Halloween is right around the corner and everyone is going to be tuning into whatever channel has the spookiest films, whether it by AMC’s Fear Fest or whatever marathon Chiller may be running. Even though they may be edited and diluted to the point where they barely resemble what film they are supposed to be, we still watch them. I remember catching all the Halloween or Friday the 13th marathons on USA as a kid. I also remember a time when horror was made specifically for television and these weren’t no watered down version neither. Although they may not be bloody (which is fine, because horror doesn’t mean blood), these films hit where it counts the most; they were pretty frightening.
Yeah, believe it or not, there was a time when the horror films on TV were scarier than most coming out in theaters. We would gather around the boob tube and watch the Sunday Night “Family” Movie on our local stations and our parents were perfectly fine with it. In fact, they sat down with us to watch it. So, if you’re looking for something you can watch with the little ones or your whole family, but still get the willies scared out of you, here’s a little list of recommendations based on my own viewing opinions.
Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
Boy, do I remember this one. I remember seeing it around Halloween time when I was a kid and taping it off TV, showing it to my friends and one of their parents get pissed off at me for showing it to them. It’s not a bloody or intensely violent film, but it does have quite a few scares and a creepy scarecrow for a horror film on TV. Larry Drake – better known to some of you as “the bad guy from Darkman“ – plays Bubba, a mentally challenged man who plays with a little girl, which the townsfolk don’t take to kindly to. When she is mauled by a dog, they form a lynch mob and go hunting for Bubba, who is hiding in a scarecrow costume in the middle of a field. They murder him and later find that Bubba saved the little girl from the dog. Soon after, that same scarecrow pops up in his murderer’s fields or yards and bad things happen. Like I said, for being an 80’s TV movie horror movie, this one delivers some genuine creepiness.
Salem’s Lot (1979)
Ok, so let’s just get a Stephen King flick out of the way, since if I don’t include one I will never hear the end of it. Truth is, I’m not a huge fan of his works that are turned into movies. I know, blasphemy. They all have the same cliches, you could make a drinking game out of it and the endings hardly pay off and are quite silly. However, I did really enjoy Salem’s Lot and it’s directed by Tobe Hooper. The plot at its core is simple; a writer returns home and finds that everyone is disappearing or turning into vampires. I give a lot of credit to this one for creating genuine mood and suspense. There are a lot of shots that are seemingly dark and something could be hiding in the shadows and the use of fog is really good here. You also don’t see the vampire until about halfway through and when you do, it’s such a nightmarish face that you’ll never forget it.
The Night Stalker (1972)
Another vampire flick, but this is a really great one that I think everyone needs to check out. Darren McGavin plays Kolchak, an investigative reporter in Las Vegas who is beginning to suspect that a serial killer is a vampire. It doesn’t end there, as the film throws some drama at you. Kolchak is threatened to be charged with first degree murder unless he leaves Las Vegas and his girlfriend winds up missing. Are the two things connected? Watch to find out.
There are people that really love Duel, citing that it’s suspenseful and exciting and then there are those that think it’s boring and it’s basically Dennis Weaver driving in a car for 90 minutes. I can see both sides of the argument, however I do enjoy the film. As I said, you could see it as a film about Dennis Weaver driving around, but why is he driving? Because he is being chased by an unknown person in a tractor trailer bullying him on the road. At first, it’s kind of a dick move, but then it gradually gets more and more violent and life threatening and he has to take drastic measures to survive. Sure, he does some stupid things, like not call the cops, but then the movie would be over. It’s also one of director Steven Spielberg’s earliest films.
Trilogy of Terror (1975)
Ah, back when ABCs Movie of the Week actually showed good movies. As the title implies, there are three films, but the interesting little gimmick about this is that the late Karen Black plays the leads in all of the stories. Each title has the name of the different character she is playing and for playing three roles, she does an amazing job. In fact, it’s probably one of the roles she is better known for. It’s an interesting anthology you may want to check out.
Body Bags (1993)
This is a cool little collaboration between horror masters John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper. It’s another trilogy, but each segment is filled with random guest cameos, like Sam and Ted Raimi or even Wes Craven. The cast is absolute stellar, with Stacey Keach in a segment where he receives a hair transplant that is actually an alien parasite, Mark Hamill as a baseball player who loses his eye and gets a transplant (boy, they sure loved their transplants) and starts to assume the identity of the eye’s previous owner who was a murderous misogynist and Robert Carradine as a serial killer. What’s great is Hooper and Carpenter play these weird morgue workers in the wrap around segments. It’s a lot of fun.
The Day After (1983)
You may argue that this is not traditional horror, but any film that graphically and unnervingly deals with the devastating effects of a nuclear holocaust is absolutely a horror film to me. That shit is horrific. If that wasn’t horrific enough, the film features Steve Guttenberg, although his performance here is really well done. This film was so well done that when it originally aired, more than 100 million people tuned in to view, making the highest rated television film in history. I would love to tell you more about the film, but the shivers I get from this film at how this event is depicted is enough to not tell you. The final shot is chilling and leaves you thinking of a dark and hopeless future. Happy Halloween!