From Temple of Doom to Kubrick’s Haunted Hotel - Levi Rogers
When I was in the fourth or fifth grade, I disobeyed my parents and watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom at a neighbor kid’s house down the street. I returned home absolutely terrified. Remember that scene where some type of Shaman reaches into another man’s chest and pulls out his heart? Yeah. That shadowed me in my dreams for the next several weeks/years. Perhaps because of that, I decide I didn’t like scary movies. I tried watching The Ring and some remake of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Blair Witch Project in high school, but these all further cemented the idea that scary movies were not for me. I hated the slasher and gore films but I also didn’t want to be scared of the woods all due to some movie—the outdoors, after all, were one of my favorite places to be.
One day though, I saw Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. I’m not sure how I came upon it. It might’ve been in a Literature as Film class that failed to disclose the theme: horror, or else I wouldn’t have signed up. Regardless, here was finally a scary movie that shined upon me. It was more than blood and gore and pop-out surprises. It was moody and shocking and the whole film wound it’s way under my skin. It was art. The Shining stood out to me like Twin Peaks would later do (and which I personally still consider one of the strangest and most supernaturally terrifying shows ever made). The Shining the movie is much different than the book and Stephen King hated it, but I loved it: The plot of a novel by Stephen King with the flourishes of director-deity-genius-Stanley Kubrick. I liked The Shining so much it became the first movie my future-wife and I would watch together when we first started dating in October, making out afterward to Zoolander on the couch to distract us from the awesome terror of what we’d just encountered. I now watch The Shining at least once a year around this time, when the leaves turn gold, the air darkening. My house creaking in the winter cold.
If There’s Something Weird and It Don’t Look Good - Alex Simand
Is it normal to find terror in comedy? Is it crazy to go bounding for the confines of a closet, hiding behind your mothers’ furs and shaking uncontrollably, from a scene in Ghostbusters? This is a rhetorical question. Lock me up. Throw away the key. Just don’t bring around Rick Moranis playing the Keymaster of Gozer. That a man might be so thoroughly possessed at the hands of a sizzling Sigourney Weaver Gatekeeper with a simple incantation, a mere mental nerve pinch, was terrifying to me when I saw it at the age of nine. What I’m saying is possession is my greatest fear. I mean this as both the possessor and the possessed. I can’t stand that you can own anything, even social capital. I can’t stand that you can own people. I can’t stand that you can buy tweets and that mosquitos exist and that you can be so helpless as be hurt and that you can wield the power to hurt. I can’t even stand finances. I can’t stand saving up for a nebulous future. The best investment I’ve ever made is still a pair of thick wool socks.
I watch Ghostbusters now and Rick Moranis is just a nice dude who wants to play Boggle and/ or Super Mario Brothers and just, sweet. Ya know? He’s got glasses and is mostly harmless. Bill Murray is trying to trick somebody into having sex with him. Bill Murray is Bill Murray, which is still oddly a thing, which means he’s way too endearing. Books being stacked symmetrically is important for some reason, probably implying that librarians are demons. Dan Akroyd is a responsible human, which is oddly a thing. The EPA are bad guys, which is more of a reflection of politics than anything. Then, there’s just a thing in your fridge. Spores, mold, and fungus, ya know? And then Sigourney Weaver, ya know? Saying crazy things you’re paid to believe. Something about Zuul. Jargon.
The possession. Suddenly you’re a supporting actor. Suddenly you’re yourself but also a plot device. Just trying to fill in someone else’s keyhole, to unlock a door that leads nowhere good. Then Rick Moranis enters that blown out penthouse suite and he starts making out with Sigourney Weaver and it’s like—sexual overtones galore. It’s always the sexual overtones that breed terror, isn’t it? Natasha Henstridge in Species. That’s what got me about all of this. It’s that sex is a matter of lock and key, of power dynamics, of love and hurt and destiny. That it could lead to the army being deployed on the streets of New York City. That it could result in a spandex-wearing monster marching forth and taking the form of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man before trampling pedestrians with its benign capitalism.
Thanks for listening.
Pirates, rats, rattles, tolls, and toils - Jane-Rebecca Cannarella
My favorite frightening narrative isn't really a narrative at all. It's spooky sounds, white noise, hushing that rises off of fog, and the pops from an old record played on an orange Fisher Price record player. My narrative is nostalgic discussions with my older sister, Meghan, and older brother, Richard, about our favorite fear: Walt Disney Studios: New Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House.
Upon re-listening, I can’t quite tell which sounds are nostalgic because they are the sounds used for spookiness since time immemorial – reconstituted sounds that ground the listener exactly where they’re supposed to be – or if they’re nostalgic because the jump rope skips of the record are as much a part of the sounds as the actual recording. The thip thip that comes with jumping too quickly from “Creatures: Unearthly Monster,” to the track, “Ghosts and Phantoms: Cackling Witches.” The screech of the witch blended with the scream of the needle scratching from track 1 to track 15. They are both part of the same spooky story.
I can see the record that we had lying around our home – now a ghost – in the lizard part of my brain. The 1979 re-release in an orange sleeve. I can feel the hopscotch sound of fuzz - the shush of dust in between the groove - while wolves howl, and owls hoot, and hounds that weren't totally dissimilar to our family basset hound, Belle, bay in the background. The forever trilling crickets are threaded into my memory. With every string, and sponge, and neuron that makes up my brain, I know that I am kin with the sound of rusty gates, and fog horns, and frights that live on land and sea. Pirates, rats, rattles, tolls, and toils.
The Nightmare of Hocus Pocus In Secret Town - Sam Williams
I don't watch horror movies. I think the only one I've ever seen was the first Scream. Oh wait, and Chucky III when I was six. I got all sorts of nightmares for years. It's probably why I don't horror movies. So my contenders for best Halloween story aren't horror driven at all, but childhood driven.
My final four considerations were: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (movie), Halloween Town (the first Disney Channel Original), Hocus Pocus, and Nightmare Before Christmas. Guys, I cannot begin to explain how hard this was.
I really wanted to put HP in, but I always want to rank HP at the top. The second HP movie captured the spooky feeling of old school wizards, mixed with this thriller suspense of what kept paralyzing everyone (Spoilers it's a giant snake). Plus that spider scene still scares me to this day.
Out of all the Halloween movies as a kid I was most fond of Halloween Town, but honestly, I don't remember much of it.
The real debate came between Hocus Pocus and Nightmare. Hocus Pocus is the right combination of the ridiculous and the campy to make it a cult classic. It's the perfect mix for children and adults. It's the best Witch movie out there.
There is a serious case to be made about whether Nightmare is an Halloween movie, or a Christmas Movie. But since (Spoilers) Jack reverts back to his Halloween ways, I think it classifies more of as a Halloween movie.
The narrative strength in Nightmare is all in the music. The songs are beautiful, and compliment the gorgeous claymation. The whole movie is wrapped in a consistent vision and artistic asthetic, and the romantic interest, Sally, is just as compelling as the Pumpkin King. So, Nightmare wins.
The World of the giant Rabbit - Marie Marandola
While studying abroad in France, Marie Marandola once gave a 20-minute exposé (presentation) analyzing the film Donnie Darko. You thought time travel was complicated? Try explaining to a room full of French-speaking college students that yes, you really did mean to say, il est visité par un lapin géant.
Big Pieces for Daddy, Little Pieces for You & Me - Brodie Foster Hubbard
While most “normal” American families in the U.S. may celebrate Christmas as the most important holiday of the year, I have more vivid memories of Halloween past. From the supermarket bought costumes I wore as kid and “Roseanne” episodes with the Conner family pulling pranks, to watching Misfits cover bands and drinking pumpkin flavored beer as I got older, my embrace of horror and the aesthetics of death only grew tighter. It takes a special something to hit the nerves of someone so desensitized by years of slasher films, Rotten.com photos, and serial killer biographies.
But if I reach into the archives, 35 years back, the terrors of TV movies hold the key. Or in this case, a pizza cutter.
Aaron Spelling produced “Don’t Go To Sleep” for ABC in 1982. It starred Valerie Harper and Dennis Weaver as parents who relocate to a country home after the death of their daughter, bringing along the surviving brother and sister, and their grandmother, played by Ruth Gordon from “Harold and Maude.” The departed girl was the only casualty of a family auto accident, and she couldn’t escape the fiery car because her siblings had tied her shoes together. So what would you do in that situation? You would possess your sister and murder the rest of the family one by one, naturally.
I was living in Evanston, Wyoming when I first saw this movie. My father was working in the oil fields. We only lived there for six months before he saw friends get killed on the job, and he wanted nothing to do with that dangerous line of work anymore. I wasn’t particularly fond of the neighborhood kids, having been beaten in the head with the hard end of a garden hose by one of them. Yet those aren’t the most frightening memories of that year. It’s that creepy girl chasing Valerie Harper with that damn pizza cutter.