Staying in for Halloween? Curate a double feature for your favourite creatures
If you’re bullish on the brilliance that is Halloween but dovish on the douchiness of crushing crowds of people, the home movie night is the way to go. Get a bunch of like-minded friends to come over (Costumes are optional. Ha! No, they’re mandatory), fire up the Blu-ray player and prepare to have the crap scared out of you.
But whatever you do, don’t stop at one movie. You take Halloween seriously. You’re in this to the end. And THAT means: double feature, baby.
But what movies to play? You’ll need themes! You’ll need intermissions! You’ll need ideas! Hey, we have those for you. Three of them! Behold!
Double Feature One: Cult Classics
FIRST FEATURE: THE WICKER MAN (1973) While the Nicolas Cage remake gave the story a bad name, the original remains one of the most unsettling movies of all time. A contemporary of The Exorcist, The Wicker Man features the kind of slow-burn horror that gets under your skin.
While looking for a missing girl, straight-laced detective Howie (Edward Woodward) lands on the island of Summerisle. But soon, it becomes clear something is off: the locals practice pagan rituals and continuously deny the girl’s existence; a chain of twists and turns takes the audience to some unexpected places, and it’s all permeated by a sense of dooooooom.
A more thoughtful kind of horror movie than most, The Wicker Man uses (mostly white) xenophobia of other cultures to freak us out. The islanders in this movie seem safe and familiar to people who grew up in this mid-to-late century post-war Western society, but something is wronnng. And poor little sexually repressed us land squarely on Sergeant Howie’s side — and his fate knocks us senseless.
INTERMISSION: THE “SAFE HAVEN” SEGMENT IN V/H/S 2 Gareth Evans, director of The Raid saga, uses his kinetic style of filmmaking for evil, and the outcome is brilliant. “Safe Haven” is by far the best segment produced in the self-indulgent V/H/S saga. A news crew — including a very pregnant woman — infiltrates a compound where an Indonesian cult resides, just in time for a devastating ritual the newshounds are definitely not prepared for.
“Safe Haven” barely has time to establish the premise before the mass suicide begins. Fifteen minutes of extreme insanity ensue, with a supernatural element adding to the chaos. Brilliant.
SECOND FEATURE: THE SACRAMENT (2013) From the new generation of splat-packers comes a film with a strong central premise handicapped by the absence of a script. (They work over “treatments.”). It’s still pretty good. Three Vice magazine journalists travel to a religious colony in an undisclosed location, because the cult has “adopted” the sister of one of the writers. As with any cult worth its name, the members believe their charismatic leader is God incarnated.
The reporters find out that some of the faithful are kept in the settlement against their will, and grill the fearless leader on the subject. Predictably, the interview goes badly and the colony goes full Jonestown on the journos.
The setup is perfunctory, but the extended denouement is a brilliant nightmare. The journalists struggle to prevent the brainwashed sheeple from following their deranged ruler’s commands, particularly since their own lives are at risk.
Overextended at 95 minutes, The Sacrament shows everything The Wicker Man insinuates, and doesn’t linger as much. Framed by the overused “found footage” narrative device, The Sacrament is remarkably inconsistent in the origin of the images. But if you can bypass a number of narrative dissonances, you may be up for a few haunting nightmares. /Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Double Feature Two: Paranoia Will Destroy Ya
Every decade gets the whacked-out paranoid movie it deserves. The ’60s gave us films like The Manchurian Candidate and Rosemary’s Baby; the ’70s offered a buffet of over-the-shoulder entertainments such as The Parallax View and The Conversation. But the ’80s, oh, the 80s. The 80s slopped a supply-side glaze of Reagan-era cheer over its movies, giving us paranoid works in which sinister beings wore power ties and operated in broad daylight.
FIRST FEATURE: THEY LIVE (1988) John Carpenter’s crass, hilarious and brilliant movie is probably the only piece of successful social satire to hand a leading role to beefy wrestler Roddy Piper. As a drifter named Nada, Piper leads an ordinary, down-and-out existence until he discovers a cache of sunglasses that reveal a hidden world of horror just beneath the sunny surface of Los Angeles. With the glasses on, he discovers the world is run by skeletal aliens in expensive suits. Mayhem ensues.
INTERMISSION After taking in They Live, you’ll want to slip on a pair of Ray-bans and chew some bubblegum. Take your time. Kick some ass if necessary.
SECOND FEATURE: THE HIDDEN (1987) Not as well-known as They Live but perfectly entertaining, The Hidden stars Kyle MacLachlan and Michael Nouri as Los Angeles cops chasing down an alien parasite that hops from body to body. The familiar buddy-cop formula gets tilted on its side when we realize that… nah, that’s a spoiler. Anyway, the most enjoyable character is the parasite, who turns out to be a perfect distillation of ’80s excess and greed. The parasite is a villain with no motivation beyond satisfying its desire for bags of money, shiny cars and political power. /Aidan Morgan
Double Feature Three: Ghosties In Housies
There’s tons of variations on traditional ghost stories, but the best since human beings started living together in buildings has got to be the ones set in haunted houses genre. Like the tiger says, they’re GREAT.
FIRST FEATURE: THE CHANGELING (1980) If there’s anything scarier than strange pounding sounds in the night and an old tyme-y wheelchair, I don’t know what it would be. George C. Scott stars in this 1980 Canadian-made horror film, about a composer who moves to an old Victorian mansion after the death of his wife and child. Not only does it turn into a great mystery, but it’s one of the most effective, chilling horror movies ever made.
INTERMISSION If your theme is haunted house movies, what better way to take a break in your double feature by creating a haunted house for your guests in your basement? You can do it kiddie-style, with blindfolds and grapes for eyeballs and spaghetti for brains, or you can scare the bejeezus out of them. Obviously door number two is the correct choice here. First, come up with a creepy story that’ll get inside their head. Then, dim the lights, hand them flashlights, and use a rented fog machine, some Halloween store gravestones and décor, and scary sound effects (try rolling a penny around in a can). Get a helper you’ve sourced out in advance that will jump out from the dark when least expected. Once everyone has changed into clean pants, you’re ready to start your second movie.
SECOND FEATURE: HAUSU (A.K.A. HOUSE) This 1977 Japanese film was directed by surrealist Nobuhiko Obayashi, who crafted an avant-garde trip about a girl who travels with her classmates to her aunt’s home in the country. Once there, the girls are assaulted by ghosts, a super-weird cat, a murderous piano and a bunch of strange apparitions, all brought to life with purposefully unrealistic animation, matte paintings and other effects. Beyond that, it’s indescribable midnight movie madness that you really have to see to believe. If you watch this movie on acid, and you shouldn’t do acid, but if you do, you definitely leave with a horrible case of PTSD. If you watch it without acid, you’ll feel like someone slipped hallucinogens into your drink anyway. It’s available from the Criterion Collection. /Craig Silliphant