It’s been a busy year for me, and in the past I’ve been able to look for October as my solace to sit back and relax with the horror movies I love. Work this year has dictated that rather than set aside designated time to indulge in the addiction, I’ve instead had to piece together what free moments I do have to try and fit in the movies I want to watch. Add to the calamity the fact that this October 31st I’ll be on the road filming, so I can’t even set aside the Hallowed day for watching horror. The resulting list this year It’s been a busy year for me, and in the past I’ve been able to look for October as my solace to sit back and relax with the horror movies I love. Work this year has dictated that rather than set aside designated time to indulge in the addiction, I’ve instead had to piece together what free moments I do have to try and fit in the movies I want to watch. Add to the calamity the fact that this October 31st I’ll be on the road filming, so I can’t even set aside the Hallowed day for watching horror. The resulting list this year is thus a rag tag array of picks from countries, eras and sub-genres – anything I could get my hands on, all rolled into one. Whatever you watch this year, make sure to try and fit in some of these like I’ve done. Happy Halloween! 10. Tales from the Darkside, Season 1: "Trick or Treat" (1983) After devoting the last several years of my TV time to reviewing and revisiting TV horror in the form of Tales from the Crypt, Friday the 13th: The Series and The Hitchhiker, it was a great change of pace to finally enter the darkside when Paramount debuted the first season of George A. Romero’s celebrated series. While the second, “I don’t have a son named Jerry!” segment is probably the best and most memorable, it’s the Romero-written series opener that works best this time of year. It plays on our bizarre custom of having children walk up to the houses of strangers to ask for loot on Halloween by having an old curmudgeon hide his wealth inside his old, scary house for the children of his employees to try and find. It’s the ultimate gamble, but watching Romero’s “Trick or Treat” episode is a sure bet to starting your Hallow’s Eve festivities off with a bang. 9. Blow Out (1980) October’s about watching horror movies, and while Brian DePalma’s overlooked Blow Out is certainly quite the masterpiece on its own, its focus on a schlocky B horror movie sound man gives the movie a fun, tongue in cheek sensibility to help alleviate the overwhelming dread that overhangs this dreary testament to American conspiracy. The film within a film opener, the sleazy slasher Coed Frenzy, is as hilarious a pastiche as anything found in all of Student Bodies. It kicks off with a bang, but the actual story grabs you shortly thereafter and doesn’t let go until the harrowing finale. I don’t think there has been any darker comedy than the last line uttered in Blow Out. The dying fall backdrop makes a perfect setting both for the film’s metaphor of decaying constitutional values and for setting the stage for the horrors that come with October. Look for film posters for a number of old MGM drive-in staples like Squirm and Food of the Gods in the background of the earlier production house scenes. 8. Don't Look in the Basement (1973) Don’t Look in the Basement is a movie I picked up at a mom’n pop shop in 2003 with little to no expectations, and it’s a good thing since all bets are off. I’ve never been able to shake this weird little movie, the debut of under-appreciated mini horror auteur S.F. Brownrigg, from my mind. It’s basically what would happen if you remade Freaks with no budget in Texas circa 1973. That’s fitting, since near the end of his unfortunately short, four film career, Brownrigg had intended to remake Browning’s carnival creeper. The plot is hardly there, but the screw loose cast definitely is, giving each scene a weird, uncomfortable flair. The truth in the titular basement turns out to be an anti-climax, but the film has a few frightful tugs of the rug and plenty of uninhibited carnage. It’s really tough to describe the je ne sais crazy of the film, but maybe it’s all for the best, because the less you know about this cheapie, the better. 7. Murder by Decree (1979) Were it not for Don’t Look in the Basement, I probably would have included Clark’s equally low-budget and bizarre Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things on this year’s top ten. Both with casual acting and endearing, low rent effects, they create a realistic descent into genre. Murder by Decree, Clark’s final horror film in a long line of great seventies horror, certainly is no realist rumination, but it manages what few period films are able to do (especially when it comes to horror) by making the look, the tone and the debauchery as dark and disturbed as films set in the present. The tendency for period films is to gloss over or sanitize the past, but here Clark has great fun gliding across the prostitute-filled cobblestone streets, looking in the shadows when everyone else would turn the cameras on the A-list cast. The acting is of course terrific too, and the repartee between Sherlock and Watson is something the upcoming Holmes film is going to have to work very hard in living up to. It’s been over two years since we lost Clark to a drunk driver, but with an early body of work as sobering as Clark’s is, we’ll never forget him. 6. Inferno (1980) In a list full of ragtag picks, I may as well go with Argento’s most under-appreciated venture from his lucid period (between Deep Red and Opera), the second of the Mother pictures, Inferno. We all know that any follow up to Suspiria is bound to be inferior, but Argento’s creaky house picture holds up better than ever today following the bore of gore disappointment that is Mother of Tears. With its Three Mothers book prologue, Inferno is the film to tie all three together, and the only to really add formative text to the otherwise set piece showcase of Suspiria or the tits and guts parade of Mother of Tears. It uses each different level in a massive New York building to represent a different facet of history and horror, from the flooded underground to the book laden attic as if to suggest learning is indeed higher. This is far from Life as a House, though, we get some amazingly colorful set pieces and with the fiery finale, the scariest demise Argento ever cast to film. 5. Saw IV (2007) When you hit four films, you stop being a flash in the pan and become an institution. I loathed the pretentious first, but something magical happened for the fourth outing. In came Feast screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan found a way to soften the high brow masquerade of the original and tame the high camp of the second and third outings. Instead of trying to grow out, as most surely would wish at the prospect of dealing with Leigh Whannel’s vapid [strike]props[/strike] characters, the duo showed brass by instead going deeper, and going backward, with already established characters. Jigsaw went from a soundboard to an iconic horror villain with tragedy to fuel his venom and looking backwards even made the previous films better by association, too. At a time when most horror franchises fizzle, Melton and Dunstan instead gave Saw new life and made this a series worth talking about. With the sixth film still effectively mining the past, there’s no better time to indulge in the film that cut out the cancer that had been growing since the first. 4. Vampyr (1932) Part of what impinges on my enjoyment of the Universal monster movies is that with the recent invention of sound the camera was suddenly immobile and effects of the visual order were instead overlooked for aural continuity. You look at the staging of Browning’s Dracula and compared to the visually audacious wonders of L’inferno or Nosferatu from years prior, and it hardly seems like progress. I always do relish the chance to relive the silent films, when the camera was truly liberated, and this year it’s Criterion’s fine serving of Vampyr. Although it is Carl Theodor Dreyer’s first sound film, it plays out almost completely silent, with narrated book pages replacing the standard intertitle. Even with sound, Dreyer’s camera moves like never before in some incredibly inventive sequences, from Platoian display of shadows on the wall interacting with real people to double exposures showing a man stepping outside his own body. Perhaps the most visually audacious sequence is when the lead character sees his own death and the camera moves along in first person looking up from the grave at the black and white jarring of tree branches on sky. The story on the surface is a trifle, and if done by anyone else during the sound period it probably would have been lamentable and forgettable. Under Dreyer’s eye, though, it becomes a visually complex meditation on perception and how life begets death and dreams beget reality. 3. Cat in the Brain (1990) I saw two great late career Fulci movies for the first time this year – Door into Silence and Cat in the Brain. Both are gleefully effective meditations on filmmaking, humanity, legacy and death, and bring to light the lucidity of his oft dismissed later career. For this top ten I’m going with Cat in the Brain because it’s sort of best-of gore showcase would fit well wedged between films at any horror party. Having Fulci play himself (rather than John Savage doing the same in Door into Silence) makes the whole thing that much more personal and enjoyable. I always crack up at that scene where Fulci recoils in confused shock as he watches a chainsaw cut a tree in the courtyard. His camera zooms in elliptically to make sure that if his performance can’t sell shock (he’s not much the actor), his camera can. That’s the kind of guy he was – he never shied away from the visceral, and fans of his other films shouldn’t shy away from this, either. 2. Shivers (1975) David Cronenberg’s debut was filmed at the tail end of summer in Toronto, but given those brown, sparse landscapes, you’d certainly be forgiven for thinking it was October. Hell, I still do every time I watch it. The colors make this a near fall perennial for me, but it’s the sparse, somber and somehow still hilarious satire that keeps me wanting to revisit the film regardless of time. His Canadian backdrops would never warm up, but as a filmmaker Cronenberg would become cooler as he mastered the medium, but his madcap sense of macabre here has always seemed the most organic or interesting of all his works. The scene where a parasite is vomited off the high rise and onto the clear plastic umbrella of a couple hoity toity old ladies always has me in stitches. Maybe only in Blood for Dracula has repression ever been spewed out onto the upper class with greater force. The DVD is unfortunately hard to come by, but this Halloween or any, it’s worth it. 1. House II (1987) I don’t know what the hell Fred Dekker and Steve Miner were smoking when they made House, but whatever it was it made that movie an uncomfortable meld of slapstick digs at Americana and disturbed shell shock of the Jacob’s Ladder order. It’s never really worked for me, but once co-writer of the original, Ethan Wiley, took over as director for the sequel, it clicked. House II is a wondrous picture, the kind where the imagination runs wild and you just hold on for the ride. Behind every wall in the creaky old house is some grand portal to another world or another place in time. Dinosaurs, Aztecs, the Old West and yep, even another Cheers cameo – nothing is off limits here! It’s a grand spectacle on a meager budget, but it’s the family and the story of revenge and redemption for dusty old gramps that gives the movie its heart. It’s PG-13 but never compromises, and as a result it’s one of the few horror movies that works as well for kids as it does adults. Add in early performances from Lar Park-Lincoln, Bill Maher and Amy Yasbeck to add to the frenzied fun. Playing like a top quality Tales From the Crypt episode, but with a lot more heart, House II is one of the finest bits of horror entertainment from the eighties and the perfect film to check into this Halloween season. Ding dong, you’re dead!