It’s once again that time of the year: Tricks, treats, costumes, and of course, frights!
Every year ushers in AMC Network’s month of horror flicks, and Halloween night usually offers up some scary classics on various other channels up and down the dial as well. (ok, showing my age with the “up and down the dial” part…forgive me. WKRP anyone?)
Dating back to the days Hitchcock, and probably years prior, the horror film genre has seen its peaks and valleys in terms of both quality and popularity.
For the most part, I think the vast majority of horror films over the past 20 years or so have missed the mark. I’m not into systematic physical and mental torture in my horror films. I’m not looking for a sense of realism in my horror films. I don’t want to come away feeling like “that could happen to me!”
For me, fun horror films have always been an escape from realism. Spooky, frightening, and shocking? Yes. Realistic? Not one bit. When I was in high school, my buddies and I had a fun hobby of searching our local Mom & Pop video stores with the intent of out doing one and other in finding the most ludicrous B-List horror films. The list was impressive: The Toolbox Murders (repair man killer), Hauntedween (killer was some dude named Eddy, who wore a clown mask and drove a 1970 Dodge van), Iced (horror flick at a ski lodge of course), Slumber Party Massacre, Nail Gun Massacre, Blood-sucking Freaks, Terror Train, (all pretty self-explanatory).
Most of these silly films are known to few. The big four however, the titans of the industry if you will, who either debuted in the ’80s or certainly reached star status during this decade……we know them on a first name basis: Michael, Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface, aka, Junior.
Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. By horror movie standards, these were not low-budget films. Most of these franchises’ films were theatrical releases. In fact, counting sequels, prequels, and remakes, the four franchises to date have combined for a staggering 39 films. Hell, some might technically say 40 if you count Freddy vs. Jason for both respective franchises.
Though the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released four years prior, I’ve always considered John Carpenter’s Halloween to be the true granddaddy slasher film of them all. The one that inspired all entertaining horror films that followed. It may be the great slasher film of all time, yet you’ll find very little blood, a tame body count by today’s horror standards, and if you’re looking for torture devices and the like, you won’t find it in this film. What you will find are brilliant film shots, a fantastic musical score, and a healthy, heaping pot of fright. Its greatness wasn’t measured by how emotionally disturbed I felt, but rather how many times I had to shield my eyes in fear of when Michael, or as he was credited in the film, “The Shape,” was going to pop out and scare the bejesus out of me!
Since the original, the Halloween franchise has made 10 additional films. The most recent one is currently in theaters as I type. By all accounts, most critics and filmgoers are claiming it’s the best Halloween film since Carpenter’s 1978 classic. I’m very excited to see it when I get a chance.
As far as the other Halloween films are concerned, here’s my advice:
You should see: Halloween II (1981). Though Carpenter didn’t direct it, he co-wrote and produced it. It’s a worthy sequel, and underrated in my opinion. Also, Halloween H20 (1998). Jamie Lee Curtis’ first film since the ’81 sequel. This was a high-budgeted film fresh off the popularity of the Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer films that brought a popular resurgence to the horror/slasher film genre. It would have served as a great final chapter to the franchise, but alas they got greedy and kept going.
If it’s on t.v. and you’re bored: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988). Reasonable entertainment, but not as good as I or II.
If you just want a good laugh: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). The non-Michael Myers film. It’s awful, but fun. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about.
The don’t bother list: Halloween 5, Halloween 6, Halloween Resurrection, and either of the two Rob Zombie directed remakes.
Halloween spawned 11 films, but the record still belongs to Jason and those damn camp counselors, who over a near-30 period produced 12 feature films.
You should see: Films 1, 2, 3, and 4…..in order. The 4th installment was called The Final Chapter. If only!
If you’re bored and it’s on: Friday the 13th (2009). The first decade of the 2000s saw remakes for all four iconic franchises. Friday the 13th’s captured the spirit of the originals better than the other franchises’ remakes did. If you’re a fan, it’s worth the watch.
If you just want a good laugh: Freddy vs. Jason (2003). Stupid? Yes. Fun? Yes.
The don’t bother list: Everything else.
Had the franchise closed shop after the first 4 films it might be regarded as the best horror film franchise of all time. Problem is…..they just kept going! They dug up Jason’s bones and brought him back to life…..then they sent him to Manhattan….then to Hell….then to outer space (I’m not making this shit up!)
For what it’s worth, I know Jason will always be known for his hockey-masked-look, but I always found his look in Part 2 to be the most frightening:
To be continued………..
(In Frightful Four: Part Two I will break down A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchises. In addition, I want to delve into which individual frightful fellow is the scariest, and briefly mention a few other horror genre gems out there you may not be familiar with but should consider checking out)
Thanks for reading, and leave your night-light on!