Thursday, October 25, 2012

Culture Shock 10.25.12: Party favors for your Halloween viewing

With Halloween mere days away, the sidewalks will soon be filled with costumed revelers young and old. And it's an election year, so some costumes will he scarier than usual.

No doubt, there will be a few Women in Binders and some Big Birds wielding bayonets.

But if your plans involve something less topical and more traditional — say, staying in to hand out treats or hosting a party for a few of your fiends, er, friends — perhaps a scary movie is more your speed.

You're in luck. For here are chills of all sorts.

The best Halloween party films are the ones that combine plenty of scares with a healthy dose of dark humor, and three meet that standard perfectly.

"The Cabin in the Woods" (available on DVD and Blu-ray, and currently at Redbox) is from writer/producer Joss Whedon ("The Avengers") and writer/director Drew Goddard, and it's one of the year's best films, period. This time, our college-student heroes/victims aren't just the unlucky targets of evil, pain-worshiping redneck zombies. They serve a higher purpose — and that's where the real fun comes in.

"Cabin" owes a lot to an earlier film, Sam Raimi's classic from 1987, "Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn" (DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant) starring Bruce Campbell ("Burn Notice"). The ultimate horror comedy, "Evil Dead 2" pulls no punches.

After taking time out for the "Spider-Man" films, Raimi returned with another slapstick horror movie, 2009's "Drag Me to Hell" (DVD, Blu-Ray, Redbox) which pits Alison Lohman against a Gypsy curse and the same physical-comedy terrors that plagued Campbell 25 years ago.

Now, if you prefer your scary movies straight, no chaser, then give a look to "Halloween III: Season of the Witch" (DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant).

Unfairly derided because it doesn't feature Michael Myers, "Halloween III" (1982) was an attempt to turn the "Halloween" franchise into an anthology series. The film sees a sinister cult using science rather than magic to target the nation's children on Halloween night. It's like one of those Halloween conspiracy theories come true.

No Halloween is complete without a trip into the mind of one of America's greatest writers of dark fantasy and horror, H.P. Lovecraft.

"The Resurrected" (DVD, Netflix Instant) from 1992 is a reasonably faithful update of Lovecraft's "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," about a man (Chris Sarandon) delving into the supernatural in order to resurrect his sorcerer ancestor. This is a surprisingly scary effort by the late director Dan O'Bannon, and it'll have you thinking twice about going into basements.

Not every Lovecraft adaptation is so respectful, and 1970's "The Dunwich Horror" (DVD, Netflix Instant) starring Dean Stockwell is more fun for its cheese value than its shock value.

Speaking of cheesy horror movies, they don't come much cheesier than 1975's "The Devil Within Her" (DVD, Netflix Instant) starring a pre-"Dynasty" Joan Collins as a woman who gives birth to a demonic child, which proceeds to terrorize her for the rest of the film. This one also stars Donald Pleasence ("Halloween").

If you can't get enough cheese, Hulu features 20 episodes of "Elvira's Movie Macabre," and, on a more serious note, all three seasons of Rod Serling's "Night Gallery" TV series.

Lastly, for lovers of the classics, there is Mario Bava's "Black Sabbath" (DVD, Netflix Instant) from 1963, starring Boris Karloff. It's two masters of horror giving one masterful performance.

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