Essential films for Halloween viewing

As the air grows colder and leaves change color, jack-o-lanterns begin to flicker on neighborhood porches and plastic skeletons creep behind the windows of houses. This can only mean one thing: Halloween is here.

Although the holiday will look different this year due to the global pandemic, we can still celebrate by turning out the lights, microwaving some popcorn and sitting in the glow of a scary movie. Here are some essential horror movies The Poly Post recommends students to watch this Halloween season.

“Halloween” (1978)

 John Carpenter’s suspense-filled masterpiece endures as not only the genesis of the slasher movie genre, but also as one of the finest horror films ever made. The plot is simple but effective: a maniac escapes from a mental institution 15 years after murdering his sister and returns to his hometown on Halloween night to continue his brutal murders.

Carpenter’s incredibly confident direction, combined with Dean Cundey’s gorgeous cinematography, takes viewers through a suburb that could be in any town in America. The film’s iconic score, composed by Carpenter himself, creates an incredibly unique mood of both dread and tension.

The performances of Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence and Nick Castle as Michael Myers allow the audience to engage with the narrative on a deeper level than the subsequent slasher movie imitations.

Even though it tells a simple story, the movie has an incredible level of depth and makes the audience think about the evil that could be lurking behind any corner of the sunny suburban worlds. The film was shot primarily in Pasadena, California and interested viewers can still see many of the shooting locations today.

“Trick ‘r Treat” (2007)

 Weaving together multiple stories set on Halloween night, this film is the ultimate tribute to the holiday. Every frame of director Michael Dougherty’s masterpiece is filled to the brim with Halloween decorations and evokes the holiday flawlessly.

The film’s iconic character, Sam, moves through the stories with his burlap sack mask, orange costume and jack-o-lantern lollipop while witnessing a myriad of different horror stories. This film has something to offer for everyone, but to say any more would be to spoil one of the best horror films of the 21st century.

“The Exorcist” (1973)

 Combining the documentary-inspired direction of William Friedkin with incredible performances by Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller and Max Von Sydow, this film is an astonishingly raw and emotional story that is more about the people than the supernatural.

While the plot of the film revolves around two priests trying to save the soul of a possessed girl, on a deeper emotional level, it explores themes like loss of innocence and faith. These priests and the girl’s mother must confront the fact that pure evil exists in this world and even the most innocent among us will not be spared its wrath. Almost 50 years later, the film still lives up to its titanic legacy and is an incredibly sobering look at the concept of pure evil.

 “Psycho” (1960)

 Janet Leigh, on the run from the law and running out of options, stops at a quiet little motel owned by Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates. The rest is cinema history.

Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic film is a watershed moment for the genre, bringing the horror out from the gothic castles of the classic era and firmly rooting it in our modern world. Six decades later, it is as fresh and surprising as the day it was released.

Perkins as Norman Bates is one of the most iconic performances in the history of cinema, with Perkins crafting a character that is enigmatic and incredibly sympathetic. A viewer unfamiliar with the film would be advised to see it as soon as possible without looking up anything about it because it is one of the finest pieces of cinematic suspense ever crafted.

 “Night of the Living Dead” (1968)

 George Romero’s directorial debut is still just as shocking and bone-chilling as when it was released over 50 years ago. The film created the modern zombie as we know it and was ominously ahead of its time when viewed through the lens of a modern viewer.

In the COVID-19 era, Romero’s story and its themes are chillingly relevant. The film is about an event and how the characters react to it. While the zombies outside are a constant threat, it is the characters’ lack of unity and inability to work together that gives the shambling monsters the upper hand.

The film’s shoestring budget provides it an air of reality, and the casting of African American actor Duane Jones as the proactive lead was almost unheard of at the time. The cinematography and shooting style evokes the news footage of both the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement that an audience of the late 60s would have been familiar with. In this way, the film looks and feels incredibly gritty and real. “Night of the Living Dead” is a timeless film that has endured 50 years after its release and will continue to endure for generations to come.

 “Universal Classic Monsters” films (1925-1956)

 Starting with “The Phantom of the Opera” in 1925 and continuing into the mid-50s, Universal Studios produced some of the most iconic and foundational horror movies in the history of the medium. Often based on classic literature, the brand provided incredibly rich stories with sympathetic monsters as the leads told with iconic performances and inimitable gothic atmospheres.

Some of the stand-out films from this era are “Frankenstein,” “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “The Wolf Man,” “The Invisible Man” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.”

These films starred incredibly talented actors like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr. and Claude Rains — all of whom brought incredible pathos to these now iconic characters.

To put it quite simply, the horror film genre would not exist today if it wasn’t for this era. Some of these films are almost 100 years old, and they are as effective now as they were to audiences at the time. Characters like Frankenstein’s monster, Count Dracula and the Wolf Man are not just movie monsters. They are representations and manifestations of much deeper, more shapeless and timeless archetypes that live within the collective consciousness and the soul of humanity.

Even though COVID-19 has changed the way the holiday will be celebrated this year, students can still get in the Halloween spirit with the help of these masterful films. So, turn out the lights, get a big bowl of popcorn and be prepared for scares.

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