As an alternative to the standard fare of Psycho, The Exorcist and the Halloween and Friday the 13th franchises, here is my list of suggested titles which can be watched back to back, esoteric selections, if you will. Make a party of it. Turn off all the lights and substitute candles for atmosphere -- you will of course be interrupted by trick-or-treaters. I classify the combinations as follows:
The Thing [from Another World] (1951) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), both superior to all subsequent remakes. Both are in stark black and white (younger generations, take a deep breath and deal with it), and are to an extent products of cultural paranoia and fear of the unknown. No gore, just mounting tension and the tone is serious except for a quip here and there. Less is more.
In The Thing, a scientific research base encounters a hostile alien made of vegetable matter who has been frozen in Arctic ice. It is accidentally defrosted and then goes on a killing rampage. The pace is quick and suspenseful and the dialogue razor sharp and witty. The Thing is finally defeated by the combined ingenuity of air force pilots and scientists: originally based on a story called "Who Goes There?" by Don A. Stuart. Score one for the human race.
With the Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), we have more aliens, but with a different outcome. A kind of "space seed" arrives on earth and through a replication process, using large pods, starts "snatching bodies" who become emotionless and all-conforming copies of the original person. The main character, Miles J. Bennell, a small-town doctor, is swiftly caught up in the events as patients and neighbors complain that their relatives and friends are "different," even accusing them as impersonators. Before long, Bennell is convinced it's not paranoid delusions and, failing to get help, is determined to resist up to the final scene, as he's running through traffic and shouting "You're next."
Depending on one's political orientation, the resurrected conformists may have been stand-ins for the dreaded communist infiltration of the time or the authoritarian liberty-restricting minions of McCarthyism. The film is based on a 1955 novel by Jack Finney, The Body Snatchers. Score one for the aliens.
Ghostbusters (1984) is so original as to be unclassifiable. Bill Murray's deadpan wisecracks could disarm the scariest ghost, or at least make you squirt your pumpkin latte out your nose. To the first ghost they encounter in the New York Public Library, he asks, "Where are you from...originally?" The ghosts become real threats. Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis are each possessed by the spirit of Gozer, who help enable the appearance of an apocalyptic "destructor," which takes the form of the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man. Murray: "Well, there's something you don't see every day."
After the laughter and the happy ending of the 'Busters, you can turn to something a bit more frightening: Spielberg's Poltergeist (1982), not without touches of humor (Zelda Rubinstein, d. 2010, is priceless, as a kind of Ghostbuster), but the focus is on hauntings and possession, as serious threats, all the more scary when the target is a five-year old girl. Of courses the forces of good and love prevail -- until it's time for the sequel.
If you prefer to get scared first and then have some comic relief, by all means reverse the viewing order.
This is the doubleheader we've been doing for years, but this year, we might go back to The Thing and the Snatchers.
Abbott and Costello Meet Young Frankenstein?
These are strictly for laughs, for those perhaps who are not particularly frightened by horror stories.
I'm mentioning more than two; any combination can work, or go for a mini-marathon:
Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein (1974) is a riotous parody of this film horror genre, while Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) is a meet and greet of all the major Universal Studio monsters in character but the emphasis is on laughs, especially when the viewer considers that the "plot" revolves around putting Costello's brain in the Frankenstein monster. Abbott and Costello are also better than their average in something called Hold that Ghost (1941), the setting a house which appears haunted, but by gangsters rather than spirits. Lots of slapstick, pratfalls, screams and sight-gags.
As for comedy duos, I'll hark back even further to the genius of Laurel and Hardy, who did the classic haunted house setup in a short feature (30 minutes), called The Laurel and Hardy Murder Case (1930). Similar to Hold That Ghost, there are no real ghosts, just a set of circumstances like a bat flying through a window, and a sheet over a floor lamp that moves, which of course Stan and Ollie mistake for a ghost. Throw in a howling storm with lightning and thunder, creaking doors, a creepy butler who keeps summoning guests to the telephone where said guests disappear through a trap door. At the end, it's just a dream that L&H shared.
I prefer to approach "fictional" horror with a smirk because make-believe horror just doesn't scare me. To give an illustration, when The Exorcist first came out, I double-dated with a friend and we saw it at a drive-in theater. There were parts where I laughed: the head turning, the projectile vomiting. Yes, I was pretty much alone on that score. Many turned heads attested to that. Jack Nicholson is more funny than scary in The Shining ("I ain't gonna hurtcha, Wendy, I'm just gonna bash your brains in.") More recently, I have laughed at all the Paranormal Activity movies -- when I wasn't bored.
I guess I ain't afraid of no ghosts.