It's Halloween! That means it's time to watch a bunch of Horror movies as you drink alone in your best Snake Plissken costume while trying not to cry...what, just me? In what's becoming a Crushed Celluloid tradition (in that I also did this last year), here are a few mostly lesser known Horror films you can check out this Halloween that I happen to be a big fan of. These are just straightforward recommendations instead of categorized sub-genres in place of the old favorites like last year, because ain't nobody got time for that mess. I hope you give these films a try and find something new to give you the Willies in your dimly lit, sparsely furnished one bedroom apartment as you try to keep the soul crushing loneliness at bay...still just me? Fine, watch these to have fun, or whatever. All of these films are available on Amazon in some form or another, but most can be streamed.
This film from Peter Walker, also responsible for films like Schizo, The Comeback, and House of the Long Shadows (the only film to feature Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and John Carradine), is a gem from the 70s Euro-Horror era that popped up on my radar recently. It's about an old married couple newly released from an asylum after 15 years for murder and cannibalism. We slowly discover the varying levels of madness in their family as the husband tried to protect his hungry and murderous wife and their older daughter tried to hide the truth about their parents from the younger daughter, who might be a chip off the old cannibalistic block. The family dynamic is both emotional and frightening, with a hazy aesthetic and a penchant for punctuated gore that gives the film a classic Horror atmosphere with a 70s Horror body count.
Frightmare actually really creeped me out because it contains one of the things that scare me most, crazed old ladies. This semi-trope has scared the shit out of me since I was a kid and saw the Are You Afraid of the Dark episode “The Tale of Apartment 214” in which an old lady reveals herself to be a ghost after a teenage girl breaks a promise to come visit her on a certain day, which turns out the be the day that she died. Ever since then any menacing old ladies, even silly ones like Alex Winter as his own grandmother in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey or the Troma release Rabid Grannies, make my skin crawl. In this regard Sheila Keith, who plays matriarchal cannibal Dorothy Yates, makes a superb Horror villain whose quiet and kind demeanor can turn into a wide-eyed savagery on the drop of a dime. There are some images from this film that will probably haunt my old lady nightmares for years to come. Don't you want to get in on that fun?
Basket Case (1982)
From writer/director Frank Henenlotter, who also did Frankenhooker and Brain Damage (which would make a killer triple feature together), comes perhaps the most important question in horror movie history, “What's in the basket?”. Basket Case is the perfect mix of body horror and camp, without leaning to heavily to either side, although it spawned two much sillier sequels. While not as good, they swing for the ridiculous fences and are still totally worth checking out, if for nothing else but this little number. Basket Case is one hell of a fun ride and a great representation of dirty early 80s horror that lands somewhere in between Maniac and C.H.U.D.
Duane Bradley arrives in New York with a large roll of cash, a golley-gee-whiz attitude, and a large wicker basket containing his deformed Siamese-twin brother Belial. Belial is out for revenge against the doctors that separated the two against their will and uses his psychic link with Duane to help him do his bidding. When Duane meets a woman and starts wanting to have a normal life, it enrages Belial and leads to some grotesque imagery that's as disturbing as it is entertaining. Shot on a miniscule budget with a tiny crew, Basket Case is a feat of passion and creativity that Henenlotter would continue to employ throughout his career. While he knows how to build tension and create unease, he does so with his tongue planted firmly in cheek, finding just the right balance of comedy and horror that make his films infinitely watchable. The creature effects definitely steal the show here, but the charm of the actors and the distinct visual style lay down a solid foundation for these effects to shine, keeping it in the realm of must-see cult movie. I really love some of Henenlotter's films, but this one is still my favorite and a great way to introduce yourself to his talents.
Street Trash (1987) and Slime City (1988)
I'm recommending these two together because they would make for a great double feature and are rather similar in nature. They both have the same look and feel being set in late 80s New York, really gross and fun special effects utilizing some of the same makeup artists, and have plenty of colorful melting people goodness. What more could you ask for? The stories are vastly different, but neither story really matters that much as these are films to watch for the buckets of blood, goo, and slime thrown at the screen. These films are certainly not masterpieces and could easily be considered offensive by some, but dammit if they aren't fun to watch.
Street Trash is one of the rare films told from the perspective of the homeless population and their day to day lives. Of course, this view contains a lot of cliches and paints most of them in a negative light (this is an exploitation movie, after all), but it's still worth mentioning. A liquor store owner finds a case of booze (called Viper) that was stashed away behind a wall for who knows how long and decides to sell the dusty liquid to his homeless customers for a buck. It turns out this booze causes the drinker to melt from the inside out. While the characters we meet are confronted with this seemingly unavoidable danger, there's also the story of two young brothers and all the unstable folks they are forced to live beside in the local junkyard. The movie is mainly an excuse for some impressive gore effects, but manages to toss in enough nudity, violence, and overacting to make any B-movie enthusiast perk up in their seats.
Slime City is a much more intimate film with a much smaller scope, mainly set in an old tenement building. College student Alex moves in and begins to friend some of his neighbors. After being fed a strange green goo (They said it was Himalayan yogurt!) and an equally strange green liquid (booze guaranteed to fuck you up!), Alex starts seeing visions, becoming all slimey and melty every so often. When this happens, the only cure to keep the slime at bay is to kill, which he does in the form of taking out members of the homeless and hooker populations. It turn out that his neighbors are dealing with the same affliction as they are actually possessed by the spirits of crazy cult followers that killed themselves in the basement years ago. Alex is being prepped to be possessed by their leader and completing their nefarious plan. Once again, the story is less important than the special effects they bring about and the crazy finale that is sure to churn your stomach with its gallons of yellow and green goo. I recommend these two films if you feel like getting dirty or just need to find an excuse to take a shower.
OK, obviously this one is a given and a little out of place on this list, but I just watched it again and it's pretty much a perfect movie. It didn't start the slasher genre, but it certainly raised the genre's profile and showed what it was capable of. There's a reason it still stands out next to the rest of John Carpenter's impressive filmography, it's the little indie that could and it is masterful. On a $300,000 budget with constant limitations imposed on it, it became a phenomenon that helped pave the way for the likes of Freddy and Jason. The pacing and suspense are handled expertly and I can't think of a single moment the film could do without. The film succeeded in producing true fear from its cold, expressionless killer that would go on to become a horror icon. The cast is amazing and that score! The score opens the film and immediately becomes a frightening experience.
Look, I could gush about this movie all day, but I'm sure you know all this and have probably seen it before. Just do yourself a favor and give it another watch, even if you've seen it a hundred times. It never disappoints and what better film to watch on this lovely holiday than the one that took its name from it? I hope you have a spooktacular Halloween and give some of these movies a nice warm home inside your eye holes. Now...where did I put my eye patch?