Under-the-Radar Halloween Classics, Picked by Alamo Drafthouse
Films that go bump in the night... whether it's All Hallows' Eve or not
There’s nothing better than Halloween movies — without them, this spooky season is, in a word…meh. And this year, I’ve been jonesing for stuff I’ve never seen (or even heard of) before. So I decided to ask some folks who really know films. The obscure stuff. The underground gems. My source? A trio of programmers from Alamo Drafthouse — the hands-down coolest movie theater chain in America. With nearly 40 locations across the country, Alamo built an empire based on experiences…great food, delicious craft beers — and cocktails!! — that you can enjoy at your theater seat (sooo much classier than Goobers and a Coke), and eclectic, brilliant, often themed programming of old and new, known and unknown films from around the world.
We sat down for a roundtable (well, it was a videochat, so more of a rectangularscreen) with John Smith, Jenny Nulf and Jake Isgar, all members of the national programming team at Alamo Drafthouse, to talk about the best under-the-radar horror and thriller movies to watch this Halloween season. (Yes, Halloween is a season!) Many of their recs are currently screening in Drafthouses across the country, so be sure to check out the schedules at the theaters nearest you.
Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
Jake: It’s a really awesome Halloween anthology movie with Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Dylan Baker and a lot of other cool folks. I think anthology movies are always difficult to recommend because the gold standard is Creepshow, where you’ve got George Romero and Stephen King working together. Or you think of some others, “Oh, I like this segment, I don’t like that segment.” But Trick ‘r Treat is an anthology that all takes place on the same day and wraps in a beautiful way. The performances are great. It’s sneaky and has the same sort of vibe as the moral panic of EC Comics. It’s nasty and really fun.
Jenny: It’s directed by Stan Winston, who’s a big special effects artist. It’s a kitschy Halloween movie — which of course has really cool special effects — but also has a fun story. Sometimes I feel like special effects can take center stage too much in a horror film, but I feel like Pumpkinhead has a big kitschy quality that combines both.
John: It’s one of those franchises that had awesome VHS box art. You just look at it, and your childhood will be triggered: “What the hell is this?! This is amazing!”
The Guest (2014)
Jake: It’s about a family whose son is deployed to Afghanistan and dies under mysterious circumstances. Then, one of his soldier buddies comes back and ingratiates himself with the family, and things go awry. It takes place around Halloween. It’s a throwback, in a fun way, to ‘80s horror.
Jenny: Right. It’s a little bit of Terminator, a little bit of Halloween, all mixed into this new fresh take on ‘80s nostalgia — but without actually remaking all the components of an ‘80s film. And it’s one of Dan Stevens’s first roles out of the Downton Abbey sphere!
Hider in the House (1989)
John: My wife and I have developed a strong penchant for ‘80s and ‘90s made-for-TV thrillers of varying levels of subjective quality. When you’re willing to sample and try things out, man, you find some serious winners! This film stars Gary Busey, and he’s invading this family’s life. He’s basically inside the walls and observing this family, and just getting increasingly bizarre and creepy. The mom is Mimi Rogers and the husband is Michael McKean. Really, really excellent cast and excellent moments in it.
Jenny: It’s a French Extremity movie — French Extremity was this little point in time that was torture porn-esque: like your Saws, or your Hostels, but even a bit more intense. Martyrs also has a lot of queer horror representation, and goes to really interesting depths. I highly recommend it! It’s about this girl who was kept captive and pseudo-tortured for a really long time before she escaped. She goes into a home and grows up with this girl who ends up becoming her girlfriend, and the trauma of her past keeps coming back, so she drags her girlfriend into this scenario where she enacts revenge on the family that kept her captive. And then there’s a bunch of usurping twists from there. It’s like a home invasion film, but inside out.
A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story (1992)
John: Betty Broderick is a real person — she’s in prison right now — and Meredith Baxter Birney plays her with such a brilliant level of realism. She plays her like a female, middle-aged Joker. This performance is a masterpiece. She is scorned by her ex-husband, and…almost like a monster movie, she’s just relentlessly pissed off about what happened to her. It’s really worth seeing.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
Jake: The second Hellraiser picks up immediately after the first. It’s still a relatively low-budget British production, but the effects are amazing — the stop-motion effects are nuts. And the vision of hell is fantastic: it’s sort of this M.C. Escher-esque labyrinthian nightmare. It rips. It’s just a great party movie, and I think that “party horror” in particular is part of what feels really, really good in October…. There’s something really specific about Halloween movies. It’s a vibe…autumn is fully settling in, there’s less daylight. But I think there’s something more to Halloween movies: party atmospheres. You’re overloaded on candy, you’re watching stuff with friends.
The Monster Squad (1987)
Jake: It’s a movie that for byzantine reasons was unavailable for quite some time. It’s a pretty hard PG-13 movie…like, Dracula holds up a five-year-old girl and calls her…a name. It’s a movie that just doesn’t hold back. Again, perfect party horror.
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