Sunday, October 30, 2011

Agnes, Abigail and Anna Müller - A Few Halloween Favorites

With Halloween upon us it seems natural, if not totally clichéd, to run through some Halloween-themed favorites. For me, the season is less about music and more about movies but both play an integral role in my enjoyment of this time of year. While certainly not the most esoteric list, there are a few things apart from Thriller and Friday the 13th to which I return to year after year:

November Coming Fire - Samhain - 1986
I suppose the Misfits may come to mind more quickly when thinking Halloween. Hell, they even recorded the definitive song on the subject. Still, Samhain's November Coming Fire seems to capture for me not only the holiday but also the darker shades of the entire autumn season.

Vampire Circus - Robert Young - 1971
While Hammer Horror certainly has better-known (and flat out better) films, Vampire Circus, like so much of what I love, made a big impression early in life when I caught it late night on a local network's horror show (remember those?) hosted by either Dayton's Dr. Creep or Chilly Billy Cardille (or was it Captain USA on the then-fantastically new USA Network?). Vampires as shape-shifters in the guise of greasy carnies stayed lodged forever in my memory and, as campy and low-budget as this particular production may be, its parade of grotesquerie (and busty ladies) never fails to entertain me over and over again.

Abigail - King Diamond - 1987
An insanely good concept record, Abigail realizes the promise of gothic horror that contemporary recordings like Imaginos could not quite achieve. With a marvelous story one could actually follow and great music to match, Abigail still stands for me as the pinnacle of King Diamond's achievements, Mercyful Fate included. I'll take this one with headphones and go beginning to end every time. How many records can you say that for?  I have even adapted the story to slightly less ghastly proportions to spook the kids around this time of year.

Black Christmas - Bob Clark - 1974
I stumbled upon this absolute gem of a film just ten years ago when navigating various reviews and favorite item lists online and the overwhelming praise persuaded me to purchase this film before having seen it. I must say that I have since been firmly seated on the bandwagon; Black Christmas is, without a doubt, one of the best horror films I've ever seen (and, no, I haven't seen the remake).

Pre-dating Halloween by several years, that classic is now somewhat diminished in my estimation, as it is obvious that John Carpenter lifted many of Black Christmas ' finest elements for Halloween. 1979's When a Stranger Calls was another attempt at a clone, the opening of which, previously considered by this reviewer to be one of the finer moments in horror film history, seems like mere child's play compared to the terrifying phone calls received in Black Christmas.
A simple tale of a half-empty sorority house over the holidays, Black Christmas focuses on Olivia Hussey and housemates, including Margot Kidder and Andrea Martin, as they receive a series of sinister phone calls, starting as obscene and building towards terrifyingly unsettling, and those around them begin to disappear. The pacing is perfect and the performances are all top-notch. Well-written and expertly directed, the tension in Black Christmas is well-maintained, with no lulls in the story nor "fake" scares to cheat the audience.
With remarkably little gore or bloodshed, Black Christmas nonetheless culminates in one of the most intense climaxes ever experienced in horror films. You'll have to see it for yourself to understand completely, but what is scariest about Black Christmas are the things you never know. Who is Billy? What did he do to baby Agnes? When will anyone find what's waiting in the attic?

Educated Horses - Rob Zombie - 2006
Going to turn to Rob Zombie for my last two entries here. While White Zombie and his first two solo full-lengths are soaked in horror films and themes, it's Educated Horses that best delivers on the promise of Halloween for this listener. A gritty, dirty glam platter, Educated Horses is the record I imagine Baby and Otis Firefly actually recording.

Halloween II - Rob Zombie - 2009
I know I will find myself in a minority with this very recent entry. Yes, I love the original John Carpenter film and its many sequels (and still probably prefer the '81 blood-soaked sequel over the original). Still, I thoroughly enjoyed Rob Zombie's reboot and found myself shocked at how much I loved this much-maligned follow-up. Like the original sequel, Zombie's own Halloween II pretty much picks up right where his original ended and, like the '81 film, turns the blood hose on full-blast, even compared to Zombie's 2007 version. Say what you will about Michael's mommy and her white horse, it's the color red that draws me in and Halloween II is grand guignol turned up to 11, with a 16mm film stock adding to the grindhouse grain and overall claustrophobic atmosphere. Grisly as all-hell with a soundtrack including 10cc and the Moody Blues, Halloween II was a fast favorite that has since stayed atop my annual viewing list.

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