Thanks for tuning in to Part Two of our feature on horror movie selections for Halloween night. Without further ado, four of horror's most savvy gentlemen weigh in with picks for the darkest night in October:
Joe Hill on THE CHANGELING (1980): You might figure me for an Exorcist man, or a guy who would go for Chainsaw... something with some blood on the wall. But for me, Halloween is defined not by the sound of a screaming chainsaw, but by the susurration of the wind among dead leaves. Halloween is children running in the darkness and the first bite of winter in the air. In-your-face-horror is all wrong for the season. I prefer the quiet, understated chills of The Changeling (1980). If you don't know it, George C. Scott stars as a composer who loses his family in a tragic accident, and moves into an old house in the country to grieve in private. But he hardly has his bags unpacked before the walls start booming at night and a restless ghost begins reaching out to him, in a series of visitations that are increasing terrifying -- and desperate. The Changeling is a reminder that what you don't see is often more frightening than what you do, while Scott proves that the best special effect in a horror movie (or any other kind of picture) is a quietly forceful performance.
Joe Nazare (author of "Midnights Drearier") on SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999): Only Tim Burton could take Washington Irving's classic story, radically revise it, and actually improve on it. This 1999 film has it all: mystery (involving, in true American Gothic fashion, a conspiracy amongst the town elders), humor (Johnny Depp at his eccentric best as the skittish Constable Ichabod Crane), romance, thrilling action, and horror (the murder scenes are shockingly grisly, and Christopher Walken [as the undead Hessian] is the stuff of nightmare with his filed fangs). Burton's depiction of Sleepy Hollow -- both the fogbound town and its wooded outskirts -- suggests a world where it is always October, and that's what makes this movie required viewing in my home each and every Halloween.
Tom Piccirilli (author of Nightjack) on THE WOMAN IN BLACK (1989): This UK television drama adapted by Nigel Kneale from Susan Hill's novel is a rarity all around. A difficult if not wholly impossible to find first-rate TV movie that is smart, atmospheric, chilling, and entirely worth tracking down.
Taking place shortly after WWI, young attorney and new father Arthur Kidd is sent to a small rural town on the marshes to attend to the estate of recently deceased widow. While attending her funeral, he sees the titular Woman in Black, who he at first mistakes to be a mourner. But Arthur soon learns she's a well-known ghostly figure in the area, and her arrival always coincides with the death of a child.
After saving a gypsy girl from being crushed in a carting accident, Arthur apparently draws the Woman in Black's wrath. As he suffers through various spooky hauntings at the secluded house, including what seems to be the replaying of a tragic horse and buggy disaster out in the mists, he races through the widow's belongings to find out who the Woman in Black is and what he might do to stop her overpowering influence.
This one's got it all, gang: a scary as hell setting, an honest and human mystery, grim but unexploited subject matter, and an ending like a kidney punch that will leave you gasping. Do whatever you have to do to hunt down a copy. Author Susan Hill sold the rights long ago so you're not stealing anything from her mouth if you manage to swing a bootleg DVD somewhere off eBay.
And, believe it or not, Hammer has announced that they'll be releasing a big-budget remake in 2011, their first horror film in over thirty years.
David J. Schow (author of Internecine and Hunt Among the Killers of Men) on THRILLER (w/ bonus deadly delights!): As you'll see from my maundering over a the Thriller-a-Day blog, I detest winnowing complex decisions down to one thing. But for the purposes of Norm's hit-list:
Halloween III: The best movie ever with "Halloween" in its title, and one of the most mean-spirited movies ever made. Thank you, Nigel Kneale!
Or, if your preference is to be shaken up, morally unsettled, vaguely infected, I recommend Session 9.
But neither one of of those is, strictly speaking, supernatural. Neither is the original version of The Haunting, but that deserves a slot on your list for perennial Halloween viewing, too.
But since this is the year of Thriller (the DVD set came out August 31st), allow me to bust tradition by recommending a TV show. It's perfect for Halloween if you select the right episodes, like "The Grim Reaper" or "The Incredible Doktor Markesan."
Don't be left out: A THRILLER A DAY.
(I reserve the right to change this list every five minutes, as necessary, until the 31st. -- DJS)
Thanks, David... and Tom and Joe (x2). And remember, folks, tune in tomorrow for more movie picks by horror's finest!