Halloween only comes once a year, but we’re celebrating every day this month with the October Daily Double: Every weekday we’ll update this gallery with a new recommendation of a themed scary movie double feature up until the 31st!
(1974, 88%) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
(1982, 42%) Pieces
Let’s start with a tribute with Tobe Hooper, who passed away in August and shaped the face of modern horror with
Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Made on a $300,000 budget and shot documentary-style, Chainsaw would become among the
most profitable movies ever, as theaters – grindhouse, drive-ins, and mainstream alike – booked it to shock
audiences with Hooper’s detached imagery, chilling plausibility, pervasive tension, and
Meanwhile, “implied violence” and “plausible” are the last phrases you’d use to describe Pieces, a splatterfest
supposedly set in Boston but filmed entirely in Spain, directed by Juan Piquer Simon. Expect goofy dialogue, pig
guts with red herrings, and one very real chainsaw — the authenticity of terror on these actors’ faces as
they’re being menaced and massacred is up to your interpretation. And let’s not forget the ballsy shock ending!
The easiest way to watch this is on Blu-ray via Grindhouse Releasing; if you do, watch the American version – it’s faster-paced with a better soundtrack.
(1980, 43%) The Watcher in the Woods
(1988, 64%) Lady in White
These two are good to watch with your kids, or simply if you want to watch some horror movies starring kids with legitimate scares, since the nation’s in an It kinda mood. Watcher in the Woods takes place on a rural forest estate whose new owners’ daughter begins receiving astral visions of a girl pleading, suspended somewhere in time. Watcher is an uncharacteristically dark movie from Walt Disney Productions, though this era would also produce the bleak Dragonslayer and grimy Black Cauldron.
Lady in White treads the same kind of ground. It’s a nostalgic movie set in 1960s upstate New York, about a long-deceased girl who returns as a ghost to haunt and impel a local boy to solve her death, along with other children’s murders at the school. The quaint, small town scenery and scenes of daily Italian-American home life give Lady a little flavor, and, like Watcher in the Woods, it’s entirely without gore, except for a scene of sudden violence which knocks it into PG-13 territory.
(1979, 23%) Prophecy
(1973, 69%) It’s Alive
Prophecy is an eco-disaster mutant bear movie by John Frankenheimer, directed probably while he was drunk, and features the best sleeping bag kill in cinema history. Yes, even besting Friday the 13th: The New Blood‘s. Here’s my headcanon for this double feature: Prophecy ends with the pregnant wife, who ate fish from the contaminated lake, unsure if she’s about to give birth to a freak of nature. The answer lies in It’s Alive…
(2001, 92%) The Devil’s Backbone
(2007, 87%) The Orphanage
After Mimic got stomped on at the 1997 box office, Guillermo del Toro looked to be the latest victim in Hollywood’s game of courting young international directors only to see their careers implode on our studio backlots. Del Toro returned to Spain and put together Devil’s Backbone, an exquisite classical ghost story set at an orphanage and about the young boy who unravels its grim past.
Years after Backbone, Del Toro was in position to foster new filmmaking talent, producing J.A. Bayona’s directorial debut: The Orphanage. Here, we shift to an adult point of view: a mother whose son goes missing just as she attempts to re-open the orphanage she grew up in, now ostensibly be occupied by spirits. A terrifying and tender picture.
(1978, 93%) Dawn of the Dead
Closing the week with another tribute. George A. Romero, the godfather of modern horror who, like Tobe Hooper, passed away earlier this year. The towering Pittsburgh native released six Night of the Living Dead movies in as many decades, the best in the series (and one of the best horror movies ever) being Dawn. It moves like an action movie, has plenty of gore and head trauma, and features Romero’s most palatable social critique: That the zombies gravitate to a cherished place in death, in this case a tacky mall where our motley crew of survivors have holed up.
But if there’s one mall you want to get out of in horror, it’s the Park Plaza in Chopping Mall. Four couples break into the place after hours to test the goods at the mattress place and desecrate the food court, but after an electrical storm set the security robots to KILL, these store’s bargains start getting paid in blood. Sex, big hair, exploding heads, and teenagers who look like twentysomething actors from Burbank…get everything you expect from Chopping Mall!
(2000, 34%) Final Destination
(1983) Sole Survivor
An airline passenger avoids a timely demise after their plane goes down; afterwards, the passenger’s friends begin dying all around, as though Death wants to claim what it’s owed. Know the plot? Not only is it the starting point for the Final Destination franchise, but also the premise to tonight’s other recommended flick, Sole Survivor. FD director James Wong was obviously inspired by Survivor (he originally planned it as an X-Files episode), though there’s a key difference between the two movies: while Destination features its victims getting caught up in mystical Rube Goldberg-esque scenarios of doom, Survivor actually has zombies walking around trying to take the heroine.
(1970, 100%) Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
(1988, 100%) Alice
If you were one of those kids watching Alice in Wonderland and thought “Sweet cakes, this is kinda creepy”, then Czechoslovakia has got you on that one: The former European country produced two unsettling films inspired by the Lewis Carrol tale decades apart. First is 1970’s Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, a fantastical parabale of puberty as creepy pale dudes and animals emerge from the woodwork to vaguely menace the title character. Then there’s 1988’s Alice, a dark, more direct adaptation featuring the White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, along with stop-motion animation and a layer of dust and decay over each location.
(1985, 67%) Lifeforce
(1995, 36%) Species
Another week, another Tobe Hooper movie! As it crystallized for Hooper that he’d never match Texas Chainsaw‘s impact and that 1982’s Poltergeist would be his commercial peak, the director made the most out of being alive in the ’80s and unleashed the outrageous Lifeforce, starring Mathilda May as Space Girl, aka naked comet-riding vampire come to turn the greater London population into zombies. Bizarre sci-fi/horror material with sublime special effects.
10 years later, Species took the same idea and downplayed the metaphysics and upped the titillation. It was the ’90s and Hollywood churned out R-rated mainstream sleaze on the regular, though rarely involving beautiful women spilling out of oozing cocoons or tongue-through-skull puncturings. A pleasant guilty filthy pleasure.
(2011, 84%) Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
(2012, 92%) The Cabin in the Woods
In this riotous send-up of the secluded cabin blueprint, Tucker and Dale (Alan Tudyk, Tyler Labine) play two vacationing hillbillies when a group of annoying stock teenagers come upon them in the woods and promptly deduce the two are serial killers. Through their own incompetence, the teenagers start offing themselves in wacky, unpredictable manner, leaving T & D baffled at the bloody proceedings.
Cabin in the Woods brandishes the same basic premise, but with some huge sci-fi bookends that diminish and mock horror tropes. I’m personally not a fan of Cabin as it’s directed with obvious contempt for them undignified slashers, but critics and a majority of fans who discover the movie love it, and it pairs well with Evil.
(1984, 25%) Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
(1983, 84%) Sleepaway Camp
The Final Chapter, the best in the Friday series, came at a crucial juncture in franchise history. Parts 2, 3D, and Final Chapter are set over a few days, with Jason starting as resilient bastard and the story slowly introducing the unstoppable zombie conceit we know now. Final pushes viewer suspension of disbelief to the bleeding edge (‘Did Jason really just come back to life at the morgue?!’) and helmer Joseph Zito (hot off the underground success of The Prowler) sagely throws in misdirections and obscures Jason’s figure for the first two acts to keep the audience in a state of confusion. And whereas in later sequels Jason is framed and fetishized as some kind of anti-hero (a mistake IMO), his strikes in Final Chapter are so fast and sudden, Jason’s like the shark in Deep Blue Sea and everyone else Samuel L. Jackson. A total rush, and that’s not even mentioning the nimble camerawork, photography (seriously, this movie looks good), and unusually memorable characters: Crispin Glover dancing can only be described as a Seinfeldian full body dry heave. Final opens with a recap of the first three films and has a conclusive ending, so if you watch only one Friday the 13th, this is it.
And if you watch only one more summer camp horror flick, make sure it’s Sleepaway Camp. The characters and kills are fairly derivative, but there’s a few cutaways to surreal, John Waters-esque suburban life to give the movie a unique taste. But I’m mostly recommending this for the ending — it’s the cutest little thing!
(1997, 24%) Event Horizon
(2007, 76%) Sunshine
I initially watched Event Horizon as a double feature with Good Will Hunting…hey, you make do when the only rental option was a Blockbuster across from home. While Good Will‘s idea of adult R-rated scenarios put me and my brother to sleep, Event Horizon had us jumping from the sofa with its heavy guitar intro theme. We were fans of Doom like all good suburban kids, so Event‘s deep space descent through portals of Hell resonated. And the movie remains a propulsive ride — not too scary, but about as entertaining a movie featuring blood orgies and Dr. Alan Grant as you’re gonna get.
Next: Sunshine, big budget sci-fi from Danny Boyle, following a ship with a nuclear payload heading towards the galaxy’s center to reignite our dying sun. Like Event Horizon, Sunshine‘s a space sprawler that trades on isolation and madness, but it’s not a horror movie per se. It does, however, tweak the genre: Most villains in slashers (which this movie gradually turns into) operate in darkness and shadows; here, Boyle challenges himself to shoot the villain in full blinding light, drawing from a toolbox of dazzling visual tricks to mostly pull it off.