A frightful five of Halloween entertainment

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Oct 30, 2008



(Ed. note: Cold, Hard Football Facts culture vulture and movie critic J. Michael Whalen has chimed in with his thoughts on Halloween classics in case you want to get your fright on tonight. You can find all of Whalen's reviews of classic football movies in our archives. Simply go to the search box and type in "Whalen".)
 
By J. Michael "Wolf Man" Whalen
Cold, Hard Football Facts bleacher creature
 
Let's say you live in Detroit or Cincinnati. Your team is winless – so bad, in fact, that it's ... scary.
           
You're a resident of Kansas City. Your Chiefs are 1-6, even worse than your pathetic excuse for a baseball team. It's absolutely ... frightening.
           
You're from New England. Your team, which in February blew a chance at the immortality of a perfect season, has been decimated by injuries, including the loss of the league MVP for the entire 2008 campaign. It's simply ... horrifying.
           
Well, since you (in addition to folks from Oakland, St. Louis, San Francisco and elsewhere) have no doubt by now gotten used to chills running up and down your spine, then Halloween is the holiday for you! And watching a well-made horror flick might be just the distraction you need to rid yourself of the pigskin blues.
           
Plenty of thrillers and chillers have been filmed over the years, ranging from the standard B-grade splatter film to the truly sublime. We all have our favorites. Here are five of ours, listed in alphabetical order, which we would recommend to friends, family or even people like you, frightened football fans who we couldn't care less about.
 
"The Exorcist" (1973; rated R)
Stars: Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow
Director: William Friedkin
Writer: William Peter Blatty (based on his novel of the same title)
           
It was the 1970s, which is the only plausible explanation for why Blatty's book about head-spinning demonic possession sold like hotcakes. In any event, the film caused quite a stir upon it release, prompting some to flee from theaters and become violently ill – which is pretty funny, considering how dated some of the special effects look. But the famous "spider walk" scene, deleted from the original film but restored for its 2000 re-release, is almost worth the price of rental alone.
           
The performances are top-notch, with Blair portraying the demonized girl and Burstyn her tormented mother. Von Sydow lends some clout in the title role, while Jason Miller is solid as the conflicted Father Karras. There's a scene involving a crucifix that's rather disturbing, but we ARE talking about a demon, after all. And interestingly, some of the most chilling scenes involve the cold, sterile, medical environment in which Regan (Blair) is being tested in an attempt to determine what's wrong with the girl.
 
"Halloween" (1978; rated R)
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance
Director: John Carpenter
Writers: Carpenter, Debra Hill
 
It's hard to believe this genre-setting classic is 30 years old already. It's also easy to forget how original it was at the time, considering it's been ripped off a million times over.
           
Simple plot: Young man, who was locked in an asylum for a murder he committed as a child, escapes and returns to his hometown to wreak more havoc – on Halloween, of course. Some of the acting is pedestrian, but Curtis (daughter of fellow scream queen Janet Leigh of "Psycho" fame) stands out in the role of protagonist Laurie Strode.
           
In addition to directing, co-scripting and co-producing, Carpenter wrote the memorably creepy score. A lot of the devices used in the film – for instance, the whole "oh, whew, he's finally dead – oh, wait, he's NOT?!" trick – have been mimicked so many times since then that they're fairly predictable. But they were primarily uncharted territory at the time of this film, which proved that pace and suspense trump excessive blood and gore every time.
 
"Jaws" (1975; rated PG)
Stars: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb (based on Benchley's novel of the same name)
 
The film that put Spielberg on the map is not a "horror movie" in the traditional sense, but it's still one of the scariest, most memorable flicks you'll ever see. Based on yet another inexplicably popular '70s book – killer shark terrorizes coastal town by ripping its residents to shreds; how uplifting – it follows the efforts of the local sheriff, a maverick fisherman and a scientist in their efforts to stop the mighty great white.
           
Despite well-reported problems with the mechanical shark used in the filming, Spielberg's direction is masterful and the three lead actors share a tremendous on-screen rapport. Meanwhile, John Williams' score, including its haunting two-note theme, is simply unforgettable, one of the best he ever wrote.
 
To this day, we always hesitate slightly before stepping into the ocean, and it's solely because of this movie. Considering the subject matter, you've gotta wonder how they managed to get away with a PG rating.
 
"Night of the Living Dead" (1968; not rated))
Stars: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea
Director: George A. Romero
Writers: John A. Russo, Romero
 
Ah, zombies. You gotta love 'em, those brain-sucking bastards! And so does Romero, who made his name with this film.
           
Essentially what happens here is that a cast of relative unknowns is holed up inside an old house while the zombies try to break inside so they can help themselves to dinner. The word "claustrophobic" best describes this movie, much of which takes place in a couple of rooms and focuses on the would-be victims as they board up the windows, barricade the doors, etc.
           
The black-and-white adds a touch of creepiness that might've been lost if "Night of the Living Dead" – which, like "Halloween," inspired a number of copycats – had been filmed in color.
 
"The Shining" (1980; rated R)
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writer: Kubrick (based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King)
 
King apparently didn't think this film was true to his book; he felt the latter was about an ordinary guy who goes crazy, while the former was about a crazy guy who goes completely bonkers. Regardless, this film is arguably the scariest we've ever seen. Set in an isolated Colorado hotel in the dead of winter, it focuses on writer Jack Torrance (Nicholson) and his gradual descent into madness caused by the hotel's evil spirits.
           
Nicholson has tremendous fun with the role, hamming it up shamelessly in certain scenes while appearing positively terrifying in others. Duvall, in the role of Torrance's wife, isn't exactly Oscar-worthy but gets the job done. The real star of the film is the legendary (and late) Kubrick, at the top of his game, who arguably used lighting more effectively than any other director in history. Here he creates an ambience that's positively spine-tingling as Mrs. Torrance begins to realize that escape for her and her young son, Danny, will be nearly impossible. This is not a film to be missed.
           
There are numerous other films that could be cited – we're partial to some of the classic "monster movies" like "Frankenstein" (1931), "Dracula" (also 1931) and "The Wolf Man" (1941) – but these are a Frightful Five. Disagree? Write a letter to the Chief Troll. But don't want to piss him off too much – man, THAT would be scary. After all, he's been known to eat readers for dinner.

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