2018, 31 Days of Halloween, cinema, Film, film reviews, George Romero, Halloween, Halloween traditions, horror films, horror movies, Night of the Living Dead, October, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Trick 'r Treat
At long last: the fifth and final week of the annual 31 Days of Halloween! For the final three days, we screened three films, all of which are personally beloved classics: when it comes down to it, you really can’t go wrong with some classics.
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Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Although it seems rather hard to believe, the proof is in the pudding: George Romero’s landmark Night of the Living Dead really did turn 50 years old this October. They must’ve built ’em to last back then because the film still retains all of its power today, despite the technological, cinematic and special effects achievements in the following decades. The farmhouse is still claustrophobic, the violence is still jarring, Duane Jones’ Ben is still a helluva hero and that ending is still a real gut-punch.
It’s tempting to allow NOTLD to fade into the background: after all, it’s (unintentional) public domain status has made it one of the most ubiquitous horror movies of all time. How many films can you name that feature a scene where Romero’s black-and-white shocker is playing on a TV somewhere? Like the original Universal monster films, Night of the Living Dead is one of those films that has come to define the horror genre. The repercussions of this modest little indie are still felt throughout the film and television industries fifty years later: if that’s not testament to the immortality of this unbeatable icon, then I don’t know what is.
This time around, I found myself drawn to NOTLD’s simplicity and sense of isolation. This is certainly a situation where the non-existent budget led to a “less is more” approach that created a truly unforgettable environment. Future “Dead” movies would revel in clutter and background detail to an occasionally distracting degree but the sparseness found here is as essential a character as the zombies or doomed humans.
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The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
If there was any particular theme for this last week of October, I suppose it might loosely be seen as “films that represent the season.” While Night of the Living Dead might seem an imperfect fit, who would argue against Tim Burton’s (via Henry Selick) delightful classic The Nightmare Before Christmas as being one of the very best Halloween films ever?
In truth, this tale of Jack Skellington and the merry citizens of Halloween Town, pretty much has it all: thrills, chills (Oogie Boogie is a genuinely creepy dude), laughs, great songs, a rousing score, romance, drama, more Halloween and October imagery than you can shake a femur at and even a little Christmas (if that’s your bag).
The film has aged exceptionally well (certainly better than much of Burton’s 2000s-era output) and continues to bear all the hallmarks of a classic: I look forward to watching this little jewel for many, many Halloweens to come.
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Trick ‘r Treat (2009)
If you’re going with “horror films that symbolize Halloween,” there’s just no way you’re not talking about Michael Dougherty’s much-delayed, insta-classic Trick ‘r Treat. The stuff of legend before it was even (belatedly) released, Dougherty’s anthology film is, in many ways, the quintessential Halloween film: it’s not just a film set on Halloween, it’s a film about Halloween and all of its traditions, norms, expectations and spirits.
From age-old traditions like trick or treating to even older ones like contacting the dead, Trick ‘r Treat is a ghastly, candy-colored primer on All Hallow’s Eve. Each of the interconnected tales (think of this as the horror version of Pulp Fiction) is built organically around the autumnal oranges and funeral blacks that make up the culmination of October’s promise, the reason for the season: Halloween.
There are many films that could be screened during October and on Halloween: the list is so much longer than anything we could possibly program in a single month of viewing. In that list, however, there are precious few films that truly symbolize Halloween in the same way that Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat does. There is a genuine love and admiration for the holiday and season that you don’t find in many places. Trick ‘r Treat isn’t about Halloween: Trick ‘r Treat IS Halloween…that’s a mighty big difference.
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And with that, we come to the conclusion of this year’s 31 Days of Halloween. We managed to screen 27 films across 31 days, so we didn’t quite hit our goal for the year. Despite that, we did manage to screen several intriguing new films, including rather unforgettable fare like Can Evrenol’s Housewife, the new Puppet Master film and killer parent epic Mom and Dad. Just as important, however, we revisited old favorites like Halloween, Night of the Living Dead and Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, proving that there’s nothing quite like your favorite films during your favorite time of the year.
Stay tuned for end of the year wrap-ups as The VHS Graveyard begins to bid adieu to 2018. As always, thanks for reading!