This month marks two great milestones. First, it’s the ten year anniversary of the release of the original franchise-starting SAW. Love it or hate, the SAW films have proved shocking and consistently popular, and the seven-film series is now the highest grossing horror franchise of all time. Slinking down in my seat at the Plaza theatre I never would have expected I was about to watch the start of the next big trend in horror. 10. Kwaidan(1964) I love anthology films and there’s no time of the year that quite calls out for them like Halloween. Like a well-loved pillow case stuffed to bursting with Halloween treats, good anthologies offer a series of vignettes all of a type but each with a unique flavor. One of the very best, Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan, is collection of four Japanese folk tales of the supernatural. It differs from most other anthology films in that its stories are much longer and more leisurely paced; the emphasis here is on mood and atmosphere rather than quick shocks, as is the case in a film like Creepshow. In most cases the extended running time (two and three quarter hours) would be a knock against Kwaidan but it actually winds up not making much difference since anthology films by their very nature lend themselves to multiple stage viewing. I generally don’t like films that look “stagey,” where the artifice of the film is apparent in every scene due to obviously being shot on sets (this is one of the biggest reasons I’ve never been a fan of Tim Burton). The surrealistic tone Kwaidan establishes makes it work for me, though. Even today, with limitless tools for creating imaginary worlds at the disposal of almost every filmmaker, Kwaidan possesses a potent, self-contained world that we rarely get see. Every frame of this film is a treat. 9. Freaks (1932) Again, not an outright horror film but still worthy of a place on this list. Tod Browning may be better known for directing Bela Lugosi in 1931’s Dracula but, in my opinion, Freaks should really be his cinematic legacy; it has everything that Dracula lacks. It’s no secret that Browning never really adapted to talkies but that’s never quite as apparent as in his first stab at the format with Dracula. With Freaks, Browning shows a more confident directorial hand and, while he’s not pushing the envelope in the way contemporaries like James Whale were, even on just a base technical level, Freaks represents a quantum leap forward. It’s kind of amazing how much more visceral the horror in Freaks is; there’s not a single scene or shot in Dracula that has one tenth the shock value of King Randian silently, slowly crawling through the mud, brandishing a straight razor in his mouth. Most importantly, it features well developed, sympathetic characters, both the able bodied Phroso and Venus as well as the diminutive Hans and Frieda. Although the somewhat derogatory title refers to the sideshow performers at the heart of the film it could just as easily refer to the film villains, the able bodied but morally deficient Cleopatra and Hercules. Freaks forces you to confront and examine your preconceptions and prejudices in a way that few films of any genre are able to, which is perhaps its greatest achievement of all. 8. SAW (2004) This month marks two great milestones. First, it’s the ten year anniversary of the release of the original franchise-starting SAW. Love it or hate, the SAW films have proved shocking and consistently popular, and the seven-film series is now the highest grossing horror franchise of all time. Slinking down in my seat at the Plaza theatre I never would have expected I was about to watch the start of the next big trend in horror. There was something else I wouldn’t have expected about that night, either. You see, this year also marks ten years since I first met Horror Digitals’ own Rhett. We first met while standing in line for this festival screening of Saw, introduced to each other through a mutual friend and, though we didn’t exactly become fast friends right then and there, when Rhett shouted an “Operation Dumbo Drop” joke as the house lights went down I knew he had a similarly sarcastic and twisted sense of humor. When all was said and done he hated the film and I loved it but this disagreement didn’t hamper the beginning of a long friendship. I love the original SAW, but even if I didn’t it would still occupy a very special scummy, blood-stained bathroom in the deep bowels of my heart. “Do you wanna play a game?” Yes. Yes, I would. [Rhett: While there’s no denying my dislike of the first film, it pales in comparison to the vitriol I hold for the third film, which Chunkblower made me watch against my will one fateful movie night. Yet, somehow, and this is a testament to our friendship, I went with him to see SAW IV opening night – and inexplicably become a series fan!] 7. Phenomena (1986) Speaking of broadening my horizons, I’m adding Dario Argento’s batshit crazy psychic bug epic to the list. I’ve seen it before but it’s been a long while. When I’m in the mood of Argento Deep Red or Suspiria tend to be my go-to films to scratch that itch, while other films like Phenomena or Tenebrae, movies that I own and have seen, tend to get pushed to the way side. Again, in the spirit of stepping out my comfort zone, it’s time to give Phenomena another spin. Plus, the movie came up in conversation with my wife the other day, which kind of piqued my interest. Me: “You know that Dario Argento movie where Jennifer Connelly is psychic and talks to bugs and Donald Pleasance is an entomologist with a monkey assistant and she helps him solve crimes and stuff?” Her: “You’re making that up! You have to be.” No, hon, I’m really not and this Halloween I’m going to prove to you that such a film exists. 6. Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971) One of my preoccupations this past year has been filling in the gaps in my pop cultural knowledge. Whether it’s been finally listening to Physical Graffiti start-to-finish, or tracking down a copy of Alice Cooper’s forgotten DaDa album (rightfully forgotten, at that), I’ve been endeavouring to broaden my knowledge. As far as my cinematic resume goes, I realized that I’m woefully inexperienced with the cinema of Mario Bava. I intend to rectify this, posthaste. I’ve already checked House of Exorcism and Planet of the Vampires off the list and, while I’m waiting for my Black Sabbath/Black Sunday Blu-ray combo to arrive from Amazon.ca, I’m going to rewatch the first Bava film I ever saw: Twitch of the Death Nerve. I always like to include some slasher films in my Halloween lineup, and Twitch is one of the earliest examples. There is some debate as to what film actually started the subgenre; some people go all the way back to Psycho or Peeping Tom, while others cite later films like Black Christmas or Halloween as the true start to the genre. Whether or not Twitch of the Death Nerve is the true origin point is a debatable but, regardless of which side of that question you come down on, nobody can deny the debt the subgenre owes Death Nerve. The isolated location, the creative murders, the rhythm and tempo of the stalk and kill formula are all here, fully formed. I remember feeling a bit ripped off by the ending but the murder set pieces linger so vividly in my mind that even if that disappointment is repeated, I have confidence that my overall viewing experience will be well worth while. 5. Horror of Frankenstein (1974) The Universal Monster films are legendary pieces of cinema history but for pure fun and enjoyment I usually turn to the Hammer interpretations of those stories, instead. The baroque style and full blooded lustiness of the Hammer approach just resonates for me more than the more classical and atmospheric approach of the Universal movies. Among the Hammer series, the Frankenstein films are my favorite. While I love Christopher Lee’s Dracula, the films he’s often surrounded by are not nearly as consistent as the Frankenstein series. There seems to be one exception to that rule for most people: Horror of Frankenstein. While even the later Frankenstein films are still held in fairly high regard, Horror has been relegated to red-headed stepchild status, and I’m not entirely sure why. This prequel focuses less on Victor’s monster making and more about the sociopathy that led him to it. Hammer stable regular Ralph Bates stars as a young Victor Frankenstein, as he machinates his way to becoming the lord of his father’s estate and begins his legendary experiments. Bates gives a great, underappreciated performance as a complete sociopath. He’s all gilt and charm on the surface but utterly ruthless and calculating underneath. Whether he’s bargaining with a grave robber over the price of fresh corpses or forcing a childhood friend with romantic longings for him into indentured servitude, Bates commands the screen every second he’s on it. Long-time Hammer scribe Jimmy Sangster steps into the director’s chair to make his debut in that role. While he doesn’t have the same kind of visual style as Freddie Francis or Terence Fisher he instead milks the darkly comedic elements of his screenplay for all they’re worth. It may not be the best Hammer Frankenstein film but it’s easily one of the most watchable. 4. Deadly Eyes (1982) I have a confession to make: I love crap. I mean, I love watching a well-crafted film that lends itself to analysis and discussion but nothing floats my boat quite like little exploitation cheapies turned out on the quick. They’re not often good, let alone great, but rarely do I find one so without entertainment value or some small nugget or merit that I feel my time has been wasted. I also love exploring my native land’s genre legacy, be it the high-art of David Cronenberg, or the grimy charm of Cannibal girls. So, when I heard there was a low budget Canadian movie featuring small dogs in giant rat costumes, I was so there and the opening scenes of Deadly Eyes did not disappoint. Some dope smoking college kids vacate a house party on a late night hamburger run, leaving one student home alone with her toddler sibling. As soon as her back is turned, the killer rats crawl up from the basement, tip over the baby’s high chair and EAT THE FUCKING BABY. Now THAT’S how you open a fucking movie. If the rest of the film was as awesome as those opening moments, Deadly Eyes probably would have ranked as an all-time trash classic for me. Unfortunately, as is very common in these types of films, that level of balls out tastelessness can’t be sustained and the film settles into some (too much) tepid melodrama about a guy and a really old lady from the health department. Or something like that? My eyes kind of glazed over during those scenes. While the film surrounding the rat attack scenes range from dull to stupefying, the moment those little critters take the screen and start gnawing on Scatman Crothers I’m squealing in delight (and by “squealing,” I mean shouting: “YES! FUCKING YES!” at my TV; admittedly, I can be kind of obnoxious to watch movies with). 3. Eraserhead (1977) Not necessarily a horror film, per se, but David Lynch’s debut feature is loaded with so much nightmarish imagery that I think it sits comfortably on any Halloween viewing list nonetheless. If you’ve seen Eraserhead, you know exactly what I mean and if you haven’t, no amount of description can really prepare you for what’s to come. The term “dream logic” is thrown around a lot in reference to movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street or Inception but films like that are still fairly conventional in construction and execution. Eraserhead, though, is probably the closest any American filmmaker has ever come to actually reproducing a dream on celluloid. Nobody else, except perhaps occasionally Stanley Kubrick, has quite the knack for the uncanny and unnerving like David Lynch. With Criterion releasing an excellent Blu-ray of this midnight cult classic, I look forward to revisiting Henry, Mary, the Baby, the Man in the Planet and The Lady in the Radiator this Halloween season. 2. The Slumber Party Massacre (1984) Feminism has been a hot topic this past year. The portrayal of women in mass media hasn’t exactly dominated the airwaves, but has still inspired more than a few heated Twitter and Facebook debates. While this round of controversy is focused mainly on video games and interactive media, it’s not hard to remember not too long ago when the debate was centred on horror and exploitation films. It was that sort of controversy that spurred the making of Slumber Party Massacre, though the end result is probably not what any of the participants had in mind. Written by feminist author Rita Mae Brown as a satire but directed in fairly straight ahead, unironic fashion, Massacre is an interesting, occasionally uncomfortable, mix of subtle subversions of established slasher tropes and unabashedly sleazy exploitation filmmaking. Subtexts aside, what appeals to me most about Slumber Party Massacre is that the characters live relatively mundane suburban existences, and that I can relate to. Going up to the lake for some wakeboarding and a kegger is not really in my realm of experience but hanging out at home with friends, eating chips, playing pranks on the neighbor girls and partaking of illicit substances while hoping that my parents won’t find out? I can relate to that. While I can’t say that I’m ever as invested in the fate of the characters as I am when I watch, say, John Carpenter’s Halloween, I’m also not rooting for them to die, either. As far as slashers goes, that’s a pretty big plus in its favour. Oh, also: the movie has boobs. Lots and lots of boobs. 1. Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (Producer's Cut) (1995) I’m a huge fan of the Halloween series and, while I may have some issues with the new boxed set released by Shout Factory last month, I am grateful to finally see a good quality version of Halloween 6 arrive, and in HD no less. Let’s face it, no amount of tinkering is going to totally rescue H6; the whole movie is based on a shoddy premise and screenwriter Daniel Farrands was given the thankless task of writing the series out of the corner that Halloween 5 had left it in. He gives it a yeoman’s try but winds up sinking the series further into a morass of supernatural silliness. Why does it make my list, then? Well, I’ve always felt that bad movies can be just as informative as good ones (sometimes even more so) and finally getting to see a nicely re-mastered version of the infamous producer’s cut means that we can finally view the movie on its own terms without bootleg shittiness coloring our perceptions. For good or ill, the film can finally stand or fall on its own merits (or lack thereof). The result: probably the best possible version of Halloween 6, still deeply flawed, still deeply silly, yet improved just enough to make it back into my regular Halloween sequels viewing rotation.