Happy Halloween, Everybody! Another All Hallow’s Eve is upon us, a time of year for candy, costumes and large scale consumption of booze… well, more so than any normal day of the year. Of course, with every Halloween comes the annual viewing of spooky things: John Carpenter’s Halloween, It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, or the eternal classic Ernest Scared Stupid. But don’t you want to watch something new? Something that hasn’t been etched into your mind? Well, I have a few recent suggestions here to recommend for everyone!
Now before you go commenting about stuff that’s missing (e.g. Trick R Treat, Cabin in the Woods, etc), don’t worry, those would also be considered new personal Halloween favorites. For this article, I just wanted to talk about more diverse and unconventional choices. So, in reverse alphabetical order (because it’s SPOOKIER that way!):
Toy Story of Terror
TV specials based on recent CG films aren’t that out of the ordinary these days. Dreamworks alone has made specials such as Merry Madagascar, Monsters vs Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space and Kung Fu Panda Holiday over the past several years. So, Pixar decided to step into the game with last year’s Toy Story of Terror, a Halloween special in which Jessie the Cowgirl gets herself lost at a motel while the toys are on a road trip with Bonnie, prompting the rest of them to find her before she gets lost forever.
Now, many might see further stories with these characters as unnecessary, given the note of finality that ended Toy Story 3, which I would agree with in terms of having another theatrical full length sequel. That being said, the theatrical shorts Pixar has done with their existing characters (including Toy Story) have been consistently fun and entertaining, especially since they usually get the very large vocal cast to come back for every one, including Terror. It’s also quite clear from the short that the animators love their horror movies, with explicit references to everything from Psycho to Predator. Speaking of Predator, did I mention the best part? CARL WEATHERS! Yes, Apollo Creed himself voices a GI Joe-esque action figure named Combat Carl whom befriends Jessie at the motel in the special, complete with a hand he lost to an iguana a la Happy Gilmore. Now if that isn’t a nice stew, I don’t know what is.
South Park; “A Nightmare on Face Time”
In its 18 -season history, South Park has dabbled with the horror genre many times. Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny have all dealt with zombies, pirate ghosts and even Satanic woodland critters. Yet, in recent years, one of the more hilarious and memorable episodes of the last few seasons deals with a more horrific threat: a newly re-opened Blockbuster Video Store! Yes, in his infinite wisdom, Stan’s dad Randy decides to invest in re-opening the brick and mortar video store in hopes of getting rich, in a year where the chain had closed down 500 stores. It also doesn’t help that the store is haunted by the ancient ghosts of customers who couldn’t make the transition to Netflix. This leads to one of the more spot on parodies of The Shining since The Simpsons and some hilarious antics involving the boys attempting and failing to live up to their Avengers costumes. Despite a few grating then-current references (the Gangnam Style references are few and more funny than not), the episode manages to combine all the social commentary of South Park with a ridiculously fun premise that builds some Halloween themed laughs.
Regular Show;”Terror Tales of the Park” episodes
As I’ve previous made clear, I love Regular Show. It’s a show aimed at younger audiences that’s keenly aware of its older crossover audience. It plays to the strengths of both, which ends up making it all the more charming to see the adventures of the laid back blue jay Mordecai and hyperactive raccoon Rigby play out with modern humor tinges and familiar yet well integrated references to older works. No better example of that sense of fun from the show can be found in the annual “Terror Tales from the Park” episodes of the show.
Usually consisting of three horror themed segments that lack continuity with the show a la The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, they allow for the writers to use the usual show formula of laid back schemes turning into out of control adventures and manage to truncate it just enough to where there’s always something bizarre and hysterical happening. Of the currently existing four entries in the annual tradition, I’d say that my favorite segment is “In the House” from the first, which takes the haunted house concept and gives it a face… in that Rigby is literally turned into a house after being cursed by a wizard. It’s unique enough to stand out from most other haunted house stories and plays on traditional horror tropes, even to the point of getting oddly gory for a show who’s main demographic is children.
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia; “The Maureen Ponderosa Massacre”
I only recently went from being a casual to a full blown fan of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and its episodes like this horror themed gem from Season 8 that make me constantly wonder why I waited so long. At the start of the episode, Dennis, Charlie, Mac and Frank are being questioned by the police about a violent incident that took place at the wedding of Dennis’ ex-wife Maureen to one of the McPoyles, the sworn enemies of the series’ leads. The results of their testimony is an insane story of sex, lies and clearly inbred McPoyles. From its opening kinetic handheld shot of the Gang running in terror to Charlie Day’s face meltingly funny spin on the Indianapolis speech from Jaws, this has the full on insanity of your average Sunny episode with the unconventional juxtaposition of horror tropes that makes it perfect for the season. Plus, there’s even a Guillermo Del Toro cameo!
Yes, I know I’m recommending you an animated film starring Adam Sandler. That deserved bias against Sandler caused many to write this one off as the Halloween equivalent of Eight Crazy Nights. Yet, unlike that film, Hotel Transylvania doesn’t waste talented animators’ talents on a Happy Madison-style bore fest. Instead, we get modern animation legend Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, the 2D Star Wars: Clone Wars cartoon) to take this potentially bland story of Dracula owning a hotel for his iconic monster friends as a method of keeping them and his teenage daughter from the judging human public and turns it into a vibrant, creative and even heartfelt animated film. Every frame has the presence of Taratkovsky’s trademark style, with well defined comic poses, elaborate facial expressions and some very snappy physical comedy. He even manages to ring some solid vocal performances out of the entire cast, even from Cee-Lo Green and Kevin James. So, don’t let the cast rob you of this highly underrated and adorable romp for anyone who loves these classic creatures.
Many a stranger will come to the door this Halloween, but you’re always sure to not let them in. That being said, I wouldn’t blame anyone for doing so the titular stranger in The Guest. As played by Downton Abbey‘s Dan Stevens, David is a soldier who comes to a small town to visit the parents of his fallen comrade. He initially plans on leaving, but his deceased friend’s parents are so charmed by David’s warm smile that they let him stay. This leads to what director Adam Wingard dubbed “Terminator meets Halloween“, as guns go a blazing. There’s so much gore left in this humble village, which is adorned with all sorts of atmospheric Halloween decorations throughout the film. The climax even takes place at the high school haunted house, which is perfectly claustrophobic and underlit for people to come around every corner. The Guest only came out a month or so ago in limited release, so there’s a good chance it could be in your local theater this Halloween. If so, I’d firmly recommend seeing it with your buds… but keep a track of the guests in your party!
Community has had a history of Halloween episodes, whether they be more character driven (Season 1’s “Introduction to Statistics”), more psycho analytical (Season 3’s “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps”) or kind of aimless (Season 4’s “Paranormal Parentage”). All of them have some merit (yes, even the Season 4 episode has a few bits that work), but none can quite compare to the tightly constructed and consistently hysterical “Epidemiology,” in which our intrepid study group finds themselves at the mercy of both their experimental government meat infected (re: zombie-like) fellow students and the greatest hits of ABBA, the Dean’s constantly looping soundtrack for the party. Filled with shout outs to everything from Aliens to Marmaduke, the episode has the usual charm of your average Community episode, but with an obvious horror bent to it. It helps that director Anthony Hemingway managed to give the whole episode this cinematic quality that sells the threat of the zombie-like student body, which makes that bickering and bottled up tension of the study group all the more fun. Shame Mr. Hemingway’s feature debut Red Tails managed to be less cinematic than this.
American Horror Story: Asylum
Ryan Murphy’s anthology series American Horror Story has had it’s ups and downs in terms of quality. The first season Murder House suffered from a slow start, the third season Coven couldn’t stop losing focus on it’s various characters as it trudged along and the still young fourth season Freak Show has had it’s fair share of awkward moments. No season has quite been able to shake off some of Ryan Murphy’s tendencies to shock just for the sake of it, change the rules of the show on a constant basis and leave certain story threads quite underdeveloped. Yet, out of all of them, the second season Asylum is the most cohesively sound.
Taking place an asylum run by nuns, the season dips into territory as diverse as Nazis, serial killers dressed as Santa Claus and even aliens, all while being so beautifully shot and weaving together a damn talented cast that includes the likes of Jessica Lange, James Cromwell and Ian McShane, who manage to add a solid amount of humanity to very over the top and brazen characters. As I said, it’s not completely consistent; some story aren’t too developed and certain characters are better than others. Yet, unlike some of the other seasons, the major leads actually have well constructed arcs that pay off and keep you invested even as the most bizarre and depraved spins on the horror genre come into play. Hell, they even to make Anne Frank fit into all this… and yes, I’m talking about *that* Anne Frank.
What are some of your contemporary Halloween TV specials and movies? Let us know what has become a perennial classic in your home in the comments!