Phil christens our new series with a mega-marathon of Halloween staples: slashers, ghost stories, haunted houses and, of course, Mike Myers. Plus a little indie called Murder Party.
In the age of instant streaming everything, midnight double features have gone the way of pagers and 16mm film. Don’t fret, horror fanatics: the Macabre Bros. fill the grimy, dilapidated gap left by abandoned indie theaters with Midnight Marathons. Each entry is a lovingly curated tour through several hours of horror, inspired by our pre-teen Friday the 13th marathons and the digitization of, whelp, the world. Now grab the Jiffy Pop and get comfy with friends — let’s embrace this horror coma.
Halloween means horror films.
No surprise there — everything from Thanksgiving to St. Paddy’s has been given the horror treatment. This holiday no longer has a stranglehold on scares. But on the one day when all things macabre come out to play, I fully embrace the mood, which for this willing junkie means slashers, ghost stories, haunted houses, Mike Myers and a healthy dose of hilarity, just too keep the gloom at bay.
The 24-hour Halloween marathon is an ode to each of those cornerstones. You can watch the films in any order — or do the reasonable thing and split the whole thing into chunks — but they’re arranged to keep it moving at a steady clip. Enjoy, and feel free to leave a comment with your personal marathon lineup.
The Innkeepers (2011)
Runtime: 101 min
Ti West gives me hope for the future of horror. With The Innkeepers, the follow-up to his chilling breakout The House of the Devil, the young writer-director proves he’s a worthy successor to Jim Carpenter’s moody, understated crown.
The film begins quietly at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a soon-to-be-defunct hotel, as two listless 20somethings struggle to kill time during the final weekend shift. So why not hunt ghosts? It’s a by-the-numbers haunted house setup and West knows it. Like the ’70s genre flicks The Innkeepers echoes, he shoots the lush colonial motel with an eye for suggestion. Wood-paneled walls and patterned sofas make a suitably eerie backdrop for a damn good story about small-town legends, the weird world of paranormal investigation and the mundanity of an hourly job.
Now, West doesn’t try to hide his indie leanings — what up, Lena Dunham cameo — but he has a knack for genuine dread, and as the hotel shifts from quaint B&B to bona fide Portal of the Damned, it becomes much more than the sum of its simple parts. That’s a tough trick for any modern-day ghost story, and it makes this flick the near-perfect opener for a movie marathon that’s familiar on the surface, yet surprising and just a tad unnerving beneath. It’s what Ti West would want.
Watch it: Streaming on Netflix Instant, along with The House of the Devil. I’ll make a Ti West convert of you yet.
Halloween II (2009)
Runtime: 105 min
Rob Zombie’s bloody, brutal, almost unbearably bleak Halloween II is a sequel in name — just look at those Roman numerals — but it’s unlike any horror sequel you’ve ever seen. Or ever will see, really.
Like the writer-director’s confident Halloween remake, this film begins as a relatively faithful adaptation of Carpenter’s own Halloween II, which follows Laurie Strode after she’s rushed to the hospital following her first encounter with big, bad Mike Myers. Zombie spends the first 20 minutes putting his trademark spin on familiar material, and those 20 minutes are one hell of an intense ride: At least a dozen people get hacked to death, including a nurse who’s stabbed somewhere in the neighborhood of a zillion times. (The scene ranks up there with Jack axing the bathroom door in The Shining and the home invasion scenes from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.) Then, after watching Mikey slay just about everyone in the hospital, Laurie wakes up. It was all a dream — a demented, feverish dream.
And things only get battier from there. Zombie isn’t content to serve another batch of the same old shit — Halloween II is a complex and confident thesis on the director’s pet themes, from violence to mental illness to family. While his first Halloween is a fun (yet inferior) riff on Carpenter’s classic, Halloween II takes a ubiquitous baddy and makes him frightening in a fresh, unforgettable way. Even if you’ve seen each Halloween flick a dozen times, this one will surprise you.
And if that’s not enough, we even wrote a drinking game for it, complete with 40s of Olde English to get you through the mid-afternoon marathon hump. Cheers to the macabre, brahs!
Watch it: DVD and digital rental only, but chances are you can find it packaged with Zombie’s Halloween in a grocery aisle bargain bin. I did.
Murder Party (2007)
Runtime: 79 min
There’s no denying it: After a film like Halloween II, any movie marathoner needs a palate cleanser. The irreverent little indie flick Murder Party fits the bill, with more than enough visual invention, low-key humor and ridiculous gore in the vein of Dead Alive to take your mind off Zombie for a bit.
The film opens with Chris, the epitome of an invisible loner, shortly after he’s invited to an adults-only costume party in the Brooklyn boonies. Sure, he found the invite on the street, and sure, he weighed the pros and cons with his cat, but when you have plans for a sweet cardboard costume and nowhere else to strut your stuff, what could go wrong? If Chris watched horror films, he’d know serendipity is usually bad news in disguise. Shortly after arriving at the “party” — more like a few film school buddies hanging out in a warehouse, idly flirting and whining and pontificating in turn — Chris is strapped to a chair in front of a camera. Again, if Chris watched horror films, he’d know this can’t end well.
Halloween aside, Murder Party is the only marathon selection actually set on Oct. 31, and it’s immediately apparent writer-director-cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier adores this holiday. The costumes come straight from a dorky cinephile’s wet dream — a werewolf, a zombiefied Yankees slugger, Pris from Blade Runner — and even when the middle section succumbs to meandering, quasi-cool indie-speak, the film as a whole is joyously visual, naturally leading to an insanely fun orgy of gore in the third act. In true horror-film form, the batshit ending doubles as wish fulfillment: If you’ve dreamed of smacking a pompous, self-absorbed urbanite in the teeth, well, Chris is your willing surrogate. With a chainsaw.
Watch it: DVD and digital rental only.
Saw II (2005)
Runtime: 93 min
Torture porn isn’t for everyone, just as Saw II — one of the earliest examples of the short-lived genre — isn’t for everyone. But if you like your gore and bodily punishment shown in extreme, visceral detail, there’s no better outlet.
Over the course of seven films in seven years, the Saw series has become mind-numbingly stupid and convoluted. But Saw II remains my personal favorite. It’s something of the Saw take on a haunted house flick, pitting the first film’s maniacal cancer survivor/torture artist, Jigsaw, against an equally maniacal bad cop/worse father, Eric Matthews. The role of badge-totting skeezeball is played by none other than Donnie Whalberg, who yells and punches his way through a surprisingly tight and well-paced film. Too bad his bro already locked up the lead role in The Fighter.
But I digress. The plot is hardly relevant, just as the plot for any porn is hardly relevant. Jigsaw locks a few scumbags in an abandoned home with Matthews’ kid, then lets them wander through a series of grisly “games” and skin-deep plot twists. It’s all an excuse to showcase Jigsaw’s games, aka death devices: a man-sized furnace, glass cubes with razor-lined hand holes and, in arguably the most gut-wrenching scene of the series, a pit filled with used syringes. In my humble opinion, this was the final decent Saw entry. Don’t even bother with the 3D debacle.
Watch it: DVD and digital rental only.
Runtime: 117 min
Sure, Alien is a sci-fi flick, but it’s also a near-perfect example of how my two favorite genres can mesh sublimely in the right hands. After all, it’s nothing more than a B-grade creature feature given the A-list treatment. In space.
The bare-bones setup is one for the ages: A small crew on the deep-space vessel Nostromo picks up a distress beacon, wrenching them from cryo-sleep long before they’re due home. This being a creature feature, the crew obviously has to investigate the planet and the beacon — Parker’s bonus situation be damned! — not to mention an ominous abandoned ship filled with thousands upon thousands of eggs.
The rest… well, is history. Even if you’ve never watched a single reel of Alien, chances are you can guess how the whole thing turns out. But that’s hardly the point. Like Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her doomed crewmates, the journey from peaceful slumber pods to xenomorph-infested air ducts is the real allure. For his Hollywood debut, Ridley Scott deftly plays with horror and sci-fi tropes — confinement, corporate paranoia, man vs. machine, man vs. nature-ish — to give the relatively bare-bones script a sense of suffocating tension. Even in its slower moments, the dread continues to pile up, eventually leading to a taut third act that has often been intimidated but rarely matched.
And rest easy, gorehounds: If you dig the infamous chestburster scene, just wait for Ash and Parker to, uh, butt heads. Android blood is unappetizing as hell.
Watch it: DVD and digital rental only. I haven’t even caught this bad boy on TV in years.
High Tension (2003)
Runtime: 91 min
Ah, the French — so cultured, so refined, so in love with themselves. And, in one of my favorite guilty pleasures, so gloriously bloodthirsty.
High Tension is a fun little exercise in excess, crafted around two co-eds who just want to enjoy a quiet, pleasant vacation at a sleepy farmland home. Yeah, right. When a horror film begins with a rural family, an adorable dog and two attractive college girls — one of whom might have a crush on the other — it’s only a matter of time before shit hits the fan… or blood splatters the walls, pick your metaphor.
Again, it’s a standard horror setting, but the filmmakers pull a neat trick by letting Marie, the blonder of the two protagonists, act as both a killer-chasing gumshoe and frightened audience surrogate. Oddly enough, she manages to grow and evolve as a character during the course of a slasher — no easy task. Those welcome bits of personality lead to a fantastically gory payoff in the final 20 minutes (just wait for the chainsaw to come out). After several bathtubs of blood, the film ends with a well-played twist that was ever-so-subtly built up throughout. It could be a comment on humanity’s capacity for insanity and narcissism, but nah. That’d be a little too French.
Watch it: DVD and digital rental only. Be sure to buy the English-friendly version — I’ve seen the French original (sans dubbing or subtitles) on sale in weird convenience stores.
| 11 p.m.
You’re halfway there, champ. Go get yourself something to eat, catch a nap, take a walk, howl at the moon…
Evil Dead II (1987)
Runtime: 84 min
Aight team, coffee break is over. It’s time to wake the hell up with a double shot of campy, cheesy, wildly entertaining undead action. Evil Dead II is more or less a reimagining of Sam Raimi’s cult classic, yet done with a slightly different plot and a budget nearly 10 times larger. That makes it cleaner and more confident than the original, but it’s just as batshit crazy as ever.
The plot revolves around Ash (the indelible Bruch Campbell) and his battle with the Necronomicon, an ancient books with the power to raise the dead. It also has the power to turn Ash into a chainsaw-totting badass and give eyeballs the gift of flight, but those are givens when faced with a never-ending horde of Deadites, the series’ term for zombies.
In all honesty, a rundown of the plot and various themes/motifs would offend Evil Dead II. All you need to know is this: On release, the film was rated X for gore and gore only. There’s nary a naked human breast in sight, but after an hour-and-a-half of nonstop bodily juices, you’ll see how it earned the dubious honor. Next up: A drinking game to pair with our boozy Army of Darkness salute.
Watch it: Streaming on Netflix Instant.
The Shining (1980)
Runtime: 144 min
It’s no secret: I really enjoy The Shining. It was the first horror film I watched and one of the first horror novels I read (that award goes to “Pet Sematary”). Our review of Stanley Kubrick’s sole foray into horror was one of our first, touching on everything from the required beats of a haunted house story to the ridiculousness of a young psychic talking through his finger. We put the film through the runner, and when we were finished, it still emerged as one of the finest examples of genre fare, on par with fellow classics like Rosemary’s Baby and The Devil’s Backbone.
So, if you want the full rundown, read our review. Otherwise, think on this during the wee hours of the marathon: Do Jack or Danny ever encounter solid proof of a legitimate, sinister paranormal presence at The Overlook Hotel? For me, the jury’s still out, and that speaks to the film’s power as a damn fine slice of horror.
Watch it: DVD and digital rental only.
“The Simpsons” block: Treehouse of Horror I-III, V (episodes 16, 42, 64, 109)
Sure, demented crack-ups like Chucky and Freddy Krueger were around long before “The Simpsons” turned its funhouse lens on all things twisted for the first Treehouse of Horror special in 1990. But “The Simpsons” has a way of simply becoming pop culture. By now, after skewering cinematic baddies for 24 years with a healthy dose of parody, biting humor and loving homage, the annual Halloween episodes are like those pumpkin-shaped Reese’s: They only come around once per year, and dammit, I will hunt them down. It’s how dorky adults fill the gap left by trick-or-treating.
Besides, right about now is when a healthy dose of comic relief (plus Reese’s) can pull you through the final few hours of this marathon. Just about any Treehouse of Horror episode will satisfy — even while the show itself has slipped, the Halloween specials still tend to pulse with life and wit — so I started at the beginning, then threw in a bona fide gem with “The Shinning” from Treehouse of Horror V.
This block also gives you an Amittyville Horror parody, several riffs on The Twilight Zone, a wacky take on George A. Romero’s zombies, Homer as King Kong (who else?), a batshit-crazy time travel story, and two appearances by Darth Vader (aka James Earl Jones), first as the narrator for Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” and second as the voice of an adorable, ax-wielding Maggie who takes out Groundskeeper Willie. As he/she/it says, this is indeed a disturbing universe.
Watch it: DVD only. Then again, you could do like the rest of the world and just rip the episodes.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
time: 95 min
Self-conscious horror is tricky. Without the right ratio of humor, irreverence and actual creepiness, films that wink their way through violence and gore are embarrassing for everyone involved. On one end of the spectrum are painfully unfunny offerings like Leprechaun 2; on the other are parodies like Treehouse of Horror and genuine outliers like Thankskilling, plus dozens of wacky B-movies and student experiments since the dawn of film school.
The Cabin in the Woods (also a fun drinking game!) almost perfectly pulls off the balancing act, finding a coveted middle-ground between Simpsons-style satire and legit, skin-crawling horror. Like Shaun of the Dead, it crafts a wildly fun story by relentlessly cherry-picking from every corner of the genre. The film jumps between two intertwined plots: one follows five college coeds — the sort of randy teens who fall eerily in step with predetermined horror tropes — while the other follows a group of office workers who oversee cursed artifacts and hormone injections from the comfort of a computer. It’s hardly a stretch to assume writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard grew up on healthy doses of Halloween, Evil Dead and Friday the 13th, and they flaunt those influences from the first frame (well, the first frame after the opening title).
But this is a Whedon script, and once familiar groundwork has been laid, he wastes no time gleefully deconstructing it. The entire control-room plot looks at the weird culture surrounding horror films — after all, we Macabre Bros. write drinking games that call for death chugs — and once the two plots collide, the melee between mythical creatures and a SWAT team of some sort comments on the absurdity of third-act bloodbaths, all while indulging every death in the horror book. This film lets you have your cake and eat it too, and that’s a tantalizing trick for any horror flick.
Watch it: Streaming on Netflix Instant.
time: 91 min
It’s been a long, butt-killing marathon, but the end is finally in sight. The only thing standing between you and delicious sleep is a badass motherfucker known as Michael Myers. So maybe vigorous physical activity is better than sleep — it should boost your slagging metabolism AND chances of survival.
Slasher training tips aside, what more needs to be said about Halloween? (We said plenty in our review.) The basic plot and characters have been regurgitated as often as Jason and Freddy — Mike’s fellow dukes of death — and the film’s slow, almost slice-of-like approach to horror has been ousted by jump scares and torture porn.
But Halloween remains the one, the only, the original. It’s a genre template that still manages to scare and, against all odds, feel just as foreboding nearly four decades later, no matter how many times you’ve huddled in the bedroom closet with Laurie Strode. It does justice to the holiday name and is easily one of the best, most confident examples of horror as art.
And with that, it’s time for the sweetest dreams. Hopefully Mikey lets you rest in peace.
Watch it: DVD and digital rental only.
| NEXT UP
The sequel, what else? Chris brings us Part II of the Halloween marathon with a new round of films. Something tells me Blair Witch might make the cut…