Growing up, Halloween was always my favorite holiday. I loved everything about the season—the crisp weather, the leaves crunching underfoot, the spicy scents in the air, making costumes, carving pumpkins, eating gingersnaps and candy apples—but mostly, I loved the thrill of being scared. This is a strange human compulsion; why on earth do we enjoy feeling chills run down our spine, imagining someone watching us through our windows, wondering if a bogeyman is lying in wait under our beds? In any other context, these thoughts would be horrifying, but at Halloween, we get to revel in the dark side of human existence without succumbing to it. As a society, it’s cathartic to acknowledge that evil exists in many forms, but on this one night of the year, we can ward it off with nothing more than jack-o-lanterns, scary masks, and the vestiges of some pretty cool pagan rituals.
As a huge Halloween buff, there are certain movies that my husband and I must watch every year. Here are my five can’t-miss Halloween movies:
The Silence of the Lambs—There have already been discussions on this blog about why Hannibal Lecter is the best villain ever. The thing that always amazes me when I watch this film is how much I like and respect Hannibal, even though the movie doesn’t shy away from depicting him as truly evil and grotesque. The scene where he escapes from his giant cage, leaving a guard disemboweled and strung up against the cage is, to me, one of the most horrifying scenes in cinema. And Clarice Starling embodies everything I admire in a heroine: intelligence, vulnerability, strength, integrity. And can anyone listen to the song “American Girl” and not think of that scene? I could go on.
Psycho—Here’s another great example of a villain who’s both sympathetic and repugnant. My favorite anecdote about this movie is that Hitchcock would not let people into the theaters late because he was afraid they would miss out on the scenes that establish Janet Leigh as the protagonist, making it far less shocking when she is killed off a third of the way through the movie!!! The audience must have been standing in the aisles screaming, “Wait a minute! Can he do that?” Then there’s the brilliant Bernard Hermann score and, of course, the infamous shower scene. Who would have thought that chocolate syrup shot in black and white film would look remarkably like blood?
Halloween—I think the aspect that freaks me out most about this movie is that Michael Myers seems so real. There are a lot of truly sick people in the world, and the psychological history established for Michael makes for a very plausible villain, aside from the fact that it’s almost impossible to kill him. The scene where Jamie Lee Curtis is up in her bedroom looking out at laundry hanging on the line and suddenly she sees his face, then looks back and he’s gone? Chills me to the bone every time. And that eerie piano score? I can’t listen to a measure without getting goose bumps. (Fun trivia: It might be urban legend, but supposedly the mask worn by Michael Myers was actually molded from William Shatner’s face. No, Captain Kirk, nooooooooo!)
Night of the Living Dead— Zombie movies by their nature are relentless, and I think this movie does relentless best. The sense of menace and dread created is so palpable, and the pace so brisk that you never have time to breathe. It’s also proof that low budget does not mean low quality. Also, that ending? Shocking! I can’t believe the editors didn’t cop out and go for a softer resolution.
Shaun of the Dead—At the end of a grueling horror marathon, who isn’t up for a little macabre fun with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost? This is one of the best parodies of a genre film I’ve seen. As hilarious as the movie is, there are some genuine scares to be had along with the laughs. Watch for the scene outside the Winchester’s front window. You’ll know it when you see it!
What are your must-see Halloween flicks?
Eve Marie Mont is the author of A Breath of Eyre (Kensington/KTeen, March 2012), the first in a trilogy about a girl who gets lost, literally, in her favorite books. Please stop by her website for more info, news, and updates.