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Tis the Season – Classic Halloween Films

Mark Bemenderfer | Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween is a time for celebrating, oddly, certain terrifying aspects of life. While other holidays focus on fuzzy bunnies or a fat man wearing red, Halloween celebrates things like witches and skeletons.

As people grow older, dressing up in costumes is gradually replaced with a variety of substitutes, such as parties and Halloween-themed activities. But of all the activities, there is none more time-honored then watching horror movies.

And while certain viewers may prefer movies less focused on fright, there are Halloween-lite films such as “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “The Phantom of the Opera” and films with laughs like “Scary Movie” and “Shaun of the Dead,” there is a huge selection of movies waiting to make the thrill-seekers jump out of their seats.

There have been many great horror films over the years. In 1968, Roman Polanski released the film “Rosemary’s Baby.” Centered on the fictional character, Rosemary Woodhouse, it is a disturbing tale that deals with ideological themes.

The movie begins with Rosemary and her husband Guy moving into a new apartment. The situation quickly turns ominous as the couple discovers more of the history of the building, none of it being pleasant.

The year 1973 brought horror watchers what many consider to be the scariest film of all time, “The Exorcist.” It was a well-crafted, suspenseful tale of a young girl potentially possessed by demons. Like “Rosemary’s Baby,” the film is entrenched in religious beliefs and ideology.

The potential hero for the film, Father Lancaster Merrin, is a troubled cleric who may not be up to the task of saving the young girl.

The film may not be considered incredibly scary by today’s standards, especially by any horror film fanatic. There have been so many derivatives and knock-offs during the years that the original has become a diluted shadow of its former shelf. However, for someone not well versed in the realm of horror, “The Exorcist” is an excellent starting point.

While some great horror films are psychological thrillers, the bulk of scary movies tend to use more violent means of creating chills.

The horror icon Michael Myers was introduced to audiences in 1978. “Halloween,” directed by the still young John Carpenter and completed on a pitiful budget in a short period of time. However, despite these limitations, it became one of the most influential horror movies ever.

A large part of its effectiveness arose from its memorable and unique soundtrack. Composed by Carpenter and a few of his friends, the film’s theme song has become a staple of the Halloween holiday. Today, it can be seen in everything from commercials to phone ring tones.

After “Halloween,” Carpenter remained busy in the world of horror, directing “The Fog” in 1980. However, it wasn’t until 1982 that he released what many consider to be his masterpiece. “The Thing” was financially a failure, being released near the same time as “E.T.” but has since rose to a cult status over DVD and video.

The film chronicles the events of American Outpost 31, and its twelve members. Life is boring and mundane for them, but the appearance of a dog that is more than it seems changes everything.

Everything about this movie has stood the test of time. The shot composition, the musical score, even the special effects stand up well to today’s standards. Because computer effects and stop-motion didn’t appear real enough to Carpenter, he employed a young Rob Bottin to create the most realistic, gory effects ever seen, essentially creating a benchmark in the genre.

Stephen King is a staple of the world of literary horror, but his film adaptations haven’t held the same impact. Fortunately, Stanley Kubrick created one worthy of its literary source in 1980.

“The Shining,” starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, told the tale of the fictional Overlook Hotel. Jack Torrance (Nicholson) is charged with maintaining the hotel through the winter, along with his wife and son. As the winter progresses however, cabin fever and the ghosts of the Overlook begin to play on their minds, with disastrous consequences.

The later remake was more true to King’s original work, but Nicholson’s performance alone raises the original into greatness.

Wes Craven is another established name in the realm of horror. Having helmed the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series, as well as “The People Under the Stairs” and the recently released “Red Eye,” Craven has become a staple for Halloween activities.

His movie “Scream,” released in 1996, reinvented the dying slasher genre and made popular a new horror icon.

Halloween only comes around once a year, so make the best of it and participate in the festivities by watching some classic horror movies.