LIST OF SCARIEST HALLOWEEN FILMS TO WATCH

SHORT TAKE:

A list, gleaned with the help of some of my friends and family, of filmed entertainments to help heap on the horror at Halloween.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Depends on the entertainment and the kid in question, but pretty much everything on this list is for a minimum of mid-teens and up, except for the two I mention at the bottom for the younger set, but EVEN THEN, as always, parents, use discretion – see them first AND WITH your child.

LONG TAKE:

This year I decided to do an informal survey – VERY informal – of my husband, children and a few friends, for what they thought were the scariest movies at the time they saw them. Didn’t matter whether they still thought them scary now or not – just that they remembered the film as being the scariest thing they had ever seen at the time. I asked each to pick two.

Below find the runners up in alphabetical order followed by my personal recommendations at the end.

So – as Richard Dawson used to say during Family Feud: Survey SAYS!!

Alien – this one not only happens to be at the top of the alphabetical list but was chosen by the most people. This 1979 hit is the FIRST in what has since become a major franchise – the spaceship Nostromo, which turned into a haunted house/people trapped in a slasher movie – the original with chest-burst John Hurt and the first time we ever saw the multi-serried teeth, accordian-jawed , acid blood, armored killer. I was so scared during the scene when Harry Dean Stanton gets a “close encounter” with the full grown version that I remember thinking – “This is no longer fun. I am so scared it is painful.” I couldn’t face even the thought of it until Aliens came out 7 years later.

Annabelle – a demon doll, in search of  souls to possess, stalks an innocent unsuspecting family. There are few things more frightening than dolls, created to provide gentle entertainment and comfort to children, portrayed as vessels of demonic evil.

The Blair Witch Project – gotta tell you, this “founder” of the “found footage” movies scared the living daylights out of me. I remember telling my husband as we watched it at home on a TV screen: “Honey, the lights are on, and you’re in the room, and I KNOW this is only a movie but this thing is scaring me spitless!” (Probably the fact I’m afraid of camping at night to begin with contributed mightily to my reaction.) I had to actually look up the actors and assure myself they were cast in movies after this one before I was convinced it was just a hoax.

The Blob – (the original, not the extremely bad 1988 remake) while very dated, is a 1958 classic which still holds up in the gut-wrenching suspense category, in no small part due to the acting talents of Steve McQueen in one of his very first films, and a very simple concept simply, and VERY effectively, expressed. A small — well, blob — lands on Earth via meteorite in a small town. When examined by an unwary but curious passer-by he is slowly and painfully absorbed, but not before the poor Ground Zero victim gets to a doctor who is more quickly overpowered by the now far larger mass. Mindless, voracious, completely silent, and able to creep through screen doors, window cracks, up trees, into gutters, it takes very little special effects to get you picking up your feet and jumping at the slightest touch from something that brushes against you in the dark.

Cloverfield – saw this one in the middle of the night, in a hotel room, after a long drive. Where most monster- disaster movies are shown from the view of the heroes who will eventually overcome the beasts, Cloverfield is seen from the point of view of poor schmucks who, like Rosencrantz and Gildenstern in Hamlet, do not know what is going on or why, but end up suffering the consequences of the catastrophe going on around them. Also the first “found footage” movie since The Blair Witch Project and the first “found footage” sci fi.

The Conjuring – another evil spirit terrorizing a family, this time the manifestation is of a woman named Bathsheba, who committed suicide as part of a Satanic cult ritual. Loosely connected to the above mentioned movie Annabelle, as the demonologists sought for help are the same who fought the demon doll.

The Grudge – a curse in the form of an entity, born of someone who dies in the grip of rage or extreme sorrow, which , by its nature, is repeated in a terrible endless cycle of inescapable grisly deaths.

Hostage – deals with the scariest monster of all – a human. The only one on the list which has no supernatural terrors or science fiction horrors and is therefore the most deeply disturbing, for the simple reason that people like the psychotic kidnapper Mars actually exist.

Jurassic World – dinosaurs escape their confines at a theme park. Imagine, (to loosely paraphrase Ian Malcolm, Jeff Goldblum’s character from the first Jurassic movie), if the critters at a Disney zoo got out to snack on the tourists.

KrampusDrag me to Hell meets Gremlins set during Christmas.

Morgus’ assistant Eric’s signature laugh: Here’s a blast from the past. A local New Orleans TV show featuring a campy mad scientist host for late night horror and B science fiction movies aired on and off from 1959 through 2006 under various monikers, each title having the name “Morgus” somewhere in it. Each half hour Morgus episode was split into roughly 5 minute bits shown with the commercial breaks. During these episodes Morgus tries some crazy experiment – shrinking people, making them invisible, home made nuclear bombs, mind control – which predictably went horribly wrong. By the end of the show Morgus and his mute assistant Chopsley were always unavailable – arrested, running away, blown up, turned to dust, whatever. This left his other assistant Eric – a disembodied skull attached electrically to the top of a TV screen – to bid the audience farewell after the credits rolled on the feature film. The eyeless skull would sign off in closeup every week in an echoy cadaverous voice: “Tune in next week when Morgus the Magnificent takes us into the realm of science. Good night. Pleasant dreams,” then would let go with an ominous evil cackle —- which I never heard because I would cover my ears and run out of the room. Something about that laugh and it wishing me “Pleasant dreams” got to me every time. I mean, I was all of maybe 5 or 6 when I first heard it. I can handle it NOW — really, honest, it’s on Youtube and I don’t run out the room any more – altogether. Maybe just keep my distance a bit, turn down the sound…..For anyone interested in this ultraspoof you can find entire episodes on Youtube HERE.

The Stand – Stephen King’s opus as a mini-series about the end of the world — twice – once by a genetically engineered virus with a 999/1000 kill ratio which leaves the world littered with mountainous piles of dead and decaying bodies, then again when the Devil’s own son sets up a totalitarian regime in Las Vegas to come after the survivors’ souls. While I admit the book was far better, the video was not a bad rendition. When tackling a 1,472  page novel (in its uncut form) and given the limitations of the material allowed on TV in 1994, even 361 minutes was not nearly enough time to do the best work of Stephen King justice. Nonetheless, the very concept will give you significant nightmares. It does not hurt that Gary Sinise and Ed Harris lend their talents to this abridged effort.

The Ring – grisly frightening movie about a cursed DVD which sends a ghoul to crawl right out of the screen to kill you. Talk about too much TV being BAD for you!!

Signs – Joaquin Phoenix and Mel Gibson as brothers trying to defend their children/nephew/niece in a science fiction horror movie about a family trapped on a farm house in the middle of a corn field in a War of the Worlds-type scenario . If you can ignore some of the preposterous plot points, it’s a fun way to get the pants scared off of you. Blends humor and suspense in equal measures and one of Shyamalan’s better works.

MY TOP RECOMMENDATIONS

TO TERRIFY OLDER TEENS AND UP:

Aliens – the sequel to Alien, only this time it’s space marines facing down an entire swarm of Alien critters made from a harvest of unwary human colonists. This well written script expands on the “haunted house” theme in the first venture to provide a thoughtful commentary on two extreme faces of motherhood as Ripley and the Queen Mother of all Aliens face off to defend their own in a show down which will grab you with visceral ferocity.

A Quiet Place – this movie will disturb your dreams forever. The most thoughtful, well written and well acted terrifying movie I have ever seen. Humanity is stalked by critters, from where we know not, faster than a cheetah, which will rip you to literal shreds if they hear you make the slightest sound. We follow a family, one of the lone surviving groups, who have learned the art of silence through their use of sign language with their deaf daughter. The brilliance is not just in the execution (if you’ll excuse the grisly pun) but in the layers of meaning in the story which can be seen as a strictly horror flick, as an analogy for the terrors of raising children in a dangerous world (SEE MY REVIEW HERE) or even, as Bishop Barron noted in his review HERE, a modern myth representing the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

FOR THE OLDER CROWD WHO LIKE TO ALTERNATE LAUGHS WITH THEIR SCREAMS:

Shaun of the Dead – Simon Pegg’s parody-homage to zombie movies. Funny for adults, but – word of advice – don’t show it to your kids thinking they will find it as funny as you will. (Kind of why it made the list for some of our now grown surveyors – but that’s OK – that’s what therapy funds are for – oops.)

Zombieland – Parts 1 and 2 which (once Part 2 leaves the theater and gets on DVD) could be shown back to back as one movie. (SEE MY REVIEW HERE) A grotesquely funny flick, which turns the genre on its ear with an ersatz family of survivors in a post-zombie apocalypse, who approach killing the brain hungry undead with the joie de vivre of extreme sports enthusiasts.

FOR KIDS OF ALL AGES:

The Wizard of Oz – the flying monkeys will get you every time. Classic story with a timeless message of a girl who gets what she wants, to run away from her troubles, only to find out that “There’s no place like home.”

Disney’s delightful animated Legend of Sleepy Hollow – (not to be confused with the very weird feature length live action with Johnny Depp) based upon the Washington Irving short story of a gangly school teacher who moves to a new town which hosts a frightening legend in the form of a headless horseman.

So there we have it – from winged monkeys and dinosaurs to demons and a garden variety psychopath, these are movies which scare me and mine and some of our friends, in some cases have done for decades.

So – Tune in again when I will take you to the realm of movie mavin-ness. Good night…Pleasant dreams. Muhohahahahahahaha.

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS – WONDERFULLY POLITICIALLY INCORRECT COMIC BOOK-STYLE CREATURE FEATURE

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION FOR REVIEW OF GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

SHORT TAKE:

If you are a fan of Godzilla then you will love this contribution to the now 65 year old franchise.

WHO SHOULD GO:

At youngest, younger teens, for: frightening and extensively violent images of city-wide destruction, human peril and cataclysmic fight scenes with other monsters. There is also some language including one “f” word and blasphemy. And while there is no sexuality shown, there are a small handful of sexual innuendos spoken, which will probably go over the head of most younger teens. There is also a confusing mish mash of paganism and Christian religious symbols and references which could confuse a spiritually immature child.

LONG TAKE:

In 1954 Godzilla inexplicably and emphatically became a cult hit. A rubber suited man emitting a now iconic shriek (created by Akira Ifukube rubbing a resin coated leather glove across the strings of a double bass) wrecks havoc, clumping awkwardly as he lazer-breathes his way through towns and countrysides behind fleeing crowds of (mostly) Japanese victims.

35 films later (all but 3 made by Toho, a Japanese-based film company), the franchise is still going strong. The latest, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, is a loose sequel to the 2014 Hollywood film which firmly established Godzilla to mainstream American audiences as a “good guy” ally to humanity. In point of fact, some Japanese philosophies even see Godzilla as an indifferent “god” of destruction in a cycle of death and rebirth.

At one point a scientist, upon seeing the monster in full, interjects the name of the Lord, to which Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford – Get Out, Saving Mr. Banks, Cabin in the Woods) punnily follows up with “zilla”. In fact the name Godzilla was never meant to refer to our Creator. It was actually a Europeanized mispronunciation of the Japanese, Gojira, which, in turn refers to an animal which is akin to both a whale and a gorilla.

SPOILERS – but, I mean, come on, this is Godzilla and there’s not that much plot to spoil.

In this outing, Godzilla is a bit of both ally and destructo-machine, as he tromps over the Earth with 16 other “Titans”. The human subplot, which is supposed to keep us grounded to the big critters, involves scientists Mark and Emma Russell, (Kyle Chandler – Game Night, Argo, King Kong and Vera Farmiga – The Nun, Conjuring 2) who lost their son in the first Godzilla movie, (flashback) then divorced. Emma is now brainwashing, I mean raising, their remaining child Madison (the clearly talented Millie Bobby Brown who is the amazing “11” from Stranger Things) to follow in her tunnel vision footsteps, putting her research of the Titans above everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) else.

Rounding out the cast is Ken Watanabe (Inception, Last Samurai, previous Godzilla, Pokémon Detective Pickachu), Charles Dance (staple in film and TV for 45 years, bringing a wicked class and style to everything from Game of Thrones to Shakespeare and a villain in the James Bond franchise), Sally Hawkins (in both the offensively awful Shape of Water and the extremely delightful Paddington movies), and Joe Morton, (whose career dates all the way back to 1951 including the innovative cult sci fi Brother From Another Planet and the classic Terminator 2: Judgement Day).

The rest of the run time is spent watching CGI monsters destroy each other in admittedly spectacular fashion, although a lot of cheating is done in the details by holding all the fights at night, under water or in a Cat 6 (???) hurricane manufactured by one of the “bad guy” Titans.

It occurred to me as I perused a Youtube which did a quick survey of all the Godzilla movies, that the phenomenon of Godzilla has much in common with the Lego movies. Aside from the 1998 Matthew Broderick contribution, which envisioned Godzilla as a more “realistic” mountain-sized Komodo Dragon, Godzilla reminds me of an action figure. Despite all the CGI available, the director, Michael Doughtery, (Superman Returns and a couple of X-Men movies) chose to stick with the stilted, squat, awkwardly moving Godzilla instead of the 1998 lithe, quick and sinuous monster which chased Matthew Broderick through New York City. Similarly to the Lego Movie, which sees the world from the point of view of the toys, Godzilla strikes me as inspired by the imaginations of every child who had a monster toy with which they liked to terrorize their surroundings. The traditional Godzilla MOVES like an action figure with an inverted triangle body, whippy tail with which to bludgeon objects, and tiny useless arms, clumping from side to side as it stomps forward crushing everything under foot in its path – except the “important” actors. The end credits even camp it up, featuring a cover by Bear McCreary of the 1977 Blue Oyster Cult novelty song “Godzilla”.

This is a pulp funny book brought to full Technicolor life with all of the shallowness of plot, disjointed explanations, magic-style “science”, inconsistent character motivations, and single note personalities of a comic book and its denizens. Even so, this is not meant as a criticism or failure of the movie. I suspect this is what the film makers were after. And it succeeds, as such, admirably, throwing in a little wry humor dialogue now and again just to keep things “real”.

As a matter of fact, there is one special reason why I, personally, like this movie. In a delightfully refreshing turn of events, a truth is demonstrated. The monsters have been deliberately set forth to destroy mankind by a recognizably legitimate force for evil, one which wrecks havoc on us in the real world on a daily basis – the Environmental Wacko. The bad guys here boldly state that humans are a “virus” on the Earth which must be scoured off, in their way of thinking, to allow the world to return to its “natural” state. But, of course, in true and honestly portrayed, narcissistic liberal hypocritical fashion, the villain, after murdering tens of thousand of men, women and children with these behemoths, she willing puts all her plans on hold when it is her child at risk. No one else’s child is important though, only hers and hers alone.

Her insane scheme to find and release the Titans upon the Earth is understood by the rest of the characters in the movie as: ridiculous, evil, short sighted, cruel, and – ultimately, flat out wrong. This, of course, can sum up the entire mentality of the extreme environmentalist movement, which wants to put animals above people, prefers human suffering for OTHERS (who are not members of their extreme club) to widespread use of modern inventions, ignores common sense science (like the fact that carbon dioxide is GOOD for the environment as plants LOVE it), proposes hoaxes which further their agenda with NO verifiable evidence (like human caused climate change) but continue to jet around the world using up fossil fuels at a rate the rest of us can only dream about. It’s nice to see the blame placed at the feet of those to which it really belongs for a change.

Godzilla also leans heavily on paganism, reverencing and even calling to some worship of the monsters. That being said there is also some comparisons of Godzilla to Christian motifs – that he died trying to save us, descended to the depths of the Earth and was reborn to arise and defeat an evil monster (well two if you count the environmental wacko). While this has been done appropriately and respectfully in stories like Narnia (NOT that Godzilla even belongs in the same solar system with Aslan), it is a fair point to say not all of Godzilla is pagan, but that there are at least some superficial nods to a Christ-like theology, though it is obvious that the writers neither understand it nor fully embrace it.

So if you are familiar with and are a fan of the mythos of Godzilla then you will not be disappointed in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. But while you should be advised of the heavily pagan-favored worldview, it will at least provide a breath of politically incorrect but common sense-accurate fresh air.

SMALLFOOT – CLEVER AND SWEET WITH A SURPRISINGLY THOUGHTFUL UNDERLYING MESSAGE

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF SMALLFOOT REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

Clean, genuinely funny, very kid-friendly movie about the sequence of events which results when a village of yetis is revealed to a “smallfoot”/human.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anybody can go but be advised, at 96 minutes, it is about 20 minutes too long for the average pre-kindergartner.

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LONG TAKE:

Fides et Ratio was an encyclical by Saint Pope John Paul II in 1998. Translated, the title means “Faith and Reason”. In it, then Pope, now Saint John Paul II explains that faith without reason leads to superstition and reason without faith leads to nihilism and relativism. Smallfoot, surprisingly, tackles the former of these heady, complex philosophical musings.

While I do not normally like to lead with a lot of spoilers, when analysing for a movie whose demographic is young children, as a parent, I would want full disclosure before bringing MY smallfoot, so I offer the same to you readers.

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

This children’s tale begins with a colony of yetis who live high up on a mountain, cut off visually from the rest of the world by a constant ring of clouds. Our protagonist is a good natured, happy-go-lucky yeti named Migo (Channing Tatum) whose personality almost exactly parallels that of Chris Pratt’s eternally optimistic Emmett from The Lego Movie. You almost expect him to burst out with “Everything is Awesome” as he strolls through the yeti village. This is not meant as a criticism. It’s actually quite cute as he observes the seemingly pointless Rube Goldberg occupations to which everyone is assigned, but which are explained later.

The songs are, BTW, quite catchy and one in particular, sung by the female protagonist and Migo’s love interest, Meechee (Zendaya from The Greatest Showman), “Wonderful Life”, features some thoughtful lyrics:

Take a look around
And see the world we think we know
Then look closer
There’s more to life than meets the eye
A beauty to behold
It’s all much bigger than we know.

She sings this as she shows things to Migo he never noticed, like a small butterfly crystalized in a frozen stalactite, and the details in a snowflake. Beautiful imagery for a lovely idea: that the more we see, the more we realize the grandeur in Creation.

Their belief system, literally written in stone, is a seemingly random collection of unquestioned statements, including the command that if you feel the urge to question one of the stones you should “push it down” and not think about it. The stones describe strange and mythical beasts which must be fed or cooled or tended to in odd ways. One stone commands an absolute dismissal of the possibility that there could be anything below the cloudline. The stones are worn like scale armour by the tribal leader, Stonekeeper, (Lonnie Rashid Lynn aka the rapper Common). Migo, the son of Gorgle, the Gong Ringer (Danny DeVito) is one of the biggest stone-trusting advocates in the village, until one day Migo, by chance, observes a plane crash and the ejection of a smallfoot from this flying metal object. Problem is: the existence of smallfoot is absolutely denied by one of the earliest stones. No one will believe Migo as the evidence is quickly blown off the mountain.

Meanwhile, Percy, James Corden (voice of Peter Rabbit and guest companion in a couple of Matt Smith Dr. Who’s) is the host of an animal show which is on the decline. The ejected pilot happens upon Percy with his story of sighting a yeti, and before Percy, desperate for ratings, can take advantage of this knowledge, Migo appears, looking for the pilot and proof of his smallfoot story. Their first contact is cute and clever and takes full advantage of their inability to immediately communicate.

Tatum and Corden do a wonderful job of voicing the life into their respective characters and the writers do an excellent job with the miscommunications which arise from their inability to understand each other.

The movie is occasionally laugh out loud funny. It is completely clean – no bad language and, a rarity, totally innuendo free.

As the plot progresses it is revealed that the Stonekeeper is wearing a set of lies, deliberately created to protect the village because of previous lethal encounters with humans, generations ago. The stones’ commands all begin to form a pattern: If smallfoot does not exist then there’s no reason to go look for them. The ring of clouds is manufactured for camouflage by the steam generating machine deep within the mountain which the ice ball production and turning gears on the surface facilitates. The other stones which describe a sky snail and mammoths under the clouds which are cooled by the ice balls all were made up and commanded to be accepted without question to protect the villagers from leaving and revealing their village.

There are plot points in Smallfoot which harken back to other movies, certainly: the hidden city of Wakanda in Black Panther, and a concept accepted without question which keeps two potentially friendly but very dissimilar groups apart, but which is a complete lie, as in Monsters, Inc. for example, that children are dangerously toxic. (I won’t even discuss The Village because Smallfoot is a much better movie). But Smallfoot is not a derivative of any of them.

If I make the movie sound like it is heavily philosophical, it is not. The movie plays out like any normal child friendly film with lots of slap stick, goofy looking characters, Bugs Bunny-level pratfalls, bright colors, and non-lethal force. (Exs: an angry mama bear appears to be attacking, but when translated is just loudly chiding Migo for disturbing her family from their hibernation when it took her WEEKS to get her cubs to sleep. A crashing helicopter’s propellors are caught in trees spinning the body of the copter and the pilot emerges unscathed but incredibly dizzy.)

But it is the thoughtful story and clever characters that put Smallfoot above the general mishmash of kid movies which usually populate the screen. Inevitably the yetis’ faith without reason in the commands on the stones, about which Saint Pope John Paul II cautioned, breeds a mindless superstition requiring blind belief, and when challenged by truth, falls apart. It is only when reason and faith come together – when truth is combined with some earned trust between Migo and Percy, that a peaceful diplomatic solution is possible.

I liked Smallfoot. It has all the charm of a harmless silly kid movie, adds sly but innocent humor for the adults, and has an intelligent underlying theme. The characters are well fleshed out for the cast of an elementary school level movie. Plus the songs are catchy and cute without being heavy handed and are sparingly used. And best of ALL – it did NOT go for the STUPID, almost UBIQUITOUS “female empowerment” message with which we are regularly bludgeoned and which has ruined entire franchises (I’d sneeze the words Star Wars if I was standing right in front of you to make the point, but I’m not so you’ll just have to imagine that.)

My only real complaint is that it was a bit too long, by about 20 minutes, for the primary school demographic to which the producers were aiming. My two year old grandson loved it and was mesmerized until the last bit and wanted to walk around while watching the denouement. At 96 minutes it really should have gone through one more trimming.

Aside from that very small criticism, Smallfoot is a delightful film with a bit more meat on its bones than you might expect or is carried on your average kid movie. It will entertain even the littlest kids, but still provide mom and dad with something worthwhile to mull over with even the oldest.Arguably the best kid movie I’ve since in 2018 yet(i)…..sorry couldn’t resist.