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    10 films to help you celebrate Hallowquarantine

    28 October 2020

    October 31st brings Halloween 2020 but after a year like this, the idea of a single day dedicated to unrelenting horror seems almost quaint. Answering the door to masked strangers isn’t the novelty it used to be, distributing candy apples to more than six trick-or-treaters now carries a five-figure fine, and by participating in this cultural appropriation of the Celtic festival of Samhain you run the risk of getting yourself cancelled.

    This season of the witch it is altogether safer to stay indoors, blow out the jack-o-lantern and confine yourself to strictly cinematic scares. To help you celebrate Hallowquarantine, we have compiled a list of the ten best movies about or set on All Hallows’ Eve.

    Halloween (1931)

    We begin not with the Halloween that might come most readily to mind but with this 1931 animated short featuring Toby the Pup, a short-lived creation of RKO Radio Pictures who came on the heels of Disney’s more enduring Mickey Mouse. Many of Toby’s adventures have been lost to history but this six-minute cartoon, in which the mischievous canine meets his match in a bevy of witches and ghosts, remains and is one of the earliest Hollywood productions to depict Halloween.

    Halloween (1978)

    This is the Halloween you were looking for. John Carpenter’s low-budget babysitters-in-peril ordeal is much-imitated but, four decades later, still unsurpassed. Michael Myers, confined aged six for butchering his older sister on Halloween night, escapes 15 years later and returns home to the sleepy Midwestern town of Haddonfield to relive the crime.

    There he alights on the bird-like Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis in her big-screen debut), a nervous, watchful old-head-on-teenage-shoulders who senses something terrible is coming but is dismissed by her frivolous friends. When night falls, Myers confirms her suspicions by stalking and slaying her friends until only Laurie is left.

    This 1978 chiller is sparing on gore but drenched in tension, a pall of dread lightened occasionally by Donald Pleasence as a gun-toting psychiatrist who tries to warn local law enforcement with campy speeches like: ‘Death has come to your little town, sheriff.’ A slew of mostly awful sequels and knock-offs followed but Halloween remains a singular exercise in raw terror.

    Streaming on STARZPLAY via Amazon Prime.

    Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

    Carpenter’s attempt to spin off the Halloween series into something more than slash-and-cash-in retreads of his original story. This ditches the Michael Myers storyline and relocates to a just-not-quite-right company town in northern California, where the big factory, Silver Shamrock Novelties, is flogging Halloween masks rigged to zap every child wearing them into a pile of snakes and bugs.

    The fan base revolted, demanding the return of the old antagonist, and Halloween III bombed. It’s a pity because this darker, more cynical take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers deserves a wider audience. If you loathe children, Halloween and humanity in general, this is the movie for you.

    Available to rent or buy via YouTube Movies.

    Affliction (1997)

    Paul Schrader’s grimmest drama (a competitive field) is not a horror movie but in many ways more unsettling than the other titles on this list. Opening on a Halloween night in New Hampshire, and going downhill from there, Affliction documents the gradual unravelling of Wade Whitehouse (Nick Nolte), a cop with a gnawing toothache and a suspicion that a local hunting fatality was no accident. Wade is falling apart physically and psychologically and his blackening mood leads him to mete out his own justice.

    ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

    Halloween becomes a vital plot point in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 heart-warmer, for what better way to disguise the alien you’re concealing in your closet than by chucking a bedsheet over his head and pretending he’s a ghostly trick-or-treater. Even the most Spielberg-sceptical cynic cannot resist the dark autumnal wonder of ET treating his protector Elliott (Henry Thomas) to a Halloween bicycle-flight under the full moon.

    Available to rent or buy via Amazon Prime.

    The Lady in White (1988)

    There are redolences of ET in Frank LaLoggia’s late-Eighties mystery but it is oddly more winsome and at the same time a far grimmer tale of a young boy’s encounter with the otherworldly. Frankie Scarlatti (Lukas Haas), locked in school overnight, captures a spectral vision of a girl’s murder, prompting him into a hunt for the killer. And that’s the problem with The Lady in White: it wants to be a ghost story, a meditation on racism, and a family movie — all while being, there is no delicate way to put this, a film about the killing of children. Which, if nothing else, is an ambitious combination. Still, the tone and mood — haunting, yet uplifting; small town, but universal — make this a Halloween curio worth watching.

    Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

    Not be confused with 1982’s Trick or Treats (pint-sized prankster torments the babysitter on Halloween night) or 1986’s Trick or Treat (dead shock-rocker comes back to kill when his album is played backwards), 2007’s Trick ‘r Treat is an anthology set on October 31st that has already acquired the status of modern horror classic. The movie tells four stories but stalking through them all is one of the creepiest Halloween characters to make it to the screen: an apparent child ultimately revealed to be something even more sinister than a costumed candy-beggar.

    Available to rent or buy via YouTube Movies.

    Donnie Darko (2001)

    Richard Kelly’s sci-fi debut was unfairly overlooked (it was released shortly after 9/11) then universally overhyped to make up for it. Jake Gyllenhaal, in his break-out role, is the moody teenager of the title and is informed by a giant rabbit that the world will end in 28 days – on Halloween. The film enjoys cult status among millennials, for whom it was a supernatural Rebel Without a Cause or Easy Rider.

    Streaming on Amazon Prime.

    Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

    ‘This is a Halloween tale of Brooklyn, where anything can happen,’ reads the title card for this Frank Capra slapstick flick, ‘and it usually does’. Cary Grant, who has made his living inveighing against marriage as a ‘superstition’, finds himself getting hitched on Halloween, before discovering that his sweet old aunts have a sideline in euthanising elderly gents with the help of some decidedly fortified elderberry wine.

    Available on Amazon Prime.

    Hocus Pocus (1993)

    This Bette Midler vehicle is meant to be a children’s film. You try watching it when you’re seven and there’s witches hanged at Salem returning from the dead on Halloween night with their talking cat. We’ll see how much of a lark you think it is then.

    Available to rent or buy via YouTube Movies.