GUEST POST: Matthew R. Davis

13 Fun Fright Flicks for Halloween

Halloween is as much about fun as it is frights, so here’s a list of films to get you cackling through the chaos. I’ve avoided the obvious choices, so no Shaun of the Dead, Scream, Trick ‘r Treat, etc. (even if Shaun is one of the best films of all time, hands down). Here, you’ll find a baker’s dozen of rollicking romps and silly shocks, all dressed in the finest Halloween regalia, and I’ve even included some streaming options if that’s your thing… but I should warn you, Halloween itself plays almost no part in these films. Themes are hard, man! Here’s your effing lot.

DEMONS (1985)
Lamberto Bava’s Demons lays on the cheese thick and fast, taking everything we’d come to expect from producer/co-writer Dario Argento’s oeuvre and amping the ridiculous action up to 11. A group of unsuspecting folk enter the Metropol for a free screening of a new horror flick, only to find the nightmare bursting off the celluloid to run amok in the theatre. Cue special effects that range from laughably daft to outright eerie, a soundtrack that cuts between a very ‘80s synth score by Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti and rockers like Mötley Crüe’s “Save Our Souls” and Billy Idol’s “White Wedding”, and outlandish elements such as a working dirt bike in the cinema lobby and an unexplained final-act helicopter crash in the amphitheatre. A perfect beer and pizza flick!

Stream Demons on Shudder

NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986)
Featuring a standout turn from Tom Atkins as the endlessly quotable Detective Ray Cameron, Night of the Creeps delivers a fun 1980s update of 1950s SF/horror larks that never knowingly takes itself seriously. A college hazing prank gone wrong looses alien brain parasites upon a small town, turning the infected into murderous zombies whose rampage leads to college girls accessorising their prom dresses with flamethrowers. Writer/director Fred Dekker channels youthful joy into an enjoyable romp that throws in B&W ‘50s flashbacks, Hawaiian dream sequences, a disabled best friend who brings both laughs and pathos, and exploding heads by the dozen. If you don’t answer the phone with the words “thrill me” after watching this, you’re doing it all wrong.

Stream Night of the Creeps on Shudder

TRICK OR TREAT (1986)
We’ll be moving on from the ‘80s in due course, but first, here’s a treat (or trick) for fans of cheesy heavy metal. Sneering hairspray rocker Sammi Curr dies before the release of his new album Songs in the Key of Death, but his biggest fan soon realises the gig he had planned for the local high school’s Halloween dance will be going ahead regardless – and Curr’s set is going to kill. Featuring cameos from Gene Simmons as rock DJ Nuke and Ozzy Osbourne as a fundamentalist preacher set on abolishing rock n’ roll, Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat brings a knowing wit to its cheap pyrotechnics as it follows many a disgruntled teen’s arc from investing whole-heartedly in rebel music to eventually discarding it for the trappings of maturity. Don’t believe that hype, though – metal is forever!

THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988)
Ken Russell’s delirious adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1911 novel is as outrageous and enjoyable as you’d expect, contrasting venomous visions of Romans ravishing nuns amidst blood and fire with the bucolic sleepiness of a small English village. When a giant serpentine skull is unearthed at an archaeological gig, the appetites of ancient worm deity Dionin accelerate to envelop humble innkeeper and rich gentry alike. A fresh-faced Peter Capaldi (twenty-five years away from headlining Doctor Who) brings the modest heroism, Hugh Grant plays his charming, dapper-but-practical toff to the hilt, and Amanda Donohoe is having such a blast as the seductive villainess Miss Marsh that her sharp turns into sheer snake-eyed terror are all the more disturbing. The Lair of the White Worm is a fever dream from which you’ll wake laughing… in a pool of cold sweat.

Stream The Lair of the White Worm on Shudder

FRANKENHOOKER (1990)
You won’t find any frights here, but you will laugh your head off – and if you’re unlucky, someone will come along to sew it back on the wrong body. After an horrific lawnmower accident leaves his fiancée in pieces, a backyard scientist resolves to build her a new body, and what follows is an orgy of homemade super-crack, exploding sex workers, relaxation techniques involving trepanation by power drill, and a patchwork prostitute tottering around on stacked heels looking for fatal “dates”. Frank Henenlotter’s ludicrous body-horror is a welcome shock of lightning for those seeking bad-taste titillation on Halloween. Also, I just can’t help myself, so here’s a crap joke: Frankenhooker; or, the Modern Promiscuous.

Stream Frankenhooker on Shudder

BRAINDEAD (1992)
If you’re only familiar with Peter Jackson through his epic Tolkien adaptations, watching his early films must be like discovering your favourite classical composer used to be in a smutty grindcore band. After she’s bitten by a Sumatran Rat Monkey, downtrodden Lionel finds his nasty mother taking a turn for the worse and must go to extreme lengths to keep her and her ever-increasing horde of zombie victims under wraps, even if it means strapping a lawnmower to his chest to cut swathes through the undead or stabbing his way free from a monstrous womb. Jackson masterfully steers this flick from a comedy of manners set in 1950s New Zealand to a hilariously over-the-top rampage that soaks the screen in more red stuff than any movie before or since. This is splatter that matters.

Stream Dead Alive (aka Braindead) on Vudu

SCOOBY-DOO ON ZOMBIE ISLAND (1998)
When it comes to spooky fun, how can you go past the family-animation gateway to horror that is Scooby-Doo? The gang reunite to shoot some footage for Daphne’s TV show in New Orleans, only to find themselves up against a threat that, for once, proves to be much more than a small business owner trying to scare off competition by skulking around in a monster suit – this time, the creeps are real. Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is highly regarded amongst fans for its (slightly) darker tone, which prefigures the show’s future exploration of more layered and “adult” plots in the excellent Mystery Incorporated. Jeepers, jinkies, and zoinks, oh my!

Stream Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island on Roku

CUT (2000)
Time for some tongue-in-cheek slasher hijinks, and you can keep your Scream franchise and subsequent knock-offs – Cut may not be better, but it’s at least a flavour you might not have tried before. An Australian film crew decides to finish shooting the incomplete horror feature Hot Blooded!, which has long been regarded as cursed, and naturally, slaughter ensues as the movie’s masked killer returns to wreak havoc on the set. If you’re not sufficiently intrigued by the casting of Molly Ringwald as a bullish diva looking to reignite her career, perhaps you’d be interested in watching Kylie Minogue meet a gruesome death – and this was all shot by Kimble Rendall here in my home state of South Australia. Frights, camera – slashin’!

Stream Cut on Vimeo

GHOSTS OF MARS (2001)
That’s right, my friends, we’re going there – I consider Ghosts of Mars to be an underrated and highly enjoyable horror flick, not a patch on John Carpenter’s prior classics but easily worth ninety minutes of your time. When a mining crew unleashes a horde of ravenous spirits on Mars, it’s up to Natasha Henstridge’s team to save the day, and if nothing else, it’s a whole lot of fun watching Pam Grier, Ice Cube, and a pre-fame Jason Statham chew the scenery like catering had taken the day off. Carpenter throws a bunch of intriguing ideas at the screen – a subtly matriarchal society, the use of illegal narcotics providing unexpected salvation for one character – as well as a whole lot of severed heads and tribal scarification. If you’ve heard about the toxic reception but haven’t tried it yourself, you might find that, like me, you disagree with the critical consensus.

Stream Ghosts of Mars on Hulu

THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO (2009)
If you’re in the mood for something crass and entirely lacking in socially redeeming features, look no further than Rob Zombie’s outrageous adventure in animated sleaze. Celebrity luchador lunkhead El Superbeasto follows his lust for super-stripper Velvet Von Black (and anything else with boobs and a pulse) into the path of Doctor Satan’s clumsy quest to gain all the sudsy powers of Hell, with his sexy spy stepsister Suzi-X riding shotgun to pull his irons out of the fire. Packed full of horror references, silly songs, and game-for-anything celebrity voices, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto threatens to throttle good taste at every turn. All together now: “Zombie Nazis, f**kin’ up my day now…”

Stream The Haunted World of El Superbeasto on Roku

DETENTION (2011)
Why be just one thing when you can be everything – that seems to be the driving thought behind Detention, Joseph Kahn’s sensory overload of a film. A grotesque serial killer called Cinderhella is on the loose, but that’s merely a distraction from time-travel shenanigans involving a stuffed bear, personality swaps, wardrobe malfunctions, and a character once teasingly nicknamed TV Hand. More of a teen comedy on steroids and hallucinogens than a horror flick, Detention throws so much at the viewer that they might end up wishing they too could time-travel, if only to make sense of the increasingly convoluted plot. Kinetic, crazy, and a whole lot of fun.

Stream Detention on Shudder

HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017)
Here’s a slasher that proves more interested in character development and even – gasp! – a dash of pathos than outright slaughter. Self-centred college student Tree Gelbman wakes up in a boy’s dorm-room bed and takes a walk of shame that ends in her murder at the hands of a killer in a baby-face mask, only to begin the same deadly day again and again until she works out how to use her knowledge of events to combat her murderer, experiencing some much-needed personal growth along the way. Christopher Landon’s horror-comedy charms more than one expects, and for those who want to know more, there’s a sequel that flips everything on its head. Fun fact: this is one of those rare films that features a bong as a murder weapon.

Stream Happy Death Day on Netflix

SCARE ME (2020)
Telling scary stories is an integral part of Halloween, and here’s a film that builds upon that tradition in a most amusing fashion. When struggling writer/actor Fred finds himself trapped by a thunderstorm in a cabin with successful horror author Fanny, the two try to frighten each other by making up terror tales – but the biggest threat may lie in Fred’s frustration with Fanny’s acerbic nature and his own feelings of failure and entitlement. Writer/director/actor Josh Ruben’s Scare Me relies upon the rapid wordplay of its lead actors, and while he acquits himself well, it’s Aya Cash (Stormfront from The Boys) who carries the film with her vibrant performance of the acidic Fanny. Add an unexpected sting in the tail, and you have a funny and satisfying addition to the horror-comedy canon.

Stream Scare Me on Shudder

BONUS FLICK:
THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW (1949)
This animated segment – one half of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad – was something I saw a few times in my childhood, and it never failed to provide me with much amusement and a little healthy fear. Lanky bookworm Ichabod Crane vies for the hand of Katrina von Tassel, so his rival Brom Bones regales him with the tale of the Headless Horseman… and later that night, he discovers for himself just how much truth is held in the tale. The only selection here suitable for a family audience, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow comes highly recommended for anyone looking to pique their children’s budding interest in spooky fun.

Stream The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad on Disney+


Boo-graphy:
Matthew R. Davis is an author and musician based in Adelaide, South Australia, whose novelette “Heritage Hill” (found in Outback Horrors Down Under: An Anthology of Antipodean Terrors, edited by Steve Dillon, published by Things in the Well Publications) was shortlisted for a 2020 Shirley Jackson Award and the WSFA Small Press Award. His books are the horror collection If Only Tonight We Could Sleep (Things in the Well, 2020) and the novel Midnight in the Chapel of Love (JournalStone, 2021). Find out more at his website.

Midnight in the Chapel of Love
THE MAN: Jonny Trotter has spent the last fifteen years running from tragic memories of the country town where he grew up—but the black envelopes pushed under his door won’t let him forget, and now that his father has died, he can run no more.

THE TOWN: Returning to Waterwich for the funeral and wake with his partner Sloane, Jonny must confront old resentments, his estranged best friends Brendan and Coralie, a strange, veiled woman the locals call the White Widow…and the mystery surrounding the fate of his first lover, Jessica Grzelak.

THE GIRL: A morbid and reckless city girl banished to the country to live with her aunt, Jessica loved to push the limits and explore the shadows—and no one has seen her since the night of her high school formal, the night she and Jonny went looking for the Chapel.

THE CHAPEL: Rumored to be found in the woods outside Waterwich, mentioned in playground rhymes about local lovebirds Billy and Poppy and their killing spree in 1964, the Chapel is said to be an ancient, sacred place that can only be entered by lovers—a test that can only be passed if their bond is pure and true.

THE TRUTH: Before he can move on to a future with Sloane, Jonny must first face the terrible truth of his past—and if he can’t bring it out into the light at last, it might just pull him and everything he loves down into the dark forever.

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