You tell them not to turn around. You warn them, “Don’t open that!” You think surely they won’t go in there. Then they switch on the light, their face meets the business end of an axe, and you’re left only to shake your head in disappointment.
Why don’t they ever listen?
Give these ill-fated airheads a little credit, though, because it’s not easy playing straight man in the horror genre. It is actually in these peoples’ job descriptions to be harassed by their coworkers all day, then at punch-out time get beheaded via chainsaw by some creep with mommy issues and a penchant for human flesh (thank God there’s no one from human resources in the world of horror cinema). Sadly, for all their dedication and sacrifice, the psycho fodder in scary movies must still be regarded as cinema’s D student. And even when they do survive the carnage, their audience feels let down — no guts, no glory.
On the plus side (and it’s a big one), the well-preserved, cheaply masked, and seemingly impervious gentlemen doing the beheadings gather for an annual work-related convention cut straight from hell: the Halloween horror movie fest. Once a year each autumn, viewers everywhere are besieged by wave after wave of their favorite monsters and mass murdering madmen. On one channel you may find the tenured Jason Voorhees in the midst of his thirteenth bloody chronicle. The very next might feature a new-meat cannibal, fresh out of the starting gate and gearing up to take his shot for a respectable place in the annals of horror cinema. Sure, the odds are a thousand to one against him, but – strangely enough – that’s the point. He must land on his face. He must fail, for if he doesn’t fail, who will?
We all have to laugh at some harebrained lunatic on Old Year’s Night (so-called by the Celtics, as it was the final night in the ancient calendar). The likes of Michael Meyers and Freddy Kruger may be potential targets for ridicule, but icons don’t truly suffice as sources for our mockery. So the two-bit cannibal is just as essential to this holiday as Hannibal Lecter or Romero’s hordes of ravenous corpses.
Yeah, high-dollar gore is good. Yes, true atmosphere and an Oscar-worthy makeup crew can’t be topped. But there’s an irreplaceable element lacking in these high-end efforts: the “so bad it’s almost good.” With the “so bad it’s almost good,” the effects are atrocious and the only true terror to behold is in the quality of the script. But the viewer can laugh right at its blood-lustful antagonists without fear of repercussion, because no one fears a forgettable monster. In fact, forgettable monsters were the same guys who eased me into watching quality horror films when I was little, so I have a fair amount of adulation for them. And call me a romantic, but I will always hold out hope for the no-name fiends ever-disemboweling and eating B-actors on cable television.
Therefore, it is only through the collective efforts of so many half-baked, poorly executed, flat-out terrible scary movies that we cut to the heart of Halloween: nonsense. One day a year, all viewers ignore their discriminating palates, getting off their high horses and delving into the splendor of tacky cinema. We don’t care if the characters of some zombie movie aren’t deeply enthralling or justifiably motivated, so long as the throng of undead by the burning 18-wheeler eat that trucker’s brains. Who is really concerned that, even though a machete-wielding maniac has been shot, stabbed, electrocuted, frozen, and de-thawed (all in the span of some 90 minutes), he still appears to have no trouble breaking down a two-inch thick steel door? On Halloween day, the answer is “no one.”
Viewers may poke fun at such ridiculous happenings, and that’s the spirit of the season – to take pleasure in the preposterous. Why do people think we dress ourselves up like Frankenstein, Ninja Turtles, Richard Nixon, Austin Powers, Poseidon, or Elvis Presley? Why do they think fairy princesses cross paths at the corner of First and Main with the most nefarious demons ever belched forth from an MG Novelty? There’s a reason three-foot tall Supermen run about in oversized capes as teenage Jokers don grungy face paint suggestive of a lunatic. And there’s a reason that figures so domestic as a doctor and so exotic as the most abominable creatures of ancient Greek mythology can each be found at our doorsteps in the span of some 24 hours Halloween night.
The list of outrageous characters involved in this event rolls on ad infinitum, to the very brink of our collective imagination. In one holiday alone, we’ve gathered nearly every conceivable figure from cinema, politics, music, television, the written word, philosophy, and mythology to partake in a splendidly madcap celebration. No other day on the calendar can even compare with Halloween’s myriad absurdities. And the reason for this, the reason for all of this, is to cut loose and give in to the irrational.
All this is not to say Halloween’s exclusive to low quality cinema. In fact, one of the great things about the holiday is its ability to reel out some darn good spooky fun. For example, on the 31st of October one is just as likely to flip by John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) or Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004) as they are one of Victor Salva’s Jeepers Creepers installments or basically anything worthy of the SyFy Channel.
Don’t get me wrong. I love “The Creeper” and I absolutely live for bad sci-fi. That’s the point. It takes both a dash of quality and a pound of poor taste to correctly concoct this gory stew, which has had TV audiences eating it up hand over fist for years now.
Don’t worry about the weird feeling in the pit of your stomach. That’s guilt fighting gluttony. That’s the sign you’re doing All Hallows' Eve right. So watch the good, watch the bad, and enjoy every “horrific” moment.