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.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Dan Zeidler

For those of y’all who don’t have the pleasure of knowing Dan, this is your chance to get to know him. (Dan – my people; my people – Dan.) We are currently coming to the end of a project together (him the author, me the editor) and, even without my help, I think he’s a pretty fantastic author. (I can’t wait til y’all get to read his book.)

Meghan: Hey, Dan! Welcome to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books. It is an absolute pleasure to be able to welcome you here today. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Dan: My favorite part of Halloween would have to be… costumes. Definitely costumes. I have lots of fun memories associated with Halloween costumes. When my sisters and I were little kids, around Halloween time the local supermarket would pretty much line the front wall with stacks of Halloween costumes in boxes. They weren’t particularly fancy costumes – just a cheap little mask and a plastic or vinyl coverall with a graphic and text identifying what the costume was meant to be. We thought they were awesome though.

The opportunities were rare and far apart as an adult, but when the chance arose the fun was more making or improvising a cool or amusing costume. More on that in a later question.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Dan: My favorite Halloween tradition is more of a family Halloween tradition, I suppose. Growing up, every year we would watch the Disney Halloween special on TV – this was before streaming services, DVRs, DVDs, etc. so the only time those particular Halloween themed Disney cartoons (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, narrated by Bing Crosby, in particular) were on was whatever night it was broadcast every year around Halloween. It was a big family social event. One of my sisters made sure to acquire the animated Headless Horseman on DVD and every year around Halloween we still have our showing.

Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?

Dan: I would say it is my second favorite (with Christmas being my favorite). It’s fun to decorate the house, check out some of the really elaborate decorations some people put up, hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters, and the occasional fun costume party with friends and family.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Dan: As a modern man of science I, of course, have acquired no superstitions whatsoever, knock on wood. Sure, if I spill some salt I throw a pinch over my shoulder, but that’s just good common sense. Naturally, I avoid walking under ladders because that’s just wrong – I mean, who would do that?

Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?

Dan: Well, if we are talking classic movie monsters I would say Dracula or classic vampires in general. From a story point of view I think they are great monsters – very powerful, terrifying foes with specific strengths and weaknesses. My hometown library had a great selection of books on vampire lore which as a kid I probably borrowed and read as often as I borrowed and read books on King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

As for more modern movie monsters, the xenomorph from Alien is pretty cool as is the thing from, well, The Thing.

An honorable mention goes to the villain/monster from The Incredible Melting Man. My sisters and I caught the tail end of that movie on TV one Saturday afternoon and, well, villain/monster was neither cool nor scary. We thought he looked like a guy covered in applesauce. Our parents thought it would be fun to go out to dinner that night and the restaurant they brought us to just happened to be having a special on apple pie filling topped sundaes. My sisters and I pretty much spent the entire time entertaining ourselves with tales of the Applesauce Man and apple pie ice cream sundaes. At one point an elderly couple sitting unnoticed at the table next to ours rose from their seats, paused by our table, and thanked us for the funniest evening they had had in a long time. Yay for the Applesauce Man!

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Dan: I can’t really say that I have a favorite unsolved murder. Unsolved murders are vexing – it means one of the bad guys got away with something.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Dan: My favorite urban legend, not because it’s scary (although it is supposed to be), is one about a bunny suit-wearing, axe murder who lurks or haunts a railroad bridge down in Virginia. I’ve heard several variations of the killer/evil spirit that lurks in remote places waiting for victims. They all have some sort of weapon: a hook for a hand, a knife, a hammer, or an axe. The wearing of the bunny suit is a unique, and pretty funny, variation.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Dan: I don’t have a favorite serial killer, but I do have a favorite book on the catching of serial killers: Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker.

Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Dan: I would say I was around 10 or 12 when I saw my first horror movie although it would have been an old school horror movie, filmed in black and white, and shown on rainy Saturday afternoon on one local TV channel or another – it might have been Dracula (with Bela Lugosi) or the Wolfman (Lon Chaney, Jr.). I was 14 or 15 when I saw a more modern horror movie, John Carpenter‘s The Thing. A friend got a copy of the movie on VHS and invited a bunch of us over one Saturday afternoon to watch it. I can’t say that any of us thought it was scary, but we did think it was pretty cool.

I was 17 when I read my first horror book: Stephen King‘s The Tommyknockers. I thought it was more Twilight Zone-ish than horrifying – you know, one of those stories that you read or see that gives you an eerie feeling. I also recall thinking that the characters in that story cussed more than even the most prolific of cussers I knew in real life.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Dan: The book that unsettled me the most wasn’t actually a horror novel, it was a historical fiction novel set in Appalachia just before, during, and just after the American Revolution. I don’t remember the name of the novel, but for the more graphically violent sections he used actual entries of diaries from the era to describe some of the more horrific ways human beings can kill one another… slowly and, as I mentioned, horrifically. It was quite unsettling.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Dan: The answer to this question is, clearly, the movie starring the Applesauce Man. Why, to this very day, I never trust an open jar of applesauce past its expiration date. No one should. Not even you, there in the back row.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Dan: Favorite costume… all right, gather ’round friends. It’s story time. Heh.

When I was in the Air Force, stationed in Korea, there were these two other service members I knew who spent some of their spare time volunteering at a… for lack of a better phrase, a local after-school school off base helping the kids practice English, serving as chaperones for field trips, and things like that. When Halloween rolled around the Korean couple who ran the school decided it would be fun to throw the kids an American-style Halloween party so they asked the two guys invite some friends to come out the school join in the fun and help out with teaching the kids how to carve jack-o-lanterns, helping them pretend to go trick-or-treating, and stuff like that. One of the six people who were supposed to go canceled last minute so I got drafted to go along. “We even have a costume you can use,” they said. It was a dark, hooded robe with a goofy rubber monster mask and a set of goofy rubber monster hand gloves. I told them to keep the mask and the gloves, but the robe I could as the start to a good costume.

One of my hobbies was studying Medieval swordsmanship and that hooded robe was perfect for a costume based on one of the figures in my favorite Medieval swordsmanship book (and who doesn’t have a favorite Medieval swordsmanship manuscript, right?) – The Royal Armouries Manuscript I.33.

It was a very basic, last minute kind of costume – I just wore a black t-shirt with pair of black pants tucked them into my combat boots, then I put on that hooded robe and hitched it up like in illustrations found in I.33, and then, as one does, I grabbed my trusty wooden sparring sword and buckler. My friends all thought I looked like Darth Zeidler, Lord of the Sith.

When we arrived at the school, one of the teachers had some fun identifying what each of us was dressed as and when she got to me she said “Oh! And a handsome knight!”

“What?!” my friends exclaimed. “He’s Darth Zeidler.”

The teacher shook her head. “Noooo – he’s clearly a handsome knight.

Clearly.

Favorite. Costume. Ever.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Dan: Let’s see… The Monster Mash is an oldie but a goodie. Spooky Scary Skeletons is also pretty amusing.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?

Dan: My favorite Halloween candies would be: the various varieties of miniature Hershey bars, Nestle Crunch bars, Milky Way bars, and Peanut Butter Cups. The most disappointing Halloween candy for me was anything with ground coconut in it – I just don’t care for the texture.

Meghan: Before we go, what are your top 10 Halloween movies?

Dan: It’s more an animated short than a movie, but Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is fun and an American classic.

Segueing into classics, I say you can’t go wrong with these classic monster movies: Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Wolfman (1941), and The Mummy (1932). For Classic monster fun on the other hand, try Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Abbot and Costello meet the Mummy. (As an aside, after church on Sundays we would all go over to my grandparents’ house and the adults would all hang out in the kitchen, talking over a cup of coffee or two or three. My sisters and I would play outside or play board games inside or read or watch Abbot and Costello movies on TV. Every Sunday afternoon one of the local TV stations would always show an Abbot and Costello movie and since those were considered reliably child-friendly, that’s what was always on TV Sunday afternoons when we went over our grandparents’ house.

Anyway, back to Halloween movies…)

For modern horror movies, my top Halloween choices would be Alien, The Thing (1982… although for fun you can also watch the 1951 version in all its “man in a rubber monster suit” glory), and Resident Evil.


Boo-graphy:
Dan Zeidler is a writer of science fiction and fantasy and the author of the upcoming science fiction adventure novel Ghosts of a Fallen Empire. Dan began expressing his love of writing at an early age with the parentally acclaimed poem Trains are Great which, along with other early examples of his work, earned a place on the prestigious Refrigerator Magnet Gallery. While nothing can be done for his poetry skills, which haven’t improved a whit since that train poem, a steady diet of great stories ranging from ancient mythological tales to Arthurian legends to classic sci-fi and fantasy and on up to Star Trek and Star Wars have improved his storytelling abilities considerably. To further refine and enhance his writing and storytelling skills, Dan lived a life of adventure first by getting a degree in geoscience, then by serving in the US Air Force, then by embarking on a career as a data analyst… hmmm… okay, let’s go back a bit to the part about how a lifetime of reading as many great stories (and many not so great stories) as he could have inspired Dan to write his own stories; stories that above all strive to be fun and entertaining reads.

Dan currently resides with his family among the rugged, forested hills of his home state of Connecticut.