I don't know if Halloween was my favorite holiday when I was growing up, but I remember it that way, perhaps because it's my favorite now. What's not to like? There are costumes, candy, parties — the list goes on.
But I think what I enjoy most about the holiday, and the season in general, is the movies. Aside from Christmas, Halloween is just about the only holiday that has an entire genre of movies associated with it, and fortunately, almost none of them have the mealy-mouthed, feel-good warm fuzziness that inherently attaches itself to Christmas flicks.
"Psycho" and the original "Halloween" notwithstanding, I've never really been a fan of those guy-with-a-knife movies. I'm more about the feel, the ambiance. Darkened hallways, creaking doors, the overwhelming feeling of dread. I don't know why, it just makes me happy.
For this column I've decided to share five of my favorite creepy films, some that I don't usually see on the best-of lists, and one that I never see, but should. But we'll get to that.
1. Freaks (1932). Tod Browning's story of sideshow performers taking revenge on people who wronged them still has the power to shock, in part because much of the cast is made up of actual denizens of the big top. Banned in the UK for 30 years, the film didn't fare much better in the States. Although people like horror films, it turns out they don't much care for seeing people with genetic abnormalities doing much of anything, let alone in a horrific context. Not surprisingly, the film bombed. However, if you can find it, it's well worth a watch.
2. Pinocchio (1940). Yeah, I know. It's a cartoon — a Disney cartoon at that. Yet I submit that it's also one of the most frightening films ever made. It has a threatening puppeteer, boys who turn into donkeys which are then sold to the salt mines, and a killer whale. What more do you need? It's a horror movie, dang it. In a movie filled with shocks, the biggest is probably the aforementioned human-into-donkey transformation. It's loud, it's unsettling and it's more frightening than almost any werewolf movie I can think of. A cartoon? Yes. But maybe not for kids.
3. Rosemary's Baby (1968). I've seen this one on many best-of horror films lists, and there's a reason for that. While many horror films are seemingly tossed off without much in mind except how low the filmmakers can keep the budget, this one is very, very well-made. Care was taken with every aspect of production, from the performances down to the set decorations, and it all pays off. The idea behind the film — no spoilers here — somehow becomes completely believable, and all the more disturbing because of it. This is as good as a horror movie, or any movie, can be.
4. The Changeling (1980). George C. Scott stars in this tale from director Peter Medak about a man who rents a mansion that turns out to be haunted. Just who is haunting it and why are plot points I will not share, but suffice it to say there is unexplained phenomena, apparitions and mysterious goings-on. I can't say as I am ever sympathetic with the idea of seances or automatic writing, even in a movie, but they're used so effectively here that I don't even care. I'm just caught up in the plot. A real chiller.
5. The Vanishing (1988). Here's where the movie snob in me comes out. It's a film from the Netherlands, which means there are subtitles, but don't let that put you off. (Also, avoid the American remake.) It's the story of a man whose girlfriend seemingly disappears from one second to the next, and his efforts to find out what happened to her. He does eventually uncover the truth, although too late. I saw this movie once nearly 20 years ago. I've thought about it almost weekly since then.
“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.