Oct. 31st: Halloween II (1981)

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Outside of the hugely underrated and insanely Halloweeny Season of the Witch, Halloween II is really the only other Halloween installment I can recommend in good conscience. Plus, it’s the sequel, so we gotta give props to that this season.

I don’t love Halloween II and I rather blame its existence on why the franchise wasn’t able to continue and expand the way John Carpenter wished. If Halloween II was Halloween III, we could have had a different Halloween themed story with every outing for who knows how many years.

Had they simply ended Michael’s tale with part 1, it would have been more haunting, more powerful and had prepped fans straight away that this was not going to be “Michael’s Series.” Who was that masked man murdering teens on Halloween? I dunno, guess he’s just wandering around now. Moving on with some other tales.

As it stands, II continued “the night he came home” and forever sealed the fate of this franchise as “The Michael Myers Story” With each new installment removing more of what made Michael great in the first damn place…ambiguity.

It’s also the film that introduced the whole extended Myers family angle to the story, an aspect in which I couldn’t be less interested. I like the fact the Laurie and her friends were chosen by almost complete chance and that their murders are the random outbursts of some mysterious, masked maniac.

All that being said, Halloween II is still Michael’s best sequel. It still features the original mask (a huge plus when considering the awful, awful resculpts), maintains the general feel of the original and literally picks up right where the first one left off, thus taking place on the same night. You could have ended Michaels story here successfully, no doubt, but fans just wanted more and they were eventually given just that.

It’s pretty Halloweeny and the hospital setting is an interesting location and leads to some unnerving sequences and kills. It also gives an expanded glimpse into Haddonfield as it reels from the previous film’s mayhem. Everyone in town is starting to hear about the horrible things that have happened just a block or two over. It’s neat to see the night just continue.

Poor Ben Tramer gets straight plowed by a police cruiser and goes out in a blaze of Halloween glory, though. Poor Michael gets both of his eyes shot out, which never really seems to pose him too much difficultly on any of his further adventures. And poor Laurie has to find out she’s that guys fucking sister. Samhain bummers all around.

This year was a celebration not just of other Halloween themed movies, but also of the Halloween Sequel. While Halloween II may be cheating just slightly, is a mere shadow of its forebear’s glory, and sets this entire franchise on many of its awful roads, it’s still the greatest Halloween Sequel there is.

Double it up with the original for one extended “night he came home” this year.

I give 2 bloody eyes and a burning Ben Tramer up!

Designation: Treat!

Happy Halloween, weeners. Thanks for joining us through Return of the 31 Days of Halloween Horror 2: Revenge of the Halloween Sequels: Trick or Treat?

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Oct. 30th: The Night that Panicked America (1975)

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This ad released by ABC is strangely inaccurate. The original broadcast occurred on Oct. 30th, not Halloween night

Exactly 78 years ago on this night, October 30th 1938, Orson Welles produced a radio dramatization of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Legend has it that the broadcast threw listeners into a frenzy, not realizing the production was a work of fiction and thought actual Martians were invading the Earth.

To what extent that is true is apparently up for some debate, with critics citing the allegations of panic as merely hokum the newspapers concocted to slander their newfound competition…radio.

Exactly 41 years ago tomorrow, Halloween 1975, ABC aired this recreation of that broadcast and the events supposedly surrounding it (with a fair amount of artistic license, no doubt) The Night That Panicked America.

For years following its initial broadcast, local stations made a habit of airing the film on the anniversary of the original Welles radio broadcast, October 30th.

And in the grand tradition of radio and local television, the Shindig Presents Joseph Sargent’s The Night That Panicked America, available to you here embedded from YouTube.

Happy Cabbage Night, Weeners. Go panic America!

Oct. 29th: Lady In White (1988)

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I wouldn’t necessarily call Lady in White strictly a Halloween movie, but its first 40 minutes are so awesomely and insanely Halloweeny that they totally trump the dated ghost effects, cheeseball climax and even the touch of Christmas that all appear later in the film.

And Halloween is a solid 3rd of this movie, which is nothing to sneeze at, particularly considering the movies that’ll get nods for featuring Halloween.

Plus, there aren’t many movies that ramp up the Halloween and then just nail that atmosphere as much as this one does in those first 40 minutes. They’re dense. That classroom sequence alone feels like it was shot from inside a hazy Jack-o-Lantern into another hazier Jack-O-Lantern. It’s so perfectly and wonderfully Halloweeny.

Add to that, it’s a weird little spooky ghost story that predominantly features a child-murderer. How’s that grab ya? Keep in mind too, that I think this is suppose to be a kids movie. Which makes sense to me. What would appeal more to the concerns of children than other children being murdered?

I would describe it as the nexus point between Dark Night of the Scarecrow, The Halloween Tree and To Kill A Mockingbird. All solid Halloween fare.

Lady In White can definitely hold its head high among the titans of The Class of 1988, even graduating with an average well above the curve.

One cement covered Jack-O-Lantern and a bowl full of candy corn up!

Designation: Treat!

Oct. 28th: Flesh Eater (1988)

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Once you’ve experienced enough completely atrocious or utterly unwatchable garbage, regular bad movies just don’t seem so bad anymore. Sometimes they even seem pretty fun and likeable, and some things that any normal person would completely dismiss become weird, small joys.

It was suggested to me that this is exactly happened when I watched Flesh Eater. Now, I’m almost inclined to agree somewhat, but I still think this one has a lot of legitimate good to offer.

It would appear that Bill Hinzman was pretty bored and not cashing-in enough on his former appearance as the cemetery zombie from Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead. So he set about writing, directing, producing and starring in this spin-off movie about just that zombie.

Sound pretty great? Well, it’s actually a whole lot of fun.

First and foremost, it’s got some great gore gags from Pittsburgh FXician and all around awesome dude Jerry Gergely. Bonus.

Plus, It’s got that low-budget, mid-80’s townie vibe that I just love in a horror movie.

Also, it’s got absolutely relentless, weapon wielding maniac-zombies that literally kill everyone they come across. This movie spares no one.

Additionally, it’s got all the weirdo dialogue, goofball acting, and almost unanimous under-reactions to all of its zombie chaos that make for an entertaining watch.

And last but by no means least, it’s got Halloween. There’s trick or treating, candy apple making, costumes, decorations and the requisite Halloween dance party.

While not quite the official sequel it imagines itself to be, Flesh Eater rather seems like some sot of bizarro Night of the Living Dead from another dimension where that movie was never made in ’68. This might actually be what Night of the Living would look like if it had been churned out in the mid-80’s by someone a lot less capable than George A. Romero and featured Halloween.

I can’t say you’ll enjoy Flesh Eater as much as I do, or at all really, but I’d gladly take this over any unnecessary remake, found footage nonsense, or whatever spooky ghostboy bullshit is clogging up cinemas, redbox and video-on-demand any old Oct. 28th of the year.

1 dead little angel and a drunk Dracula up!

Designation: Treat!

Oct. 27th: Slugs (1988)

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Slugs is gross. Slugs is gory. Slugs is ridiculous. Slugs  is great.

But most importantly, Slugs, for no particular reason (other than that it’s more awesome if it does), takes place during Halloween.

Sure, it might appear to be an almost absolute afterthought, completely tacked on through some Godfrey Ho-style over dubbing and a sad looking Jack-O-lantern placed at an otherwise suspiciously unfestive party through reshoots…but it’s there goddammit and that’s all that matters.

Besides, Slugs doesn’t really need Halloween anyway. Between its grotesque death scenes, its gross slug photography, its bizarro performances and its intense, out of place score, Slugs is doing just fine without Halloween.

The unnecessary, and frankly half-assed inclusion of the holiday is merely one of many small touches that makes Slugs so great.

Now I may not have the authority to declare happy birthday…but I can confidently declare Happy Halloween and so can Slugs.

So, c’mon Weeners, get naked and get crazy!

2 Slugs Up!

Designation: Treat!

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Oct. 26th: House II (1987)

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“It’s getting weirder!”

I’ll say. That might even be selling this fucker a little short, to be honest.

Seriously though, 0%, Rotten Tomatoes? That seems a little harsh guys, no? Yeah, yeah, you’re just a non-entity aggregator. It’s not your personal opinion, I understand how this works, thanks. But to the small critical community comprising that 0% though, c’mon gang. Ease up a little, huh?

While certainly not the finest piece of cinema to escape 1987, it may just be the best horror-comedy-inter-dimensional-prehistoric-Aztec-fantasy-western ever produced, and there’s some fun to be had from this in-name-only mess.
You have 80’s goofball Arye Gross paling around with the weird man-servant from Fright Night and banging Tina from Friday 7. Bonus. Then they dig up Royal Dano from Killer Klowns (in a killer Chris Walas makeup) and later Cliff from Cheers shows up. And then you got Bill Maher just hanging around for no reason whatsoever being an 80’s prick. Bill Maher? Yep.

You get a crystal skull, stop-motion dinosaurs, awesome pterodactyl and dog-caterpillar puppets and the girl from Society as an Aztec virgin sacrifice. What more do you want? Halloween? Well you’re in luck pal, because House II somehow found the time to cram that in there too.

The whole beginning feels very Halloween-spooky, with the arrival at the mansion and the grave-digging, both of which lead to a fun (and obligatory) Halloween party. The festive vibe sort of tapers off after that, and so does any semblance of a coherent tone as House II officially flies off the rails and starts resembling something like a bastard child of Brisco County Jr. and My Science Project.

Yeah, this is a goofy, schizophrenic madball of a movie that throws so much bizarre shit at you it’s hard to make heads or tails of it after a point, but it’s still kind of fun. And the Chris Walas creature work is great as always.

I give this 1 dancing Frankenstein up.

Designation: Treat

Oct. 25th: Tales of Halloween (2015)

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On the whole, I’d say the last…oh, 20 years or so of horror have left me feeling pretty cold.

But, I had to give this a go, right?

While I certainly didn’t love The ABC’s of Halloween…I mean Tales of Halloween, it has a few things going for it to where I can toss it a treat.

1.) It presents its tales story by story, eschewing the modern convention of interweaving its parts into a big soupy jumble that doesn’t let you just be done with a dumb segment and move on.

2.) With its 10 different stories clocking it at just over and hour and a half, you get a median length of 9 minutes per tale. That’s a good window. It means the lamer segments (and there’s enough) don’t hang around too long. That’s nice.

And

3.) It’s Halloweeny as all get out. It’s an All Hallows’ overload with moments large and small colored in all manner of decorations, lights and ambiance. It’s a good visual treat for any October evening.

That being said, I doubt I’ll ever sit down and watch Tales of Halloween again. The few bits I did enjoy didn’t bring me so much enjoyment I’ll revisit this as a whole.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t watch it or you won’t enjoy it. I’m kind of a prick I imagine and I’m probably hard to please. An anthology to me should be more enjoyment than not, and this one starts out sort of promising, dips hard and then somewhat rights itself again by the end. It never reaches a point where I’m fully on board, though.

The only segment I found myself really enjoying was “The Bad Seed” and honestly, that felt a little rushed. I think more time spent here instead of other places in the movie could have done this tale a fair bit of good. It was still the best of the bunch for me.

“The Night Billy Raised Hell” has a fun Tales from The Darkside vibe, but it’s basically a more sinister Satan’s Little Helper that is at times too goofy for its own good.  But it totally features an awesome guest spot from Barry Bostwick (Megaforce!).

“Sweet Tooth” has a neat Halloween legend to it and is serviceable.

Falling into a similar category is “The Ransom of Rusty Rex.” It’s sort of fun.

Pretty much everything else here left me either bored or wanting. I enjoyed Pollyanna McIntosh in “Ding-Dong” but I hated literally everything else about it. Likewise for Alex Essoe in the boring and predictable (but cameo studded) “Grim Grinning Ghost.”

I was enjoying “October the 31st” until it went all Evil Dead, but there’s some fun gore there to help it along.

“Trick” was too Trick ‘R Treat-lite for me, with none of that segment’s vintage spookiness, build-up or charm.

“The Weak and the Wicked” felt posturing and irritating and “This Means War” totally squandered a great premise.

Adrienne Barbeau’s Stevie Wayne-styled audio-wraparound is a nice touch. There’s also more cameos here per-capita than maybe any horror movie ever. Some are very fleeting and for only the most eagled-eyed viewers among you. Seriously, did I catch Grady from Freddy’s Revenge in there? Any movie that throws a fucking bone to a Tommy Hook has got to get a little credit.

Ultimately, I think this makes for a good Halloween watch though, for just how much of the season it imbues. There’s few movies out there that have this much Halloween shoved up their pumpkin. I can’t say I really liked Tales of Halloween, but it’s got spirit to spare and definitely amped me up for the big day.

I’d give it a couple fistfuls of candy and a Neal Kennemore mask just for knocking.

Designation: Treat

Oct. 24th: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

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C’mon, Halloween’s been around for more than 40 years, right? So why do we have 23 different Halloween movies and nothing older than 1976?

Well, that’s about to change with tonight’s selection, Frank Capra’s 1944 adaption of the popular stage play Arsenic and Old Lace.

Keeping with this year’s motif, Halloween frames our events but isn’t their focal point. In fact, it’s a little touch Capra and screenwriter Julius Epstein added to the film version, as the original play does not take place on Halloween night. It fits though, giving a spookier air to already sinister happenings of the story.

Newly married theater critic and author Mortimer Brewster has just discovered his sweet and unassuming Aunts have been mercy-poisoning old, lonely bachelors and burying them down in the basement. Oh, ok then. He doesn’t handle that so well, and his reactions are pretty great.

When Mortimer’s brother Johnathan returns home after years of estrangement, he has designs to do the same, unaware that his aunts have been engaged in exactly the same criminal activities.

What follows is mad-cappery as only the early 40’s could provide. Which means you will either find all this goofy nonsense and shouting charming or it will annoy the hell out of you. I’m somewhere in between. I enjoy a good classic, but the board comedy on display and Gary Grant’s over-the-top performance can be a bit much at times. Rumor has it all of this was to be toned down in the editing, but  Capra reported for assignment in WWII, and his changes went with him. There’s another thing you can blame on Hitler.

There’s a lot to love here, though. There’s a ton of great one-liners, subtle verbal quips galore, and for the most part, Cary Grant is really quite funny.

Peter Lorre is his usual unnerving and enjoyable self as Johnathan’s personal plastic surgeon, who has given John the ghastly appearance of Boris Karloff – the original actor who portrayed Jonathan in the stage production. Warner could not get Karloff on loan, as the production was still running and the theater company feared losing its big-name draw. This becomes sort of a running gag throughout the film, as Karloff is referenced several times.

Stepping into Boris’ scars is his Old Dark House chum Raymond Massey, who does a wonderful job underplaying his villainous Johnathan amidst the buffoonery surrounding him.

One great sequence involves Mortimer’s critique of a scene he recently saw performed on stage where a purportedly intelligent character foolishly allows himself to be bound and gagged despite knowing full well he was in danger. At the same time, this exact scenario is taking place in front of us, with the act being perpetrated against Mortimer. It’s a great piece of comic staging that works perfectly.

Then there’s the matter of the Brewster home’s exterior, which contains a great family graveyard, covered in whirling autumn leaves and spooky ambience perfectly befitting the holiday.

There are a few small references to Halloween, and a quick scene of children arriving at the house for some holiday treats, but otherwise this is simply a dark comedy of murder and coercion that carves out its own little niche on the 31st of October.

If you’re in the mood for something old that isn’t the tried-and-true Universal mainstays, but also includes a tinge of the season,  Arsenic and Old Lace is a good bet. That is assuming of course the whole affair doesn’t just irate the fun right out of you.

I give it 1 jack-o-lantern up, because what? I’m sorry, did people use to just hand out jack-o-lanterns to trick-or-treaters on Halloween? Cause that’s awesome.

Designation: Treat

Oct. 23rd: Retribution (1987)

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Like most of the film’s this year, Halloween doesn’t play a very prominent role in this weird little supernatural revenge slasher from 1987, but what’s there is pretty cool and it makes Retribution that much cooler than it would be without it.

Essentially George Miller is a depressed painter who decides to jump off the roof of his apartment building on Halloween night. Incidentally, local street gambler Vito is being gunned down at the same time on the other side of town.

For no apparent reason, Vito’s soul travels into George’s body at the moment of death and George is spared. However he then becomes a vessel for Vito’s ethereal revenge, and his psychological nightmare begins.

This is a fun, sometimes grisly and effective horror yarn that starts off with a bang on Halloween night. It’s the kind of thing slashers started becoming in Freddy’s genre-changing wake. But it’s not a bad use of post-Elm Street supernatural elements and it comes correct with the violence and intensity. It also crafts an interesting story around it’s horror that belies its 1987 release. This one feels a bit more 70’s than it is.

While it’s pretty much one-and-done with Halloween after the opening, the plot is intriguing, the death scenes are neat and Dennis Lipscomb makes for a good conflicted villain/hero. When he’s in revenge-dream mode he’s formiably intense. When he’s not, he’s convincingly feeble.

Plus there’s a suitably 80’s synth score from Alan Howarth, frequent Carpenter collaborator and composer for Halloweens 2 through 6. A solid draft.

So, if you’ve seen ’em all, toss on Retribution this week for a slight dose of Halloween horror. If you haven’t seen ’em all, we’ll get to it, you only have a week left.

I give it 1 hotdog-eating, mask-wearing, lookie-loo up.

Designation: Treat!

Oct. 22nd: Vacaciones De Terror 2: Cumpleaños Diabólico (1991)

I’m not sure what “Pesadilla Sangrienta” means or why it adorns this VHS cover of the movie, but this image was cooler than the others.

I’m not sure what “Pesadilla Sangrienta” means or why it adorns this VHS cover of the movie, but this image was cooler than the others.

Last time around, our brothers from the south offered us the entertaining Cemetario Del Terror for our Halloween enjoyment. This time, it’s our next Halloween sequel in the form of Vacaciones De Terror 2: Cumpleaños Diabólico!

Now I’ve never seen the original, but from what I can tell this movie is pretty much an in-name-only sequel, so I don’t know if that prereq will afford you much in the way of bearings.

Basically, a possessed doll mutates into a pretty cool looking goblin-demon who snatches a little girl into some sort of nether world. Our heroes need to create a pure silver seal-thingie to free her from the creature before morning, lest she be lost forever. That’s the long and short of it.

This one starts out with a fun Halloween party in the middle of a studio lot, presumably owned by the little girl’s father, a movie director. Then, we’re treated to Mexican pop sensation Tatiana singing her (very un-Halloweeny) song “Chicos, Chicos.” Try not to have this fucker stuck in your head for the next 4 hours. Maybe a weird doll will transform into a demon for no reason and start hurling flaming pumpkins around like the some sort of ghastly Green Goblin.

Oh boy, are you in luck…and it’s pretty awesome.

Where a lot of Halloweens movies feature a scene or two in observance, Vacaciones De Terror goes hard till the bitter end. Granted, it all takes place on the same studio lot that was decorated for the Halloween party, so it’s mostly the same stuff over and over again, but all that stuff is cool as shit, so we’re good with it.

This is fun and easy viewing for horror adventurists that provides plenty of holiday ambiance, ghoulish effects, nonsensical happenings and chuckle inducing oddity.

If you’re not that adventurous, I’m sure a dubbed copy exists somewhere which provides more ease of viewing and probably more chuckles. I know Netflix offers it on DVD from the same “Crypt of Terror” set which contains Cemetario Del Terror. That set also includes the awesome Dimensiones Ocultas aka Don’t Panic, which The Shindig highly recommends as well.

I watched this version, so I couldn’t say. What I can say is that this version has no subtitles whatsoever, so good luck with that. I had to go and add some using handbrake, just so I could understand what the hell was going on. I dunno, maybe you speak pretty good Spanish.

Either way, you’re definitely in for some Halloween fun.

I give it 2 flaming pumpkins up.

Designation: Treat!