In honor of Halloween coming up, I thought I’d take a look at some alternative movies you can watch this season depending on your scare level. Here’s my take on the “If you liked…then check out…”
If you liked: HOCUS POCUS
Then check out: THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS (1980)
Bette Davis and a Real Housewife in the same movie? Can it be? The Curtis family is excited for a new chapter as they move into a new house living under the guidance of it’s caretaker, Ms. Aylwood (Davis). It’s an old mansion full of secrets, and Ms. Aylwood is not too keen on having two young girls moving into the house. She wears all black and gives some perfect Bette Davis death stares. Older sister Jan (Johnson) has a funny, cold feeling about the house when they first arrive. She believes something awful happened there and has visions of something out in the woods and of a young girl appearing in mirrors. Little sister Ellie (Richards) brings a cute puppy home one day and names it “Nerak” after hearing a voice saying that word. What she doesn’t realize is that it spells “Karen” backwards. The rest of the townspeople stop in their tracks at the mention of the name Karen, as that is the name of Ms. Aylwood’s daughter who disappeared at a young age. The spirit of Karen is very much present and starts making her presence known to Jan.
Somehow I missed this one as a kid, but that may be because I was too busy watching Hocus Pocus. It’s another family friendly, PG Rated “scary movie” from the Walt Disney Studios. It feels quite dark for being a Disney movie, especially considering they would never release something like this nowadays. It’s perfect for older kids who may have a fear of going into the woods, black cats, carnival fun houses, creepy old people, ghosts, haunted houses, and séances. There’s a little bit of everything in it that kids find spooky. I still can’t get over the fact that legendary diva Bette Davis (All About Eve) plays Ms. Aylwood. Personally I would have loved to have more of her in it. She makes for a great spooky old lady, but her role is smaller than you would expect it to be. Being Bette Davis, she plays it very straight-laced without being too campy or a caricature. The young girls are played by a post-Halloween and pre-Real Housewives of Beverly Hills Kyle Richards and future Bond girl Lynn-Holly Johnson. Richards makes for a bratty younger sister always looking to spook her older sister. Johnson’s acting foreshadows what an awful Bond girl she would go on to make. It’s 84 minutes long and makes for a great companion piece with Hocus Pocus. After you watch it, check out the alternate ending on found on the DVD and on You Tube.
If you liked: YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN
Then check out: HAUNTED HONEYMOON (1986)
Shortly after getting stabbed in the back, the maid informs the audience his death is not what you think. But it’s partly what you think, and it’s oh so complicated. We shift to actors Larry Abbott (Wilder) and Vickie Pearle (Radner) who are recording a murder mystery special for a radio show. Larry recently purposed to Vickie but has been acting funny ever since then. He slips on his lines during the recording and starts having panic attacks. Larry chooses his old family castle as the setting for their wedding. It’s the classic, gothic type of mansion that’s creepy around every corner. Various family members arrive on a dark and stormy night, each a little bit nuttier than the one before. Even the maids and butlers are a few screws loose. Larry’s uncle Paul (Smith) sees this is the perfect place to cure Larry of his ailments. He attempts to use a form of “shock therapy” to scare him to death. He gets the other family members in on the gag for a series of stunts and pranks against Larry. Life starts to imitate art when strange creatures start scaring the Abbott family in addition to what Paul has in store.
Haunted Honeymoon also bears the PG rating and is perfect for those that love Young Frankenstein, Clue, or Murder By Death. All three are funny and haunting, for a lack of better words. Gene Wilder directed and co-wrote it with Terence Marsh. It’s the quintessential Wilder type of character as he’s a bit zany and unhinged. The humor comes from how he slowly starts to lose it. He’s paired with his lovely wife Gilda Radner, and it’s such a treat to see their chemistry shine on screen. This was their third and final collaboration together and marks her final screen performance. Jonathan Pryce (Evita), Jim Carter (Downton Abbey), and Dom DeLuise (History of the World Part 1) co-star as various family members. DeLuise appears in drag as Aunt Kate but went on to win the Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress. I wouldn’t rank it as one of Wilder’s best, but it is still funny and worth watching to celebrate his career.
If you liked: THE STRANGERS
Then check out: HUSH (2016)
If you are home alone and want to be scared out of your wits, you will want to check out the new horror flick, Hush. Maggie (Siegel) is an author who lives alone in a cabin in the middle of the woods. She also happens to be deaf. It’s fairly secluded, but her neighbor Sarah (Sloyan) stops by and visits from time to time. It’s the perfect environment for an author to work on her next book even with hopes of coming up with the perfect ending. It’s also the place where no one can here you scream. One night when she is doing the dishes her friend stops by but is brutally killed as she is walking up to the steps. Maggie has no idea that there is a masked man (Gallagher) at her door about to break into her place. It’s only when she is Face Time-ing with another friend does she find out that the killer has made his way into her cabin.
Hush airs exclusively on Netflix Streaming and is part of their original programming. Star Kate Siegel co-wrote the film with her husband Mike Flanagan who also directed the film. He’s been making a name for himself in the horror genre thanks to movies like Oculus and the Ouija sequel. Due to the minimal nature of the story, it has a small cast consisting of: Siegel, John Gallagher Jr. (The Newsroom), Michael Trucco (Grandfathered), and Samantha Sloyan (Grey’s Anatomy). It’s 82 minutes of sharp filmmaking that completely grabs you and sucks you in for her fight when you realize she cannot hear or feel his next move. Despite her disability, Maggie is a tough character and knows how to stay strong against the masked man. It makes for a great back and forth of who can stay ahead of the other person at any given time. I don’t get scared easily, but I found Hush to be frightening due to its home invasion theme with a man in a scary mask.
If you liked: SCREAM, THE EVIL DEAD
Then check out: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)
Like any low budget horror movie, The Cabin in the Woods follows five college-aged students as they head to a deserted cabin in the woods for a little rest and relaxation. Naturally, someone knows someone who knows someone who owns the cabin. All of your favorite horror movie characters are represented: the jock, the brain, the horny blonde girlfriend of the jock, the smart brunette, and the stoner. They head out in their camper to find this cabin off the dirt road and off their GPS signal. They finally arrive after an unpleasant stop as a gas station and are ready for some sun, swim, and booze. Later that evening, a game of truth or dare leads them into the cellar to find a haunting display of toys, dolls, writings, and clothing dating back to previous owners. Their weekend of excitement comes to a screeching halt when they realize this cabin is not quite the paradise they were hoping to enjoy as three zombies are released from graves buried on the property. What they don’t know is that they are the pawns in a large game at the hands of a reality show.
The Cabin in the Woods comes to us from the creative minds of director Drew Goddard (The Martian, Lost) who co-wrote it with Joss Whedon (Avengers). The plot sounds pretty clichéd like something straight out of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy, but the kicker comes with a super creative twist that completely turns the story on its side. Once the twist happens, you have no idea what is going to happen next. There is something new and fresh happening throughout the whole movie. You never know where the ride is going to take you or what will pop up next. Like Scream, it’s just as funny as it is scary and is a big homage to the horror genre as it plays with standard horror movie characters, styles, and clichés. It has a pretty fun cast with Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams, Kristin Connolly, Richard Jenkins, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Bradley Whitford, Amy Acker, and a cameo by Sigourney Weaver. I see a variety of horror movies in any given year all ranging in style and quality, and this ranks ask one of the best released in recent years. It is a fresh, witty, sharp, intelligent ode to a mostly stale genre.