Looking for ideas for Halloween weekend films? Tired of the obvious like Frankenstein, Halloween, and Carrie? You may have to dig a little deeper in the archives for some of the following titles, but they will reward you with nightmares and cold sweats at the sight of knives, glasses of milk, merry-go-rounds and even lovebirds.
Bwa ha ha.
Jaws -- Start with an easy one: This blockbuster from Steven Spielberg borrows some elements from the classic novel Moby Dick. Robert Shaw plays the crusty captain who offers to rid the town of their fishy nemesis. Roy Scheider plays the local police chief who is stuck between trying to protect the public and not offend the local businessmen -- and manages to give the shark a spectacular death. Great theme music. Great fun.
Anything by Hitchcock -- Although he did not really make horror films as such, he had audiences squirming in their seats many times. The Lodger (1927) is based on the Jack the Ripper legend and is great at evoking atmosphere. I recommend the 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, with the search for Ambrose Chapel and all the other plot twists. Rebecca, Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, The Birds, Psycho and Under Capricorn are all very suitable for Halloween. I should warn you tho, that The Birds might give you nightmares.
Night of the Living Dead -- Only the 1968 black-and-white original gets my stamp of approval. Poor dad gets hatcheted by his little zombie girl. Has that inimitable touch of irony at the end which makes it so satisfying.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? -- How can I begin to describe the delicious battle between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford? Poor Joan, confined to a wheelchair. Weird Bette, camping it up yet scaring us to bits with how convincing she is as a demented former child star. Watch out for the meals she serves sister Joan.
Day of Wrath (Vredens Dag) -- This Danish film, shot in 1943 but set in 1623, is a spookily filmed tale of witch-hunting and avoiding guilt by association. Would you try to hide someone that you knew was falsely accused of something? The scenes of torture and burning of an old woman accused of being a witch are horrendous and provoke empathy in the viewer. I should mention that it was filmed during the Nazi occupation of Denmark; also, it possibly influenced Arthur Miller to write his play, The Crucible.
Eyes Without a Face -- What is it about the French and face transplants? Not long after a real Frenchwoman made medical history by receiving a face transplant after a dog attack, I found this oldie in the Criterion Collection. A renegade surgeon keeps stealing faces off nice young women in the city, after inviting them to work for him at his nice secluded villa.
M -- I could have a whole Fritz Lang department here, but have limited it to this and Dr. Mabuse. This classic German film stars a young Peter Lorre as a child murderer hunted by the townspeople. The trial at the end is a classic sequence in which Lorre tells how he is helpless to withstand the inner demons compelling him to his crimes.
Testament of Dr. Mabuse -- The plot revolves around a crime wave instigated by the writings of the evil Dr. Mabuse, now locked up in an insane asylum. When the police inspector goes to the asylum to interview Mabuse, he is told that he just died. But Professor Baum seems to be in contact with the ghost of Mabuse, and leads the crime ring. The film has a rather convoluted plot but is well worth watching. Note that two versions were filmed at once, with different casts for a French and German language film due to the cost of dubbing in 1933; watch either one. Catch the clever uses of sound later adopted by Alfred Hitchcock.
The Tin Drum -- Just weird. A 1959 German film about a boy who receives a tin drum for his third birthday and after deciding that grownups are deficient in character and smarts, decides he will never grow up. He stays three years old thru WWII and postwar Europe, joining a troupe of performing dwarfs and later leading a criminal youth gang.
Les Diaboliques -- Creepy. Possibly the most Hitchcockian film, and reportedly Hitchcock tried to buy the film rights but was beaten by a few hours. A 1954 French film starring Simone Signoret and Vera Clouzot, it is thoroughly creepy. I would tell you more but the movie closes with a request not to reveal the plot to those who have not seen it.
Alphaville -- Part sci-fi and part film noir, this 1965 film is hard to categorize. But once you've seen it, you will never forget it. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard, a tough guy goes to Alphaville in his Ford Galaxie to find Henry Dickson, capture or kill the creator of Alphaville (Professor Von Braun), and destroy Alpha 60. Alphaville is a dictatorship run by Alpha 60, a computer that has outlawed free thought and silly illogical things like love, poetry, and emotion.
Kwaidan -- By Masaki Kobayashi, this collection won a special prize at Cannes film festival in 1965. Four short stories, what you might call ghost stories, are set in the traditional Japanese culture. In The Woman of the Snow, a mysterious woman in invited in for the night while on her way to the city. She stays and marries the young man of the house, and manages to never age even after bearing a family. Then the man has to spoil it all by -- but you watch it. In Hoichi the Earless, a blind musician learns to perform the saga of an ancient sea battle so well, that the spirits of those who died there invite him to perform it -- night after night. In The Black Hour, a man suffers from guilt over leaving a loyal wife in order to advance socially; he returns home again to find his wife unchanged and totally forgiving. Or does he? The fourth tale, In a Cup of Tea, is another ghost story of guilt and revenge.
Blair Witch Project -- This 1999 film created a sensation with an effective internet promotional campaign that claimed the film was based on a real story. Terribly realistic with its shaky handheld cameras. Go to the corner and start counting.