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Tag Archive: Halloween


The crazed killer in the William Shatner Captain Kirk mask returns.  Again.  Much has been said about John Carpenter’s 1978 horror flick Halloween.  It launched the career of Jamie Lee Curtis and an entire genre of movies.  Curtis is back for more in the eleventh film in the franchise, this Halloween’s holiday horror release, Halloween.  Yes, that makes the third movie titled only Halloween.  A plus for horror fans is Nick Castle returning as Michael Myers–the first time since 1978.  Castle has had an interesting and varied career, directing films including The Last Starfighter, and writing films like Escape from New York.  Even better, this sequel disregards everything but the original: Halloween 2 (1981), Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982) (the only film not about Michael Myers), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), Halloween (6): The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), Halloween H20 (1998), Halloween: Resurrection (2002), and the reboots Halloween (2007) and Halloween 2 (2009).  So forget that stuff about Myers being Strode’s sister.  Or Myers being dead.  Or Strode being dead.  It didn’t happen.  And best of all, John Carpenter is back, this time as executive producer and composer (cue the creepy piano keys now).

Laurie Strode is one of those heroines audiences love to see return, as proven by her multiple appearances from a variety of writers and directors. Like Sigourney Weaver in the Alien franchise as Ellen Ripley and Linda Hamilton in the Terminator franchise as Sarah Connor, Jamie Lee Curtis has created and re-created one of genredom’s best loved cinematic heroines. Like fans hope for Hamilton returning as Connor again next year in a new Terminator movie from James Cameron, in the trailer for the new Halloween, Curtis looks only edgier, and, well, more badass than ever before.

This will be Curtis’s fifth time playing Laurie Strode.  First was Curtis’s first appearance as Laurie Strode in the original film.  Keep an eye out for film audience’s first look at Curtis as Laurie Strode, plus Carpenter movie staple Donald Pleasance (Escape from New York, Halloween 2, 4, and 5), a young P.J. Soles (Stripes, Law & Order), and an even younger Kyle Richards (The Watcher in the Woods, ER).  Curtis was back one more time–we thought, in 1981 as Carpenter and Debra Hill tried to bank on the original’s success with Halloween 2, finding Strode stalked by Michael Myers in a hospital (with an appearance by The Last Starfighter’s Lance Guest).  Twenty years later Curtis returned as Strode again, this time teaching at a private school, and protecting her son from the return of Michael.  The 1998 sequel is pretty good for a horror sequel, and so is the trailer (keep an eye out for Curtis’s real-life Mom or horror icon Janet Leigh (Psycho, The Fog), Josh Hartnett, Adam Arkin, LL Cool J, and four-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams).  And Curtis then came back another last time five years later in 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection, possibly the lowest point in the franchise (yep, that’s Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff in the trailer).  Strode returned to confront… her brother (?) Michael and he didn’t seem to make it out of Halloween H20, and Laurie didn’t make it out of Halloween: Resurrection.  Now we forget all that:  Donald Pleasance’s psychiatrist character did shoot and wound Myers, and he’s been in jail since.

Check out clips of their last stands and film trailers featuring Curtis below–you can really see comparisons like those between Linda Hamilton’s transition from Sarah Connor in The Terminator and Terminator 2 comparing Curtis as Strode in Halloween (1978) versus Curtis as Strode in 2018.  But first here is the trailer to the latest, director David Gordon Green’s Halloween:

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Author Sue Lowell Gallion and artist Joyce Wan first introduced kids to friends Pug & Pig in the 2016 picture book Pug Meets Pig.  Pug was a happy pup whose life was perfect until newcomer Pig moved in, but it wouldn’t be long before they realized they’d be inseparable friends.  In their next adventure, Pug & Pig decide to take on a Halloween adventure together, but it doesn’t quite go as planned.

In Pug & Pig: Trick-or-Treat, Pug and Pig get new Halloween costumes.  They’re about to venture out as skeletons and Pig couldn’t be happier.  But the costume is not right for Pug and he rips his costume apart and decides not to go along with Pig.  Can Pig help Pug figure out a solution?  Or will Pug be able to make sure both he and Pig still have fun on Halloween night?

Pug & Pig: Trick-or-Treat is a perfect story for little ones, sharing what it means to be friends, with adorable images of the unlikely pals, sure to get anyone into the holiday spirit.

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Halloween poster

Halloween–the 1978 movie that put both director John Carpenter and actress Jamie Lee Curtis on the map–is coming back to theaters for one night only.  The film was created for only $300,000 and premiered at Kansas City’s downtown Midland Theater 37 years ago this month and then spread by word of mouth across the country to earn $70 million and become the first modern horror blockbuster.  To illustrate the low budget, Nick Castle, the actor that played the story’s villain, Michael Myers, wore a last-minute found $2 William Shatner/Captain Kirk mask.  Now Halloween is Fathom Events’ next big Halloween event.

More than 200 theaters will air Halloween on the eve of All Hallow’s Eve (that’s the night before Halloween).  The movie, co-written by the late, great Debra Hill, will include an introduction recorded by John Carpenter.

Jamie Lee Curtis Halloween

If you make it to the screening, keep an eye out for an already well-known young actress back in 1978 named Kyle Richards, who had been a household name for her recurring role on Little House on the Prairie and the Disney film Escape to Witch Mountain, and would go on to co-star in the great ghost story Watcher in the Woods.

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The Fog banner

It’s our favorite month of the year.  Glorious October.  And the leaves are already blanketing the yard.  The month of Halloween.  And with Halloween comes a month crammed full of some of the great–and not so great–horror flicks.

We all have our favorites.  We at borg.com offered up our recommendations back in 2011 here, with an update last year hereJaws got our joint highest ranking, making three of our lists, and The Shining, The Exorcist, The Exorcist 3, Watcher in the Woods, The Ring, and Paranormal Activity rose above the rest.  Seaside locales were among our favorite locations for scares, with Jaws, Rebecca, The Birds, The Ring, The Fog (both the original and remake) all taking place there, and creepy little girls are the favorite subject of nine of our favorite haunts (The Ring, The Exorcist, Let Me In, Paranormal Activity 3, Watcher in the Woods, The Sixth Sense, The Shining, Turn of the Screw, and The Others).

Birds kids running away

Some of the staples of Halloween horror did not make our lists, like Friday the 13th, Halloween, Saw, Scream, The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, Poltergeist, Nightmare on Elm Street, or Amityville Horror,  but that doesn’t mean we don’t love watching them each year.   So we’ve put together an exhaustive list for you so you can set your DVRs and not miss out (or make your list for Netflix).  These cable networks: the Syfy Channel, AMC, Sundance, TCM, IFC, and ABC Family, are leading the way, piling on the goods to promote our annual October Halloween movie fest.  After the break, check out the ginormous schedule we put together of Halloween movies for this month.  If you’re looking for something special, use the borg.com search box or “find” to go right to your favorite spooky flick.  Keep in mind many of these older films haven’t made it to Netflix and they often only are shown once a year.  So watch ’em while you can!

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Scotty in kilt

That is, if you’re in Scotland.

Census records estimate that more than twice as many people of Scottish ancestry live in the United States than in Scotland.  Is it the destiny of Scotland to declare its independence from Great Britain?  If not now, then when?  At the beginning of the day everyone has been waiting for, polls show the likely outcome as a dead heat.  We’ll soon learn the answer we’ve all been asking:  Will they or won’t they?

Of course there are all sorts of implications to a yes vote, not the least of which is what kind of economic impact it will have on England, on the United States, and the world.  If Scotland wants to make a statement to the world this could very well be Scotland’s day.  So if you’re one of those Scots that are 16 years old or older and done voting or you’re in the States and can’t vote today, then what better than a brief celebration of all things Scottish?  As Mike Myers’ character Stuart Rankin, proprietor of the store “All Things Scottish,” said on Saturday Night Live, “If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap.”

Sean Connery

Scotland is well known for its inventors and their inventions.  You wouldn’t be reading this website or surfing the Internet at all without the communications technologies that sprouted from Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone.  John Logie Baird would invent the first television.  Scots invented the refrigerator and the flush toilet, the kaleidoscope and the lawnmower.  And–shazam–James Goodfellow invented ATMs so we can get money to buy stuff on nearly any street corner.

Our future is defined in part by the adventures of a Scot in space–James Doohan’s Commander Montgomery “Scotty” Scott from Star Trek, an engineering miracle worker who exemplifies Scottish ingenuity.  And of course, there’s James Bond, the character, whose parents were Scottish, and Sir Sean Connery, the Scottish actor, the most famous Bond, and a supporter of today’s “yes” vote.

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By Art Schmidt

People are funny.  Different things mean different things to us all: songs, pictures, movies, books.  Art.  It’s all interpreted by the individual, but even more so by the place in life that the individual is in at the time the art is experienced.  People cling to old songs like gold; a song from high school not only sounds good, but refreshes the happy memories associated with the song in the listener’s mind.  A one-hit wonder band from the mid-eighties may have written the best song you’ve ever heard, but no one else even remembers who they were.

Fans of the original Star Wars Trilogy of the 70s were appalled when Lucas made his infamous modifications to the film, especially the scene in the Tatooine bar in Episode IV where Han Solo shoots Greedo.  ‘Artistic license,’ said Lucas.  ‘Blasphemy,’ the fans screamed.  ‘My movie,’ Lucas retorted.  ‘Our childhood!’, the fans wailed.

Halloween always brings out the focus on all things macabre, and will generate ‘Top 10’ lists as long as kids dress up as Darth Vader and adults go to costume parties as politicians (there’s a moral lesson in there somewhere, BTW.  I am sure of it).  Every Top 10 list is different, and that’s the way it should be.  We all experience things in our own way, our own time, and through our own filters.  So rather than attempt to list an absolute ‘Top’ 10, predestined for failure, I have listed my own personal favorites.  Doubtless others will have vastly different opinions, and some of the things I found terrifying may have barely elicited a small gasp from others.

And that’s ok.

My personal list is not in order of preference or fondness but rather experience, from my earliest memory to the present day.  Obviously, my early years contain the larger amount of my personal favorites; the younger we are the more accepting we are of the impossible and the more susceptible to suggestion, therefore media designed to have a strong emotional impact will generally be felt more so by the young.  After all, you can only read a Stephen King novel for the first time, or watch Jaws without knowing what’s going to happen once.

Which of course leads me to one of the stories on most people’s lists…

Jaws (Movie)

The movie that changed movies, the blockbuster that defined blockbusters, the summer event movie on which the term ‘summer event movie’ was coined.  When it came out it was truly a phenomenon, one most people who did not experience it can never truly appreciate.  My parents were no less caught up in the feeding frenzy of the movie’s release than anyone else.  At the time it was rated a solid PG (there was no PG-13), so taking elementary school children to see it was not a big deal.  After all, most Disney movies of the time were rated PG, weren’t they?  So along with a large contingent of my aunts and uncles, I was taken to see the movie that would strip me of all my eight-year old innocence and leave me strangely wanting more.

My mother shrugged off the initial shock of the opening scene; it was just an attention-getter, right?  Then the child being eaten off of his inflatable raft started her worrying about me.  When the head popped out of the boat, my mom literally threw her box of popcorn all over the row of people behind us; she apologized profusely while my dad laughed his head off.  My eyes were glued to the screen, what I could see of it between my tiny fingers.  By the time the ORCA launched to sea with its two unprepared passengers and doomed captain, my parents had forgotten I was there; everyone was entranced by the story.  By the time the greatest and most re-used horror movie joke of all time came, (“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”), the entire audience needed that release of nervous laughter.

Viewed today, Jaws is much more an adventure movie than a horror film.  Contrasted against the majority of horror films, the comedy of Jaws is heart-felt and sophisticated rather than flippant; the characters are dense and alive rather than stereotypical caricatures; the story is fun and adventurous rather than weighted and dark.  And for all those reasons (thank you Mr. Spielberg!) Jaws remains my earliest, most heartfelt and yes, one of my favorite ‘horror’ movies of all time.

Trilogy of Terror – Part 3 “Amelia” (Made for TV Movie)

It was a classic horror story setup: a babysitter, a dark night, a quiet house, a child in front of a television, a killer on the loose. Except, in this case, the babysitter was our next-door neighbor, the house was mine, the kid was me and the ‘killer’ was a little doll on television.  My parents were out, my sister was asleep and the babysitter let me watch whatever I wanted.  Which in the mid-seventies meant a horrifyingly narrow selection of channels, none of which had the potential for cable profanity or pay-per-view violence.

However, on that fateful night, as I sat in front of the television a bright-eyed eight year-old, I watched a movie that I honestly believe to this day physically altered my DNA.  Trilogy of Terror was a made for television movie containing three short stories, all starring Karen Black in varying and un-related roles.  The first two I can honestly say I have no memory of whatsoever.  I’ve since read about them in IMDB and Wikipedia, but I can’t picture any of it in my head.

The third story, however, I remember in vivid detail.

A woman buys a gift for her boyfriend; a Zuni fetish doll with a gold chain around its neck and a warning.  If the chain comes off, the doll will come to life.  Of course, the chain came off, the doll came to life, and the ensuing fight for survival within the small apartment left me breathless and terrified.  The angry patter of tiny feet throughout the apartment, the monster unseen by the viewer, was brilliant.  I put all of my G.I. Joe action figures and army men in my closet, inside a shoebox, then put a small chair in front of my closet door, but I still didn’t sleep a wink that night.  The image of Karen Black crouching down in a dark corner bearing the doll’s sharp teeth still makes me shudder.

Sure, it was kitschy. But it was also scary as hell.

The Shining (Novel & Movie)

I read my first Stephen King novel in the summer of 1979, a paperback of The Stand.  It was long and brutal and opened up my adolescent mind to all sort of things I had never heard or dreamed of before.  It was good, but it didn’t really scare me.  There were people and events in it that were big and apocalyptic and scary, and I got all of that, but they didn’t creep me out or make me want to hide under my bed.  My second King novel, Salem’s Lot, was also good but didn’t really scare me, either.  Then I read Carrie, which creeped me out, and then I read The Shining, and I was blown away.  The slow burn of the Jack Torrance character from out-of-work recovering alcoholic to raging failure seeking vengeance on the world is a thing of beauty and horror.

All of King’s powers as a storyteller of horror and tragedy come to bear in The Shining.  The huge hotel, empty of people but full of their tragedies, claws its way out of every page, and the Torrances in the novel are among King’s more well-conceived and believable characters.

As far as the movie goes, well, I have to admit that I’m not a big Stanley Kubrick fan.  I respect 2001: A Space Odyssey for its vision, but I don’t particularly care for the movie itself.  A Clockwork Orange wasn’t my cup of tea, and Eyes Wide Shut made me want to shut my own.  But The Shining was nearly as brilliant as the book, despite the changes to the plot and devices and the difference in feel from King’s book to Kubrick’s film.  As a horror movie, it stands firmly on its own.  The movie captured perfectly not only the demise of the man inside Jack Torrance but also the eerie hotel, the crazy loneliness of the long, cold winter, and the strain on the family that the hotel creates.  Despite decades of stand-out horror films ever since, from Paranormal Activity to Scream, for my dollar The Shining is still among the best horror movies ever made.  It’s not the best (IMO), however, as that title belongs to another film from the Seventies…

The Exorcist (Movie)

I’m not one for slasher movies, or serial killer movies, or vengeful spirit movies.  The first Friday the 13th wasn’t bad, nor was the first Nightmare on Elm Street, but all that followed were tired re-treads of the same old idea: a supernatural killer that you can’t stop who wants to kill you and all of your friends.  Lots of blood, lots of deaths, lots of shock.  Lots of yawning, IMO.

Then there’s The Exorcist, the horrifying movie from William Friedken that set the bar, that made you think, that grabbed you by your heart and made you really, emotionally believe in Hell.  Statistics (and opinions) vary, but The Exorcist was arguably the first movie after Gone with the Wind to gross over $100 million in its initial box office run, and its psychological impact is still rarely matched even in modern times.  You have to experience it to believe it.

I know that for me, as a struggling young man with questions about everything, it shook my faith in my beliefs about the larger world around me.  That’s the thing about well-crafted characters and dialogue; once you buy in to those people and their world, you buy into their problems and their actions, and then you are affected by what affects them, whether on the surface you find it particularly believable or not.  I used to tell people, when they asked, that The Exorcist was my favorite movie of all time.  After years and years of odd looks, I began replying Reservoir Dogs, The Empire Strikes Back, or, more recently, The Lord of the Rings.  All three of which are in my Top 5.

But I always smile when I think of the chills I got from watching adorable little Regan MacNeil in all of her pea soup-spewing, head-spinning glory.

DOOM & DOOM 3 (Video Games)

When DOOM originally came out in the early 90s it created a sensation throughout the entire video game industry for its unprecedented software engine, evolutionary 3D rendering, and take-no-prisoners play style.  It was derided by parental groups for its depiction of blood and carnage, and use of the word ‘demon’ to describe most of the player’s enemies and for the fact that you could play in the previously unheard of mode of ‘Deathmatch’, which virtually every other first-person shooter has implemented since.

Of course, all of these advances in rendering technology and gameplay chutzpah overshadowed one of DOOM’s best qualities: a game that was truly scary as hell.  Forerunners in the ‘horror’ video game department were admirable, most notably the ‘Alone in the Dark’ and ‘Resident Evil’ series.  But whereas Alone relied heavily on psychological horror and RE on stock horror movie themes, DOOM delivered something new.

The lighting was dark, shot through with spotlights and spinning emergency lights right out of Alien; the monsters popped up out of nowhere and chomped on your character with gleeful abandon; and nothing, I mean NOTHING compared to being extremely hurt, low on ammunition, and hiding in a dark corner with hungry alien/demons prowling around just a few feet away.  Playing at night with low-lighting and headphones on, DOOM is more an experience than just a game.

A rash of copy-cats and money-making follow-ups came flowing forth, all adding their own little bits to the new genre and making advances in lighting, sound, and graphics engine technology.  None could knock the original from its perch, however.  Then, in 2004 the makers of DOOM came out with DOOM3, a completely re-vamped gaming engine with even scarier-looking monsters and genuine leap-out-of-your seat moments than any other game in the medium.  The story was nothing special, and the game-play was not ground-breaking enough for the die-hards, but the game sure kept me jumping and looking frantically around my bedroom whenever I played it.

The Exorcist III (Movie)

Little seen, under-appreciated, and largely panned by critics and audiences who had given up after the absolutely terrible trash of The Exorcist II: The Heretic, I loved this movie.  It’s doubtful that anyone else will even consider it on any Top-Anything list, but it worked for me.

It ignores the second installment of the Exorcist movies completely and places itself as a sequel to the original classic.  George C. Scott plays a detective who was friends with Father Damien Karras of the original movie, and is currently investigating a series of murders in Georgetown where The Exorcist took place.  The film draws from the original, having been written and directed by William Peter Blatty, author of the original Exorcist novel.  Despite the studio-mandated addition of an exorcism near the end of the movie, where none existed in the screenplay or Blatty’s novel Legion on which the movie was based, and despite the complex plot of demonic revenge against both the catholic church and an abusive father, there are scenes in the film that horrify, and the reconciliation between old friends, one dead and one alive, is a satisfying end to the movie.

There are scarier movies out there, however much I loved this one, and one of the best that came out around ten years later was…

The Ring (Movie)

As previously mentioned, I don’t particularly like revenge spirit movies, but The Ring was so much more than that.  It was a mystery movie as well, as the mother races against the clock to save not only herself but her son from the supernatural killer that no one can stop.  Much like The Exorcist, the fact that the spirit was a little girl made it all the scarier.

The video tape within the movie is a neat twist as well, creepy on its own and adding to the subtle nuance of the movie’s overall disturbing nature.  It doesn’t come right out and scare most of the time, though those moments are there, too.  But the little things all add up; the short film, the father’s ranch, the fly coming out of the film, the horse’s reaction to our heroine.  The movie is more disturbing than out-right scary, which just makes it all the more horrifying.

The Road (Novel)

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was unexpected recommendation from a friend, not something I knew much about or was really jazzed about reading.  And it hit me square in the gut.  The Pulitzer Prize winning book is a lonely, desolate tale of a nameless father and son struggling to survive in a savage, hopeless post-apocalyptic world.  I identified myself so strongly with the father character that when he would make a bad decision I felt personally guilty.  I saw in the son my own son, completely dependent upon his father to provide him food, shelter, and protection from the horrible people crawling the ashen landscape.

That novel stuck with me for months after I read it in a way that no book ever has.  Movies are visual and visceral, images stick with us for years or even our whole lives, but books generally do not have that affect.  I have always heard people talk about being ‘haunted’ by something; a movie, a book, a chance encounter.  Having been a horror fan since birth, I always thought of the expression in the literal sense, and largely dismissed those notions as silly and melodramatic.

After The Road, however, I understood what that really meant.

McCarthy spun a tale at once so deceptively simple and unbelievably complex, so innocent and so wicked, so hopeless and yet so rooted in the need for hope, that it’s mesmerizing.  Some parts made me physically squirm, and not in the good-to-be-scared way.  Nor did I want to finish it because it was exciting or thrilling; actually, there are long portions of the novel where not much at all happens, and then when something does it’s kind of… plain.  Simple, even.

When I first saw No Country for Old Men, based upon another McCarthy novel of the same name, I spent the first half of the movie trying to figure out why there wasn’t more action in it.  Once I settled back to the understanding that the guns were just metaphors, and the movie itself wasn’t about money, or greed, or even good and evil, I was able to focus on the dialogue.  Re-watching it, I now appreciate all of the interplay between the characters; the slow, steady, knowing march of Anton Chigur and the moral decay of western civilization that he represents; the lament of the older lawmen who just can’t understand that the people they have sworn to protect have abused that security by evolving into the very things that the lawmen held at bay.  “The rising tide,” one of them called it. “The dismal tide.”

The savagery and violence of the novel The Road, when it does appear, does so in the same vein.  It’s not the focus of the story, it’s just part of life, not actions but rather the consequences of actions or inactions.  For good or ill, it has its place.  To be fair, I have to say that my wife read The Road and she didn’t particularly care for it.

But then, she’s not a father struggling to protect his innocent child against the dismal tide.

Paranormal Activity (Movie)

I pride myself on being able to predict where movies are going, what’s going to happen to the characters, which ‘type’ of story it is and how it will end, and what details are provided that play into the movie later on.  And for Paranormal Activity, this was mostly the case.  The low budget and low quality of The Blair Witch Project left me wanting; wanting something better from that type of movie.  I was disappointed in that effort to say the least, so when the buzz started up about Paranormal I was frankly not interested.  Recent offerings in the horror genre like the Saw series, Hostel and the recent slew of vampire movies left me wondering if there was anything that would really scare me again.

I sat through the first three quarters of this movie and was only slightly impressed.  It was a neat take on the haunted story, had some clever ideas, and the night-time recordings of the goings on in the couple’s bedroom was ingenious and carried a few frights with it.

However, it was the last ten minutes of the movie that landed it on my personal Top 10 list.  The end of the movie kept me guessing, and when the loud footsteps climb the stairway the last time… and what follows… made me leap off of my seat for the first time in years.  If you haven’t seen it, and want to be scared, you should definitely give it a try.

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

To be honest, this was a challenging list for me.  On the one hand, there is nothing I love better than a really great ghost story, so you’d think I’d be able to rattle off a list of ‘em just like that.  But that’s the thing—the really great ones, the ones that well and truly conjure up that perfectly spooky atmosphere and transport me wholly to the Hallowe’en, ahem, spirit… well, they’re pretty rare, actually.  I’m a little bit critical; I acknowledge that.  But that’s another reason to love these lists: I’m always on the lookout for the next The Others or Watcher in the Woods.

For me, atmosphere is everything.  Strike the right spooky ambience in a film, and you can overcome any number of shortcomings—including the total lack of an actual ghost in the story.  So here’s an assemblage of ten films that get the mood right, at least, making them excellent viewing when the lights are off and the late October wind howls outside.  In no particular order…

1.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Ok, I hear you.  A Harry Potter movie on a Hallowe’en list?  Well, bear with me here.  Everything franchise-related aside, Azkaban has everything you’d want in a Devil’s Night creep-fest: the redesigned, gothic Hogwarts; the ghostly manifestations of the dementors haunting the castle and campus; the homicidal maniac on the loose; and oh, yes, the werewolf!  The film also drips with backstory and dark secrets, another element paramount to a great spook story.  And did I mention the werewolf?

2.  The Others (2001)
This one is creepy almost without trying.  Nicole Kidman plays the harried and pathologically overprotective mother of two light-sensitive children, occupying a remote English manor house in the days following World War II.  Though the scares here are primarily psychological, skin-crawling elements abound (what is up with those creepy kids? And those servants! Egad!), and the story has one of the best twist endings you’re likely to find.  So pull the blinds, get away from the windows, and watch for the seriously unsettling appearance of The Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, as Kidman’s estranged (or something) husband.  I can almost guarantee you’ll want to watch this one again, straight through from the beginning, when it’s over.

3.  Watcher in the Woods (1980)
For me, this film is the archetype of everything I want in a ghost story (erm, absent the actual ghost, I mean).  This 1980 Disney offering was based on a young adult novel by Florence Engel Randall, but this is a rare case of the film eclipsing (no pun intended!) its source novel.  It follows a pair of young American sisters who are renting a haunted English manor house for the summer, and who awaken the property’s chilling secret—and its chilling landlady, Mrs. Ayelsworth (Bette Davis).  Many years ago, Ayelsworth’s daughter disappeared from the estate, in a secret ritual her now-grown friends have sworn to keep silent.  But the past won’t be buried, and the apparent ghost of Karen Ayelsworth tries desperately to communicate with our heroines.  The setting here is pitch perfect, from the foreboding house to a murky lake, to the chapel ruins with ravens stirring through the dead leaves.  I loved this movie as a child, and it’s lost almost none of its wonder, atmosphere, and suspense. (Extended DVD scenes notwithstanding.)

4.  Rebecca (1940)
This 1940 Best Picture Oscar winner is a faithful rendition of the Daphne du Maurier novel by the same name. Du Maurier’s writing, Alfred Hitchcock’s direction, and George Barnes’s Academy Award-winning cinematography are so skillful and subtle that you will swear you’ve seen the ghost of Rebecca de Winter haunting Manderley yourself—though she makes no actual appearance in the film.  While the entire cast (particularly stars Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier,) turned in top-notch performances, the disturbing heart of the film is the unforgettable performance by Star Trek alumna Dame Judith Anderson as the first Mrs. de Winter’s devoted lady’s maid, Mrs. Danvers—the archetype for every creepy British servant to come.  This is psychological horror at its best; an exploration of how our own memories are the most frightening ghosts to put to rest.

5.  Skeleton Key (2005)
I’ll admit that I didn’t enjoy this film as much as I wanted to, but the fact that someone in our house bought the DVD, and our TV is mysteriously tuned to this movie every time it airs on late-night cable, should count for something.  Set in rural Louisiana, Skeleton Key drips with Southern Gothic creep-factor: Spanish moss, an old plantation dank with rot, an aging Southern belle, evocative voodoo set-dressing, and the unmistakeable tinge of old racism.  Add a smart heroine in over her head in something she doesn’t understand, plus a satisfying twist ending, and you’ve got a solid haunter with staying power.

6.  The Sixth Sense (1999)
M. Night Shamaylan’s career has been so utterly panned by now that it’s hard to remember that we all loved The Sixth Sense, and couldn’t stop talking about one of the best Gotchas! in horror film history.  Debate all you like, but this measured, thoughtful story of a boy with a problem, and the child psychologist who goes to unparalleled lengths to help him, is a mastery of mood, pacing, and misdirection.  You can watch it as a straightforward drama, and it’s a perfectly solid film.  The characters are skillfully drawn and acted with sincerity and subtlety, and you feel for the plight every single one of them is going through: the haunted boy, the caring therapist who can’t understand that his marriage is over, the lonely wife, and the desperate mother struggling to understand her troubled son.  But it’s in the moments we peek inside the child’s terrifying world that the horror of this story comes home, and whether or not you see dead people (or saw the ending from a mile away), you know you were a little skittish walking into your kitchen alone.

7.  The Ring (2002)
In the immortal words of Bravo’s Hundred Scariest Movie Moments, “There’s nothing creepier than a decrepit eight-year-old.” And while the combined lists on borg.com seem to bear that out, this is the decrepit eight-year-old you definitely don’t want to see climbing out of your TV late at night.  It’s not immediately obvious why this adaptation of the classic Japanese thriller is so frightening—is it the disturbing iconography in the underground video?  The ghoulish backstory?  The jarring cinematography and special effects?—but it all adds up to seriously unsettling viewing.  Bolstered by a strong mystery, a determined and believable lead, and the chilling ordinariness of her investigation, the contrasting horror seems all the more convincing, no matter how far-fetched a haunted videotape may sound.  Trust me: you’ll be glad you ditched your VCR.

8.  The Turn of the Screw (1999)
Henry James’s dark, “are they or aren’t they?” tale of two haunted siblings and the devoted governess desperate to protect them has been baffling audiences for 123 years, but that hasn’t stopped people from making movies out of it.  1961’s The Innocents, penned by no less a scribe than Truman Capote, is considered a modern classic, but this 1999 BBC version starring the brilliantly-cast Jodhi May in all her sloe-eyed anxiety captures all the frightening bewilderment of the original.  It’s never entirely clear what’s bothering the children in her care.  It could be ghosts, it could be pedophiles, or it could be the overactive imagination of the governess herself—but it’s from that uncertainty that the horror emerges.  With no true resolution to the tale—no laying to rest of the ghosts, no cozy denouement now that the danger has passed—The Turn of the Screw is ultimately unsatisfying, leaving you vaguely uncomfortable yet somehow wishing for more.

9. The Fog (2005)
At first glance, there really wasn’t an obvious reason to remake John Carpenter’s classic tale of a seaside town getting a belated and ghostly comeuppance.  But unlike ill-considered remakes before and since, The Fog loses nothing in translation—and even manages to surpass the original.  One of the most vital elements of a ghost story is arguably its backstory—the chilling past that rises to menace the present—and this 2005 adaptation gets it absolutely right.  The story of a town’s ill-gotten fortune at the cost of a doomed ship of lepers comes alive (or undead, at least) in rich period details, elaborate sets and costumes, and a powerful enriched storyline, all of which combine to create a pretty much perfect ghost story.

10.  Dead Again (1991)
This may seem an odd choice for a Hallowe’en list, but this 1991 Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson film deftly blends film noir, gothic romance, and the paranormal in a gripping, genre-bending mystery thick with atmosphere and suspense.  In two parallel storylines, Dead Again explores a post-war Los Angeles murder mystery that continues to haunt two people into the modern age.  Playing dual roles, both Branagh and Thompson excel, first as doomed lovers Roman and Margaret von Strauss, and as their modern counterparts, trying to unravel the secret of how that epic romance ended in a gruesome murder.  With its edgy, atmospheric soundtrack racing to a shocking twist ending, Dead Again is another film that will have you hitting the “replay” button on your remote as soon as the end titles roll.

A lot of directors or producers have cameos in their films.  Some, like Clint Eastwood, direct and compose scores for their films.  John Carpenter has served as writer, director, actor, editor, and composer of the score in a number of films.  Maintaining control of a vision from beginning to end doesn’t work that well for many directors.  As a viewer you wish some of those powerhouse Hollywood directors would let someone else edit their works.  Not so for Carpenter.  You can come in on the middle of a Carpenter movie, past or current, and you know it was made by John Carpenter.  His signature style is truly his own.  And who else bills his movies under his own name–John Carpenter’s They Live, John Carpenter’s Vampires, etc.?

Carpenter is a genre bender–one film can be billed under several categories, from action-adventure, to sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and thriller.  Most of his films fall in all of these categories to some extent.  You’ll know his films through a dark thread of chills, a thumping baseline of a guitar or synthesizer, and a rebel or outcast lead character just trying to get by but being threatened by something, usually something otherworldly.

My first Carpenter movie was The Fog, back in 1980.  Because of the rating, my older brother and sister and their friends rolled me up in a sleeping bag and smuggled me in the back of our parents’ Ford pickup into a two-movie drive-in showing.  I remember The Fog was just plain spooky and as the sky got darker and the shocks came out of nowhere there was no chance I was going to get any sleep that night.  Years later I rented it and re-rented it and to this day love the ghost story that is the backbone of the picture.  And Carpenter’s now former wife and then-mega TV and pin-up star Adrienne Barbeau played sultry Stevie Wayne.  Working alone at a lighthouse radio station, she encounters a strange fog bank inching ever closer into Antonio Bay.  The Fog itself becomes a character, a breathing, classic villain in its own right.   The Fog was remade in 2005 with Tom Welling (Smallville), Maggie Grace (Lost), and this time Selma Blair (Hellboy) as Stevie Wayne.  It’s a great remake with its own twists and turns–both versions of The Fog are a lot of fun.

In 1981 we got to see our first taste of a “modern” dystopian vision of future in movies–a vision that to this day has been copied again and again– in Escape from New York.  Carpenter brought together a low-budget production but with a creative team whose work still stands the test of time, including Kurt Russell, Adrienne Barbeau, Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis, co-writer Nick Castle and Carpenter’s longtime collaborator, producer Debra Hill.  All of these individuals would work in more than one Carpenter picture.   Russell plays anti-hero Snake Plissken.  Plissken is why we like Russell to this day and think Russell is just plain cool.  Convicted bank robber Plissken takes on a suicide mission to rescue the downed-flight of the President of the United States in future Manhattan, which has become a free-for-all maximum security prison.  New York was a major hit and its low budget but high box office gross vastly surpassed a certain box office flop with a similar dark vision of the future: Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner.   Plissken would return in 1996’s Escape from L.A., which unfortunately doesn’t rise to the level of New York.  Russell would return in a similar role in 1986’s now-cult classic,  Big Trouble in Little China.  A bizarre story of a trucker in Chinatown–today what stands out is how much fun co-star Kim Cattrall is to watch early on in her career.

In the past ten years I caught up on Carpenter’s films and was amazed by his 1976 low-budget Assault on Precinct 13, a remake of sorts of the old John Wayne/Dean Martin classic western Rio Bravo.  Here you won’t recognize any big-named actors but the story and setting feels gritty and real.  A psychotic gang of killers tries to bust one of its own out of an understaffed local jail.  Precinct 13, too, would be remade, in 2005 with Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne, and although not as good, again, even remade Carpenter stories stand the test of time.  Watch the original, and you’ll never again go back to the ice cream man when he gets your order wrong.

And who hasn’t seen 1978’s Halloween?  Carpenter created the definitive Halloween holiday thriller with Michael Myers and summer camp-defining gotchas.  And it set Jamie Lee Curtis on her long and successful career path.  Carpenter’s primarily horror-genre films are classics: in 1982, The Thing (itself a remake and I have to admit I like the original better because Stan Winston’s special effects here were just too over the top), an alien film set in the arctic; in 1983, Stephen King’s Christine, a fun romp about a guy and his car and their mutual (!) obsessive relationship with each other; and several other films including the popular John Carpenter’s Vampires, starring James Woods as a kick-butt vampire hunter out for revenge.

In 1992 Carpenter directed a more mainstream film, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, starring Chevy Chase and Darryl Hannah, Sam Neill and Michael McKean.  The film is classic science fiction from beginning to end, with Chase as a businessman in the wrong place at the wrong time who becomes invisible, and Hannah stars as his girlfriend.  Carpenter showcases Chase’s humor and a simple film concept resulted in a fun chase/thriller.  It was the first time i n over a decade that we got to see Chase as the classic leading man we saw him play in Foul Play and Seems Like Old Times (both co-starring Goldie Hawn, who is now married to Kurt Russell).  Until his role in Chuck last year, it was the last time we got to see Chase performing in a non-comedic role.

Two other Carpenter films rise about the rest in terms of textured storytelling, depth and intrigue in the sci-fi and fantasy realms.

First, in Prince of Darkness, Jameson Parker (Simon and Simon) and Donald Pleasance lead a great character ensemble of experts trying to stop the devil from breaking into our world via an old church and a creepy and scary hellmouth of green plasma.  Alice Cooper has a cameo as a zombie drawn to the churchsite.  Parker is superb and the jolts are perfectly timed.  A creepy, dark, fantasy-horror film.

Finally, probably tied with The Fog my favorite Carpenter film is They Live.  Professional wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, in an incredibly underplayed performance, stars as a loner trying to keep to himself.  He is thrown into the middle of a waking up-to-reality by a group of grassroots rebels who discover that the wealthier elements of society are actually hideous aliens in cloaked bodies, attempting to keep us asleep through subliminal messages in our advertising.  When our hero discovers special sunglasses and later contact lenses that show the true world, we soon learn the secret behind the plot and why this is a classic sci-fi film.  They Live also has the best of Carpenter’s soundtracks–including the repetitive theme of our hero, following him and leading us through Piper’s dark discoveries.  And just like Steve McQueen’s Bullitt is known for its famous San Francisco car chase, here They Live has a standout best fight scene, a hilariously choreographed, iconic, hand-to-hand fight scene between Piper and co-star Keith David that stretches in excess of 15 screen minutes.

Carpenter’s horror film The Ward premiered last year and he has several Halloween themed projects in the works.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

If you’re holed up in small town America this long weekend with access only to a video rental store or you’ve already seen the summer blockbusters released so far and you’re looking for the perfect Fourth of July weekend movie, I’ve got a recommendation for you. 

Unlike all the TV stations this weekend, I’m not recommending you watch Independence Day.  Sure it’s a fun summer flick, but there’s no real tie to the actual Independence Day.  It’s not a classic like Groundhog Day was for Groundhog Day or John Carpenter’s Halloween was for Halloween.  In fact, I’d say the only non-Christmas holiday film that fits its holiday spirit and stands up to repeat watching each year is Groundhog Day or Halloween.  Well, except for my recommendation.  But if you haven’t seen Independence Day, go for it.  It’s a fun sci fi blockbuster.  But see my recommendation first.  It’s much better.

And I’m not recommending Born on the Fourth of July.  I actually have liked every Tom Cruise movie I have ever seen–and I have missed some, like Magnolia and Vanilla Sky, simply because I never like those kinds of movies.  But Born on the Foutrth of July is like a lot of other big films, like Saving Private Ryan, and Forrest Gump, and Titanic.  You pretty much can watch them once and they don’t stand up for repeat viewings.  So there’s a hint, my recommendation stands up to repeat viewings.

Now I could recommend Yankee Doodle Dandy, starring James Cagney.  But it’s pretty old and your video store probably doesn’t have it.  That said, no other film says America in music and spirit like Yankee Doodle Dandy.  So track that one down later and make sure you see it.  I could also recommend Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  That’s a good, solid movie about America.  But it’s summertime and I’m thinking Mr. Smith is a better stuck-in-the-house-in-the-winter movie.

So what’s the recommendation?  The ultimate Fourth of July movie:  Jaws.  Huh?  Trust me.  You’ll thank me later.

On the weekend before the Fourth of July in the summer of 1975, Jaws was what everyone was talking about and what everyone was going to see for the weekend.  I remember my local movie theater had a giant cardboard standee of the now classic poster cover of the swimmer and the big old great white.  I could not even stand near it.  It was terrifying. 

Jaws was the first summer blockbuster.  And it all made sense.  We take Steven Spielberg for granted today, but he was early in his career and came from nowhere to nail the perfect movie, despite a Waterworld‘s worth of production problems, from disastrous filming schedules, delays, broken prop sharks and a cast full of great actors and equally great egos.  But like a lot of other big films, the preparation was well worth the result–the result is the perfect movie, from the opening shot to the rolling of credits at the end.  Jaws was based on the bestselling novel by Peter Benchley that was out just the prior year in 1974.  The public was clammoring for a movie version and Spielberg got the movie together fast.  Pressure must work for Mr. Spielberg.

I can’t even remember a world before the time of lines of people wrapped around a theater waiting for a premier showing.  This movie was the start of all that.  The posters and trailers and buzz had a lot to do with it.  Marketing movies was coming of age.

If you haven’t seen Jaws, I envy you, because you’re in for a great ride.  But why the Fourth of July?  Check out the image from the film in the billboard above.  In the quiet little beach front town of Amity, police chief Martin Brody, readies for a relaxing Fourth of July weekend.  But that just ain’t going to happen.  Some of the most classic scenes and some of the best lines in movie history came from this classic film about a not-so-ordinary Fourth of July weekend:  “Don’t go in the water.”  “You’re going to need a bigger boat.”  “That’s some bad hat, Harry.” The singing on the boat after a few too many drinks.  And that speech by Robert Shaw.  And just like Diehard 2: Die Harder is a Christmas favorite (yep, that one takes place in Washington, DC at the airport on Christmas Eve), Jaws is the ultimate Fourth of July thrill ride.  Think summer, hanging out on the beach,the hot beating sun, and that little hint of hesitation every time you step into the ocean.  There’s a reason you’re hesitating.  This movie is that reason.

And while you’re watching, keep an ear out for that soundtrack.  Oh, yeah, everyone hums the shark theme.  But the score was composed by John Williams, before all his other greats like Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and every other big film through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and beyond.  You won’t find a creepy little soundtrack like standard horror film fodder.  It’s actually the soundtrack for a cheery, summer romp.  It’s that juxtaposition of mood that causes those little bumps to show up on yours arms and those hairs to stand up on the back of your neck.

So have fun this Fourth of July.  And it’s 36 years since Jaws entered the national psyche so it’s probably OK to go back into the water now. 

Or is it?

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

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