6 Underrated Movies You Should Watch This HALLOWEEN!

‘Tis the Halloween season again, and like most of you, although I regularly watch all kinds of horror films all year round, for some reason, come October, I like to squeeze in as many titles as humanly possible into the month to properly get into the spirit. It often varies from classic horror features (last year I celebrated by making my way through all the Universal Monster Movies), modern horror (this year it’s the HALLOWEEN boxed set), personal favorites, one’s I have vague memories of & want to revisit and also a handful of movies I’ve never seen but have been meaning to. I’m sure you all have your traditional ones whether it be Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, TRICK ‘R TREAT or FRANKENSTEIN. But sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint exactly which movies you want to curl up on the couch with, so here’s a few odd titles that you may not be familiar with that I’m recommending for your Halloween viewing!

MURDER PARTY (2007) Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier
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One movie you’ve probably been hearing a lot about this past year has been the excellent revenge thriller BLUE RUIN. Well, several years back, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier made his feature film debut with this wickedly sharp and funny black comedy called MURDER PARTY. It’s essentially about some poor SOB with nothing to do on Halloween. And he stumbles upon an invite (literally off the ground) to a Halloween “Murder Party.” He crafts himself a knight costume out of cardboard and makes his way to the party in the hopes of companionship and making new friends. Instead, he falls victim to a group of pretentious art students that are plotting to murder whomever is dumb enough to show up to the “murder party” for the sake of impressing Alexander, a rich artist with grant money. Part of the fun is seeing just how off the rails and unexpected this “party” goes. It’s short and lean and just fun. Also, Macon Blair who fronts BLUE RUIN is also in this one.

GROW UP, TONY PHILLIPS (2013) Directed by: Emily Hagins
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This one is NOT a horror movie, but it’ll speak to the Halloween kid in all of us. The ones that don’t want to give up the joys of crafting their own costumes or trick ‘r treating. This 4th feature film by filmmaker Emily Hagins has been on my radar for a while, primarily because AJ Bowen (a friend, but also one of my favorite actors in the genre) is in this in a role that’s much closer to him and his comedic sensibilities than any other previous part, and it quietly came out on DVD without anyone making mention of it. So I’m here to rectify that. Look – on top of horror movies, I like movies about Halloween or the youthful spirit that encompasses the holiday. Tony Phillips is a likable kid that doesn’t want to outgrow making and wearing costumes or Halloween in general. It’s sweet and has it’s heart in the right place, so you should give this one a watch.

SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER (2004) Directed by: Jeff Lieberman
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I’ve always been a huge fan of JUST BEFORE DAWN and had been vaguely familiar with some of the other films of Jeff Lieberman, but I’ve really grown both fond and fascinated by his entire filmography in the last year. Scream Factory’s got ya covered with an excellent new release of SQUIRM on Blu-Ray. BLUE SUNSHINE is getting a remake. And you can buy REMOTE CONTROL on a pristine Blu-Ray directly from Lieberman’s site. But the one you need to break out this Halloween season is SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER. A serial killer puts on demon mask on and befriends a little boy in a devil costume who is convinced he’s actually Satan. They wreck havoc on the small town, unbeknownst to the kid just how dangerous and demented his new buddy is! It’s dark, strange, bizarre, sometimes hilarious and an all out bat-shit crazy Halloween movie that you need to add to your queue.

THE HAUNTING (1963) Directed by: Robert Wise
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You know, I just upgraded to the Blu-Ray version of the original version of THE HAUNTING and much to my surprise, I guess I’d never seen it before! Now it’s not set at or around Halloween, but since this is my discovery for this year and supernatural films like THE CONJURING are “hot,” I had to recommend it. Beautifully directed by Robert Wise just after he made WEST SIDE STORY, but right before THE SOUND OF MUSIC, he crafted this spooky atmospheric horror film! I love the way black & white looks in general, but his orchestration of the shots and the lush photography make this a gorgeous movie to relish in. Especially if you’ve got the Blu-Ray and hit off all the lights and crank the sound. The basic story revolves around a Dr. John Markway who invites a small select group of people to a supposedly haunted house. Each of them has some sort of connection either to the house or a previous supernatural encounter, and so he’s trying to instigate paranormal activity by bringing them together as a conduit. It’s funny, because my friend Drew Daywalt (master of the short horror film) has often cited one scene in this film as one of his biggest influences. It’s when the girls are in bed and hearing banging outside their door. The long focus on the doorknob creates tremendous suspense and you can watch this 5 minutes out of context from the rest of the movie and it still works as a scary scene. Again, the way the movie is executed in it’s direction is the most impressive aspect of it and you can see it’s influence on things like THE CONJURING. Granted, because it’s a film from the 60’s, it may come off a slow to most modern audiences, but those with the patience will appreciate this one for their Halloween viewing! PS: Forget the 1999 remake like everyone else did!

THE ROOST (2005) Directed by: Ti West
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Ti West’s films are not for every horror fan. But those that have the patience to appreciate the way he’s manages to build the tension in his features THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, THE INNKEEPERS and most recently in THE SACRAMENT “get it” and love it. You can count me in the “love it” camp. I’d been meaning to revisit his first 2 feature films for quite a while. I only had vague memories of his debut THE ROOST, but I’m glad I broke it out this Halloween. It’s a bit on the slow side, but around the 20-30 minute mark, it gets pretty bonkers. A group of kids break down by a remote farm. There are crazy man-eating bats in the barn. But once they attack, that’s just the beginning! (The above photo is a hint!) In terms of it’s “Halloween-esque” vibe, I attribute that to the wrap-around segments with Tom Noonan playing a late night horror host that’s introducing us to the tale of terror we’re experiencing. I’d say the start of Ti West as we know him stylistically begins with THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, but it’s interesting to see him lay the groundwork for his trademark filmmaking style with this early effort!

MALEVOLENCE (2003) Directed by: Stevan Mena
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Stevan Mena’s debut feature film MALEVOLENCE was one that we championed pretty hard back in the very early days of Icons Of Fright and not a lot has changed because any chance I get to recommend it, I will! Once again, this one’s not set on Halloween per se, but it’s got all the classic workings of films like HALLOWEEN, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. In fact, I’ve often said that this works much better as a “HALLOWEEN remake” than Rob Zombie’s movie! What starts out as a bank heist, turns into a nightmare when the culprits take 2 hostages and hide out in a remote house in the middle of nowhere. But they’ve also stumbled upon a vicious serial killer that is unleashing his malevolence on them! Appearance-wise, he looks like Jason Voorhees from FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 or the killer from THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, but he’s Michael Myers all the way. Pure evil. I’ve always been impressed with the dark tone and look of the film, Mena’s direction and his excellent score. Also, as the ad’s said when the film initially hit theaters in 2004, “once the scares start, they don’t stop.” Turn off all the lights and crank this one nice and loud. The score, sound design and abrupt visuals will scare the crap out of you. And if you want to make it a really screwed up evening, throw on the prequel BEREAVEMENT right after!

BONUS: THE KARATE KID (1984) Directed by: John G. Avildsen

Any chance I get to mention THE KARATE KID or my love of 80’s cinema in general, I absolutely will. So although not a horror film, I was recently reminded that there’s a Halloween dance party in the original Ralph Macchio/ Pat Morita classic! Worth a watch just for that! It counts! NO MERCY! And Happy Halloween!
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