Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: The Halloween season in movies—and lots of them

It’s only the first part of October and as far as the movies are concerned Halloween is upon us. Perhaps it’s in honor of the midterm elections—which certainly have all the elements of Halloween—but it seems that this is the most Halloween-centered October in living memory. Well, certainly the most in my living memory. Starting with the October 1 releases, there are no less than nine horror pictures slated to appear—like genii from the bottle—by Halloween. This doesn’t even take into account special showings and TV screenings. I’m not complaining, mind you, but it does seem unusual.

There’s the possibility that the best of the new releases has already happened with Matt Reeves’ Let Me In this weekend. There’s also the possibility that local screens won’t be graced by Hatchet II and I Spit on Your Grave: Unrated (yes, “Unrated” appears to be part of the title). I’m not sure that I’d have any great trouble bearing up under those omissions myself, but there’s likely someone out there who’s actually all a-dither over the prospect of them. Anyway, let’s take at least a furtive look at what lies in store for the spooky season.

As it stands at this writing, the only one of the new movies I’ve seen is the aforementioned Let Me In, and since I’m reviewing it, I won’t go into it in any detail here—except to note that it at least doesn’t disgrace the 2008 Swedish Let the Right One In, which it remakes (perhaps too faithfully). Sometime this weekend I’ll catch up with Case 39—the long-delayed thriller with Renee Zellweger, Ian McShane and Bradley Cooper. Yeah, it’s been pretty consistently flayed by the handful of critics who’ve bothered to review it. Certainly director Christian Alvart’s Pandorum (2009) doesn’t help to make a persuasive case for the film, nor do the occasional comparisons I’ve seen to Orphan (2009). However, the promise of Bradley Cooper puking wasps is not without its appeal, and I simply don’t trust horror movie reviews. Why? Mainstream critics tend to be impressed by the damndest things and genre-specific critics are too often like cheerleaders doling out praise simply because it’s a horror picture.

That said, I can work up no interest whatever in the low-rent Chain Letter, which smacks of amateur night (that’s usually the case when Carmike Cinemas pick up a horror film). The plot—to the degree I can understand it—sounds like rubbish and the production values appear to be marginal at best. I admit that Brian Orndorf’s review in which he claims that director Deon Taylor is “arguably the worst director of 2010” is tantalizing in its way. It isn’t, however, tantalizing enough to keep me from awarding co-critic Justin Souther the pleasure of this one. He’ll thank me ere the weekend is out, I suspect.

There’s possible value in Wes Craven’s My Soul to Take, which opens next weekend. Granted, Craven is awfully hit or miss and the misses tend to outpace the hits. For that matter, using 3D as a hook is about a half-dozen movies late to be impressive— and I’m being generous. Still, the concept—a serial killer stalking some kids who were born on the day he was supposedly killed—has a nicely Nightmare on Elm Street-ish vibe to it. While that may not be original, it’s at least territory that Craven is expert at exploring. Maybe I just want Craven to make another good movie for old time’s sake. Whatever the reason, I’m on his side till he proves I shouldn’t be.

Unless one of the limited titles—Hatchet II or I Spit on Your Grave: Unrated—goes wider, it looks like the only thing horrific for the week of the 15th is Jackass 3D, and while I don’t doubt for a moment that it’ll be horrifying (hell, it’s horrifying that it was made), it’s not technically a horror picture. But on the 22nd we get two shots of the supernatural and it seems unlikely the two films in question could be more different.

Paranormal Actvity was the surprise seasonal hit of 2009—famous as the movie that derailed the Saw franchise by knocking the wind out of Saw VI and turning a huge profit. Of course, since it cost somewhere around a buck and a quarter to make, there was little chance it wouldn’t make money. It really wasn’t all that scary of a movie, but the shrewd ad campaign managed to make viewers spook themselves into believing it was—at least, that’s my theory. A sequel was inevitable and here it comes—complete with a heavily-guarded plot. About all we know is that it features the apparently possessed Katie Featherston character is back onhand. Well, we also know that Paramount is giving the finger to Lionsgate by opening Paranormal Activity 2 the week before Saw 3D: The Final Chapter.

In a completely different realm, there’s Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter from a screenplay by Peter Morgan (The Queen) and starring Matt Damon, Cecile De France and Bryce Dallas Howard. Yes, it’s certainly a story involving the supernatural, but it’s doubtful that it will qualify as an outright horror film. Being an Eastwood film, it will almost certainly be the polar opposite of Paranormal Activity 2—glossy, professional-looking and slick. I’m far from convinced that it’s going to be horrific, but I’m intrigued by the possibility of Eastwood—especially at this late date in his career—dabbling in the genre. We’ll see.

The 29th is reserved for Saw 3D: The Final Chapter, which promises to be the last Saw movie—according to the trailer anyway. I put no stock whatever in the title. Remember there were seven movies following in the wake of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)—and that was before the damned thing got “rebooted.” So will this really be the end of the Howdy Doody from hell and his Rube Goldberg instruments of torture and death? My best guess is that it all depends on how well this one fares. And if this doesn’t do all that well—hey just pick another potentially lethal tool and start all over again. While I think we can rule out Dremel and Belt Sander as possibilities, Cleaver kind of appeals to me. It could star Jerry Mathers, too.

This, however, only takes in the commercial offerings. The Asheville Film Society offering for Halloween week (on Oct. 26) is the 1939 Bob Hope version of The Cat and the Canary, which is appropriately seasonal. And that week’s Thursday Horror Picture Show (on Oct. 28) is a double feature of Michael Curtiz’s Doctor X (1932) and Tod Browning’s Mark of the Vampire (1935)—two films that really represent a classic Halloween feeling to me. Of course, it’s not horror, but it is what’s called “cinema of the fantastic” on Oct. 29 with the AFS showing of the complete version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), which is booked for one show only at The Carolina at 7:30 p.m. (Details about tickets are coming.)

Even the Hendersonville Film Society is getting in on the action, but they have the good (?) luck to find their Sunday showing actually falling on Halloween proper. With that to work from, how could they really ignore the opportunity? Well, whether they could or not, they aren’t and are running Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie (1943)—an undisputed classic of the genre and a strong contender for the best of the Val Lewton produced horror pictures of the 1940s. Don’t be fooled by the silly catchpenny title, this is mood atmospheric stuff.

And for those who prefer to do it all at home, Turner Classic Movies has gone quite berserk in the matter. It started last night with a run of Hammer vampire movies, which they followed with the ludicrous Psychomania (1973) and the trashy and tepid Daughters of Satan (1972) in which a young—and pretty inept—Tom Selleck plays a character so dim that he kind of deserves to die. (As a Brit sports car enthusiast, I’d say he at least deserved a good talking to over the tacky custom paintjob on the late 1950s MGA he drives.)  The movie is, in fact, so bad that it could easily be mistaken for a TV “Movie of the Week” except for the grauitous topless women.

It doesn’t stop there. TCM’s Friday night schedules on Oct. 8, 15 and 22—and then on Oct. 29 it becomes non-stop horror through Halloween. This means 44 horror movies in a row. If that’s not enough to get even the staunchest horror fan through the weekend, I don’t know what is. But just in case it’s somehow not enough, there may be more yet to be announced. There’s at least one more thing in the works, but we’ll have to wait on that.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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34 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: The Halloween season in movies—and lots of them

  1. LYT

    “Remember there were seven movies following in the wake of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)—and that was before the damned thing got “rebooted.””

    One of them being Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday….which was followed by two more original Jason movies.

    It is probably a matter of time before a SAW reboot — but ending this particular line of continuity is a good idea. Jason, at least, didn’t have a convoluted storyline that spanned multiple eras of flashback in every movie. And I say this as someone who likes SAW – the story needs closure.

  2. LYT

    P.S. I DID like Case 39. I really wanted to hate it, but I couldn’t.

  3. luluthebeast

    I think your film societies have much more interesting choices than the new releases being offered. I might just catch Centipide on Demand, though, plus I have a number of Japanese horror movies that will do quite nicely!

  4. Ken Hanke

    I’m not complaining. I love horror movies and Halloween.

    Neither am I. I made it through most of the Hammers last night (well, I didn’t watch Horror again) and was interested to see that they don’t have any better grasp of connecting one film to another than Universal did. After going to the trouble of staging Horror of Dracula in Germany (illogical as that may be), they open Dracula Prince of Darkness with the ending of that film — and a narration placing Dracula’s castle in the Carpathian Mountains.

  5. Ken Hanke

    One of them being Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday….which was followed by two more original Jason movies.

    At least The Final Chapter had the decency to call the next one A New Beginning. I have to admit my favorite is Jason Lives.

    P.S. I DID like Case 39. I really wanted to hate it, but I couldn’t.

    I thought it was cheesy fun. What I find interesting is that its supernatural explanation was a lot easier to swallow than the incognito homicidal dwarf of Orphan.

  6. Ken Hanke

    I think your film societies have much more interesting choices than the new releases being offered.

    I’d agree, but I may be biased. At the same time, we have the advantage of having 90 years of movies to choose from.

  7. Chip Kaufmann

    You forgot to mention that all of TCM’s prime time horror movies on Fridays are Hammer Films with a grand total of 20 movies being shown during October. They also learned some continuity on their vampire pictures after DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS with DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA picking up where the others left off.

    Regarding PSYCHOMANIA, how can a movie with George Sanders as a Satanic butler who can turn his followers into toads while a ressurected motorcycle gang of suicides (called The Living Dead) become immortal and kill loads of people without a drop of blood being spilled be considered ludicrous? Oddly enough, TCM’s print is missing THE key scene that explains who Sanders is and why he can do what he does.

    Thanks for the plug for I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. It gets my vote as the best of the Val Lewton RKO films although I’ll always have a soft spot for THE BODY SNATCHER.

  8. Dionysis

    “After going to the trouble of staging Horror of Dracula in Germany (illogical as that may be), they open Dracula Prince of Darkness with the ending of that film—and a narration placing Dracula’s castle in the Carpathian Mountains.”

    You’re right; I picked up on that a few years ago when watching the two. I’m getting ready to settle in with a double feature and get Hammered with ‘Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter’ and ‘Plague of the Zombies’.

  9. Ken Hanke

    They also learned some continuity on their vampire pictures after DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS with DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA picking up where the others left off.

    Which is one where Lee’s dialogue mostly consists of counting?

    I’ll always have a soft spot for THE BODY SNATCHER.

    I have never been able to warm to that one or Bedlam.

  10. Ken Hanke

    You’re right; I picked up on that a few years ago when watching the two

    To make it weirder still, it still seemed to me that the movie was taking place in Germany.

  11. Chip Kaufmann

    TASTE THE BLOOD is the film where Lee portrays “Count” Dracula. In PRINCE OF DARKNESS he says nothing at all.

    One of the reasons I like BODY SNATCHER is that in addition to Karloff and Lugosi, there’s Henry Daniell who I became a fan of after watching his THRILLER episodes and THE 4 SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE.

    One last note on PSYCHOMANIA (which should have been called CYCLE-MANIA). In Stephen H. Scheuer’s old movie rating book, he concludes his 2.5 star review with this gem. “George Sanders committed suicide in Spain shortly after the release of this film. He did not return on a motorcycle”.

  12. Ken Hanke

    In Stephen H. Scheuer’s old movie rating book, he concludes his 2.5 star review with this gem. “George Sanders committed suicide in Spain shortly after the release of this film. He did not return on a motorcycle”.

    See, it’s things like that that make me prefer Scheuer to Leonard Maltin.

  13. Steph

    Unfortunately, I don’t believe Scheuer puts out their annual books anymore. I may be mistaken but I haven’t seen them in Denver for 3 years.

  14. Ken Hanke

    Unfortunately, I don’t believe Scheuer puts out their annual books anymore. I may be mistaken but I haven’t seen them in Denver for 3 years.

    I’m pretty sure there hasn’t been an update of Movies on TV since the early 1990s.

  15. Jason

    There is also The Slumber Party Massacre Collection which comes out on DVD this week.

  16. Ken Hanke

    There is also The Slumber Party Massacre Collection which comes out on DVD this week.

    I shall lose no time in acquiring that — if you know what I mean.

  17. Chip Kaufmann

    Steven H. Scheuer last published a MOVIES ON TV ratings guide in 1993. I hadn’t realized that it had been that long. He was born in 1926 and published his guide a full 10 years before Leonard Maltin started his.

  18. Ken Hanke

    He was born in 1926 and published his guide a full 10 years before Leonard Maltin started his.

    Neither series is all that useful in terms of critcism, but Scheuer’s snarkiness always seemed more entertaining. Plus, his evaluation of Road to Zanzibar as the best of the “Road” pictures did make me take a look at in a new light. I wonder who did Scheuer’s reviews. Surely, he didn’t do all of them himself. God knows, Maltin doesn’t and never did.

  19. Ken Hanke

    Ken, that’s SESAME STREET

    Taste the Blood of Sesame Street?

  20. DrSerizawa

    Hatchet 2… the sequel no one asked for. Hatchet was no great shakes to begin with. I guess the merely mediocre deserve franchises now. Yeah well they probably make money since these things are obviously very cheap to make and write and the “actors” cost nothing.

    But please no insults for Psychomania. It’s a fine psychological study in how bad hair can cause a 26 year old teenager to commit suicide and rise from the dead. I also learned that British bikers are buried with their heads above ground.

    And yes I Walked With A Zombie is far better than the title would suggest. Much like I Married A Monster From Outer Space. Both are classics of the genre for their era IMHO.

  21. Chip Kaufmann

    I know that Scheuer did do all of the initial reviews. I had a very early copy called TV KEY MOVIE GUIDE which stated as much but that was in the mid 1960s. His viewpoint was certainly more interesting than Maltin & Co and made want to see more of the movies he described.

    I’m actually a big fan of PSYCHOMANIA (as I am of most of Don Sharp’s films) especially the mirror scene and when the gang members commit suicide in various ways (“Be right down, officer”). The movie is absurd but deliberately so which is what makes it so much fun and the ending is outrageous.

    Yes ZOMBIE and MONSTER are good films with ridiculous titles. I’m sure there are more (good films that is) that fall into that category. Perhaps a topic for the future, Ken?

  22. Dread P. Roberts

    Ken, I was hoping to catch up with you sometime sooner than this, and see what you thought about doing a screening of Trick ‘r Treat. Being in the the eery, uber-dark fantasy realm of horror, it was a huge suprise for me last year, and I’ve been dying to see it on the big screen for almost a good year now. I believe it’s a damn shame that this little horror jewel got axed from theaters (supposedly due to the depictions of children being killed), and I think it would be truley special to rectify that. Plus, I promise to show-up (come hell or highwater) if you guys would be grateous enough to screen it. With that said – despite my liking of this flick – it’s one that I completely understand other people hating; so if you’re one of those who are not a fan, that’s fine too I suppose. However, if you haven’t even seen it yet, this is simply unexcusable, get to it!

  23. LYT

    I’ve heard Trick R Treat is actually doing some limited theatrical dates for Halloween.

  24. Ken Hanke

    Hatchet 2… the sequel no one asked for.

    In my case, it’s the sequel to a movie I never heard of.

  25. Ken Hanke

    I know that Scheuer did do all of the initial reviews. I had a very early copy called TV KEY MOVIE GUIDE which stated as much but that was in the mid 1960s.

    That may have been claimed about Maltin at one point, too, but I know that isn’t the case ad never was. Scheuer’s reviews at least read like the work of one viewpoint.

    Yes ZOMBIE and MONSTER are good films with ridiculous titles. I’m sure there are more (good films that is) that fall into that category. Perhaps a topic for the future, Ken?

    I’m not as keen about I Married a Monster from Outer Space, though I’d certainly admit that it’s more intelligent than that title sounds. Cat People isn’t too inspiring as a title, come to that. There may be an equal number of movies with great titles — Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies — where the movies aren’t so hot.

  26. Ken Hanke

    Ken, I was hoping to catch up with you sometime sooner than this, and see what you thought about doing a screening of Trick ‘r Treat

    I’d been wondering whatever became of you — both at the movies and on here. I have nothing immediately against running that title, though this month is booked. I have to admit, however, that I have not seen the film.

  27. Dread P. Roberts

    I have nothing immediately against running that title, though this month is booked.

    My thought process is that it is very much a movie that benefits to be screened during the Halloween season. If it can’t be squeezed in at some point between now and Halloween, then it doesn’t really matter all that much. There are far better horror movies… there just aren’t any better Halloween horror movies that come immediately to mind – if that makes sense.

  28. Ken Hanke

    If it can’t be squeezed in at some point between now and Halloween, then it doesn’t really matter all that much. There are far better horror movies… there just aren’t any better Halloween horror movies that come immediately to mind – if that makes sense.

    Of course it makes sense, but it’s a suggestion I needed about a month ago. You might remind me next September, but I have no leverage to get you to show up now!

  29. Dread P. Roberts

    …it’s a suggestion I needed about a month ago.

    I completely understand, and I assumed as much.

    I have no leverage to get you to show up now!

    No leverage? You guys show great movies every week – for which I’m grateful, even when I can’t make it. I’m always happy when I can attend a screening. The truth of the matter is – even though I like watching movies that I’ve enjoyed in the past – I’m generally most excited when I get to see one of these screenings for something that I’ve never seen before. I fully intend to make it back sometime in the next couple weeks.

  30. Ken Hanke

    No leverage? You guys show great movies every week – for which I’m grateful, even when I can’t make it.

    And Scott whines that you never show up, too. (Guilt is a useful tool.)

    The truth of the matter is – even though I like watching movies that I’ve enjoyed in the past – I’m generally most excited when I get to see one of these screenings for something that I’ve never seen before.

    Understandable — and I bet we’ve had some that fall into that category — but more and more I’m finding what a delight it is to see films I’ve known for years with a good, receptive audience.

    I fully intend to make it back sometime in the next couple weeks.

    I’ll be keeping an eye out for your presence. (I really do understand the difficulty of getting there, but that doesn’t mean I won’t give you a hard time about it.)

  31. brianpaige

    I used to like my old Scheuer guide from years ago, but I have long since lost it. Anyone know why he stopped publishing the guide? Did he die?

    As far as that double bill of Dr. X and Mark of the Vampire, I might be intrigued without the 2nd movie. Replace with Wax Museum.

  32. Ken Hanke

    Replace with Wax Museum.

    Too much the same and it shows up the flaws in Wax Museum.

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