With Halloween only a few days away, every one is basking in October’s spooky spirit. This year, our Entertainment Team was very excited to craft together an Agnes-worthy Halloween movie marathon for you! Check out our list of eight staff-picked films and reviews, spanning from the 1960s to the present:
#1: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Horror films are notoriously harsh on female characters. During the late 70s and 80s, the popularity of slasher films made the genre synonymous with bimbos, boobs, and blood, to the point where directors are now satirizing the “Scream Queen” trope (as seen in the Scream franchise, as well as in Cabin in the Woods). For this reason, I’m always interested in horror films that allow women protagonists some depth, and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) is one of the first to do so. Despite Director Roman Polanski’s questionable personal history with consent (see his 1977 sexual abuse case), his adaptation of Ira Levin’s best-selling novel critiques what it’s like to be a woman under attack in a society that doggedly refuses to hear, believe, or value a female voice.
Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes are Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, a young New York couple who unwittingly take an apartment one door down from the Castevets (Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon), a pair of quirky, meddlesome retirees who also happen to be Satanists. The Castevets quickly surmise that Guy is susceptible to temptation; they promise him success as an actor in exchange for Rosemary’s baby. By the time Rosemary realizes what she’s up against, she has been isolated from all avenues of support.
The cast is stellar, especially Blackmer and Gordon, the latter of whom won an Academy award for her portrayal of Minnie Castevet. Minnie is impossible to dislike, despite being evil incarnate. Energetic and hilarious, she rocks an array of neon cocktail dresses and somehow finds time to apply opaque swaths of smurf-blue eyeshadow, even while carefully overseeing Rosemary’s pregnancy.
The unusual plot, masterful pacing, and strong performances all contribute to this film’s “classic” status. Polanski set a new standard for psychological horror on par with Alfred Hitchcock, but with a more modern, relatable feel. Watch this film if gore isn’t your thing, but you still appreciate when skilled directors take the horror genre seriously. Don’t watch it with that one uncle who still believes that women should be seen and not heard (we all have at least one).
#2: The Lost Boys (1987)
When it comes to teen vampire flicks, most people would rather pull out their canine teeth with rusty pliers than give the genre the slightest consideration. At the end of the day, some of us just want a good vampire film with ridiculous gore, 80s teen heartthrobs, and a little sexual tension. Enter, The Lost Boys (1987). It really doesn’t get better than a young Kiefer Sutherland battling with the Two Coreys of the 80s (Haim and Feldman) for the life of a sideways smiling mega-babe (the still kind of unknown Jason Patric). Add in a mom you want to adopt you ASAP (Dianne Wiest), a giant creepy house stuffed with taxidermy, a lot of classy violence, and you’ve got yourself an undead winner. Today, it sits high on vampire film ranking lists from everywhere around the internet.
It’s fun, fast, and quite satisfying if you aren’t looking for melodrama and werewolf conflict. It builds fun scenery in a coastal California town which is practically papered in missing persons fliers. When the vampires enter the scene, you won’t have trouble noticing. The usual tropes are all there in their ridiculous glory—repulsion of garlic, empty mirror reflections, and even the oft missing vampiric penchant for flight. There’s even an interesting scene involving sun and sparkles (Edward, is that you?) albeit with a little more fire and anguish.
The vampires are the vampires we need back in cinema today. They’re relentless, sexy in a scary way, and most importantly, they don’t brood or contemplate. They’re no more advanced than any other reckless teen, preferring motorcycle races through woods to a glass of scotch and feelings, and feasting on those who insult them instead of bunnies or deer. The Lost Boys are traditional vampires—aggressive, violent, wantonly destructive—mixed with modern bits, such as leather get-ups. Stir all that with the protagonists’ infallible humanity—brotherhood, doomed love, curiosity, justice, and a cute dog.
Watch if you enjoy serious preteen vampire hunters, hot guys in mullets, taxidermy, huskies, or Ed Herman from Gilmore Girls. Don’t watch if your mom is about to uproot you to your creepy grandpa’s house on the West Coast or if you prefer your vampires to frown a lot.
#3: Goosebumps (1995-1998)
If you want to stay in and engage in some binge-watching this Halloween, I offer up a bit of nostalgia: Goosebumps, the TV show. The series had 4 seasons, lasting from from 1995 to 1998, and each episode covered one of R. L. Stine’s many novellas or short stories. The success of this series bought a couple more series for Stine, including The Nightmare Room (2001-2002) and The Haunting Hour (2010-2014).
When I was a kid, Goosebumps was a creepy, tame scare for a younger audience. However, as an adult, the show is completely ridiculous. It has bad acting, bad special effects and bad 90s haircuts. I think it falls into the category of “so terrible, it’s good,” but honestly there are a few episodes that are salvageable. Some of the better ones are “The Haunted Mask,” the “Night of the Living Dummy” trilogy, “Welcome to Camp Nightmare,” and “Attack of the Jack-O-Lanterns.” These episodes are still creepy to me, even as an adult, and most of the special effects aren’t too terribly dated. The use of green screen is limited, and most effects are practical. The rest of the show is fun for an entirely different reason.
None of these episodes are scary by any stretch of the imagination, but they are a fun watch. Mostly because of the nostalgia and the pitiful effort of the whole thing. It’s also fun to watch for some old 90s cameos, namely a young Ryan Gosling in the episode “Say Cheese and Die.” I recommend these for a fun viewing with your friends, something to watch when you’re babysitting, or if you’re just bored and need some background noise.
#4: The Descent (2005)
This film is perfect for thrill-seekers who won’t mind an hour and a half of escalating, pulse-racing terror. Watch it as a feminist palate-cleanser after more traditional slasher or splatter titles, but avoid directly before spelunking with your best lady friends.
After personal tragedy strikes one of its members, a group of women gather together for their traditional, “extreme sport” style of vacationing with the hope of helping their friend cope with her grief. After years of such adventures, Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) and her friends are hardly strangers to the hazards of nature, but they are caught unprepared when a cave-in seals off the only known exit to the cavern they’re exploring. Be forewarned: The Descent is extremely gory. Wicked-looking and rappelling implements make frequent, graphic contact with heads, limbs, and torsos. Blood spray is copious, yet beautifully framed, and I would even go so far as to suggest that all of the carnage feels poetic, rather than overdone.
Beyond its classy gore, The Descent is also unusual in its complete lack of nudity or sexual content. This might be a disappointment if naked ladies are your thing, but I assure you that you will be far too invested in the protagonists’ fight for survival to ruminate on their physical appeal. The film showcases an all-female main cast of relatively unknown performers. Their characters struggle with grief, friendship, and betrayal in ways that make them feel fully three-dimensional. The most striking aspect of the script is how natural the dialogue feels. Marshall reportedly consulted with women friends in order to avoid creating hackneyed relationships between his characters, and it worked. Even as their lives unravel deep beneath the earth, there’s no helpless wailing from the protagonists. They get hurt, they deal with it. They behave like human beings rather than stereotypes.
My only complaint (and it’s not insignificant) is that Juno, while skillfully and sympathetically portrayed by Natalie Mendoza, is nonetheless the film’s single non-caucasian character. She is also more or less a bad guy. It’s a genuine shame that no one involved in the film’s production found this problematic. Is it too much to ask for fierce and cliche-free horror films that include women of color?
#5: ParaNorman Activity (2012)
As the Halloween season approaches every year, there are several films I depend on to get me into the Halloween mood. One such film, excellent in its exploration of the October 31 atmosphere is ParaNorman (2012, dir. Chris Butler & Sam Fell). Yes, this film is animated and is therefore perfect for fans of similarly made films such as The Nightmare Before Christmas. ParaNorman tells the journey of a child who just happens to see dead people. Without giving too much away, the film explores the paranoia and fears of adults and how they exploit and hurt children, but in an insanely clever, monster filled manner.
While not qualifying for straight up horror, ParaNorman has elements of the horror genre that are greatly appreciated. There are zombies, psychics, and witches, placed in a town with paranoia and fear at its roots. Additionally, the cast features names such as Anna Kendrick as Courtney Babcock, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Alvin, and Leslie Mann as Sandra Babcock. Though the rest of the cast may not be quite as star studded, they all voice these characters as only highly dedicated voice actors can.
The film is also beautiful, so if you are into art and art done well, ParaNorman is the flick for you. It is totally claymation, with such detailed sculpturing that you can see light shining through characters’ ears. The character designs are also unique, and it’s exciting to watch their movements and how they interact with their constructed scenery. This film is for those of us who enjoy embracing their inner child, who remember fun flicks from Disney channel around the halloween time and revel in that nostalgia, and who yearn for great writing pulled off well.
#6: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
In her directorial debut, indie film artist Ana Lily Amirpour manages to rip the vampire genre to shreds. The cinematic masterpiece, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is rife with moral conflict, which (for once) doesn’t belong to the vampire. Amirpour brings vampires back to their terrifying roots and somehow, makes the humans look like the monsters.
The vampire (her name isn’t revealed throughout the two hour and 40 minute monochromatic masterpiece), spends a majority of the film playing cat and mouse with potential victims, taunting them and getting their hearts pounding before she decides if they’re worth killing. She’s also some sort of justice-seeking superhero, eager to make wrong doers atone for their sins in blood. A small woman, clad in a striped shirt and Keds, might at first appear unassuming. But armed with a swirling black chador and a dangerous look in her eye, she becomes a creature of the night, a woman unafraid of anything lurking in the dark Iranian streets. She has no backstory, no origin, and doesn’t speak until over 30 minutes into the film (she continues to have sparing dialogue, even when we’re dying for her to say something).
With perhaps one of the best vampire “meet-cute” scenes in history, an unlikely love story between Aresh and the vampire builds out of the ashes and is made even more potent by a lack of sexual encounters, not even the slightest kiss. It brings us back to the core of a true love story—one where two people on equal grounds are able to find peace in one another, one where love comes from comfort and support instead of raunchy sex.
Still, there is something vaguely uncomfortable about the film. Perhaps it’s the lack of a character that is morally upright, since everyone seems to have their own irredeemable evil. Maybe it’s the eternal night, which lends to the feeling of sleeplessness, insomnia, or heightened fear. Or maybe it’s the muffled sound, frequent throughout the film, that makes us feel like we’re underwater. Something about it is undeniably off, but the film overall is exactly on. Recommended if you like really fat cats, slick cars, foreign films, and deliciously wicked femme fatales. Avoid if you are sensitive to scenes of drug addiction or sex worker violence.
#7: Goosebumps (2015)
There seems to be a resurgence in the genre of children’s horror over the last few years. With movies like Paranorman (2012) and Coraline (2009) being released, it’s beginning to feel a lot like the 90s in here. The late 80s to the early 90s was the best time for children’s horror, a genre that was practically defined in this era. Of course, one of the most groundbreaking series of juvenile horror—the Goosebumps franchise, penned by R.L. Stine—was also released during this time. Originally only 62 books, these bestsellers has spawned several spin-off series, its own TV show (see second half of review), tons of merchandise, and finally this year, its own movie.
Goosebumps (2015), a children’s horror film directed by Rob Letterman, follows a teen boy named Zach (Dylan Minnette) as he moves into the town of Madison, Delaware. He quickly makes friends with the next-door neighbor, a girl named Hannah (Odeya Rush), who just happens to be the offspring of R.L. Stine (Jack Black). After sneaking into Stine’s house to see Hannah, Zach accidentally unlocks one of the several manuscripts of the author’s novellas, releasing the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena and Slappy the Dummy, who then proceed to wreak havoc on the town. Scares, laughs, and bizarre antics ensue.
I didn’t know quite what to expect from this film. Letterman’s only previous movie I knew was Gulliver’s Travels (2010), which also starred Jack Black, and was an all-around terrible film. To my surprise, Goosebumps was an enjoyable movie (this is coming from a die-hard fan of the original books). The main actor (Dylan Minnette) was a surprisingly competent character, one who I found myself truly invested in. But the scene stealer was definitely Jack Black. Though not really having a Stine-esque look about him, he gives an invested, and quite goofy, performance.
The coolest thing about this movie is definitely the monsters, and the promise of seeing more keeps the audience invested. The last half of the movie feels like a Cabin in the Woods (2012) for kids, with Stine’s monsters swarming the little town. The posse is led by Slappy the Dummy (voiced by Jack Black), a character that is a staple of the franchise and a personal favorite of mine. One complaint I had about the monsters was that I wanted more of them. Sure, you see the Abominable Snowman and The Werewolf of Fever Swamp, but where is The Haunted Mask, the Horrorland Horrors, the Plant-Human-Mutant, or even The Beast from the East? There was such a wide range of Stine monsters to use, and I felt like most of the other popular characters were only background cameos.
The bad thing is that the CGI—effects done by Sony Pictures Animation, who continues to disappoint me—aren’t very good. The animated Yeti was a must, but they could have left the CGI out everywhere else. The werewolf, especially, does not look realistic by any definition. Would it have behooved them to put someone in werewolf makeup instead? But aside from some CGI flukes, a few plot holes, and the annoying sidekick character, the movie was a fun romp with an interesting twist in the middle (a very Stine thing to do). It appeals to the older Goosebumps fans and will hopefully persuade younger readers to look into the series.
#8: Crimson Peak (2015)
Recently released for the Halloween season was director Guillermo del Toro’s newest film, Crimson Peak (2015). Perfect for the gothic thrill seeker who is not necessarily ready to sign on to a full out horror film, the film featured a star-studded cast of Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, and del Toro’s favorites—Jessica Chastain and Charlie Hunnam. It would be a crime not to mention how Tom Hiddleston’s displacement of clothing and Jessica Chastain’s slaying attitude kept the film interesting. If you are a fan of these actors, this is the movie for you this October, especially in knowing that this film, at its core, is a Gothic Romance. The film includes references to Mary Shelley and many allusions to the creation of the gothic novel.
While the film’s beginning is a little startling, the characterization and predictability of del Toro’s monsters alleviates viewers’ fears of what goes bump in the night. That being said, this film is also gory at times, staying true to Guillermo del Toro’s artistry and mission to startle the viewer with the realities of violence. However, ignoring the few scenes of gore, the film was fairly reserved in its exploration of the dead and the world they belong to.
Guillermo del Toro clearly crafted this film as a passion piece, which is especially noticeable in the clarity of his directorial style. There were many stylistic holdovers from previous films, such as Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Hellboy (2004), and even some narrative similarities from Pacific Rim (2013). These similarities exist mostly in his visual effects, including set builds, makeup, and the creation of his monsters.
Overall the film was good (not great, but good) and tailor-made for the Guillermo del Toro fan. Though not the highest ranking in terms of fear factor, the film does still give the viewer a few starts and scares. This film is perfect for the Halloween and fall mood, without being too intimidating of an undertaking for the viewer.