The Halloween season is an excuse to dress up and snack on some junk food. But it’s also a great time to binge some good scary movies on a dark October evening. Even though there are new films on the hot plate, it’s always fun to reheat the classics and maybe even catch some flicks you haven’t seen before.
Whether it’s a mad surgeon obsessed with brains or creatures that hide in the shadows, the Warner Archive Collection has all the tricks and treats to make your Halloween movie-watching time lively.
An admirable quality about Warner Archive is they don’t give into the pressure of decorating their releases with all the accoutrements like other home distributors. Sometimes it’s just nice to shut up and play the hits.
Here are five titles that come from all areas of horror that are worth spinning on disc in time for Halloween:
From Beyond the Grave
Normally, I am not one for horror anthologies. I tend to like a few stories here and there within, but I haven’t seen too many that are good from cover to cover and have a strong narrative thread to hold it all together.
Well, that was before 1973’s From Beyond the Grave.
I walked into this one merely as a fan of horror legends Donald Pleasence, Peter Cushing and David Warner. That’s all I needed to know. Then I watched the film. I was genuinely shocked at how compelling it was from story to story (and there are four and an epilogue). Each chapter has its thrills, originality and notable characters. Nothing is disposable.
Watching David Warner go mad by being puppeteered by a ghost and Donald Pleasance hide his sinister intentions up his sleeves contribute to shaping a film that should be a Halloween classic. Don’t let it collect dust. It deserves your attention.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Also from the year 1973, the original Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is something to be creeped out by.
Before filmmaker Guillermo del Toro got his hands on the material and remade it in 2010 with Katie Holmes and modern computer effects, the original story used practical effects and tapped in a fear that we all have when we’re home alone: What if something is lurking in the shadows?
Rather than overwhelm with exposition, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark leaves just enough backstory on the screen for audiences to sink their teeth into. It’s simply about dark-dwelling creatures that hunt for new souls to bring down to the depths of a two-story Victorian mansion. They latch onto a housewife (an excellent Kim Darby) whose husband (Jim Hutton) believes she is neurotic, making it easier for these little monsters to taunt her.
The central character’s constant questioning of her sanity gives the film some serious pull, which is only supported by the chilling creatures themselves. The supernatural dwarves aren’t revealed too soon, either, like the remake. The film takes its time to properly build the tension, only allowing the creatures’ low-toned voices to do the dirty work. Once they finally appear, their strange movement (almost claymation-like) will have you grinding your teeth down to your gums.
For a made-for-TV movie, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark gives you plenty enough reason to sleep with the light on.
After the success of the original Halloween and Friday the 13th, tons of copycat slashers chased their low-budget thrills. One such film was 1981’s Night School, about a mysterious biker who takes heads as souvenirs.
At this point in horror movie history, we may know where to anticipate all the twists and turns. Any sign of misdirection, you should know that nothing is what it seems. However, while one may be able to predict the movements, the bloody acts themselves will get under your skin.
There’s one killing sequence in particular that almost made me lose my lunch, and it involves a decapitation, a restaurant stew bucket and two regulars eating it. How the film plays with your expectations in that sequence is one of the film’s disturbing highlights.
Another key moment happens in the final frames. Without giving away the conclusion, let’s just say the film has this serious tone throughout (save for a few jokes about how a character likes their eggs and another person’s appearance) and, out of nowhere, Night School nose-dives into comedy. It’s a tonal shift so baffling that it must be seen.
The Man With Two Brains (1983)
Horror doesn’t need to be hardcore to be enjoyed. So, if you want something lighter, 1983’s The Man With Two Brains is a fair direction to go in. It’s not Steve Martin’s best work, nor does it completely qualify as horror. It’s a wacky comedy with horror overtones.
Martin plays a neurosurgeon named Dr. Hfuhruhurr. He has brains on his mind and a “devil woman” wife (Kathleen Turner) who is getting in the way of his desires. Dr. Hfuhruhurr falls in love with a brain in a lab jar (voiced by Sissy Spacek). Thus sparks a movie that is a mad scientist spoof (akin to Weird Science) and a Marx Brothers tribute rolled into one.
The Man With Two Brains is complete nonsense of the best kind. There is a charm to its stupidity, and there are quotes that will float around your noggin for some time to come. (“Get that cat out of here!”)
1993’s Body Snatchers is a crazy experiment. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was into it. It begins as this soft reboot of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but fit for the grunge age. It has this rock star, don’t-care attitude about it that’s a bit off-putting. One would think that the film would start with chaos and continue down the road until impact. However, it attempts to conjure up a mystery like the original film.
But then there’s a twist to the story that gives it a life of its own.
Body Snatchers, starring Gabrielle Anwar and Terry Kinney, finally lives up to its title. Instead of just invading a body (which the alien species still does), it also takes a page out of Alien’s book. The extraterrestrial forms penetrate their victims and replicate them to create a whole new being of mayhem. Scenes of watching an alien incubator use tentacles to access the insides of a person is frightening to see. No words could do it justice. It’s a wild movie that is saved by its deranged second half.
To purchase any of the above titles or other horror movies (1958’s Horror of Dracula is a good option, too), visit www.wbshop.com/collections/warner-archive.