Before the Days of Streaming: Eight Childhood Halloween Favorites that Rarely Aired Outside of Halloween Season
As a product of the 1980s, the months of September and October bring back childhood memories of flipping through basic cable channels (with the exception of HBO), in hopes of finding awesome horror entertainment, especially seasonal marathons. However, on a daily basis, it was difficult finding certain movies, which rarely aired outside of Halloween season. Instead, I had relied on both a TV Guide booklet and video rental store for my horror fixes.
It was the greatest thing to witness multiple Halloween/horror entertainment showcases on full display. Of course, not all video rental stores carried specific titles, either. In addition, upon entering into the late 1990s, nearby video rental stores (practically near obsolete) had carried less older and obscure horror/cult flicks.
Although these days, I get a daily horror fix from TV and entertainment streaming services, I still look back fondly on those seasonal favorites from my childhood that I could only catch this wonderful time of year. In that spirit, here are my Great Eight Childhood Halloween Classics.
(Note: These descriptions do not contain spoilers, but some of the trailers may).
8. Spookies (1986)
In the B-movie terror fest Spookies from a combined directorial effort by Genie Joseph, Thomas Doran, and Brendan Faulkner, a bunch of people attend a party at an abandoned house situated in the center of a graveyard, which unbeknownst to them happens to be home to a warlock/occultist named Kreon (Felix Ward). Guests revel in the spookiness of the old, cobweb-enshrouded house, and get their kicks with a Ouija board. Thanks to a summoning, Kreon decides to revive his deceased wife by murdering his uninvited guests.
A myriad of creatures (e.g., ghouls, demons, and zombies, to name a few) play a crucial role in causing paranormal mayhem. Much deserved praise goes to the hauntingly eerie setting, as well as for providing some unforgettable scenes. Special effects are not surprisingly awful, but cast performances are another story. Rather stiff performances, lacking genuine emotions, end up delivering a possibly unintended comedic element. In addition, a lack of depth is evident within the storyline. In spite of its flaws, Spookies proves to be a frightfully good watch.
7. Trick or Treat (1986)
Eddie (Marc Price) (yes, Skippy from TV’s Family Ties) is an awkward teenager finding escapism through metal music while receiving daily torment from peers, in director Charles Martin Smith’s cult gem Trick or Treat. To make matters worse, he is distraught over the death of metal idol and hometown hero Sammi Curr (Tony Fields). It should come as no surprise that Eddie hears subliminal messages when playing Sammi’s last album backwards; in turn, summoning the deceased singer.
Trick or Treat is every horror fanatic/metalhead’s dream come true, featuring cameos by Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne, with Fastway providing the soundtrack. This flick plays on the ideas of metal being considered violent, misogynistic, and Satanic in nature. However, by all means, this movie pays homage to metal, as opposed to a mockery of the music genre. Nor, does it rely on mediocrity or corniness in a similar fashion to both 1980s metal-based horror movies Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (1987) and Black Roses (1988) (which I love). Of course, you might keep laughing and banging your head more often, as opposed to feeling scared.
6. Puppet Master (1989)
In director David Schmoeller’s underrated, direct-to-video cult classic Puppet Master, a group of psychics investigate the suicide of a former colleague. Meanwhile, unforgettably creepy puppets terrorize guests, leaving a string of murders behind.
Puppet Master was spawned when CGI did not exist, so special effects artists had done their best to create realistic scenes. My favorite puppets are Blade and Leech Woman (*note: names were not introduced in the movie). Many scenes will stick with you long after, especially the one involving Leech Woman. This gem is surely laughable; yet, manages to stay afloat, considering viewers revel in absolute madness when toys become sinister. To be honest, I consider Puppet Master II and III among my favorites in the franchise (consisting of 13 movies).
5. The Witch (alternate title: La Strega in Amore) (1966)
Sergio Logan (Richard Johnson) takes a job as a live-in librarian, to protect ancient literature, stored in a castle, which is home to two mysterious women, Aura (Rosanna Schiaffino) and Consuelo (Sarah Ferrati), in director Damiano Damiani’s eerie treat The Witch. He eventually finds himself entrapped by his love for the conniving Aura and disdain for the domineering Consuelo. However, he also senses something far sinister lies deep, not only within their secretive books, but also within their souls. Exotic, up-tempo chanting soundscapes reel in viewers into believing Sergio is a stranger in unfamiliar territory.
A dark sensibility of eroticism, combined with uncertainty, intrigue, and dread, flow through the atmosphere. The black and white camera filter, combined with intricate, stylized angles, set the mood for supernatural forces dwelling within. An undeniable madness is evident, even without the need for a plethora of overtly frightening scenes and special effects. I still get chills from just watching Ferrati’s icy, dead stare permeating the screen. I am so grateful that RAI Italia (channel that aired on weekends) had showed this horror classic during the Halloween season.
4. Alucarda (1977)
Two orphans in a convent, Alucarda (Tina Romero) and Justine (Susana Kamini), have greater things in mind, such as pledging their allegiances to Satan and other Satanic deities, in director/writer Juan L. Moctezuma’s demonic possession masterpiece Alucarda. Alucarda has a somewhat morbid; yet, vivacious predisposition about the world, in addition to searching for greater offers extending beyond her faith. It comes as no surprise that Alucarda embraces her fearless intuition when straying from the convent, with Justine following. Along the way, they meet a stranger claiming that Alucarda will be destined to cross paths with him again.
Moctezuma explores a deep-seated fear about demonic presences haunting a world steeped in religious ideology. However, regardless of one’s beliefs (I am a former Roman Catholic; now agnostic), there is a darkness roaming the universe in one form or another. In fact, the most devout human vessel, who follows a Divine deity, can be consumed by some sort of evil or dark forces.
A convent situated in a cave/grotto, where clergy members engage in flagellation as punishment, is one of many powerful scenes. It also proves to be a gore fest, encased in blood, flames, and blasphemy, among other things. Such scenes are reminiscent of those 1980s metal album covers, especially ones from black/death metal bands. On the other hand, I wish this movie had a longer runtime because the plot needed to be developed a bit further. Nonetheless, Alucarda delivers on keeping viewers completely entranced.
3. 976-Evil (1988)
Robert Englund had directed 976-Evil, a cheezy, worthwhile homage to demonic possession movies. Weird things start happening as soon as Spike (Patrick O’Bryan) calls the 976-Evil “horrorscope” hotline. Unfortunately, Spike’s socially awkward cousin, Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys), finds himself enraptured by the Satanic hotline, growing more powerful through each phone call.
Geoffreys deserve much praise for his transformation as a ruthless demon, rebelling against everything else he represented before (a scared, weak, and insecure Christian). Sandy Dennis also has a memorable turn as Hoax’s fanatical Christian mother who appears to be channeling 1980s televangelist Jimmy Swaggart.
I find it difficult to believe that 976-Evil received several poor reviews, considering it happens to be one of my favorites. I thought it was a solid directorial debut effort by Englund, to prove he would not remain boxed-in by portraying horror icon Freddy Krueger. The storyline garners attention, in terms of originality, thanks to writers Brian Helgeland and Rhet Topham. After all, there are not many movies where demonic possession takes place through a phone. Moreover, special effects makeup is incredible; it does not look ridiculous or fake.
2. The Brood (1979)
Director/writer David Cronenberg delivers his signature visceral imagery in the horror-psychological thriller The Brood. Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) claims his wife, Nola (Samantha Eggar) who is residing at a mental health facility, is physically abusing their daughter. Meanwhile, people have fallen slain at the hands of feral, deformed children. A correlation does exist between Nola and these murderous children; however, it is not what you think.
Cronenberg assures you that mediocre acting and elements of cheeze have no place at the table. Oliver Reed commands the screen as the intense, mysterious psychologist Dr. Hal Raglan. Another noteworthy performance comes courtesy of Eggar for channeling a mentally disturbed mother longing to reconnect with her daughter while facing personal demons. The Brood is a fine representation of sheer horror in its awesomely repulsive, primal state.
1. Zombie (alternate title: Zombi 2) (1979)
Italian director Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (Zombi 2) dives into the deep by exploring the origin of the zombie, associated with voodoo practices from centuries before. Both Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow) and journalist Peter West (Ian McCulloch) end up traveling to the Caribbean island of Mature, to investigate the sudden death of Dr. Bowles (Anne’s father). Exotic locale, accompanied by rhythmic drumbeats, mixed with eerie soundscapes, sets the tone for an island inhabited by flesh-hungry, rotting corpses.
Fulci received praise for presenting some of the most gruesome imagery to hit the screen from abroad; hence, the reason he was considered a master of gore cinema. In fact, some of the most terrifying zombies ingrained in my brain have come from his pure genius. Bear in mind, Zombie is not one of those cheezy horror flicks where you expect to find many laughs. This masterpiece embodies the whole idea of intending to keep its viewers scared through each moment.
On a final note, as a child, I did not care whether performance quality or special effects were realistic. I had enjoyed the fright factor element, which always truly mattered, regardless of production budget or effective storyline and character formations.