Five Under-Rated Movies That Deserve To Be Halloween Staples
Listen to those leaves crackle: A witch's wind blows from the cloudy skies. Scavenger insects, first busy and swarming as they feast on the carcasses of the recently fallen, now dying at last themselves and blown in the wind with the brown foliage. A chill grips the air at night, as all of nature turns brilliant fall colors before it will inevitably collapse into the slate gray shades of winter, as cold as a body on the slab.
It's Halloween soon, the most important season for movie fans. And here it is, our first year at MovieMeanings.com, making our first October post. The pressure's on. We'd better carve this pumpkin real deep. Oh sure, we could churn out a top-ten list of scariest serial killers in film and call it a day. You've all met Freddy and Jason and Hannibal Lecter before; we like to be different here. We dig up things you've never seen - or likely never looked at this way before.
So for our opening seasonal post, we'd like to present "Five Under-Rated Movies That Deserve To Be Halloween Staples." These are mostly movies with their own small followings, but deserve to be better known.
And to boot, we're putting a theme to this post: Each of these films is appropriate for Halloween because they present different aspects of the same kinds of horror. The scariest monsters are all human, you see. Who's really scared of Godzilla? But leave that aside, our most popular movie monsters - zombies, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, serial killers - are all humans or humanoid or the recently-but-no-longer human. These five films exhibit five scary things about humans.
Well, wasn't that a cop-out? It's true that David Lynch's cult following continues to grow what with Twin Peaks coming back, and this, his signature film, probably is viewed around this time of year more than most. But we're here to make a case for recognizing Eraserhead, not just for a surreal trip, but a horror movie in its own right.
Which is surprising, because despite how unsettling and creepy this film is, there's very little that's going on that's actually scary. There is exactly one death - debatable even come to that, as the thing may have died or may have ascended to a new plane of existence. The film just does it all with atmosphere.
What scary things does this movie say about us? David Lynch does not scare you with monsters. He scares you by yanking the ground out from under you and letting you to stare down into the bottomless abyss with your feet dangling. What fragile butterflies we are! Take away our sense of identity, our place in time, or our safe logical linear world, and our minds consume themselves in shock. Or in this case, rub our noses in just what a messy biological mess it is for us to reproduce, and what pathetic creatures we pollute the Earth with, and we're reduced to scared little bugs.
Forgetting Nicholas The Bees Cage and the big old piss he took all over the original, this 1973 British classic was trumpeted by Phantasmagoria magazine as the greatest horror movie ever made, full stop. We will not spoil it for you here: If you have not seen it, it's worth going in cold. Even if you've seen the steaming pile of sacrilege that is the remake, the 1973 original will still be unspoiled, and will be the scary experience you paid to see.
What scary things does this movie say about humans? That we are all too much of a hive mind, locked into group think. We scare each other so much that we readily form cults and gangs and nations, to band together against the common threats of each other. This film captures the politics of the human struggle - religion is just the vehicle - to rise above its own savage nature and how often we fail. Are the cult members of Summerisle really so different from the popular religions of today? Sergeant Howie is quick to condemn the cultists he finds, but his own religion brought us the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem witch hunts. Who gets burned to be sacrificed to which sky goblin is simply a matter of who's out-numbered.
You will search high and low, but you will never find another film that so authentically captures the feeling of being read a fairy tale before being tucked into bed. But this is no Disney travesty; this is the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale, filled with darkness and savagery and primal fears.
The scary aspect of human nature represented here is that we are predators. We didn't just peacefully graze our way to modern civilization; we got to the top of the food chain by being persistence hunters. The cheetah might out-sprint us and the elephant could turn and trample us, but when you need the dogged determination to stalk prey for weeks if necessary, the human always wins. As young John grimaces when he sees the Reverend's silhouette down the road pursuing him still, "Doesn't he ever sleep?" No, evil never does sleep. A lion hunts when it's hungry and if lunch evades it, it will simply wait for the next meal. But humans hate for years, humans have focus. Nothing stalks like a human.
Out of this list, this is closest to a traditional horror movie and certainly has the widest following. But it's been almost four decades since this cult classic came out, so it could stand being re-introduced to a new audience.
Phantasm has B-movie shrieker written all over it. Looking back on it, it's not particularly well-done. The acting is stilted, the dialogue amateur, the characters barely developed, and the gratuitous teen sex scenes put it squarely into drive-in popcorn flick territory. So why is it still so highly regarded? It gets right to the point. This is a film revolving around death, and so there's hardly a scene that doesn't take place in, on, or around the Morningside cemetery.
What scary human aspect is here? Man is a God in ruins; we are evolved animals cursed with the ability, out of all the species, to deeply comprehend our own end of existence. And so we make a fetish out of death. The fear of death drove us to invent religions. The terror of death drives us to hold funerals and have rituals for disposal of the dead and a whole mythology of horror monsters centering around those who come back from the dead. To die is monstrous; but so is to never die and become an immortal blood-sucker or brain-eater. We can't deal with death; perhaps we never will. It defines a big chunk of our existence.
This movie reaches into our preoccupation and yanks it out into the open for all to see. Never mind the ridiculous premise. Think how we would look to a non-human species who had overcome death. They would wonder if our whole lives revolved around it, judging by the way we behave. If medical science ever at last made the breakthrough that would make us all immortal, would we even use it? Or would an outraged mob smash the laboratory and hang the doctors for the crime of tampering with God's nature? Yes, they would. We need our fetishes!
What scary message does this film have about humans? We're freaks. That's all, just freaks. It adds insult to the injury of the previous four films.
But what a magnificently bonkers masterpiece! Your humble author here at the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen has been evangelizing for years that this movie deserves to be as well known as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But we're just not getting through to you sheeple. So we're going to troll your attention with cheap shocks, and now insist that Forbidden Zone is BETTER than The Rocky Horror Picture Show! Yep, we went there! Let us count the ways...
- The songs are better. Yes, Rocky's music is wonderful, but it doesn't have Danny Elfman, especially not Danny Elfman channeling the Three Stooges, Betty Boop, and Cab Calloway.
- It's more fearless. While Rocky camps it up with peek-a-boo adult situations, poking fun at itself for its own mild perversions, Forbidden Zone just crams boobs and kink and whips in your face from the first minute and says "So you're offended, so what?"
- The characters are wilder. Yes, Tim Curry is a whole Hickory Farms worth of ham, but the film wastes far too much time on the bland whitebread Brad and Janet. In Forbidden Zone, you have a beheaded chicken man, a midget king, cross-dressers and gimps running around, a teacher getting into machine-gun fights with her students, a frog-headed manservant, and the freaking Devil Himself. For starters.
- Rocky drags. Come on, even the diehard fans admit this. The second half of the film just meanders off into Dr. Frankenfutter's angst. The mood grows more sombre as the minutes tick on. Rocky tries to almost be an opera there. Forbidden Zone just keeps ratcheting up the crazy another notch, building to a frenetic pace until it's over before you can figure out what the hell you just watched.
- Zone: Animated opening featuring roller-skating skeletons playing dinosaur-bone xylophones. Rocky: Opens with singing lips.
We used to say that Forbidden Zone makes a great double-bill before The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But now that we come to think of it, the order of those two movies is the other way around. Show up at your local midnight theater this Halloween in your Forbidden Zone costumes and sing "Give her all the juice! Give her all the juice! Twenty thousand volts in her caboose will make her see the error of her ways!" right in front of the "Sweet Transvestite" number.
This list should at the very least put the grin in your pumpkin. Keep reading here, we'll convert you to our cult yet!