[Reel Watchers] Hope’s Top 5 Halloween Movie Picks

By: Hope Ankney

Tremors (1990)

Every October when I flip on my traditional viewing of the Tremors franchise, I realize all over again why I fell in love with it as a child. Comedy-horror is one of my favorite genres, and the first Tremors sparked that interest in me. There’s something hilariously horrific about worm-like monsters that live in the ground and pick up on sound frequency. Even past the cheesy effects and butchered southern accents, Tremors is easily one of the best subterranean monster flicks ever made. It has the paranoia. It has the grotesque creatures. It has the campy-feel. It has the absurd acting. It stands completely underrated for mammoth worms that can pull a Jeep J-series pickup truck for miles. If all of that isn’t enough to persuade one to watch Tremors, the entertainment of just witnessing Kevin Bacon’s facial expressions and hearing him call the ‘graboids’ “motherhumpers” in a Grade-D, southern drawl for an hour and thirty-six minutes should be

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The Strangers (2008)

A film that still, ten years later, has a lasting fear inside me anytime I’m at the house alone. The Strangers strikes as a spine-chilling, slow-burn, slasher flick that plays-off The Manson Murders, and, man, does it deliver. The film is fueled on the premise of a home-invasion, but it takes a fresh and unnerving spin on the variety of masked-killer horror. The evolving creepiness that overwhelms the audience as the night ticks on is enough to cause anyone to check every room and sleep with all their lights on. From scenes of an unsettling, soft-spoken girl that continues to knock on their door (“Is Tamara home?”) to bone-shivering shots of the ominous figures simply standing behind the main characters with their masks on, The Strangers smash every eerie concept that’ll have one enveloped with anxiety halfway through. It isn’t even the overall plot that is frightening but the appearance of the nightmarish masks and the way the killers conduct themselves. Not to mention, the most sinister aspect of the film comes from the one explanation the antagonists give for their motive while the woman is shuddering in agony, “You were home.” Completely dreadful.

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The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)

Crime Thrillers have a hard time breaking into the horror genres, but The Poughkeepsie Tapes has its way of worming itself into the inner parts of your mind long after its credits roll. Revolving around hundreds of confiscated video tapes of murder, torture, and gore from a serial killer’s decade-long fright-fest, this mockumentary is too dark and too shocking to tear yourself away from. It acts as the perfect mix of absolute fear and realism that is hard to shake. As the audience follows the cops and forensic teams who try to track the killer down, the tapes and profiles start very light and easy before heading into the disturbing and sadistic recordings of his murders. Surprisingly, the gore is very limited but the score and how the film is formatted has one forgetting they aren’t watching a compilation of snuff. By the end, you are so immersed in the mockumentary and sickness of a killer’s mind that a haze follows you the rest of the day. Also, nothing has cemented itself to my memories more than a scene that depicts the killer crawling towards his victim in the most uncomfortable manner of an animal I’ve seen in film. Really grabs one by the throat. Not to mention, the official release of The Poughkeepsie Tapes is shrouded in mystery. Very strange things happened with this flick, and once it was viewed in theaters it disappeared. Never getting a proper release, the film is only available through VOD which makes it even more unsettling than before.

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Terrifier (2017)

Two words: Mime Clown.

If that’s not enough to have one turning away from this body-horror film, maybe Art the Clown’s appearance will. As someone who is rarely moved by horror films, I always find myself searching endlessly for flicks that will give me that bone-chilling rush of a truly horrifying watch. Taking interest in Terrifier for the first (and only) time, I wasn’t prepared for the disturbing scare I was about to experience. Art the Clown isn’t just a clown. He isn’t just another creepy stereotype of a killer clown that Hollywood loves to churn out. He sits true to the film’s name – he is a Terrifying character. Not sure if it’s his mime makeup that makes him so universally unsettling or if it’s his total silence and reliance on overly-exaggerated yet creepy facial expressions. I believe the meshing of both creates a character that is right out of Hell itself. There isn’t much of a storyline present, and the acting of the cast (besides Art) is mediocre, but neither of those things matter as one finds themselves focusing on nothing but the horrifying nature of the clown himself. It proves to be mesmerizing how Art makes Pennywise look like puppy chow, in comparison, and the campy, 70’s gore only adds to his persona. The film does take its slashing and mutilation to the edge at times, but, if anything, it only creates a more sadistic and nightmarish villain. Following the framework of classic Halloween characters set before him, he does represent evil reincarnated. There is no humanization and even less background to Art’s character. He, seemingly, cannot be killed, and the longer the film rolls, the more uncomfortable you get even watching his face emote. Terrifier doesn’t use jump-scares or cheap gimmicks to frighten you (even though some of the gore will), but it relies on the visual of the clown to lay a horror-inducing foundation. If Terrifier had been released around the same time as IT, Art would hands-down be the cultural fright-con instead of Pennywise. Watch it.

Actually, don’t.

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A Quiet Place (2017)

A surprising treasure in the mass of slick and highly-produced modern horror movies. John Krasinski sinks his teeth into his first directorial role as he unleashes a sinister and apocalyptic sci-fi flick about alien-esque creatures that have invaded earth. If the aliens’ appearance (which is a hodge-podge between Tremors and Stranger Things) doesn’t send chills down your spine, maybe their ear-shattering wails will. Based on a system of sound over sight, these figures use echolocation to prey. This causes A Quiet Place to feel more engaging as the audience consumes itself within the film’s environment, jump-scaring themselves anytime a bag crinkles or someone coughs. Cleverly written, it prioritizes the lack of sound by the characters communicating predominantly through sign language. This sends even the loudest viewer almost holding their breath as every single noise is intensified both on and off screen. The background to the monsters is unclear, but a newspaper clipping in the rearview of a shot describes them to be ‘the angels of death.’ Looking at it through a religious lens, it does create a much more interesting storyline than random, deaf aliens with a thirst for human flesh seems to. A Quiet Place is not your conventional horror film. It interacts with the audience regarding one of our senses, and it leans on that heightened awareness throughout. The lack of noise and understanding only drives one to insanity by the film’s end. Not to mention how utterly heart-wrenching the last five minutes prove to be. After this exemplary sci-fi monster thriller fades, you’ll find yourself subconsciously trying to be quieter in everything you do for days.

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