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October 28, 1997

Halloween Video Pick

Halloween is a time to celebrate the dark side of our reality. We relish the dramatic explorations of the possibility that all IS NOT well, that malevolent forces lurk just beneath the surface, ready to upend our lives and destroy those we love.

What could be more fun? Here's a brief list of some films to get you in the mood....

BATMAN RETURNS

Hey, what could be more gothic and dark than a man dressed up as a giant bat, chasing a deformed freak who plots to kill the firstborn children of Gotham City? Though it's set at Christmas, Tim Burton's second batflick is an artful contrast of good and evil. The Penguin is portrayed like a Victorian, Edward Gorey Santa From Hell, pulling toxic waste and body parts from a stocking. Everything is dark and lifeless (the cold heart of winter). Gotham City seems like a seedy graveyard overrun with commercialism and political malaise. Very dark. Need more evidence? Siouxsie and the Banshees provide the requisite dance tune.

BURN, WITCH, BURN (a.k.a. NIGHT OF THE EAGLE)

Fritz Lieber tale of a university professor who finds out that his wife has been aiding his career with witchcraft. Being a rational fellow, he convinces her to stop, but she insists that his rivals have been using black magic against him and....

CURSE OF THE DEMON (a.k.a. NIGHT OF THE DEMON)

Jacques Tourneur's classic tale of mysterious paganism. Aside from a couple of hokey effects shots (added by the studio), it's a very suspenseful mystery. An American psychologist travels to Britain to discredit a devil cult leader, but the cultist slips a little piece of paper in the psychologist's briefcase, which ... marks the psychologist for ... death! The ending is un-nervingly scary.

[The IMDb reports that the video version currently available is the longer, UK release.]

DEAD OF NIGHT

A ripe, old classic. Several creepy and comical tales are strung together by a central story about a man haunted by peculiar déjà vu. Contains the infamous "Ventriloquist's Tale" featuring Michael Redgrave as Maxwell Frere.

DEAD ZONE, THE

Somber Stephen King story about a man who awakes from a coma with the power to tell the futures of the people or objects that he touches. Sad, like the horror genre should be.

ELEPHANT MAN, THE

True story of John Merrick, a deformed circus performer, and the physician who took an interest in him and finally befriended him. David Lynch's poignant gothic tragedy.

EVIL DEAD II, THE

Sam Raimi's hilarious follow-up to his super-low budget EVIL DEAD. Rather gory. Also recommended for aficionados: ARMY OF DARKNESS (also known as THE MEDIEVAL DEAD).

GHOSTBUSTERS

Just because.

HAUNTING, THE

Inspiration for THE SHINING, Shirley Jackson's shocker about a house that's haunted to the Nth degree ... and the parapsychologists who spend a few nights "documenting" the goings on. One of the scariest movies ever filmed, really.

HELLRAISER

Clive Barker creepiness at its cheapest, dirtiest, and most fun. LORD OF ILLUSIONS was pretty darn good, too, though it took itself more seriously.

INNOCENTS, THE

Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw," a governess discovers that her two, young charges are in the thrall of ghosts. Jack Clayton's delicate direction masks some truly shocking moments.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978)

Before his acclaimed "artsy" films, before his take on Tom Wolfe's THE RIGHT STUFF, Philip Kaufman took a stab at remaking Don Siegel's 1956 classic of urban paranoia and isolation. Jack Finney's book was creepy enough, and Kaufman brought the essential story to a new generation by situating the suspense in an already cold and distant, urban landscape. Very creepy and claustrophobic.

JAWS

Steven Spielberg revived the ol' "Monster in a Dark House" genre with this suspenseful tale of a supernatural killer (shark) that's loose in a dark house (open sea). All the hallmarks of gothic shockers are here, including the deranged shaman/hero, here played with gusto by the incomparable Robert Shaw. A special treat: the "ghost story" that Quint tells of the USS Philadelphia.

LAST WAVE, THE

An Australian lawyer, haunted by prophetic dreams, defends some urban aborigines on a murder charge. He suspects that they're "tribal," and the victim was murdered with magic. As some unknown epiphany looms, the film gets progressively spooky.

LEGION (EXORCIST III)

William Peter Blatty's follow-up to his blockbuster novel and film has a bit less gore and a lot more creepiness. There's also some deeper exploration of spiritual doubt in the modern world. Despite some flaws, this one really frightens. Watch for Brad Dourif's star turn as an especially sick puppy; he should've gotten an Oscar.

NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, THE

Tim Burton's riotous tale of Jack Skellington and the denizens of Halloween Town taking over Christmas.

OTHER, THE

Very scary story of gothic horror in the 1930s. Two twin brothers, one good, one very, very naughty. Things go slowly awry one hot summer.

SALEM'S LOT

Pretty good TV film (by Tobe Hooper) of Stephen King's first big hit. Vampires infest a small New England town. [Unfortunately the video release is the 112 minute "cable TV cut" version, down from the original 200 minute miniseries.]

SOMEWHERE IN TIME

Spooky romantic yarn about a playwright who travels back in time to find the woman who contacted him when he was a younger man ("Come back to me," she had pleaded as an old woman). Problem: now that he's back, she hasn't met him yet, and....

TIME AFTER TIME

H.G. Wells really did build a time machine. And he really did use it. But ... he used it to pursue his friend, Jack the Ripper, when he escaped Victorian London to 1980s San Francisco.

WICKER MAN, THE

A Scottish policeman travels to remote Summerisle Island to investigate a report of a missing girl. Things are very odd, though. No one admits that she's missing, but he finds evidence of her everywhere. The village seems to be harboring a horrible secret ... one that shocks the good Sergeant Howie to his very soul. Considered by some the CITIZEN KANE of horror films.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN

Mel Brooks' classic shocker about Dr. Frankenstein's grandson, and his grudging return to his forebear's research into reviving dead bodies. A classic musical comedy.

-- D.B. Spalding


Editor's note: D.B. Spalding writes frequently about music, film, computing and the mass- and multimedia. Many of his articles can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.korova.com


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