Yes, it’s that time of year again when pumpkins come out, kids dress up, and horror movies are everywhere. And, talking of horror movies, I thought that today I would share with you my five favorite movies for the creepiest night of the year: Halloween, of course. As you’ll see, my choices pretty much reflect my age, but, that hardly matters. So, let’s begin. The Norliss Tapes – a U.S. pilot for a show that never took off – is, in many ways, very much like The Invaders (and The Night Stalker, too). In The Invaders, Roy Thinnes was the alien-hunting David Vincent. In The Norliss Tapes, he was David Norliss, an author investigating the world of the supernatural. The approach was actually quite a good one. The plan is for Norliss to write a book that debunks paranormal phenomena. But, he gets far more than he bargained for and admits to being too frightened to write the book. So, instead, Norliss chronicles each adventure on a series of cassette tapes, hence the title of the show. Of course, because the TV movie didn’t get picked up as a series, we only get to see, and hear, what went on with the first case. But, I have to say it’s not bad, at all. Moving on…
Made in 1972, and directed by Bill L. Norton, Gargoyles is a movie that I consider not just a horror classic of that bygone era, but also a production that should make fans of Cryptozoology ponder deeply on the issue of flying humanoids. The story revolves around Wilde’s character, Dr. Mercer Boley, and his daughter, Diana (played by Salt). Boley, a man who earns his living from writing books on the world of the paranormal, and Diana head off to Mexico – road-trip-style – to undertake research for the doctor’s next book. As Boley tells Diana, however, before reaching the USA-Mexico border they have to first make a stop at a place that proves pivotal to the story: a roadside feast of entertainment run by one Uncle Willie (actor Woody Chambliss). We’re talking animal oddities, sideshow wonders, and freaky creatures – all of which look highly dubious in the extreme. There is, however, something else. It turns out that grizzled, old Willie is sitting on the find of the century. And, astutely realizing that “find of the century” = “lots of money,” he suggests to Boley that they work together on a book, one guaranteed to become a gigantic bestseller. And why, exactly, should the book become a huge hit? Very simple: in his shed, Willie has nothing less than the skeleton of a gargoyle, one which he stumbled upon in a nearby canyon. That’s when the mayhem begins.
Next on my list: Don’t be Afraid of the Dark. I’m talking about the 1972 original, not the 2011 remake. The latter was okay, but it really didn’t stand a chance of eclipsing the former. It stars Kim Darby and Jim Hutton as a married couple – Sally and Alex – who move into an old house inherited from Sally’s recently deceased grandmother. There is, however, something very weird about the house – how could there not be?! Sally soon begins to realize that ominous things are afoot: household items are moved by mysterious forces, Sally hears her name whispered in the dead of night, and terrible things appear to scuttle around the old house after sunset. Alex is convinced that Sally needs psychiatric help. She doesn’t. This becomes apparent when we learn that deep below the house there lurks a colony of small, hideous, goblin-like creatures that surface after the sun has set and make life a living hell for Sally. Endless shadows, a claustrophobic atmosphere, and a good cast of characters, all make Don’t be Afraid of the Dark perfect for Halloween.
Now, we get to the made-for-television, 2-part movie, Salem’s Lot. I was just thirteen when it was made. Okay, you could also call it a mini-series, rather than a movie, but it’s still on my list. While I’m a big fan of Stephen King’s novels, I have often been disappointed by the movie adaptations. But, not by Salem’s Lot. I first saw it when I was at school and I still remember me and my mates excitedly chatting about it the day after the first part aired. David Soul plays his part of author Ben Mears well, as does James Mason as the creepy Richard Straker. But, it’s Reggie Nalder who stands out from the rest. He portrays one of the most menacing on-screen vampires of all time: Mr. Barlow, who growls rather than speaks. Salem’s Lot is set against the backdrop of a tiny town in turmoil, one in which the small population is quickly, and systematically, being transformed into blood-sucking creatures of the night.
My final choice for Halloween: Race with the Devil. A 1975 movie, it stars Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Swit and Lara Parker. What should be a perfect vacation for the two couples – Roger and Kelly, and Frank and Alice – becomes an absolute nightmare, when they stumble upon a satanic sacrifice in the heart of Texas. In no time at all, they are on the run, and on the road, in their trusty RV – hotly pursued by Satan’s minions, who will do whatever it takes to preserve their secrecy. Skillfully made, and well acted, Race with the Devil is a movie that makes you ponder on the possibility that just such a scenario could actually occur in the real world.