Writers' Note: Go-to Spookytime Movies
To commemorate Halloween this year, BFB writers were asked to identify their favorite Spookytime movie. Tastes vary, and not everybody likes horror, so it could be anything from Saw to Gremlins to It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. As the air grows chillier and the pumpkins develop faces, the BFBs honor Halloween with some unique film suggestions.
The Crow (1994) is a movie I’ve been obsessed with since I first saw it. It’s not a horror movie, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that due to the film’s goth aesthetic and its hellish vision of Detroit as a dilapidated city where the rain is oppressive. The movie has been alternately classified as a superhero movie, comic book movie, and action movie. None of these labels fully encapsulate what The Crow is – it takes its cues from all of these genres. In a lot of ways, I find it similar to V for Vendetta, another comic book adaptation that deals in both action and drama, whose hero is also dressed in black and white and quotes passages at their enemies.
The Crow follows rock musician Eric Draven (Brandon Lee), who at the start of the film is found dead, along with his fiancée Shelly, who was beaten and raped by gang members before dying. This happens on October 30th, the day before their wedding. A year later, Eric is resurrected by a crow, who serves as his guide on his quest for revenge against the people who murdered him and his fiancé. As part of the deal, Eric has the power to immediately heal from wounds.
Eric’s existence in the world never feels totally tethered. He initially behaves cryptically in his interactions with Sarah (Rochelle Davis), a young girl who was friends with him and Shelly, and Officer Albrecht (Ernie Hudson), the officer investigating his and Shelly’s murder. When killing the gang members responsible for his and Shelly’s murder, he becomes the Grim Reaper, there for one purpose only. Even when he warms up to Sarah and Albrecht, it’s clear that his only purpose is to punish the people responsible for what happened.
His temporary existence, the idea of him being a harbinger of death that will go back to being dead once his quest is over, is magnified further by the fact that Brandon Lee (see also: Bruce Lee’s son) tragically died on set after being shot with a firearm that hadn’t been properly inspected. His specter haunts the film – it’s the last thing he ever did, and it makes Eric Draven’s inevitable journey toward the grave all the more poignant.
Spooky is probably the wrong word to describe Eraserhead (1977), with its utterly suffocating atmosphere and heaping doses of existential dread. But what better way to celebrate Halloween than with a surrealist nightmare?
Eraserhead is David Lynch’s debut feature film, made over a period of several years in the face of budget and production troubles. It’s practically a miracle that it was completed at all, making its visionary elements all the more impressive. Eerie sets filmed in black-and-white are accompanied by a cacophonous soundtrack, filled with industrial noises that generate a constant sense of unease and chaos.
The basic story revolves around Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), a passive young man who accidentally impregnates his girlfriend. She gives birth to an alien-looking creature (they’re “not sure it is a baby”) who cries constantly, driving her to leave the child for Spencer to raise alone. For all the films romanticizing the carefree joys of young adulthood, Eraserhead acts as a terrifying counterbalance, vividly depicting the anxieties and fears that underlie that stage of life. The only comfort that Spencer finds in his isolation is a woman he hallucinates in the radiator, stepping on spermatozoa as she dances– told you it was surreal!
It’s understandable why Eraserhead continues to polarize; some will find it too viscerally disturbing, others too abstract, others still too boring or slow-paced. However, thanks to its radical dive into the Kafka-esque, I would consider it my favorite horror movie, if it counts as such. Regardless of whether one “enjoys” the film, an uncompromising vision comes across, distinctly Lynch before “Lynchian” became an adjective. If you’re looking for a deep scare for the spooky season, I can attest that Eraserhead is a unique and unforgettable choice.
For this prompt, I wanted to pick a fundamental movie from my childhood as opposed to great spooky movies I only thought were great when I figured out that I could control whether I got nightmares or not. What We Do in the Shadows (2014) was a great comedic discovery, the original Halloween (1978) is one of the few legitimate horrors I find mesmerizing, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) has been a staple during my teen years. But what did I actually watch as a kid?
I really didn’t like spooky things when I was younger. The first year I had my mom dress me up as a ghoul of some sort (complete with white face paint, fangs, and blood drips) at age 10, I cried after catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My penchant for the dramatic as a theater kid did not correspond with a curiosity for the grotesque, and so I tended to pick obscure characters that I bore a slight likeness to for my costumes.
I do recall, however, being home sick one day in October and flipping through the limited Netflix options during the infant age of streaming. I came across the movie Clue (1985). It never really dawned on me that it might be an inappropriate choice for a child’s sick day. Without knowing the proper term for it, I think I recognized that Clue was not creepy enough to infiltrate my dreams – it was just high camp. Perhaps it makes perfect sense that I ended up taking a liking to Rocky Horror later on: Tim Curry was a fundamental part of the development of my taste. A movie based on a board game with alternate endings. A super enjoyable romp of innuendo and murder that I did not totally understand. It felt very festive.
Although I haven’t really developed a habit of revisiting it every year, I still feel warm about the experience and consider it to be one of the essential rainy day memories in my life. Madeline Kahn doing the absolute most while I watch, groggy-eyed, on a torn-up red couch, trying to keep track of which character was which. How would you kill someone with a candlestick? It didn’t matter. It’s a timeless whodunnit and for me, the essential autumnal movie.
Watching Ginger Snaps (2000) for the first time about a year ago, as odd as it may sound, was perhaps the greatest movie-watching experience I have ever had in my life. It was a Friday night in October and I had just gotten home after hanging out with some friends. I don’t recall anyone else being in the house at the time, so there was nothing to distract me from the movie I was about to watch.
I instantly fell in love with and related to these characters, and as I got about 30 minutes in, I was just waiting for the movie to fall apart in some way. I then got to the halfway point, and it hadn’t slowed down a bit. Then I witnessed the final shot of the film, and when the credits started to roll, with tears in my eyes, I started applauding at my TV. I don’t know if God exists, but if he does and was watching over me that night, he probably would have thought I was a total weirdo.
The movie centers around two young girls from the suburbs, Brigette and Ginger, who are sort of viewed as the “weird kids” by their school. They fantasize about committing suicide together and also like taking photographs fictionally depicting their gruesome deaths. One night, while out on a photo shoot, Ginger gets bit by a werewolf and starts experiencing beastly transformations in her body. This causes their tight sisterly bond to break apart as Bridgette tries to fix her sister and stop her from doing harm to others.
Ever since I watched this movie for the first time, I’ve started to think more deeply about what makes a perfect movie-watching experience, and the more I think about it, the more I realize it has surprisingly little to do with the quality of the movie. Sometimes, your state of mind just has to match up with the film you’re watching at the moment. I’m very aware that this is a flawed movie, but there was so much I loved about it that those small gripes I had meant literally nothing to me.
First off, Ginger Snaps is the perfect movie to watch around Halloween. It has this brownish-red color pallet that captures the vibe of autumn vividly, and part of the third act takes place at a Halloween party, so you can’t go wrong there. The film also takes the story in directions that feel catered to what I want to see out of a film. For example, when characters do violent things in the movie, it genuinely feels like there are real consequences to them.
As Brigette tries to account for Ginger’s acts of aggression as she becomes a werewolf, I genuinely didn’t know how Ginger was going to rebound. She kept digging a deeper hole for her herself and I didn’t know if she could climb her way out of it. The movie also ends on a really strong note – I’m not going to spoil how, but a worse film probably would have added another 10 minutes to conclude the story in a neater way. Instead, this film cuts to black at a high point and just calls it a day, and it’s perfect.
I don’t want to set people’s expectations for the film too high, but it is a quintessential horror film and a great one to watch around Halloween. It’s not a particularly scary or gory film, but it is super entertaining and has some incredibly memorable characters, so I do recommend checking it out.
-Nick, Jonathan, Lydia & Oliver