“The Night He Came Home” is sadly not the slogan for my love life but it is the slogan to a slasher film that I love very much – John Carpenter’s immortal classic Halloween.
I’d love to say that my love for Halloween goes back to my childhood, but I actually spent most of my youth terrified of horror films. See, despite being an only child, I was actually blessed – and I use the term loosely here – with having surrogate older brothers in the form of my mom’s youngest siblings. She is the oldest of six children, and her two youngest brothers are only seven and nine years older than me, respectively. So as you can imagine I was picked on, teased and tortured by them a lot as a kid. Thankfully, one of those torments would actually turn into an obsession in my adult life – my love of classic 70s, 80s and even some 90s horror movies.
My first memory of Halloween goes back to when I was about seven or eight. The first movie I was actually introduced to was one of the least successful in the series, Halloween: The Revenge of Michael Myers. I remember my mom’s youngest brother used to pirate videos by a method that is crude and would probably seem too complicated by today’s standards as it wasn’t as simple as downloading it off the internet to stream to your TV. He used to play the movie on one VCR and record it onto another VHS through a second VCR. It was during one such recording that I caught a glimpse of a serial killer with a blank, emotionless mask killing anyone who gets in his way of finding his niece, who just happened to be the same age as me. It was scary stuff. I mean, I had repeat nightmares until I was 11.
So in my teen years I chickened out whenever a horror movie was suggested for viewing by my friends. Though, I did cave and watch a few, such as Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer and The Blair Witch Project, it took a lot of convincing and prodding to get me to agree.
I remember the turning point from fear to curiosity and elation came when I was researching the Halloween movie series on the Internet. I was sitting at my laptop, looking through a website devoted to the series and reading the general synopses of each film. And it unnerved me even then. I kept looking over my shoulder and felt on edge. Oh, and this was in broad daylight for the record. So I decided to go out to HMV, pick it up on DVD and then proceeded to watch it. Again, it was broad daylight because I couldn’t handle the pressure of watching it alone in the dark. I sat close to the TV and on the edge of my chair during the whole movie, which seems ridiculous in hindsight as the movie isn’t so much scary as it is eerily creepy.
But I think that’s what made it so effective. It wasn’t about showing you blood, guts and gore or even about instantly gratifying you. It was about the slow burn and terror of being stalked without notice and then fighting for your life against a merciless killer.
So why do I love these, and other classic horror films, you might ask? Well it’s simple. Most of these classics were made with a labour of love. There was a certain nuance to the storytelling method. For budgetary and technological reasons these films couldn’t show you everything so they relied on longer, wider, and unique camera angles and techniques to unnerve you. Not to mention the always eery scores that undercut the scenes that let you know when terror was lurking or when an unsuspecting person was about to meet their end.
The reality is they simply don’t make them like they used to.
So now that October is coming to a close, the air has gotten chillier and the nights have gotten longer I invite you to stay inside, draw your curtains and get in the mood of the Autumn season by watching a few classics of the Horror genre and enjoy the Halloween season.
Below is a list of some of my favourite horror movies that you should check out – if you dare.
1. John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978)
A silent, masked serial killer stalks babysitters on Halloween night. This is THE quintessential horror film that spawned not only several sequels but started the 80s Slasher craze. A lot of horror movie tropes began with this film that you will see imitated and not quite duplicated in several of the rip offs that came out since it’s debut. John Carpenter’s creepy score and wide camera angles that reveal Michael is in the corner of the room with you and you don’t even known it are definitely a huge part of the eerie factor of the first movie.
2. John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980)
Another John Carpenter classic. Though, admittedly, this one is more of a cult classic. In the tradition of old maritime ghost stories, this one centres around the coastal town of Antonio Bay who experiences strange occurrences when a deadly Fog rolls into town during its centennial celebrations. What’s hiding in the Fog? Just watch and find out. This movie has a lot of the same iconic camera techniques of Halloween, but is a little more jumpy and has a faster pace.
3. Friday the 13th (1980)
The first in a long series of movies about Jason Voorhees, the young boy who supposedly drowned at Summer camp because the camp counsellors weren’t paying enough attention (Hint: They were too busy getting busy). The first one is classic and unique in that Jason isn’t actually the main killer as in most sequels (I’m eyeing you A New Beginning and Jason Goes To Hell). As such, the first movie has a distinct Whodunnit angle that is quite fun. While this may be one of the clearest knock offs to Halloween there is, this movie has some ingenious death sequences that help set it apart. Plus, it has a very young Kevin Bacon in it. If you have time to watch others in the series, I highly recommend Part IV and Part VI. Part IV was meant to be The Final Chapter, but was commercially successful, leading to the series continuing on. What comes after is a varying degree of entertainment and success, with the exception of Part VI, which is pure fun to watch.
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The movie that got New Line Cinema off the ground and in doing so gave me vivid nightmares for years to come. This movie still holds up well today in the scare factors. In fact, the first death sequence in this movie may still be the scariest death sequence I’ve seen in any horror film. This is the first movie to introduce us to Freddy Kruger, the dream demon who stalks and murders you in your sleep. What sets this aside from the movies that influenced it is that Freddy actually speaks and taunts his victims with their greatest fears and there’s no escape. Once you fall asleep you’re in his world and have to play by his rules. This film also features Johnny Depp in his first major film role and he gets a creepy and memorable death as well.
5. Scream (1996)
Scream is a modern classic. You might think that this movie had a bigger budget and didn’t have the same labour of love as the rest, but Scream actually had a solid storyline, some great performances and it re-invigorated the Slasher craze of the late 90s in a similar way that Halloween had in the 70s. It was also unique in that it was self-aware. Its characters had watched horror films and knew the rules. These meta-references made it very fresh and witty upon it’s release. However, the film isn’t to be taken too lightly. The opening scene features a great performance by Drew Barrymore, who’s death scene was brutal and unnerving and set the tone for the violence we’d see throughout the movie and the three sequels since it’s release. What makes Scream even more unique is that the killers in each movie take on the same persona, but they’re always different people with different motives for wanting Sydney Prescott dead.
What’s your favourite scary movie?