Tuesday, October 26, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1949)


Next up we returned to Disney and returned to the village of Sleepy Hollow. Disney’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was made in 1949 as a short film, and packaged with the other, unrelated short film adaptation of “The Wind in the Willows,” and released together as one film, “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mister Toad.” In later years on television, they were shown separately—with Ichabod’s segment titled “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” For the purposes of our film series, I watched only the Ichabod portion, which clocks in under half an hour. 


Bing Crosby narrates—and sings--  this beautifully animated tale. While the songs are whimsical—“Katrina,” for instance—Disney does not, thankfully shy away from the spookier elements of the story, with the “Headless Horseman” song in which the ghost story is related to Ichabod, and culminating in the spectacularly animated conclusion of Ichabod riding home through the woods—and being chased by the Horseman himself. The animation is so detailed and wonderful—from the Horseman’s cemetery, through the woods, and over the bridge. The Horseman himself and his horse are fiendishly perfect.


Something I appreciate a great deal about this version, is while even the Horseman’s chase gets a little—well—cartoonish, they do not shy away from its ultimate conclusion, and in fact embrace the original story’s ambiguity as to Ichabod’s fate. Did he fall victim to the Horseman that night? Did he leave to start a new life? Is the Horseman a real ghost story or not? Disney leaves all of Irving’s original uncertainty—and becomes one of the best adaptations of the Horseman’s tale in the process.  

Monday, October 25, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “Halloween: H20” (1998)

   For the 31 Days of Scary Movies project, I tried not to repeat too many different types of movies, and was careful to avoid series. The “Halloween” films being the exception. With last weekend’s “Halloween Kills” having just been released this year, I wanted to at least revisit the original 1978 film, because I never wouldn’t at least once in October. And with the hype around the 2018 film and its now sequel, I wanted to revisit Jamie Lee Curtis’ original return to the franchise, in 1998’s “Halloween: H20.”

Set twenty years after the origial film, Halloween: H20 is, still for the Ghost, one of (if not the) strongest of the sequels. Right off the bat, it gets the look of Haddonfield right and matching the first film, with the late Dr. Sam Loomis’ house resembling most of the homes in the first film, as well as the iconic Meyers house. The opening montage— where Joseph Gordon Leavitt in celebrity cameo is dispatched as Meyers ransacks Loomis’ files clearly looking for information on Laurie Strode, does a tremendous job of explaining away the convolutions of the films that followed without Curtis, in which she was apparently killed in a car accident. Laurie has gone into hiding under a new identity, now teaching at a seculted private boarding school in California; in symmetry to the first film, that took place in Illinois but was filmed in California. Laurie teaches English and has a terrific scene with a class whiel she teaches Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” harkening back to when young Laurie discussed similar topics of fate in an English class during the first film.

In addition to the homages and call backs to other “Halloween” films, “H20’s” cup runs over with the inclusion of Curtis’ real life mother, Janet Leigh, in a small supporting role at the school. Immortal in horror film for her starring role in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” Jane Leigh’s call backs (dirivng home on Halloween in the car from Hitchcock’s film) are a delight, and seeing Curtis and her mother act together is such a gift from the horror gods. This film is also otherwise filled with 1990s nostalgia; including young heartthrob Josh Harnett as Laurie’s son, and Michelle Williams as his girlfriend. Comparisons are often made to the “Scream” films, as they were huge success in the 1990s; but aside from the celebrity making a cameo and quickly getting killed off in the film’s openings, the conparisons aren’t really there. Of course, Janet Leigh’s “Psycho” invented that, and the film seems to be having great fun with that.


This film also gets right Michael Meyers’ portrayal. In so many of the seuqels, he is often stalking random teenagers; but what “H20” reminds us, is that the “Halloween” films are at their strongest—and most tension filled— when he is stalking Laurie Strode, and she is fighting back. In this film we get Michael driving again as he does in 1978, and the way he is constantly coming toward Laurie is so affective, and something many horror films in more recent years have followed. Among my favorite things about this movie is Laurie and Michael’s final confrontation, that is no less powerful and empowering today as it was when first watched over twenty years ago. Also of note is John Ottoman’s score, that smartly uses much of Carpenter’s original music, and expands orchestrally on the basic themes for the perfect ambiance of a “Halloween” film.


For too many years, I have not included “H20” as necessary October viewing. We are going to change that going forward.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “Witch’s Night Out” (1978)

 It was time for “Witch’s Night Out,” yesterday night. The 1978 Canadian animated television special looms high in the haunted hearts of many children of the 70s, 80s and early 90s, when this was heavily played on TV. It was extremely formative for yours truly, and while in more recent years DVD releases and fanfare has seen this gem recognized, it still has not been given its just credit in my book.


The plot of the half hour special is simple, the animation zany and kooky, the theme song spooky and the voice talent brilliant. Led by Gilda Radner as the title witch—a Norma Desmond like character who has been forgotten by the world, no one connecting with the real magic and witches of Halloween anymore—the case also includes the great Catherine O’Hara (seen previously in the film project as the voice of the Frankenstein’s monster Sally from “A Nightmare Before Christmas) as the aptly named Malicious. Gilda’s witch is legendary, and her voice performance is absolutely a result of that. Her comedic timing, in just her voice work and adapted by the animators is something special, and always beautiful to watch. As her Witch gets her groove back, which consists of loosing her wand and finding it again, all while teaching everyone in town the true meaning of Halloween—that for one night a year you can embrace the darkness and be whatever you want—will never not be perfect.


I don’t know if there is a year I have been alive that I have not watched this, but among what stood out the most to me this viewing was, as always, just how detailed and beautiful Jonathan Rogers’ animation is. While some of the characters don’t have detail beyond colors (until they learn the meaning of Halloween and are transformed, that is), the scenery—the Witch’s abandoned haunted house, the woods, even the town—are so beautifully drawn and painted and an absolute love letter to all that is Halloween. Here’s to the true October classic, “Witch’s Night Out.”

Saturday, October 23, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “Sleepy Hollow” (1999)


While I have tried to be diverse about my selections for the film project, some names can’t help but show up multiple times. Some are just too essential to Halloween viewing to only make an appearance on one night. Director Tim Burton is one of those names, and he returned last night with his wildly October 1999 version of “Sleepy Hollow.” Starring Burton standard Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane and Christina Ricci as Katrina Von Taseel—with a wickedly beyond perfect performance by Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman—“Sleepy Hollow” is what is now quintessentially a Burton film, but one that stands all on its own.

  There is precious little in the film that is faithfully adapted from Washington Irving’s definitive American ghost story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Ichabod is not a school master but a detective from New York City, and there is no ambiguity over whether or not the Horseman is supernatural or Brom Bones playing a trick on Ichabod. But that is okay. This is a wild amalgamation of an American Halloween film—using Irving’s immortal ghost story as a jumping off point, this is part Halloween film filled with jack o’ lanterns and scarecrows, part mystery, part witch legend and part slasher film. The atmosphere of this film is dreamlike and brilliantly contained. The dreary October woods and Colonial villages are painstakingly recreated, and always a beautiful sight to take in. The Horseman himself is scary while being over the top but not too much so; in Walken’s few flashback scenes where he has his head, you know while watching them that no one else could play the Horseman like him. Depp is also spectacular, brilliantly modeling his detective Ichabod after Angela Lansbury’s “Murder She Wrote” character; a perfect choice for Ichabod as a detective, if there ever was one. Miranda Richardson is also wickedly wonderful in her role.

The physical horror here is also played up to a degree that Burton has rarely touched, but when he does he gets it perfectly right. The decapitations happen quick and furiously, and creates a world where at any moment the world turns still and the Horseman can charge out of the road, removing anyone’s head who is in his path. This effect could have misfired, but it is so effective and, truly, scary. Burton knows what he is doing, and uses blood the way the old Hammer horror films did; not constantly,  but when present shockingly over the top. Danny Elfman’s score for the film is also iconic, and used to great effect in this village of “Sleepy Hollow.” I have watched this version every October for many years, and will always continue to do so.

Friday, October 22, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “Halloween” (1978)

 I have watched a lot of “Halloween” films this October. But none have the spot on my list the original John Carpenter film from 1978 has. Last night, it was finally time to revisit the classic that launched a thousand horror films—and quite a few of its own sequels and reboots of its own. Much ink has been spilled over the discussion of the sequels to this film—but for all the debate over which sequels are the best, or even good, even though I enjoy many of the sequels (Halloween 2, H20, the 2018 film)—the first absolutely can, and often should, stand on its own. 


I have watched this film more than a dozen times, and will watch it more than a dozen more. Young Michael Meyers murders his teenaged sister in cold blood; is institutionalized for it, and breaks out years later to return home and terrorize his small town of Haddonfield, Illinois. For all the fear in the films that come after, nothing will ever be scarier than Meyers stalking Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie and her friends through the streets of Haddonfield on Halloween night. While the low budget film which became a mega smash hit was famously shot during the summer in California—with leaves on the trees and fake fallen leaves littering the ground—I can’t think of many other films that get the feel of Halloween night as right. While the main action with Laurie takes place on a lonely street between two houses, the tension and terror is genius, and not only holds up, but delivers every time. As someone who first saw this at home and much later at the theater, this is one of the best horror films to watch in a theater; no matter how many times you have seen in, there is nothing like the rush of an audience after Michael Meyers sits up behind Laurie’s back after she thinks she has killed him.


Things that struck me again watching, as always, is how good Donald Pleasance is in this as the doctor who tries to get the world to believe Michael is evil—only to be constantly dismissed. Also, especially with the more recent sequels, what stands out most powerfully about the original is how scary Meyers is as the unknown; all we know about him is what people see as he stalks and terrorizes him, and absent of any narratives telling us he is or is not supernatural, Laurie’s question to Loomis at the end, “Was that the Bogeyman?” lingers. We don’t know if Michael  I’m ok Meyers is the bogeyman, supernatural or not; we only know that he has terrorized us, and that he is still out there. And that is the way Michael Meyers should be.



Thursday, October 21, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “The Wolf Man” (1941)

  You didn’t think I wouldn’t go back to the Universal Monster movies this October, did you? I began the month with earlier Universal monster classics like Dracula, Frankenstein and his Bride; and now I watch my last official one of the project, with the star studded “The Wolf Man.” The film has a cast that reads like a who’s who of Universal Monster Movie stars. It of course has Lon Chaney Jr as the title role, but rounding out the cast in supporting roles are Bela Lugosi himself as the first Romani werewolf who passes down the curse, and also the Invisible Man himself Claude Rains as Chaney’s protective father. 

While all of the Universal movies have a special place in my haunted heart, this film is one of my favorites. That is true for many fans, and it is clear to see why. This is a tightly paced, involving and very watchable film with the terse runtime that most of the Universal films have. Coming in at under an hour and a half, it is easy to get drawn into Larry Talbot’s return to this small home town, and fall under the curse he falls into when he takes Gwen and her friend to have their fortunes told by Bela in the woods. Watching this again this year, the main thing that struck me was the romantic subplot with Gwen. Larry’s overtures to the engaged Gwen seem brazen and inappropriate by what is acceptable today, but while it would be easy to dismiss these as a product of their times, when judging the whole film, one can see that the discomfort was intended--- as everything that seems dangerous about Larry turns out to be true. Gwen’s attraction to him reads more like the complicated notes that horror characters like the Phantom of the Opera and Christine have, and their courtship is so complicated and so interesting.

 Chaney’s presence in and out of the wolfman makeup—which he wears only briefly in the film—help carry the film into horror history, and it is always a delight to watch. The supporting performances are great, as well—and how could they not be? An actor of Claude Rains talents brings so much depth to the family dynamics with Larry and his father, and while only in the film for a few scenes, Bela Lugosi as the Romani fortune teller Bela has his signature intoxicating presence as his Count Dracula—but with a fully formed and fleshed out character all his own. There is also so much atmosphere in here, with the Talbot manor, woods and Romani camps. “The Wolf Man” is, as every year, absolutely essential October viewing.




Wednesday, October 20, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “The Night of the Living Dead” (1968)

Up next on the film project was the immortal classic that launched a whole new horror film genre: George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” from 1968. This film is one I have watched for over a dozen Octobers; and it never gets old. For a 53 year old film—or any film, for that matter—this one holds up surprisingly well.

 “Night of the Living Dead” has one of the best horror film openings in history. The atmosphere starts appropriately macabre, desolate and creepy— we open in a black and white world, entering an empty cemetery. Brother and sister argue about having to drive for hours to lay flowers on their father’s grave for their mother; after they do, brother teases sister about being frightened by a lone man stumbling in the distance. “They’re coming to get you, Barbara,” he teases, and enters film history as he is quickly dispatched by the man, the living dead, leaving his sister to run in terror and take refuge in a house nearby.

 Every zombie film, novel, tv show and all around story anywhere that came after owes a debt to Romero’s film. By now in 2021, we have see this zombie survival genre so many times. “The Walking Dead,” in more recent years, became one of the most successful television show of all time using this formula. So much of what is popular horror is a commentary on the time. In 1819, Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein” and fear of modern innovation drove that to become one of the greatest horror novels ever written. In the 1890s, epidemics like cholera and syphilis—as well as a fear of the other—drove Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” to similar success. And in every era that the zombie film takes off, the timeless fear of becoming mindless slaves—to our society and lives—and the fear that it could all end in an apocalypse seems to strike such a nerve.

 Watching the film again, what struck me, in unison with how well this holds up, is how simple and well-constructed this film is. In 1968, this pushed the boundaries of acceptable taste; and while a modern audience might not think twice about how horrific it is to watch a woman learn that the crisis happening involves people eating other people, the modern audience is nonetheless horrified along with the characters, as the dramatic beats the horror film hits are so successful.

 Like so many films we’ve watched on the project, “Night of the Living Dead” is the perfect way to set the mood for Halloween, and get scared—all over again—that they are coming to get you.


Tuesday, October 19, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (1966)

 It was time for one of the lighter— though no less great— selections in the 31 Days of Halloween film project. “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” has become an American tradition. And it is easy to see why. The special, based on the characters and comic strip of “Peanuts” by Charles Schultz, is a half hour of endearing, wholesome festive fun for all the tricks and treats on Halloween. 

 The plot is simple. The “Peanuts” gang celebrate fall, and Halloween, and Linus celebrates the tradition he created— or did he— of writing to and waiting in the pumpkin patch on Halloween night for the great pumpkin. 

 Things that struck me while watching again. The animation style is on its own, and at its best in the nighttime scenes, where Charlie Brown trick or treats (and gets his rocks) and Linus waits with Sally in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin. The dark sky on Halloween night seems alive, and it’s a credit to the animators that it looks so good, a character unto itself. There is something like coming home to watching this special every year, and it was very welcomed, perfect, atmospheric shorter fare on an October night. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “The Blair Witch Project” (1999)

     hadn’t seen “The Blair Witch Project” in a great many years. In compiling the film list for this month, I wanted to cover the proper subjects—for example, vampires, ghosts and witches. When thinking of how I can more properly represent witches, the film occurred to me, and I wanted to see how it held up, given up how controversial it has been, going back all the way to 1999 when it was initially released.

 When I first saw the film I found it incredibly believable and scary. For most of my life, the idea of getting lost in the woods has always been especially scary to me, and a great deal of my appreciation for the film comes from that. Watching the film again after so many years, I was surprised at how well it holds up. The film from which countless found footage films (“Paranormal Activity,” “V/H/S,” for instance) have been birthed, “The Blair Witch Project” remains probably the most quality horror film the genre has to offer. For a found footage film, a surprising amount of work went into the script. The mythology that the writers—Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez—put into the script, creating urban legends around the story of the Blair Witch and the town of Burkitsville, Maryland, is extremely commendable, genuine, and it shows in how the marketing was able to take off initially, when so many believed the film to be a documentary of a true story. The stories—that possibly because of a local woman executed in the 1700s there are strange tragedies that happen in the town—seem very believable, and even simple; a group of hunters in the 19th century found murdered, a serial killer who targeted children in the 1940s.

 This film is both of its time and ahead of its time. Today, a film like “The Blair Witch Project” would never be able to have the success that it did. In 1999, the world didn’t carry around an instantly available Google in their pockets, and the whole conceit of fiction masquerading as truth would be easier to dispel, and quicker to dismiss. But still, this is a very strong film. Heather Donahue’s performance is incredible convincing and strong, and she goes through a journey of young person excited to research these legends and gain fame telling about them, through the horror of the film. This film is also, to its credit, so restrained. The single brief scene of blood, for instance, is never explained, and haunting simply because it’s unknown. The ending, too, is also excellently restrained, and because of its maturity in that, delivered a terse and powerful shock that catapulted this film into horror movie history.

I’m also intrigued by the different ways to read the film. It never occurred to me on my initial watches, but I am partial now to how ambiguous this is. While on the surface, the film is a horror story of a woman and her two male friends investigating urban legends and filming an amateur documentary, eventually getting lost and disappearing due to supernatural events caused by the Blair Witch, the film, also, can be viewed in a different kind of sinister light; there is not an instance in the film that can dispel the idea that Mike and Josh are doing this all themselves, to terrorize Heather. And that is as scary, if not scarier, than the supernatural happenings and ideas.

“The Blair Witch Project” is an incredible film, and have an even greater appreciation for it now. Also of note, in 2016 I saw the latest sequel, “Blair Witch” and found that absolutely worth watching, as well.


Sunday, October 17, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “Mad Monster Party?” (1967)

 After a weekend of Michael Meyers terrorizing teenagers and trick or treaters, and the ghostly manor of “The Others,” I decided last night to watch something different: 1967’s “Mad Monster Party?” This stop-motion animated musical film-length special was created by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr., the duo behind 1964’s “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and countless other stop motion animated Christmas specials.

Yes I had never seen, or really even known, about “Mad Monster Party?” until a few years ago, and last night was only my second time viewing this film. This movie is bonkers and charmingly spooky. The plot, which is equally crazy, involves Dr. Frankenstein, voiced by none other than Boris Karloff (who even sings!), who makes one last invention before he wants to retire, and calls all the monsters together on the tropical island he now apparently has to show them. Frankenstein’s Monster and his Bride (the Bride voiced by and modeled physically on Phyillis Diller), the Mummy, the Invisible Man, the Wolfman, Count Dracula, Mr. Hyde, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, a Peter Lorre inspired Igor character—even the Hunchback of Notre Dame are all here singing and dancing some absolutely insane numbers, absolutely and wonderfully dated by its late 1960s time.

 I don’t know if it’s possible to have nostalgia for something you never saw as a child, but I think that might apply here. All the nostalgia of and love for the Universal monster movies is on display here, and what is there not to love about Count Dracula, some zombies and Dr. Frankenstein grooving out to some musical numbers lovingly produced by clearly big fans of old school monster movies.

 I can’t help but see the influences this film had on Tim Burton. With his short film “Vincent” and major work “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” Burton clearly is following in the footsteps of the stop-motion animation Rankin-Bass made famous. And what a beautiful tradition it is. I am so glad to have found “Mad Monster Party?”… long will it be a required part of my October viewing.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: "Halloween Kills" (2021)

 Tonight, we did something different for the film project. The Ghost and the Witch got together and watched the brand new “Halloween Kills,” the sequel to 2018’s David Gordon Green sequel/reboot of John Carpenter’s immortal classic “Halloween” from 1978. I was a huge fan of the 2018 film, and watched it as part of our film series in preparation just a few nights ago. And so the Ghost was super excited to see what the sequel would be like. What could be better than a new, Jamie Lee Curtis led Halloween film in October?

 “Halloween Kills,” was such a mixed bag. There are portions of it that are amazing and justify the film’s existence, but there are other parts—that ending—that make me wonder if this shouldn’t have been simply the 2018 film and not a whole trilogy. A warning for a newer film, I don’t plan to discuss all out spoilers, but will discuss plot points that some may considered spoiler territory.

 The high point for the film for me was the opening flash back to the very ending of the 1978 film. These events are newly created for these new films, but the feeling, atmosphere and the look of the film are amazingly believable as part of the 1978 film. The actor who briefly plays Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis is amazing; we thought it had to be some kind of computer-generated trick. I also loved the flashback’s concluding shot and call back to the film’s opening.

The other good here come from the sequences early on; any scene Jamie Lee Curtis touches is fantastic, and while her character is in the hospital recovering from her injuries of the first film and she can’t believably run around as much, the side lining of her in the film nonetheless hurts the movie as a whole. It’s fantastic to see Kyle Richards back as Lindsey; her sequences in the film are great, and help justify its existence. While Brian Andrews unfortunately couldn’t play Tommy Doyle, I actually loved the casting of Anthony Michael Hall as Tommy, and thought he was used interestingly in the film. Other good comes from some of the jokes this movie has; noticeably dialed back from 2018, the humor in here—such as the kids running around on Halloween night stealing candy and unphased by Michael Meyers or the gay couple that has rehabbed the Meyers house—is organic and good.


What I didn’t like so much about the film was the ending. The last sequences are very weak, and commit the sin so many of the mid-franchise sequels did, in explaining too much about Michael, and taking the mystery away from him. Without his mystery Michael is so much less scary, and the very last shots of the film don’t even seem to be from the same movie.

Is “Halloween Kills” woth watching? Absolutely. It is far from my favorite of the franchise, however, and I do think that the 2018 film maybe should have been left to stand on its own.

Friday, October 15, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “The Others” (2001)

 Last night I visited with what is without question one of the modern era’s greatest contributions to scary movies: Alejandro Amenebar’s 2001 Nicole Kidman led ghost story “The Others.”

 This is a great film, and I don’t think you can set the mood for October better than you can with this film. The desolate mansions in the Welsh countryside, the lone graves, what lies in weight in that creepy old house, the music—all incredible. The script is fantastic, and so smart, and led by a cast of brilliant actors, with the great Nicole Kidman delivering one of her best performances as a woman trying to keep her children safe on her own after the war. The young actress Alakina Mann is also incredible beyond her years as Kidman’s daughter Anne, who’s performance has such wicked sass, and biting comedic timing.

Like other films we’ve visited this October, “The Others” has plot developments that stand on their own—and even deepen—upon repeated viewings. This script is so tight, with not a word or scene or dark corner wasted. Rounding out the great cast is Fionnula Flanagan as Bertha Mills, one of the new old servants who come to the aid of the house. The character work her between Kidman, her children, and the servants who show up one day to help is so good on, on so many levels.

Good ghost stories are hard to come by. They have been told for time immemorial, and rarely does a great modern work like “The Others,” come along. This film is absolutely one I have watched countless Octobers, and will watch countless more.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)

 What is there to say about Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” that hasn’t been said? Of course I would watch it as part of my 31 Days of Scary movies. The Disney film has become such a cultural touchstone and juggernaut that it has become synonymous with the holiday it was created to celebrate. Tim Burton has famously said that he took inspiration from the film when he was Halloween merchandise in a store being mixed with Christmas merchandise; and the story that image sparked has become the ultimate love letter to Halloween. 

The characters, created to represent so many of our spooky greats—the skeleton, the Frankenstein’s monster, the trick or treaters, the boogey man—are used in such brilliant, character driven ways. It is no wonder that the film has become immortal and holds such a special place for people. There isn’t a limit to how many times I can watch skeleton Pumpkin King Jack Skellington become disenchanted with his holiday and life, and wonder if there isn’t something more—and watch as he goes along on his journey to find what he was looking for was all in front of him the whole time. On their own, Danny Elfman’s score and songs are brilliant. With so many Disney movies having been turned into Broadway shows—especially ones that needed more songs to be stretched out to a full length musical—it’s always astounding to me that this has not yet been, with its perfect songs and score that are already the length of a full size musical. Not to mention even, the boundless creative opportunities to bring these characters to life. And, perhaps most of all, such a show can be popularly run throughout the Halloween and Christmas seasons.

 This time, as always, I was struck at the versatility of Catherine O’Hara in her multiple roles in this film—and how good her take on Sally, the film’s Frankenstein’s monster is. I love that she is finding new scores of fans from her work on TV series “Schitt’s Creek.” 

 “A Nightmare Before Christmas” will always be the right nightmare to have on Halloween, and before the Christmas season.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “Pet Semetery” (1989)

 Last night was—finally—time to watch a film from the King’s of horror body of work. I wanted to chose more films based on his fiction—IT? Part 1 or 2 or both?—but ultimately decided on 1989’s “Pet Semetery.”

The novel by Stephen King is honestly one of the scariest I have ever read. The subject matter in here is disturbing, and there is so much in here that is personally among the most disturbing a tale you could tell- the deaths of close family members, the loss of a pet—and the 1989 film version, directed by Mary Lambert, plays that up to great horror movie success. There is so much good in here, most notably Fred Gwyne as neighbor Jud Crandall. The cat, Church, is also so good, and even by modern standards, it is hard to tell when the cat is a real cat and when it is an animatronic.

It had been many years since I’ve seen this film—though I did see the 2019 film when it was released—and it struck me how solid the performances are all around. Dale Midkiff as the father, especially, does so much to sell this story. In the wrong hands—script and acting wise—and story like would be easy to become off putting to the point of stopping the film. But when the characters who are put through such misery and awful situations are as good and relatable as they are here, we force ourselves to stay along for the horrific ride with them, as they good into horror explored in such pieces as “Frankenstein” and countless zombie tales, but do so in a revolutionary, and more personal, way.

As a horror film, you can’t get scarier than “Pet Semetery.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “The Haunting” (1963)

     Tonight, I visited a newer friend in the autumnal film rotation: 1963’s “The Haunting.” I had read Shirley Jackson’s novel, “The Haunting of Hill House,” and loved that for years, and even seen the 1990s version with Liam Neeson. I had even seen Mike Flanagan’s 2018 miniseries “The Haunting of Hill House”—which, while being wildly inventive with the elements of the novel, I adored. But last year. After reading Jackson’s novel again for Halloween, I decided to finally watch the 1963 film version. I could not believe it took me so many years. 

 “The Haunting” is a wildly successful, and daring film, which is shockingly faithful to Jackson’s novel. Working from a screenplay by Nelson Gidding, director Robert Wise, just a handful of years before he’d go on to direct “The Sound of Music,” created an immortal classic film based on Jackson’s story. The atmosphere is excellent—creepy, Theremin drenched horror film music, and beautiful old haunted house sets only add to the real fear, and equally real human and psychological drama. The cast is phenomenal, anchored by Julie Harris as Nell and Clare Bloom as Theo. Both understood their assignments beautifully, and have great chemistry together.

 Wise’s film, too, seems at once of its time and before its time. The black and white photography, the music, all scream the early 1960s—but so much of what is discussed, hinted at and even shown seems appropriately transgressive for Jackson’s work. Jackson herself apparently had mixed views on the film, stating publicly that she found it terrifying, but privately didn’t appreciate some of the editing of the script. The script is incredibly faithful, thought; not shying away from implying things like Theo’s lesbianism, which is also heavily implied in the novel. The murkiness between whether Nell is imagining things or if Hill House is truly haunted is also beautifully explored in the movie, giving proper room for all possibilities to breathe.

 One of my favorite things, of so much, in the film is actor Rosalie Crutchley’s performance as Mrs. Dudley. An accomplished stage actor who most famously appeared as Madame Defarge in the 1958 version of “A Tale of Two Cities,” Crutchley plays Dudley, deliciously, delivering lines about how in the night, the town being too far away, no one will be around to hear them scream “… in the night… in the dark.” While even the film has a few nervous laughs at her character, her performance is so good that it still manages to be one of the creepiest moments in the film. 

If you have not seen this film—or if it has been a while—do yourself a favor and revisit “The Haunting” this Halloween.