What's the best kind of Hallowe'en movie, I wonder? For me there has to be an element of traditional horror - whether it be a touch of the Gothic, a bit of ghostliness, or (in science fiction) a laboratory where things Clearly Got A Bit Out of Hand. But it's very difficult to define a rock-solid Hallowe'en film in simple terms, because sometimes the best horror jumps out at you from behind a cliché or something even more innocuous.
There are lots of obvious choices for late October viewing, and some of the best films are the most readily available, The early work of John Carpenter, the best of the early slasher movies, classic ghostly tales like The Innocents and The Haunting. So what about something a little different, perhaps as an appetiser before the main event?
1. Tucker and Dale v. Evil
This is one of those horror spoofs that de-constructs the genre in a way that's genuinely affectionate rather than smart-alecky. Tucker and Dale are just two regular country boys who go to a cabin in the woods for some fishin', beer drinkin', and general goofin' off. It's not their fault that a. the cabin seems to have had a very strange previous owner and b. some spoiled big city youngsters on vacation mistake the pals for murderous hillbillies. Wackiness ensues, and there's even a genuine horror plot propping up all the gory silliness.
2. Dog Soldiers
A fun British horror movie, complete with Sean Pertwee and some werewolves. Filmed in Luxembourg, which doubles for Scotland, this is arguably a 'B-movie' in that it doesn't aspire to be a game-changer or a classic. Instead it's a very entertaining film that follows through the relentless logic of a plot that isn't too preposterous. There's not quite as much tongue-in-cheek (or out of it) humour as in Tucker & Dale, but then the scenario is a bit darker. Some may find the werewolves unconvincing, but the non-CGI monsters have a 'stage presence' that appeals to me.
3. Audition (1999)
I don't go for extreme horror of the 'gore porn' type, Thispsycho-thriller directed by Takashi Miike is about at the limit of my tolerance. Aoyama, a middle-aged widower, is helped by a friend to set up a fake audition process for a film they both know will never be made. The idea is to find Aoyama a new wife from a selection of young hopefuls. The audition sequence is quite funny, so much so that it might mislead the unwary. But Asami, the lovely, demure girl Aoyama settles on (against sage advice) turns out to be more than a little deranged. What happens then is so disturbing that horror director John Landis couldn't bear to watch it. You have, as they say, been warned.
4. Island of Lost Souls (1932)
'What is the law?' H.G. Wells is one of my favourite authors, and while he didn't like this adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau it rightly considered a classic. It's a bit silly in a few places, but for a very early talkie it stands up remarkably well. Because it just predates the infamous Hays Code it is much harder-edged than the later Universal horror films.
It remains faithful to Wells in its central theme - the Beast People created by the mad scientist originally perceive him as a cruel deity, but then revolt against him. There's so much metaphorical force here that it will be generating Ph.D these well into the next century, but it's also a good ol' monster movie. and much of it is extremely well-acted and directed. Charles Laughton is a deadly serious Moreau, the biggest monster on his island, making a worthy opponent for Bela Lugosi's Sayer of the Law.
4. Dark Water (2002)
I think it's about time for an actual ghost story, don't you? An embarrassment of riches here, of course, but I'm going to suggest another Japanese movie, albeit one far removed from the deranged violence of Audition. Dark Water, based on a short story by Koji Suzuki, was directed Hideo Nakata, who also helmed the first two Ring movies. It's a simple story of a woman who, facing a difficult divorce, has to move into a shabby apartment with her small daughter. Dripping water from the flat above and glimpses of a ghostly child convey un-flashy menace. The film remains tightly focused on mother and child, and the terrible sacrifice one must make for the other. Like all good ghost stories it is about more than ghosts, but the supernatural element is very well-handled, If some effects seem over-familiar it's because Nakata has been so influential.
Well, those are my first four Hallowe'en movies. I dare say I'll have some more later, and I'll try to find some that are genuinely obscure. In the meantime, what will you be watching as the witching hour approaches on October 31st?