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Suggested Audio Jukebox 🎃

[1] Japan Halloween

[2] John Carpenter Halloween

[3] The Chordettes Mr. Sandman

[4] John Carpenter & Alan Howarth Chariots of Pumpkins

[5] Gillian Gerardo Don’t Let Go

[6] Douglas Pipes Creepy Things

[7] Noir Deco All Hallow’s Eve

[8] 45 Grave Partytime

[9] Dean Martin Mambo Italiano

[10] Chemical Brothers Galaxy Bounce

[11] Alan Howarth Silver Shamrock Commercial

 

Of all the annual festivals, none are more custom-made for a lifetime horror aficionado like myself than Halloween, or Samhain for any pagans amongst us. The 31st of October is a very special date in my calendar, a time of great celebration and rejoice, of tricks and treats, jack-o-lanterns and devilish dress codes. Alas in more recent times, it has also become a time of considerable disillusionment. Is it just me or does it no longer appear to hold the same magic as when we were kids?

I herald from the UK so can only speak for this side of the pond but last Halloween seemed to ghost past with nary a whisper. National data may calculate the country’s Halloween industry to be worth in excess of £300million but I’d love to know where they pulled that figure from and would presume it to be some place that smells funny. You see, there were no knocks on my front door in 2016, no tricks or treats proposed, not one sodding fright flick on the gogglebox. Granted, pumpkins appeared to be flying off the shelves at my local grocery store, but I surmise that folk ate a lot of pumpkin pie that week as they sure as shit weren’t being carved down my street.

I’m weary of waiting around for some bastard to get in the spirit. This year I’m getting proactive. Think of this as my own little soirée for sickos, a blowout for the bloodthirsty, gala for grueheads, cocktails for creeps and tea for terrors. My goal will be to cram as many menu options as inhumanly possible into the following banquet. From wing of bat to ear of newt, it’s all going in the cauldron, and the resulting broth should go some way to staving off those seasonal hunger pains. As your master of ceremonies, I shall endeavor to make your short stay pleasurable and source ingredients from far and wide.

Speaking of which, it recently occurred to me that we’ll require a venue for this evening’s gathering and have had an idea just crazy enough that it may just work. Halloween is a time when the spirits roam free right? Well then, let’s take this show on the road, Cinderella style. Whaddya reckon? If it all sounds a little too whimsical, then how about we set out in an oversized pumpkin on wheels and, should we not make it back to HQ by midnight, then it has my blessing to turn into a diamond-strewn carriage as I wouldn’t be seen dead in one of those.

I’m frightfully sorry but there simply hasn’t been time to do a Route-Planner prior to this expedition so I figured we could just wing it and see where that leads us. Naturally, we couldn’t kick off the festivities in some place not symbolic to Halloween and it seemed like a no-brainer to me that tap Haddonfield, Illinois into the GPS first as word on the street has it they’re due a surprise guest as we speak.

Some refer to him as The Boogeyman, others The Shape, but to me he’s just plain old Michael Myers. Known for being the strong silent type, Michael possesses the strength of many, the hunting instinct of few, and a mean streak that is truly second to none. When he gets an idea into his head, nothing can dissuade him from acting out, and it’s the utter nonchalance of his actions that makes him such an iconic figure. While there is evidently no feeling, the same can not be said for sense, as his predatorial instincts are pin-sharp and he won’t be made a clown of. Well apart from that one time but that was personal choice and William Shatner masks hadn’t hit the stores back in 1963.

I’ve observed Michael’s progress closely over the years and have always wanted the best for him. Regrettably, for one of modern cinemas true undisputed icons, the service he has received hasn’t always been up to snuff. For the purpose of this exercise and in tandem with my sunny outlook, I shall cherry pick from his vast oeuvre and leave the sour grapes to those less devastated when he comes a cropper.

Should you be a fan of Halloween Resurrection, then firstly, it’s great to finally meet the one and only, and secondly, it’s gonna be a long, dry run I’m afraid. You see, Haddonfield only represents the first leg of our journey and my cunning plan is to concoct an ultimate list of festive pleasures in case you were thinking of throwing an all-night horror marathon. We have many other neighborhoods to visit before the witching hour comes so I’ve whittled it down to the trio of Halloween franchise movies I hold in the most lofty esteem. No prizes for guessing what’s up first.

The kill I have selected here just has to be Bob’s kitchen demise. It is here that we first get a sense of just how superhuman Myers is as he lifts the hapless teen off the ground so effortlessly and pins him to the wall like a 150 lb post-it note. After securing his target in place, he takes a moment or two to admire his handiwork and I believe that was the moment when I started to believe that The Boogeyman actually existed. Michael truly was evil personified and, where other serial killers seemed most at ease when playing for an audience, he wasn’t even aware there was one.

When John Carpenter’s Halloween arrived in 1978, there was nothing even in the same stratosphere. Granted, Bob Clark’s Black Christmas had already laid the tracks in a sense, but it couldn’t boast anything like the same polished end product. Indeed, the only film that came close in my opinion was released the following year and I believe there are more parallels between Carpenter’s film and Ridley Scott’s seminal deep space haunted house flick, Alien than any other.

How do you even begin to follow perfection? It took three years for Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II to show up on the scene and unsurprisingly it was met with a fair degree of hostility. Carpenter’s involvement was minimal and, even though he and Debra Hill wrote the screenplay, precious little of what they concocted made the final cut. Perhaps most disheartening for those hoping to catch lightning in a bottle twice was the fact that it is essentially a slasher movie and this all came from the studio’s insistence that audiences wanted more, more, more.

However, for as much as the characterization was lacking and Rosenthal didn’t possess the same eye for the sublime as his predecessor, his sequel got one pretty significant thing bang on the money. It picked up from precisely where the original left off and relocated the suspense to an environment simply littered with dark shadows and long desolate hallways to facilitate his every movement. Indeed, as far as follow-ups are concerned, I’d rate Rosenthal’s effort way up there in the upper echelons and will always hold a special place in my heart for it.

It’s not easy to pick an outright winner where the dispatches are concerned as my primary consideration is always the glorious Nurse Jill and a little of me dies each time she drops her clogs after his doorway sneak attack. However, given that we’re in party mood here, it seems unthinkable to get all melancholic and there just so happens to be another doozy that springs instantly to mind. When hapless Janet enters the office of her superior, Dr. Mixter, and discovers him sprawled out in his leather recliner with a dirty great syringe sticking out of his eyeball, we just know things aren’t going to end well.

Surrounded by darkness, Janet is left frightfully exposed but neither she or the audience have any idea where the threat is going to come from. Actually we may already have a hunch but that doesn’t make it any less unnerving when that pale white mask suddenly materializes in her immediate slipstream. It is the nonchalant manner that Michael first secures his victim, then plunges a similarly uninviting needle straight into her right temple that reminds us just who we’re dealing with here. No messing, job done, and onto the next one.

🎃 Special thanks to Peter Kidder for sharing the above artwork 🎃

To complete the trinity, I’m actually going to bid adieu to The Shape and take a long coastal drive to Santa Mira, California, home of one of the most criminally misunderstood movies of the entire decade. When Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch dared to show its face in 1982, minus the main man himself, nobody knew quite what to make of it and the general consensus was that Wallace’s effort sucked ass. Critics were baffled, cinemagoers stayed away in their droves, and it appeared that the studio’s risk had backfired in the most spectacular manner imaginable.

One of the many crimes it was accused of was attempting to cheat its audience, when in fact, no other film in the franchise captures the spirit of All Hallow’s Eve better. The pulsating score from Carpenter and regular collaborator Alan Howarth is one of their very finest in my opinion, it pulls absolutely no punches, builds unbearable levels of suspense and sustains them, and feels very much set in the universe Carpenter created back in ’78. In short, it is not only one of the most overlooked horror films of the eighties, but one of the best horror films of the eighties, period. It really is that simple.

It’s hard to pick a standout scene here as there are so many, but the moment where tyrannical toy maker Conal Cochran makes an example of the Kupfer family truly is incalculable. As Little Buddy slips on his jack-o-lantern mask to watch the Silver Shamrock commercial, unaware that his headgear contains a microchip made of fragments of Stonehenge, the true extent of Cochran’s evil master plan becomes all too clear. Once activated, the mask then becomes a hive for all manner of creepy crawlies, spiders and snakes, one of which slithers through poor Buddy’s eye sockets while his skull collapses around it.

Meanwhile, his parents watch on in abject horror as their precious little boy is unceremoniously snuffed out before them. Few filmmakers were brave enough to slaughter a child actor on-screen, but it was the mean-spirited manner in which Jones went about putting Little Buddy out of the game that made for such an unforgettable scene. If you’re a fan of eighties horror and haven’t seen Halloween III: Season of The Witch, then I suggest breaking that duck post-haste as there’s no other movie quite like it.

George A. Romero’s 1982 American anthology, Creepshow, may not have been themed around Halloween, but there are few films better suited to an all-night horror marathon, in honor of Samhain. Of the five tales, my personal darling is Something To Tide You Over but, for the purpose of this exercise, I have decided to plump for the opening vignette, Father’s Day as a party simply isn’t a party without a nice slice of celebratory cake.

That’s all Nathan Grantham wanted from his spinster daughter Bedelia, but instead, he received a marble ash tray to the head for his incessant whining. To her credit, she does stop off at the cemetery to pay her respects, albeit drunken and not altogether graciously. However, when she accidentally spills some booze in his resting place, Nathan’s putrefied, maggot-ridden remains clamber forth from the topsoil. You’d be forgiven for anticipating some fairly vengeful behavior from the recently departed and reinstated but, to give the old codger his dues, all he really wants is his cake.

The scene that always sticks in my mind entails the husband of one of Nathan’s money-grubbing heirs, Hank (played by a young Ed Harris), as he vacates their annual get-together for a spot of fresh air and suffers a little bit of a rush of blood to the head. Landing flat on his back in the recently rearranged topsoil of you know who, Hank’s primary response is to see the funny side.

Alas, his secondary response is grim realization, as a chess game of sorts ensues, with every last one of his moves mimicked by the mobile headstone teetering dubiously above him with intent to compact his cranium. We know what’s coming, Hank knows what’s coming, but it’s the satisfying squelch as checkmate is achieved that earns Hank’s earthy demise trick and treat fist-bumps. Speaking of which, I simply couldn’t entertain such ghoulish guests without extending an invite to Michael Dougherty’s wondrously seasonal 2007 anthology, Trick ‘r Treat.

There are a number of reasons why Dougherty’s film is widely regarded hands down the best anthology since Creepshow and one chief factor is its consistency. There’s nary a weak link to be discerned and seldom has 82 minutes passed so effortlessly than it does here. However, given my current directive, I simply have to laud it for capturing the true essence of Halloween, both commercially and intimately.

I once heard it remarked that you have to be cruel to be kind. Thus I’ve decided to give Little Buddy a playmate and chubby little Charlie is only too happy to follow the candy trail. Unfortunately for Charlie, said pick ‘n mix path leads directly to the back porch of his school principal Steven Wilkins (a gloriously demented Dylan Baker) and, while generous with his treats, it’s the trick side that should have Charlie’s plump buttocks chafing. There’s a lesson here for the ankle-biters – always check your candy.

First things first Stephen, better dig that hole deep and wide. Secondly, ensure that Charlie doesn’t catch his second wind during the burial. Third up is nosy neighbor Mr. Kreeg (Brian Cox), don’t let the cranky old coot catch you in the act. Fourth on the evening’s curriculum is your son Billy, who also appears aware that something fishy is going on. Number five, the doorbell’s ringing and you must keep up appearances, so as not to arouse unwanted suspicion.

And if we’re going for the half-dozen here, then I’m not altogether sure about that one pint-sized trick or treater sporting a burlap head sack, strewn with buttons and cross-stitches. If I were you Stephen, I’d chop the boy up into bite-sized chunks before your cover gets blown. And a warm thank you to Dougherty for making all this possible.

I find it utterly unfathomable that Damien Leone’s All Hallow’s Eve isn’t held in loftier regard within horror circles. His 2013 anthology remembers exactly what scares us as children and plays on each of those fears exquisitely. It also introduces us to Art the Clown (Mike Giannelli), effortlessly one of the most harrowing harlequins ever to honk their horn suggestively.

Art came about way back in 2008 for a short film Leone directed entitled The 9th Circle and returned three years later for another short Terrifier, the full-length version of which is currently doing its festival rounds. Like the most mortifying merrymakers, Art is essentially a mime act and at his happiest when provided an audience. Should his playful nature fail to win you over, then that’s where the hacksaw comes in handy and he’s absolutely no joke when wielding a jagged blade.

For All Hallow’s Eve, Art pops up all over the show, and is the one common thread in all three of the stories. However, perhaps his most telling interaction involves babysitter Sarah (Katie Maguire), who unwittingly invites the cantankerous clown into the television set courtesy of a trio of unmarked VHS tapes. Art appears content enough mincing about on his preset channel causing mild mischief, until which point as he susses out his captive viewer and provides her his full and undivided.

By the time he begins tapping on the television glass with the excitable look of the cat just about to get the cream, we know precisely who Art is and what his intentions are this day. Leone’s film may be a tiny bit rough around the edges, but it was nothing if not atmospheric and maintained this ominous tone straight through to Noir Deco’s hypnotic end credit track.

More recently another Samhain-flavored compendium has done the rounds and Tales of Halloween is a perfect example of what can be achieved with a group talented filmmakers who fully understand their brief. Of the ten tales told, Darren Lynn Bousman’s blackly comic The Night Billy Raised Hell is undoubtedly my most cherished although, for a good old-fashioned eighties-themed party favor, Mike Mendez comes up more than trumps. Friday the 31st mirthfully flips the whole final girl scenario on its head and benefits from the exquisite comic timing of a man I’ve had the pleasure of hanging up in a meat locker next to, all 6″7 of Nick Principe (Chromeskull). Needless to say, where I dangled from my iron manacles, Nick simply bent his knees.

Our confused and horrendously disfigured killer’s facial expressions are truly incalculable, as are his whimpers for mercy as hunted becomes hunter in wonderfully tit for tat style. Under the influence of a pocket-sized extraterrestrial and with momentum now firmly in her favor, Dorothy (Amanda Moyer) has a change of heart over the whole running and screaming gig and the pair engage in an epic display of bloodthirsty one-upmanship. Mendez has barely a fistful of minutes to provide his tricks and treats and doesn’t waste a single one of them. Now that’s what I call Halloween spirit and we could do with as much of that as we can get right now. After all, it is party time.

Dan O’Bannon seemed to think so in 1985, when The Return of the Living Dead had the bare-faced cheek to show up at the box office mere weeks after George A. Romero’s long-awaited Day of The Dead and make away with $34m, dead tax-free. The story originated from John Russo, who parted ways with Romero after Night of the Living Dead and retained the rights to the Living Dead name.

However, while unapologetically satirical in tone, it stuck close enough to the origins and encouraged just as many shrieks as belly laughs. With a gifted ensemble that boasted Clu Gulager, James Karen, Thom Mathews, and Don Calfa, it knew precisely when to rein its neck in and struck a balance rarely achieved in horror comedy. Lest we also not forget the small manner of a certain Linnea Quigley who single-handedly taught me the appeal in trash humping.

Sporting a short flame red mane and not a damn thing else outside of pink leg-warmers, Quigley done an unexpected number on me that night and wasn’t done with this teenage stud yet by a long chalk. In 1988, she popped up on my radar once more, this time as bubblegum blonde Suzanne in Kevin S. Tenney’s Night of the Demons and, for as much as I have a huge soft spot for this movie, there’s one go-to scene with the Halloween festivities now in full flow. Everyone loves a magic trick right? Then you tell me Einstein, where the fuck does her lipstick get to?

I reckon she’s still got it tucked away behind her left nipple and would imagine this trick goes down a storm at horror cons the world over. Indeed, I’d pay good money to have Quigley sign a photo of herself wearing her full Horror Workout attire in Candy Yum-Yum pink without using her hands. It takes a bona fide scream queen to pull off this kind of outrageous stunt and still look irresistibly sexy and that is precisely what her royal heiness is. In case you were at all curious, I once attempted to recreate this famous scene by inserting a chapstick into my urethra and it may not surprise you to learn that it all ended in tears and smears.

The Italians love a good “partito” as far as I’m aware and it would be positively uncouth not to offer them up an invite. Resisting the urge to single out any one of Argento’s most grandiose works, I shall instead focus on a pair of rowdy mid to late-eighties genre flicks that provide the ideal starting point for those experiencing Spaghetti cinema for the first time. Lamberto Bava’s Demons and Michele Soavi’s Stagefright are two nigh-on perfect examples of the Italians catering for a western audience without betraying their roots. Gory, rocket-paced, and of course, categorically ludicrous; dull moments certainly didn’t figure into the equation for either movie and resistance to their charms was utterly futile.

I adored Demons from the very first frame and had my own seat reserved right next to Tony (Bobby Rhodes) and his bitches, prior to the “main feature”. Turns out that I chose badly that day as one of his skanks in particular, Rosemary (Geretta Geretta), started looking decidedly less appealing while I tucked into my popcorn blissfully oblivious. I’m not entirely sure what Rosemary’s street price was before her face burst open and started spewing green gunk but I’d imagine it plummeted rather sharply.

Ash Williams may frown upon me for saying this and God certainly will but I’d still have tried my luck with Linda from The Evil Dead post-decapitation. Deadite or no deadite, as long as her corpse was still warm, no harm or foul right? Rosemary, on the other hand, was spoiled goods from the very second she tried on that display mask in the foyer. And she fought dirty too. Where I come from, hair pulling is second only to the dreaded sack tap for despicable behavior. Shame on you Rosemary and thanks for the memories.

Meanwhile, Stagefright may not have been Soavi’s best film (that honor would naturally fall to Dellamorte Dellamore) but it knew how to punch all the slasher buttons and knead a well-worn premise for all it was worth and then some. Like Demons, it penned us in, but here there were no bloodsucking freaks, samurai swords, or fully tanked motorcycles – just escaped loon Irving Wallace, better known as the Night Owl.

The theatrical setting was simply ripe for the picking and Soavi made the very most of his location; ushering us up wonky ladders to the shoddy rafters, before locking us down alongside Barbara Cupisti’s Alicia beneath centre stage. The excruciatingly teased out encore had a standing ovation out of me and everything Soavi had learned up until that point came together in wondrously sharp focus.

The witching hour is drawing near but I still reckon I’ve got a couple in me. Besides, with around 100 billion galaxies in our universe alone, what’s one short lunar expedition in the greater scheme of things? It just so happens I have just the galaxy in mind – a galaxy of mystical properties, a galaxy of dangerous liaisons, a Galaxy of Terror.

Thanks to Bruce D. Clark’s gloriously gloopy 1981 B-movie masterpiece, I never had the urge to go where no man had gone before. One man who never had an issue taking shit to new depths was Roger Corman and the infamous worm sex scene where Taaffe O’Connell was molested, not altogether against her will (although I’m assured she’d shudder on reflection), by a twelve-foot grub complete with philandering tentacles, benefitted massively from his suggestion. Corman had promised financial backers something racy and that’s just one of many adjectives that describes this bizarre seduction.

I’ll never displace the sight of Dameia writhing around in excreted slime, moaning just gently enough to suggest she’s secretly this over-bloated space maggot’s bitch, while being brought to the kind of bone-splintering climax that would make an anaconda blush. The MPAA swiftly slapped an X-certificate on Galaxy of Terror, meaning cuts had to be made to tone down the recipient’s rhapsody some before bringing this baby to market.

Thanks to Dameia the seed was now planted and, through no fault of my own, I knew just what a twelve-foot space maggot’s junk looked like. However, there was somebody else waiting in the wings to take me full term to delivery, and in 1983, the waters broke like the fiercest tsunami. If Corman is nuttier than a squirrel’s mantle, then mad Englishman Harry Bromley Davenport knows the secret knock to get into the hidden cache. There truly is no other film in this solar system quite like Xtro and that fact alone helps me sleep a little easier at night.

After a brief but forceful insemination, this expectant mother is spared the indignity of chubby ankles but no other indignity is spared whatsoever as she reaches full term in the time it would take to boil a kettle. I don’t care how qualified they are, there’s not a midwife in the world whose training will have prepared them for this birth plan. Determining gender is one thing, but how do you even begin to explain to an exhausted new mother that “it’s a…erm…middle-aged man”.

Having been abducted by aliens two years prior under decidedly third-kind circumstances, Sam (Philip Sayer) is just relieved to be born again and wastes no time in chomping through his own umbilical cord. However, it matters not how much elasticity your vagina muscles boast, some Humpty Dumptys simply can’t be put back together again. I’m uncertain what’s more worthy of celebration – that Davenport had the sheer audacity to “go there” or that, in the world of Xtro, something as wholly tasteless as the birthing of a fully grown man is par for the course.

I quite often use the term “they don’t make ’em like this anymore” but seldom with such sincerity as when mentioning this magnificent mess of a movie. No Halloween movie marathon could ever possibly be complete without dropping this one into the melting pot just as those eyelids are growing heavy.

At any rate, I’m now feeling a darned sight more seasonal and trust that you are also. We all have special movies that help us get into the spirit of Halloween and all of the above provide the kind of warm, orange glow a lifelong student of horror cinema like myself strives for. Right now, with the witching hour upon us, it is time to call my seasonal celebrations to a close. However the night is still young if you still felt like raising a little hell. Indeed, the good people over at Silver Shamrock Novelties have a brief announcement planned just for you. Fret not as it’s being broadcast on every channel.

“It’s time. It’s time. Time for the big giveaway. Halloween has come. All you lucky kids with Silver Shamrock masks, gather ’round your TV set, put on your masks and watch. All witches, all skeletons, all Jack-O-Lanterns, gather ’round and watch. Watch the magic pumpkin. Watch…”

Click here to read I is for Improvise

 

Truly, Really, Clearly, Sincerely,

Richard Charles Stevens

aka

Keeper of the Crimson Quill

#CreatorsUnite
Copyright: Grueheads Films 2017

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