Halloween, the wonderfully fabricated holiday of pop culture, costume parties and taking candy from strangers. Of all the traditions to grace this American oddity, possibly the most frightening involves the simple act of sitting on the couch and indulging in the cardiovascular exercise of horror cinema.
Of all the thousands of scary movies to chuckle or gasp at, here a few of the finest:
“The Hills Have Eyes”
If you plan on taking a cross-country trip anytime in the next year, don’t watch “The Hills Have Eyes.” This 1977 cult classic will leave you chilled, and if you can make it to the end, your humanity will be in question. Wes Craven’s tale of the average Carter family clashing with a clan of cannibals leaves few acts of depravity in question, and the cathartic finale will leave you changed.
“Dawn of the Dead”
In 1968, George Romero created the biological zombie which we love today, and 10 years later, his magnum opus arrived: “Dawn of the Dead.” In a smorgasbord of survivalist tactics, consumerist commentary and undead gore, Romero weaves a tale of four not-so-desperate citizens enjoying the luxury of a mall through a zombie apocalypse. Never quite reaching the point of true terror, but settling more on goofy unease, this is the perfect movie to watch with a bowl of candy, a few good friends and notebook with a thesis statement.
“Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn”
If you have ever seen a chainsaw arm in anything whatsoever, this is a reference to the “Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn.” As a remake of the first, the movie features a charismatic schmuck stuck in a log cabin with possessed friends, the demonic woods and even the threat of the cabin itself, defending himself with Three Stooges-like tactics. Before Sam Raimi told Spider-Man how to swing, he taught deadities how to stab.
In terms of pure squeamish glee, few movies will shake you like “Hellraiser.” After the insidiously tense first half of the film, you will grow horribly familiar with the anatomy of human muscle, as well as an array of torturous devices, demonic menaces and unmentionable taboos. The movie rattles all the fears within every family and newly moved-in house in the most uncomfortable ways. After this movie, you will not want to eat, get a piercing or play with Rubix cubes.
Of all the movies to complement a holiday of scaring people in masks, “Halloween” holds a prominent position. Exploitation minimalist John Carpenter, without ever breaking past the most simple of horror conventions, is able to create a tight, nervous film revolving around the beloved trope of a masked killer and a teenage girl. Watch this on that special day and the atmosphere of the film reaches out to your own neighborhood. Watch out for the tall ones.
So if you’re feeling brave this year, know that you’re doing it wrong. Watch one or two of these films, and the night may gain a whole different air; watch a third and you won’t want to leave your room.