October 31 – Halloween, of course – isn’t too far away now. So, today I thought: why not recommend to you five of my favorite movies and that are definitely right for the creepiest night of the year? In no particular order at all, I’ll start with 1997’s Mimic. The movie tells the story of how, in Manhattan, cockroaches are spreading a deadly disease that is claiming the lives of hundreds of children. Entomologist Susan Tyler (played by Mira Sorvino) and her colleague and husband Peter Mann (portrayed by the actor Jeremy Northam) genetically engineer a type of insect called the Judas Breed. Distinctly oversized critters, they release an enzyme that successfully wipes out the disease-carrying roaches. Of course, inevitably everything goes horribly wrong, and the Judas Breed mutates into human-sized, highly-intelligent, insect-monsters that begin to prey by night upon the population of Manhattan. Ingeniously, the beasts have the ability to cunningly disguise themselves as humans; and they do so by shuffling around the darkened streets, subways and alleyways late at night with their black-colored wings wrapped around their bodies – giving the impression of someone wearing a dark, rain-coat with upturned collar. Living on the flesh of hobos, winos, and those unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the Judas Breed thrives, reproduces, and survives very well deep in the old subway tunnels under Manhattan – until Tyler and Mann try to end their growing reign of terror.
Moving onto movie number two, there’s the 2004 remake of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. I really enjoyed Night of the Living Dead (of 1968) and the 1978 original of Dawn of the Dead. I have to say, though, that 2005’s Land of the Dead – also from Romero – was awful. With all of that said, let’s get back to that aforementioned remake. As all fans of zombie movies will know, for years the reanimated dead were slow, shuffling, things. That all changed in 2002 with 28 Days Later, a movie that sees the U.K. quarantined as a result of the outbreak of what is called the “rage virus.” It was that movie which really exposed us to the phenomenon of the fast-running zombies. I have to say, though, that for me the 2004 version of Dawn of the Dead outdid “28” and presented those athletic, nightmarish creatures in perfect style. Menacing, almost impossible to outrun, and ready to chomp down on the living, they were perfect zombies for a brand new century. Dawn of the Dead pretty much follows the original story-line, but with much more welcome gore. And the apocalyptic atmosphere is ever-present. A great one for Halloween!
Now, let’s take a trip back to the 1950s and a U.K. movie, Night of the Demon (released in the U.S. as Curse of the Demon). It’s a 1957 B&W movie with Dana Andrews taking on the role of Dr. John Holden, who is a skeptic when it comes to the worlds of the supernatural, the paranormal, and the occult. We see Holden’s mind begin to change when he’s exposed to the magical abilities of the Aleister Crowley-like Dr. Julian Carswell (actor Niall MacGinnis). Carswell wants Holden out of his hair and off his back – right now. Or else. Holden refuses to back off and, as a result, we see him plagued by the likes of a supernatural cat, almost struck by lightning (Carswell’s work), and terrorized by the demon of the movie’s title. The race is soon on as Holden seeks a way to save his life – and at the cost of Carswell. The black-and-white nature of the movie adds to the suspense and the atmosphere, as the viewer is plunged into a world of devil worship, witchcraft, curses and more in rural England – and in the heart of London too. The one downside? The demon itself. It should really have been left to the imagination of the viewer. Instead, we’re shown a pretty bad model, which is likely to provoke rolling-eyes, rather than thrills. But, despite that, it’s still an excellent production.
An atmospheric and short movie (it runs to just seventy-four minutes) starring Kim Darby, Jim Hutton and Barbara Anderson, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a 1973 TV movie that gets a re-run now and again. It tells the eerie story of a married couple – Sally and Alex Farnum (Darby and Hutton) – who move into an atmospheric, shadow-filled old house. Unknown to them, it is home to something menacing: small, humanoid creatures that dwell in the walls, under the floorboards, and in just about any and every hidden nook and cranny possible. When Sally starts to see these dwarfish, diminutive things creeping around, she plunges into states of terror and fear. Hutton plays her unsympathetic ass of a husband, who is having none of it. Only grumpy old Mr. Harris (actor William Demarest), the local handyman, knows the unsettling truth. There is something very wrong about the house – and the “other” inhabitants, which only Sally sees, are worse still. How does it all end? Badly, of course!
Now, onto The Plague of the Zombies. My all-time favorite undead-themed film, this 1966 production is one of the best from Hammer Film Productions. Taking into consideration that it really is one of Hammer’s best, it’s somewhat surprising that Hammer stalwarts Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were not chosen for the key roles. It doesn’t really matter though: the movie works just as well without them. I remember watching this as a kid in the late 1970s. Even now, the zombies still look creepy, as they wander the depths of old mines and the English countryside of the 19th century. And there is a very cool dream-episode in the film – set in a cemetery, of course – which is done in fine fashion. Not to be missed!