When October rolls around each year, movie fans start putting together their playlists of spooky films they hope will bring a creepy atmosphere to their cobweb and candy corn laden festivities. But just as not every comedy is guaranteed to create fits of giddy laughter, not every “scary” movie will elicit bloody screams of terror from a viewer. You have to know your audience and selecting the right level of fright flick can make or break your Halloween party. For this reason, may I present to you 10 Retro Halloween Movies For Everyone on your guest list.
Virgin Video Victim: Jason Lives! Friday The 13th Part VI
For many the very idea of a horror film is enough to cause an anxiety attack, the gruesome images in their imaginations are often more upsetting than anything the filmmakers actually commit to film. These kinds of people need a fun horror flick that introduces the basic idea of gory murders, rotting corpses and stormy nights. That’s why dipping their toes into the bloody waters of Crystal Lake through Jason Lives: Friday The 13th Part VI is the perfect way for a horror virgin to get in on the action. A less brutal, more tongue in cheek entry in the series, Part 6 even has a killer tune by Alice Cooper called “He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask)” on the soundtrack.
This entry in the series finds Jason Voorhees as literal worm food in the ground when a former victim, Tommy Jarvis just can’t let the past go and exhumes the body, which is then resurrected by a bolt of lightning. The story plays out with a zombified Jason killing everyone in the area, often through ironic means. From the James Bond parody opening to the tough as nails Sheriff’s daughter who joins Tommy in the fight against the hockey mask-wearing killer, this is the entry in the long-running horror series that was tailor-made for broadcast television and squeamish viewers alike.
Old School Ghouls: The Bride of Frankenstein
When it comes to the classic horror icons like The Wolfman, Dracula or The Mummy many younger viewers may be turned off by the black and white nature of the films, but for older party guests, it’s nice to put on something that will bring back memories of Halloween nights gone by. These Universal horror films used to play on television all the time throughout the ’50s, 60’s and 70’s, laying the groundwork for the horror explosion of the 80s. While they are often low on actual scares, for sheer entertainment value there’s one film you simply can’t ignore, The Bride of Frankenstein.
The director, James Whale only agreed to make the film if he could add a dose of humor to the proceedings which created an exciting monster romp that’s full of wicked fun. It’s the film that inspired the Mel Brooks classic, Young Frankenstein, which is only slightly more outrageous than the original. There are angry torch-wielding villagers chasing the monster, perverse experiments in creating life and a great villain in Dr. Pretorius, who manipulates the monster into forcing his creator out of retirement to build him a bride. If you’re going old school this year, The Bride of Frankenstein will set the mood perfectly.
Halloween Terror For Teens: Scream
Modern horror certainly has a following, but high schoolers have already seen every installment of The Conjuring series and Get Out requires too much social awareness, so why not introduce them to the film that dared to break down the tropes of the horror genre while delivering its own brand of terror in a young and sexy whodunnit tale. Yes, it’s the one and only Scream from 1996.
It’s the perfect gateway for teens who are looking to understand the history of Slasher films. With it’s many references to genre classics like John Carpenter’s Halloween, it will likely also inspire these budding horror fans to find the previous works of the film’s director, Wes Craven. At the very least, it provides context for the dozens of trick or treaters wearing “Ghostface” masks every October 31st and the Wayans’ comedy Scary Movie.
Heavy Metal Horror: Trick Or Treat
If the kind of crowd you run with is in theaters at least once a month and subscribes to all the major streaming services, it goes without saying that they’ve seen all the standard Halloween fare. So how do you give your guests a taste of something nasty n’ new? The answer is the 1986 heavy metal horror tale, Trick or Treat. Not currently available on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Video, up ’til now the only way to have seen this spandex slasher movie is to purchase a physical copy on DVD or the elusive VHS tape.
Tapping into the Satanic Panic created by concerned parents whose children were listening to heavy metal music, Trick or Treat introduces a loser nicknamed “Ragman” who worships the music and attitude of “Rock’s Chosen Warrior”, Sammi Curr. When the vile rocker dies in a hotel fire, he is released from hell by the vinyl record containing his final recording that falls into the hands of Ragman. After helping the teased and taunted high schooler get back at his bullies, Sammi sets out for a rampage of revenge all his own on Halloween night. The film features cameos by controversial rockers like Gene Simmons of KISS and Ozzy Osbourne, but the real fun is in the electrifying antics of this literal demon rocker. Best of all the film can now be viewed on YouTube in its entirety in the video above!
More Gore, Less Bore: Dead Alive
For those who have the stomach for it, watching crimson bodily fluids splatter across the screen can be just what the mad doctor ordered and if you want record levels of gross-out fun, look no further than Peter Jackson’s 1992 film, Dead Alive, alternately known as Braindead. Yes, the man who brought us Hobbits and King Kong got his start in horror and created some truly outrageous cinema. In fact, this film is a pseudo-sequel to the giant ape classic in that the plague-carrying Sumatran Rat Monkeys in the film hail from Skull Island, where Kong reigns supreme.
On the surface, Dead Alive is a zombie plague movie, but the cast of colorful characters and their various relationships are a source of black comedy as the flesh-eating madness ramps up into a disgusting display of grotesque mutations and mutilations. When our hero Lionel straps on a lawnmower to turn a horde of undead townsfolk into zombie puree you’ll want to break out the poncho and hope you’re not in the “Splash Zone”. I first saw this gooey, gory final scene at a friend’s house in high school and I’ve never been able to shake it from my memory. Chances are you won’t either.
Indie Horror Fan: Primal Rage
Tired of the same old “classic” horror titles year after year? Well, you’ll be happy to learn that just as in the days of VHS, there are dozens of new independent horror films being released monthly for our consumption. But without major studio marketing departments behind them, many inventive and terrifying gems of the genre are lost. As a freelance internet film reviewer, I often receive screeners of indie horror flicks and if I can recommend one above all others it would be Primal Rage. Taking the legend of Bigfoot to a terrifying extreme, this survival horror film hits all the right buttons.
When a couple find a mutilated man on the side of the road they’re soon fighting for their lives as they get mixed up with Native American mysticism in the vein of The Evil Dead style witchcraft, which fuels the brutality of the warrior protector of these haunted woods, Oh-Ma aka Bigfoot. Only in this case, Bigfoot is like the Predator wearing wooden armor carved from trees and taking out evil hunters with bow skills that would make the CW’s Arrow jealous. The gore is gratuitous, featuring all practical make-up effects, which is rare in the era of CGI shortcuts. You’ll be thrilled by the discovery of Primal Rage this Halloween.
Freaky Family Fare: The Addams Family
There’s a reason this 1991 feature film spawned 2 sequels, a Saturday Morning Cartoon series, breakfast cereal and an incredibly popular pinball machine in arcades as well as an upcoming animated feature. Starting out as a gothic one-panel humor comic turned 60’s sitcom that went up against The Munsters on TV before being made into a Hollywood blockbuster, The Addams Family is subversive fun for any age. You may be saying, it’s got free-roaming hands and living plants, but is it really a Halloween movie? The answer is yes!
The film opens with a group of young trick or treaters in costume begging for candy at the door of the Addams home, only to have a cauldron of hot oil poured on them. But beyond that brief nod to Linus’ favorite holiday, you have the sadistic sibling duo of Pugsley and Wednesday, constantly attempting to murder each in charmingly devious ways. If you need a freaky film everyone can enjoy, The Addams Family has something for everyone, including an end credits rap by none other than MC Hammer.
Halloween Cult Film Frights: The Monster Squad
A film that failed to find an audience during it’s brief theatrical run in 1987, The Monster Squad became a cult classic film on video store shelves throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s. A small, but loyal fanbase kept the film in the pop culture consciousness to the point wherein 2007 it received a special edition DVD release. But what makes the film so special? I tell you one thing, calling it The Goonies with monsters is way off.
If nothing else it features the ultimate team-up of Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Wolfman while representing perfectly what life as a child in the 80’s felt like. Didn’t we all team up with our friends to form a club that could save the world based on our knowledge of horror films at some point? It’s also a film that straddles the line between comedy and real scares like no other. When the final showdown between the squad and the monsters goes down you’ll be cheering for the heroics of Sean, Rudy, Horace, Patrick, Eugene and Phoebe without a hint of irony. And in case you were wondering, “Wolfman’s got nards”.
Halloween Psychedelic Scares: The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Vincent Price was an icon of the horror genre for 30 years, starring in films like House of Wax, The House On Haunted Hill and House of Usher (so apparently anything with House in the title). But in 1971 he took on a role in a twisted revenge film called The Abominable Dr. Phibes which seemingly created the concept of elaborate kills in horror with a quirky and stylish flare. So what is it all about?
After a team of 9 surgeons failed to save his wife following a deadly car crash, Dr. Anton Phibes who was believed dead sets lethal traps for each physician inspired by the 9 plagues of Egypt from the Old Testament. In between unleashing a hale storm inside the vehicle of one doctor or tricking another into donning a skull-crushing frog mask, Phibes dances in a ballroom with his silent, but beautiful accomplice to the sounds of a clockwork jazz band or makes music of his own on a massive pipe organ. It’s trippy, it’s fun, it’s Abominable!
Halloween Slashin’ and Laughin’: A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3, Dream Warriors
Often by the 3rd installment, a movie franchise loses steam, but in some cases, that’s where the movies hit their apex. Such is the case with A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. The original film gave us the icon of Freddy Krueger and while a solid start, still has it’s clunky moments. The sequel, Freddy’s Revenge has a charm all it’s own, but it is definitely a case of so bad it’s good. With Dream Warriors, the idea of a Freddy Krueger film and the character himself was finally solidified in pop culture, laying the groundwork for 4 more sequels to come.
Outside of a rockin’ title track by Dokken, the secret of the film is in the characterizations, as a group of 6 kids who have been put into a mental institution after being terrorized by Krueger in their dreams is united by the first teen to beat the villain, Nancy played by Heather Langenkamp. But Freddy is on top of his game as well, creating the best nightmares (and catchphrases) of his career which leads to meaningful and gruesome deaths. Great performances, great special effects and solid storytelling by the director, Chuck Russell make it not only the best in the franchise, but one of the best sequels in movie history.
I hope this list of films helps inspire some dreadful fun for your Halloween season. But tell me in the comments below what films you would recommend and maybe I can add some fresh scares to my nights of terror on television. Happy Halloween!