one. The openly homosexual helmer, Joel Schumacher (Flatliners, Falling Down, Phone Booth), hung a poster of Rob Lowe with his midriff out in Sam’s room, which again, could be some kind of in-joke, or nod, as he was in the director’s previous picture, St. Elmo’s Fire. I don’t want to get too Tarantino in Sleep with Me, with his Top Gun subtext spiel, but it’s all a bit, “Go the gay way,” isn’t it? It’s a forbidden initiation. Michael—with an already established absent father, gets an earring, and a leather jacket, and rides a motorcycle. We don’t have to get into what drinking the blood represents. They’re all male surf-Nazis around the bonfire—not a female in sight, just lustful looks and liquid spurts—like a decadent, fires of hell urge that Michael miraculously manages to resist. He’s essentially watching a gay orgy at that point, and fighting his powerful, preternatural desire to participate. It’s not a battle for Michael’s soul; it’s a battle for his sexuality—it’s David versus Star. The “appetizer” reefer offering in the cave lair is crucial, because if you remove the joint, that particular scene could be interpreted as being covertly about peer pressure and drug or alcohol use, but because the filmmakers included weed, it arguably becomes metaphorical for a sexual initiation. This is right about where Schumacher’s childish, “Goonies go vampire” (sorta) romp turns politically subversive. Theories aside, it’s certainly about our fear of people who, more generally speaking, live outside the mainstream—whether it’s entirely sexuality-based, or broader.
Please refer to our entire Rewind episode on Schumacher’s The Lost Boys here.
Twins of Evil (1971) 87m
“The devil has sent me twins of evil!”Gustav Weil, Twins of Evil
Twins of Evil, or Twins of Dracula, was initially released in the USA alongside Hands of the Ripper as a double feature, and was without doubt, the most substantial box-ticker amongst my initial journey into Hammer horror. I unintentionally completed “the Karnstein Trilogy,” purely by accident—or more honestly, by seeking out the most explicit of the saucy ’70s entries—and apart from the tedious Countess Dracula, I wasn’t disappointed. Twins of Evil has a relatively modern feel, it’s easily accessible as an entry-level Hammer picture; the ideal “in,” for newcomers, and currently reigns as my absolute favourite of the bunch. It’s brief, sexy, and the Kensington Gore flows a bit freer.
The low-lying, woodland mist—both on location, and in the atmospherics of its Pinewood sets, screams Hammer. Director, John Hough (Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, Escape to Witch Mountain) knows precisely how to invigorate a scene, and not only boasts a fine eye for a shot, but also an impeccable taste in alluring actresses. The staging, blocking, coverage, and evocative, European, emotionally-motivated camera moves, are ahead of anything I’ve seen so far in the Hammer canon. Fiery, incandescent imagery, and precision photography, sumptuously lit by dictatorial DoP, Dick Bush—the lighting cameraman later fired from Aliens by Jim Cameron for chucking his weight about behind the lens, and failing to keep the xenomorphs hidden deep in the shadows. Here, Hough employs a crash zoom here and there, and even ends the film with an almost imperceptibly subtle contrazoom—I think.
Along with the previous year’s The Vampire Lovers, two instances of (partially obscured) full frontal nudity here, help mark the moment Hammer went starkers. Damien Thomas portrays the petulant, perpetually discontent, Jimmy Fallon lookalike lothario, Count Karnstein, and Peter Cushing is a baddie—which I tend to prefer—as misplaced masculinity magnet, Gustav Vile—a presumably impotent, or plain repressed, religious, God-fearing puritan, terrified by femininity to the degree that his nightly excursions predominantly feature the burning of women who don’t take a husband, and are therefore dark arts-dabbling, satanic witches—outright exclaiming, “What kind of plumage is this?” when confronted with the unashamed, borderline bare-chested, parading female forms of softcore sauce pots, Mary and Madeleine Collinson—the first identical twin Playboy playmates, who previously played together in the 1969 British sex comedy, Some Like It Sexy—in their frequently nip-slipping nighties. This dynamic fuels a reactionaries versus plunging necklines, religious repression versus a zeitgeisty, girls will be girls, female lib bent. Keep your pervy eyes peeled for an audacious and hilarious, glaringly symbolic hand gesture, with a lady wax-grasping, and stroking the shaft of a sizeable candle during a love scene.
Louie “Halloween/Ellie” S02E10 (2011) 22m
For me, the single best stand up comedian of any time—the peerless, now largely shunned, Louis C.K. In spite of recent revelations, which saw the comic, director, filmmaker, and actor sidelined—losing his Emmy award-winning FX show, Louie, shelving feature film, I Love You, Daddy, and future film deals, a loyal fan base—of which I still consider myself a member, accepted his frank admissions, apology, and apparent self-reflection, then rallied around louisck.net to continue to support and appreciate Louis for his genuinely groundbreaking collision of the abstract and bizarre, and an inimitable brand of poignantly profound thoughtfulness. Post-apology, what more can we ask of cancel culture celebs? Besides, if you’re still sensitive, or creeped-out by his presence, just go with it. It’s Halloween, after all!
“Fuck you, ‘Ew!'”Louis, Louie
This particular installment of Louie—as is his wont, veers suddenly and disconcertingly away from the NYC candy treats and lollipops, and into a sinister and macabre mood on the scariest night of the year, drawing on Lynchian leanings and tragicomedy twists. There’s bubble gum-flavoured Tylenol, two little white girls in America dressed as Frederick Douglass (with an itchy beard), and a courageous fairy, and C.K. wraps the episode up with a bit about “jerking off.” How very appropriate. Or inappropriate—you choose which.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) 91m
“Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.”Nancy, A Nightmare on Elm Street
One of the most perceptive, visceral, and accessible horror premises ever conceived—so much so, that I shamelessly ripped it off for my recent, collective unconscious, sleep death in suburbia short, The Self-Seers, in which Korean kids are tormented in their dreams by a shadowy, malevolent version of themselves. Both films, I’d argue, serve as metaphors for burgeoning adolescence and its myriad, inescapable pressures. Angsty youth themes such as the sins of the elders being visited upon the children, and most importantly, teenagers going through something their parents just don’t understand—and absolutely cannot help with, are certainly present. Here, highschooler Nancy Thompson, her kinda boyfriend Glen, and their two buddies, Tina, and horny jerk, Rod, are the juveniles accosted in their slumber by the same disfigured, fedora-hatted, finger-knife brandishing, omnipresent dream-ghoul, Fred Krueger.
Key visuals like the wall stretching inwards above Nancy’s bed have aged like a fine wine, a suggestive, between the thighs bath sequence featuring the 15-year-old tested the waters of acceptability, and Rod‘s chuckle-worthy tighty-whities nosedive aside; Craven’s imaginative revolving room conceit is still a horrifying, mind-bending sight to behold. On the other (clawed) hand, there are caveats—somewhat of a cacophonous, overkill ‘80s score with no real restraint plays as dated, Krueger’s ludicrously long arms plus other unintentionally farcical moments where he’s stumbling over patio furniture, being impeded by trash cans, his ham and cheese reactions to booby trap explosives, and that hokey, fat-Freddy stunt burn suit. However, Craven’s haphazard deployment of humour and abandonment of true terror becomes a crucial element of Elm Street’s slasher tone. It’s a movie in which a tongue was consciously designed to lick out of a telephone receiver and perversely frighten a young girl, so moaning about the baddie having large limbs seems somewhat misguided.
Back in 1984, Freddy still had enough mystique to be simultaneously cool and frightening. Although his puerile, gross out scare tactics, and coarse, lecherous wisecracks are on show here, the subsequent sequels in the series, including personal fave, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, would mine this aspect further, and take it to absurdly creative extremes. The original may not have reached the franchise’s peak in terms of ingenious imagery—with its increasingly elaborate, atmospheric dream scenes, but it remains somewhat grounded in the sense that it establishes the rules of the Elm Street mythos. Prior to Freddy follow-up fatigue, and his total demystification—which saw him transform into more of a pop culture invading jester, as opposed to the paedophilic, child-killer Krueger was established as here—A Nightmare on Elm Street served, and will forever stand, as the initial feature marking the arrival of one of cinema’s most iconic and enduring antagonists.
Pieces (1982) 85m
“I’ll send you a case of lollipops.”Det. Sgt. Holden, Pieces
You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre. Prepare to be slayed by a withering look by the perfect midnight movie, Pieces—known in certain dark circles as Chainsaw Devil. A boy’s sexual development is stifled by his overbearing mother, causing him to grow up deranged, and when triggered by an unfortunate accident, in which a jolly gal roller skates herself through a giant mirror, splitting it—and we assume, herself, into shards, the mystery murderer persists to chop up Boston campus chicks to construct his own, real-life, jigsaw lady. This was a gem from my 2021 Slash & Burn HorrOctober marathon. The tight running time, take-no-prisoner kills, abundant nudity, and Spanish flavour, make it an archetypal coverall for newcomers to retro slashers, and giallo connoisseurs alike. It’s a sugarplum. Take some uppers or something, and visit the only university where the students openly fornicate on the grass, and have perplexing martial arts altercations with “kung fu professors”—“Bad chop suey. So long!”
Juan Piquer Simón (Slugs) paints a vivid picture of lustful women, and cold, detached men, there’s a proper black hat, jacket, and gloves, giallo-referencing, heavy breathing (likely asthmatic) assailant, carving up pretty girls, and lopping off their lovely limbs, and it features, without doubt, the finest water bed murder ever committed to celluloid. A pulsing, serpentine, shimmering score adds jittery suspense and thrust. Pieces also boasts a duo of exceedingly watchable police detectives—Det. Lt. Bracken, who resembles a butch Lionel Blair, and spends the whole movie trying to light his cigar, and his partner, Det. Sgt. Holden, who looks a bit like the love child of Frank Drebin and George Peppard. The daft dubbing adds a bonus humorously offbeat bent to the proceedings, rendering every scene simplistic and direct, but with odd deliveries—ADR’d to match the lips of the original performances, and due to this, peculiar delays and stutters pepper the picture.
If you’ve ever wondered where the pectorals were, Pieces will clue you in—often graphically, with a frankly more nudes than necessary quota filled, bloodshed to spare, and unexpected beats so amusing and bizarre, they’ll keep newcomers to this kind of schlock thoroughly entertained. As is often the case with the slasher subgenre, a lot of it is elementary. But there’s a neat enough concept, delivered rapidly, smartly, and efficiently, and with a super brief, palatable, and digestible, 85-minute length, the trashiness is somehow muted by the devil-may-care abandon of it all. It’s also acutely aware of its red herring deployment, and a fruitful whodunnit—with the dean of the university, the anatomy teacher, Prof. Brown, and the chainsaw-wielding brute, Willard, each suspicious enough to keep us on our toes. Underneath lies a deftly made horror, with a shock wrap-up that ladies—and especially gents, won’t forget in a hurry. The final ten seconds or so of Pieces is either a vulgar, nonsensical jump scare, or a feminist vengeance statement that shrewdly undoes the misogynistic, male gaze, borderline-porno gorefest that precedes it.
Intruder (1989) 88m
“I’m just crazy ’bout this store!”Intruder
It’s wacky tobacky time in the attic of the Walnut Lake Market, with Scott Spiegel’s gross-ery store (price) slasher, Intruder—aka Night Crew: The Final Checkout, which marks a dip into the bloody funny pool belonging to Sam&Bruce&Scotty&Ted. Sam Raimi-buddy and early years comrade, Spiegel (co-writer of Evil Dead II) directs the director here, in an innovative, feature version of his Super-8 short, Night Crew—the story and producer credit going to original Tarantino collaborator, Lawrence Bender. Despite its lame tussles, and dumbbell silliness, Intruder’s inventive, OTT kills, keen visual sense, and the fact it’s utterly aware of itself, salvage it from mediocrity.
Spiegel, and DoP, Fernando Argüelles, chuck the kitchen sink at the cinematography, with Dutch angles galore, crash zooms abound, a pervading, ominously voyeuristic atmosphere is achieved, using disorienting perspectives, quirky, creative match cuts from stabbings to watermelon slicings, a shopping trolley cleverly framed like a jail cell, a cracking price gun transition, countless, brilliantly lit and staged reflections, impossible mirror shots, where we puzzlingly don’t glimpse the camera. I admire its unbridled imagination. There’s evidence of a keen directorial eye behind the lens, with Scotty taking the bloody baton from Sam, and running with it like a kid with sharp scissors. To a lesser degree than Dead By Dawn in terms of sheer cinematic execution, but its attention to angles takes the cake, eats it, regurgitates it, then takes it again—with (deep breath) bin-cam, fireplace-cam, hydraulic press-cam, pervert-cam, cash register-cam, mop and bucket-cam, seemingly dead body-cam, and cling film-cam, all leading to an enjoyable, “Whose view is this anyway?” game. Whose perspective is that exactly? Who cares.
Back in ‘89, the director’s cut was illegal in the UK, so make sure you snag the uncut, 88 minute version. It boasts a body count of nine, for those amongst you asking, “How many killin’s?” Like a cringe-inducing cleaver between the fingers, the KNB team is let loose, with some truly disgustingly grisly slayings. So, if you want to witness the infamous “bandsaw lobotomy” with a high-powered meat slicer, head-squashing, hook-impaling, a Sting on a magazine cover jump scare—twice, a turn by Renée Estevez—sister to Charlie and Emilio, and daughter of Martin Sheen, Darkman’s Dan Hicks, persistent phantom laundry detergent falling off a shelf, Bruce Campbell and Lawrence Bender as cops, “Gregory” Nicotero as “Townie in Car,” a creative murderer, who neatly re-stacks paper towels, the wunderkind director of The Evil Dead, getting hoyed through a Diet Pepsi stand, head-squashing, eyeball-squishing, goretastic, meaty chunks of torsos and legs in boxes, and a severed hand in a lobster tank, Intruder can make your nightmares come true.
Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922) 105m
“And the little woman, whom we call hysterical, alone and unhappy, isn’t she still a riddle for us?”Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages
Post-nighttime nasties, Pieces, and Intruder, and with the “witching hour” (allegedly) taking place between 3am and 4am, this seems like the perfect opportunity to pop on Benjamin Christensen’s silent masterpiece, Häxan (The Witch) to colour (or monochromise) your dreams, as you weirdos drift off into an eternal slumber (’til next year, anyway). Really, the idea behind this one is to lull you (perhaps drunkenly) into a nightmarish state, and with any luck, you’ll wake up, look at your telly, and be petrified for a final time.
Until 2023, so long, boils and ghouls!