What I Binged for Halloween in 2022

It hasn’t just been the spooky season, it’s also been a transition moment in my life: I moved out of one place into a new place, and most excitingly, I started a new job. I didn’t want to plan my viewing schedule ahead as much as I have in previous years, knowing how eventful I thought October might end up being. But once in a while, in the midst of personal chaos, I was able to put on one of these Halloween titles.

Whether in good times or bad or even regardless of the quality of the choice, my selections this year helped ground me in the midst of all sorts of personal adjustments and adaptation. All that being said, I hope these titles inspire you and remind you of the Halloween season. Have a happy and safe Halloween, everybody!

New discoveries

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

I had seen all the movies in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, except for its reboot: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. The movie has a reputation for being a meta-commentary on the franchise itself, and it’s easy to see why: the movie tells the story of Heather Langenkamp, who played the lead character Nancy in the first installment in 1984 and plays a fictionalized version of herself here. Production is starting on another Freddy Krueger movie right as strange and scary occurrences begin to affect Heather and her family that makes her believe Freddy has jumped from the fictional world of the movies into the “reality” of her normal life as an actress. She interacts with other co-stars from the movie, like John Saxon, who played Nancy’s father, and even Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund. Even Heather’s young son Dylan (Miko Hughes) begins to see terrifying visions of the famous slasher.

Wes Craven returned for this seventh installment, the first he both wrote and directed since the first one, and he even appears as himself in order to explain to Heather why the supernatural events are taking place. I love Freddy Krueger’s updated look in this, it’s more menacing than the one he originally sported. The scares are very effective, you feel for Langenkamp as she’s descending into madness, unable to tell reality from fiction. Her performance is one of the things that most ropes you in and is part of the reason the film was nominated for Best Film at the 1994 Independent Spirit Awards alongside the likes of Pulp Fiction. The meta element is definitely a creative route for the series to take and feels like it is a precursor of sorts to Craven’s next film, Scream (1996). If anything, I expected this to be more like Scream and was a little taken by surprise by how relatively self-serious it is, as I expected that same level of self-awareness and it being more tongue-in-cheek. But for those who want to seek out an unconventional Freddy Krueger movie with plenty of frightening moments, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare will more than satisfy your frightening desires.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is available to stream on HBO Max.

Fright Night (2011)

I really wanted to like this movie. Two years ago, I watched the original Fright Night from 1985 and absolutely adored it. I had heard decent things about its 2011 remake and wanted to give it a chance. On the surface, it has a lot going for it, not the least of which is its cast. Led by the late Anton Yelchin and featuring Colin Farrell as the vampire, it also features Christopher Mintz-Plasse (best known as “McLovin” in Superbad), Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, Dave Franco, a weird cameo by 90s singer Lisa Loeb, and David Tennant as Peter Vincent. In the original, Vincent is a washed-up horror movie host on TV, and here he is reimagined as a magician reminiscent of Criss Angel doing shows in Las Vegas.

The plot unravels much like it did in the original, but now with added teen drama. Mintz-Plasse’s Ed tells Yelchin’s Charley that his next-door neighbor Jerry is a vampire, but Charley doesn’t believe him. But when Ed goes missing, Charley goes snooping for evidence, and sure enough, comes to believe the startling accusation. Jerry then goes after Charley, his mom and girlfriend, as Charley hopes to recruit Peter Vincent in his quest to stop Jerry once and for all.

When I think about the original, I think about how 80s it is in its aesthetics and presentation, it is very of its moment. There is little in the way of that to ground this Fright Night in 2011 specifically, beyond some passing references to Twilight. In fact, I think Twilight was the reason for the entire remake as if some studio chief said “hey, vampires are popular right now, do we have anything sexy in our content library that features vampires and high schoolers? Oh, Fright Night! Yeah, let’s boost the horror element and add a whole bunch of cursing, ‘cuz that will be edgy enough for the kids!”

The movie also seems miscast: Colin Farrell is intimidating as the vampire, but with little of the charm and charisma that Chris Sarandon brought to the original. The original choice for the role was apparently Heath Ledger before he passed away, and that makes more sense to me. Likewise, the Peter Vincent role seems like it was written for then-emerging star Russell Brand much more than a former and now current again Doctor Who like Tennant. I truly wonder how much better this movie would be if Farrell and Tennant had switched roles.

Overall, I didn’t hate the remake of Fright Night. It’s got some good sequences and I liked some of the imagery of it. And I’m not opposed to horror remakes on principle: just two years after this movie, a remake of The Evil Dead would end up being pretty good in its own right. But I’m not sure the filmmakers even understood what made the first one so memorable and why it worked so well. I can see a younger audience or people less acquainted with the original liking this, but for me, I was surprised with the extent that I felt it fell flat.

Fright Night is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Halloween Ends (2022)

Where have you gone, Michael Myers? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, wooo wooo wooo/What’s that you say, Ms. Lee-Curtis? Mean ol’ Mike has left and gone away, hey hey hey, hey hey hey…

Last year, I reviewed Halloween Kills, the recently released second movie in a new trilogy of Halloween movies that kicked off in 2018 with Jamie Lee Curtis returning to the Laurie Strode role she originated. Well, the aptly titled Halloween Ends is the supposedly final installment, and since we all know this isn’t truly the end, I for one could at least stand to take an extended break from this franchise. All the advertising teased a final confrontation between Curtis’ Stode and rampaging slasher antagonist Michael Myers, but instead, this movie mostly focuses on her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) and a budding romance with the seemingly main character of the movie, Corey Cunnigham (Rohan Campbell). It is Corey who motivates much of the action of the plot and gets to interact with Michael.

I still sing the praises of the first installment of this newest Halloween trilogy, but you know what this one reminded me of? Middling sequels to horror franchises where they tried to break free from the formula, mostly from the 80s. In these movies, the main slasher antagonist is either sidelined or a different person (both of these are seemingly true about Halloween Ends) and what should be the b-plot is given a-plot level importance. Characters are overhauled or changed, or new characters of disproportionate importance are introduced. Halloween Ends is probably a step above many of those types of sequels, but there simply isn’t a lot there for me to recommend it. This series seems to have devolved into hackneyed tropes, gruesome spectacle, and not much else. I’m fine if this is the last we see of Michael Meyers and the rest of the Halloween gang for a while, as the storytelling risks that seemed to pay off years ago in the ’78 and ’18 installments proved less fruitful as time went on.

Halloween Ends is available to stream on Peacock.

Werewolf double feature: The Wolf Man (1941) and The Howling (1981)

Werewolves are a lot of fun, aren’t they? They prey on our most basic fears and are a staple of modern fantasy, be it in horror movies or in Harry Potter. This year, inspired by Marvel’s new Halloween special Werewolf by Night, I decided to seek out two famous werewolf movies I had never seen before. The first was the classic The Wolf Man from 1941, directed by George Waggner. It stars Lon Chaney, Jr. in the title role, an aristocrat named Larry who returns to his ancestral home only to be bitten by and eventually become a werewolf. Supporting roles include Claude Rains as Larry’s father, Evelyn Ankers as his love interest, and even Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi as the gypsy fortune teller-turned-werewolf that bites Larry. There are times when this over-80-year-old movie shows its age and feels a bit dated, but credit where credit is due: it did introduce many of the standard werewolf tropes, from lycanthropy transferring via a bite to the power of silver bullets.

The second selection was The Howling, a take on lycanthropes from 1981 that is fun and mostly works. It was an early film from Joe Dante, who would go on to do the Gremlins movies in part because Warner Bros. was impressed by his work on this one. Karen (Dee Wallace, best known as the mom from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) is a TV news reporter who is taken to a secluded rehab resort called “The Colony” after suffering trauma due to a serial killer stalker. Her husband, played the late Christopher Stone who was also her husband in real life, accompanies her, as they begin to discover that the residents of The Colony are not at all what they seem.

I like a lot of the scares, imagery, and especially makeup effects in this movie, even if Wallace’s final transformation has her looking more like a Wookiee from Star Wars. But ultimately, it can’t help but feel like an also-ran compared to the other major werewolf movie that came out that same year, An American Werewolf in London. For anyone seeking dark transformations and canine thrills this Halloween, you can’t go wrong with either of these classic selections.

The Wolf Man (1941) is available to stream on Peacock.

Returning favorites

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Infamous in horror circles for being the one Halloween movie that doesn’t feature Michael Myers, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is an absolutely wild ride that nevertheless deserves to be watched in the lead-up to the titular holiday. The evil Silver Shamrock Novelties company developed a popular and constantly-advertised line of Halloween masks that have a twisted, demonic side to them. It’s up to a visibly alcoholic doctor named Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) and the daughter of a slain toy salesman, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), to stop them. The owner of the company, Conal Cochrane (Dan O’Herlihy, of Robocop and The Last Starfighter fame) reveals that the entire business is a way for Stonehenge-infused magic (just go with it) to possess and kill whoever dons a Silver Shamrock mask. As if you couldn’t tell, the entire premise is more convoluted than you could possibly imagine. The whole movie is undoubtedly a guilty pleasure, and yet it is very watchable and even able to illicit an actual scare or two, such as when a little boy succumbs to the power of a mask. With a catchy Silver Shamrock jingle that’s constantly playing in order to count down the days until Halloween, this is one that’s sure to put you in the perfect mood to ring in the spooky season.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is available to stream on Peacock.

Chopping Mall (1986)

Every year, it feels like more and more people are getting turned onto Chopping Mall, a low-budget 80s techno-thriller about security robots hunting down teenagers in a, you guessed it, shopping mall. Produced by Roger Corman’s wife Julie, Chopping Mall lives up to the promise of its premise and thankfully doesn’t overstay its welcome at a cozy 77 minutes. It’s also super 80s, from the styles to the clothing to the music, even the robots themselves less resemble Robocop than they do the Daleks from Doctor Who. But hey, character actor Dick Miller shows up for a second, as do Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov apparently reprising their roles from the 1982 cult favorite Eating Raoul. That film is considered so acclaimed that it’s in the Criterion Collection, so I wonder how Bartel and Woronov felt making essentially a glorified cameo in this schlock. Nevertheless, with fun kills, laser-based thrills, head explosions, and memories of shopping malls (remember those?), Chopping Mall is one I know I, as well as many future first-time watchers, will be coming back to in the years to come.

Chopping Mall is available to stream many places, including for free on YouTube.

Nostalgic favorites

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: ‘Life’s a Masquerade’ and ‘Trick or Treat’

I’m in sort of a Power Rangers phase in my life. Over this summer I gravitated towards a lot of Batman and Superman-related comic series and stories but starting this fall I have been incentivized to look back at Power Rangers specifically. This is no small part due to my beginning to read the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers comic book series from Boom! Studios that have gotten acclaim from fans and critics alike. And I have to say, I definitely agree and see where they’re all coming from. These stories are a mature update set in contemporary times, but nevertheless, seek to treat the Rangers concept seriously.

Maybe that’s why I felt diminishing results upon watching the first Halloween installment, “Life’s a Masquerade.” The comic series takes place roughly around the time this episode takes place, right after the addition of the Green Ranger, Tommy Oliver (Jason David Frank). In the comic series, Tommy is battling his own internal demons, as well as Rita Repulsa, who continues to haunt his subconscious from the time he was evil. In this episode, the main villain is a guy in bad Frankenstein makeup, and the plot reverts into the standard Rangers formula. But there’s none of the tension about Tommy joining the team that the comic series would eventually relish in.

A subsequent Halloween episode called “Treat or Treat” fared a little bit better, featuring the Rangers having to make sacrifices in their personal lives for the sake of their superheroic duties, like Tommy having to bow out of a martial arts tournament and Kimberly (Amy Jo Johnson) giving up her chance to win a car, as well as a dumb villain named Pumpkin Rapper who, you guessed it, raps. (Hey, it was the 90s.) For any 90s kid, these episodes have a certain resonance even if they can’t match what’s being done in the comics at the moment, and are worth checking out for old Power Rangers fans and new alike.

The Halloween episodes are both in the first season of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, available to stream on Netflix.

The Adventures of Pete & Pete: ‘Halloweenie’

One of the most beloved live-action shows to come out of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age in the 1990s was The Adventures of Pete & Pete. Well-regarded for its quirky energy, its soundtrack, especially its rocking theme song “Hey Sandy” by Polaris, its tackling of various issues involved in growing up, and the appearances of various celebrities in cameo roles throughout the show’s run, this series is a quintessential nostalgic touchstone for 90s babies around my age. The show, which ran 39 episodes from 1991 to 1996, was a staple on the network, as it focuses on the Wrigley brothers, Big Pete (Mike Maronna) and Little Pete (Danny Tamberelli) as they grow up in Wellsville, along with their parents Joyce (Judy Grate) and Don (Hardy Rawls). There are various hurdles to overcome, from burgeoning love to saying goodbye to fan favorite Artie, the Strongest Man in the World (Toby Huss).

The series’ relationship with home video has been complicated, to say the least. It isn’t on any form of streaming, and it takes a small fortune to buy the DVD set of the first two seasons. Apparently, a planned release of the third season was close to happening, but all those pressed discs just ended up in a warehouse somewhere, never to see the light of day. Thankfully, the series is, as of press time, easy to find on YouTube, which is good because I wanted to examine the Halloween episode specifically. Released in the show’s second season and called “Halloweenie,” it involves Little Pete trying to break the record for most houses hit up for trick-or-treat candy on Halloween night.

In contrast, Big Pete is at that age where he’s over Halloween. He only begrudgingly tags along at his brother’s insistence, and he’s positive he’ll be ridiculed if any of his friends spot him. However, the duo encounter and have to outrun a local gang called the Pumpkin Eaters. “In the end, Pete was right,” Big Pete concludes at the episode’s end. “It was a night for heroes.” This episode is so much fun, and really scratches that 90s nostalgic itch this time of year. Watching this episode this Halloween would be a tremendous tribute to a magnificent kids’ show.

The “Halloweenie” episode of The Adventures of Pete & Pete is available to stream.