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A Triple Threat Halloween Cinematic Experience


   Horror is rightfully known as the most widely varied genre in cinema with a long list of sub-genres, many of which feature critically-acclaimed classics that had left a chilling impact on the industry. Of course, there are also some favorites that brought in a cult following simply because the people enjoyed it. Though 2023 did not have as much of an iconic line up of horror movies compared to last year, there have been a satisfactory number of films that remain to be memorable. There was the horror sci-fi flick M3GAN that launched countless dancing memes on TikTok, satisfactory sequels such as Scream IV and Evil Dead Rise, the bizarre comedy Cocaine Bear loosely based on a true story, the supernatural horror flick Talk to Me impressively made by YouTube duo/twin brothers from the channel RackaRacka, and the satirical comedy The Blackening that tackles horror movie tropes and ethnic stereotypes.

   As of now, we get excited to celebrate Halloween— not only the holiday, but the entire month. One of the most favorable methods of celebrating is watching dozens of classic and modern horror films and shows, whether on certain cable channels that run marathons of specific franchises or on streaming services where viewers have a variety to choose on their own. Additionally, movie theaters are prepared to release a handful of upcoming horror films of the year, including Saw X on September 29th, and Five Nights at Freddy’s on October 27th. There is no doubt we will be looking forward to these films, one being the tenth installment of a famous slasher franchise that will turn 20 years old by next year, and the other being based on one of the most popular video game franchises that left a frightening impact in the 2010s. While we will keep those in mind, it has been announced that three specific horror films are celebrating their anniversaries by returning to the cinema in select theaters— the closest in our area being Island 16 Cinema de Lux in Holtsville. Despite the theatrical dates being very limited in the following month, it’d be considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch these films on the big screen as a way to recreate the experience made back when each of them first came out. Only this time, the rooms will be packed with an entirely new audience— and plenty of screams along the way.

   The first film listed here features, as the trailer describes it, “the most horrifying and shocking tale of carnage.” A film so gritty, so gory, and just all-around nasty it must be seen to be believed. We present to you, a movie like no other, House of 1000 Corpses. Released on April 11, 2003, the film was written and directed by well known shock rock singer/songwriter Rob Zombie five years after his debut solo studio album Hellbilly Deluxe. His directorial debut was originally an idea Zombie had while partnering up with Universal Studios in 1999 to help design a maze for Hollywood Horror Nights based on his work. After deciding that it would be good for a movie instead of only a maze, Zombie was given a $7 million budget by the studio and was able to start production in 2000. Unfortunately, due to the fear of the film getting an NC-17 rating, Universal shelved it until Zombie bought the rights back and thankfully made a deal with Lions Gate Entertainment.

   Inspired by the iconic 1974 horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre— one of Zombie’s personal favorite movies— and 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes, House of 1000 Corpses centers a group of teenagers (two of them played by then unknown actors Chris Hardwick and Rainn Wilson) who get kidnapped and tortured by a psychotic family during Halloween after traveling across the country to write a book about offbeat roadside attractions. The one they stumble across at the beginning of the film is a gas station in Texas that features “The Museum of Monsters & Mayhem,” where they learn about the local legend of Dr. Satan. The owner of the museum is a vulgar and murderous clown Captain Spaulding, played by the late Sid Haig, who is undoubtedly the star of the film despite the lack of screentime. The film later introduces the Firefly family, where two of the members being the free-spirited hitchhiker named Baby (played by Sherri Moon, aka Zombie’s wife) and her adopted brother Otis (Bill Moseley). But once the family holds the teens hostage and tortures them, that’s when the film becomes a horrifyingly bizarre haunted house attraction in itself.

   Despite receiving unfavorable responses from critics, including its low score of 21% on Rotten Tomatoes,the film grossed $16 million, doubling its production budget, and gained a cult-like following, most of them being fans of Zombie’s music. It was even developed into a haunted house attraction in 2019 by the director for— you guessed it— Universal Studios at Orlando. Ironic, isn’t it? Even Zombie brought up the hypocrisy when he and his wife visited the attraction. The cult following also solidifies the main characters’ status as icons of modern horror cinema, especially Captain Spaulding, much thanks to the actors’ outstanding performances. Haig even won the 2004 Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best Supporting Actor, alongside late Academy Award-nominee Karen Black for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mother Firefly. Overtime, the film became part of the Firefly trilogy with its two sequels The Devil’s Rejects released in 2005 and 3 From Hell much later in 2019. 

   Recently, it was announced on Zombie’s social media and during the Freaks of Parade Tour alongside Alice Cooper in venues across America (including one here at Jones Beach in early September) that House of 1000 Corpses will be playing in select theaters to celebrate its 20th anniversary. However, it will only be played on October 8th and 11th with very few showtimes. If that’s understandably too limited, there is also the option to stream it on Tubi with no subscription required. Additionally, there is now a 20th anniversary edition of the film already released on Blu-Ray available in stores and online. Either way, be prepared for a wild rollercoaster ride of a movie— even with its ups and downs— filled with excessive violence and memorable characters with an incredibly mean-spirited sense of humor. This will obviously be a very different experience after being well-adjusted to over a decade of well-written elevated horror films. But that’s part of the fun.

   We now introduce the only family-friendly film on this list. A musical unlike any Disney animated classic, making it unapologetically stand out in its own right. But much like dozens of beloved Disney properties, its praise and popularity continues to grow every year, including its merchandise being sold in stores even to this day. It’s also similar to a handful of holiday horror films, as there is also no shame in watching this film aside from the Halloween season. Maybe on… Christmas?

   Boys and girls of every age, wouldn’t you like to see something strange? Come with us and you will see… The Nightmare Before Christmas back in theaters in honor of its 30th anniversary. Though as many have already clarified in the past, I must also confirm that this is not a Tim Burton film, despite his name being in the title. In fact, this was based on a three-page poem, drawing inspiration from the classic television specials Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, as well as the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore. After successfully adapting the film into a children’s book and despite the failed attempts to create a short film or a half-hour television special, Burton made a development deal with Walt Disney Studios to adapt it into a full-length animated film. Although he was busy filming the superhero sequel Batman Returns and working with the pre-production of the biographical comedy-drama Ed Wood, animator and filmmaker Henry Selick was brought in to direct it, while novelist and screenwriter Caroline Thompson wrote the screenplay.

   The film centers Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon), known as the Pumpkin King of the fantasy world called “Halloween Town,” stumbles upon another holiday-themed world called “Christmas Town” and plans to take over the holiday by putting his own unique spin on it. This includes kidnapping Santa Claus (Ed Ivory) and delivering monstrous-looking toys to children, thus unknowingly frightening them instead of bringing them joy. Halloween Town is a unique location where the majority of the film takes place with a wide variety of creatures as its occupants including: Sally (voiced by Catherine O’Hara), one of the movie’s most iconic characters next to Jack, the villainous boogeyman Oogie Boogie (Ken Page), with his trick or treating henchmen Lock, Shock, and Barrel (the late Paul Reubens, O’Hara, and Danny Elfman), among a handful of others.

   Aside from the film’s mind-blowing stop-motion animation, The Nightmare Before Christmas is famously praised by critics and especially audiences for its soundtrack, all thanks to the legendary film composer and songwriter Danny Elfman. With classic songs such as “This is Halloween,” “What’s This?”, “Kidnap the Sandy Claws,” and “Oogie Boogie’s Song,” it’s no wonder that this film is arguably known as the greatest display of his brilliance as a composer. There have even been re-releases of the album years later with covers of some of the songs from other well-known bands. Another genius fact of its development is Elfman’s involvement with Jack Skellington, particularly his musical numbers. After recording demos for the songs, everyone agreed that Elfman sounded perfect to voice the character. Despite also voicing Barrel, one of the trick or treaters, and a background character self-described as the Clown with the Tear-Away Face, he believed his speaking voice was “too wooden and stiff” for Jack. They would find a solution by casting Chris Sarandon because of how perfect his speaking voice matches Elfman’s singing voice.

   The Nightmare Before Christmas, released on October 13, 1993, was not only a modest box office hit and received critical praise from critics with its stellar score of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, it earned a nomination at the Oscars for Best Visual Effects, but lost to the iconic sci-fi action film Jurassic Park. But most of all, it has since garnered an enormous cult-like following. Countless merchandise are still being sold in a variety of stores to this day, including Hot Topic, and many people were and still plan on dressing up as the characters for Halloween of course. Lastly, Disneyland hosts a seasonal overlay of The Haunted Mansion, open from September to early January, where the original attraction’s settings and characters are blended with those from The Nightmare Before Christmas, including Jack (dressed as “Sandy Claws”) and Oogie Boogie, with the original actors reprising the roles.

   In early September, it was announced from multiple media sources that the film will be playing in theaters for its 30th anniversary on October 20th. Unfortunately, as of now, it is unclear whether or not it will be accessible at Island 16 or any theater in Long Island. The closest we have for the moment is the one showtime at the Rooftop Cinema Club Midtown near Times Square. If you prefer to forgo a city trip, there’s always the option to stream it on Disney+ at the comforts of your home whenever you want. However, if you decide to boycott the Disney brand, thus supporting the SAG-AFTRA Actors and Writers Strike, by canceling your subscription, the television channel Freeform will be airing the movie several times in October during its 31 Nights of Halloween marathon. Lastly, in late August, a 4K Blu-Ray version was released with extra content.

   Regardless of how or where you view it, feel free to revisit one of Disney’s one-of-a-kind classics once again. This film will not only bring you warm gifts of nostalgia— maybe with a scary teddy or sharp-toothed duck to go along with it— but also awaken the excitement for the holiday for the remainder of the month. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with singing along with the catchy songs throughout the movie. It’s fine if you’re already humming along to one of them. We all do.

   Lastly, we have what is known to be one of the greatest horror films of all time celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. A movie so utterly terrifying even paramedics had to be called in to treat audience members who had fainted or went hysterical watching it. That film is none other than The Exorcist.

   It is based on the 1971 novel of the same name by late writer, director and producer William Peter Blatty, taking inspiration from the 1949 exorcism of 14-year-old Roland Doe performed by Jesuit priest William S. Bowdern. Unfortunately, the book sold poorly, at first. But soon after Blatty captivated the audience with a discussion of whether the devil existed on The Dick Cavett Show, it quickly climbed to the top of the New York Times best seller list. The story of both the novel and film follows the demonic possession of a twelve-year-old girl named Regan MacNeil. Her mother Chris, an actress, desperately attempts to rescue her through an exorcism by two Catholic priests.

   With the late William Friedkin as director and Blatty in charge of the screenplay, choosing actors to cast as the main leads of Chris and especially Regan MacNeil was not an easy task. Despite there being many major stars of the era being considered for them— including Audrey Hepburn, Anne Bancroft, and Jane Fonda for the role of Chris— Blatty and Friedkin eventually went to lesser-known actors. This, of course, leads to Ellen Burstyn being cast as Chris and Linda Blair as Regan. The late stage actor and playwright Jason Miller accepted the role as Father Damien Karras, SJ (Society of Jesus), after being given a copy of the book. To prepare for the role, Miller received a Catholic education and went to the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. for three years, studying to be a Jesuit priest. That is, until he experienced a spiritual crisis eerily similar to Karras’s.

   Once the film was released on December 26, 1973, the day after Christmas, despite receiving mixed reviews at the time, it gained an enormous audience reaction unlike any other film that came before it. Long lines were formed at the theater, stretching for miles in brutally frigid weather. Soon, the reactions grew widespread, with many viewers fainting, including one man being carried out on a stretcher after twenty minutes, and nausea being so frequent that the vomit in the bathroom blocked access to the sinks. There was even a rating controversy at a time when children were allowed to see it. Keep in mind, the very first summer blockbuster Jaws, released a year earlier, is rated PG. This led to the film being given an R rating instead of the X rating to ensure its commercial success.

   Much thanks to the cultural conversation of the year (if not, the decade), The Exorcist not only earned a financial success at the box office, but also gained more praise from critics (with a modern score of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes). Cinefantastique wrote, “The Exorcist has done for the horror film what 2001 did for science fiction.” Many famous directors, particularly those who have worked in the horror genre, have also praised the film. Stanley Kubrick, Robert Eggers, Alex Proyas, and David Fincher have cited The Exorcist as a favorite. Martin Scorsese placed it on his list of the 11 scariest horror films. And last, but not least, John Carpenter listed the film as one of his top eight scariest horror classics, and claimed it influenced his supernatural cult classic The Fog, which was released later in 1980. The Exorcist became the first horror film to be nominated at the Oscars for Best Picture. With its nine other nominations, Blatty won Best Adapted Screenplay and the sound engineers won Best Sound. Earning $428.2 million at the box office, it remained the highest grossing R-rated horror film for nearly forty-five years until the 2017 supernatural horror film It Chapter One overcame it with a box office record of $701.8 million. Most important of all, in 2010, the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Even Regan, to this day, continues to cement her status as one of the most iconic horror movie characters of all time, along with Linda Blair being established as one of the famous scream queens in horror cinema.

   Now that The Exorcist will be celebrating its golden year in a couple of months, it has been announced by web sources that the film will return in select theaters. But much similar to our previous entry House of 1000 Corpses, it will only be playing on October 1st and 4th with very limited showtimes at Island 16 and AMC Stony Brook, among others in Long Island. There is also the much easier option of streaming the film on Max (formally known as HBO Max) in the comforts of your home— with much easier access to the bathroom, in case the nausea comes in. Lastly, there is now the 50th Anniversary edition of the film released on Ultra HD Blu-Ray not too long ago, featuring both the theatrical and extended versions.

   After a handful of sequels, prequels, and a short-lived television shows that have come and gone— none of which ever came close to the brilliance of the original— Blumhouse Productions is reintroducing the franchise to an entirely new audience with its direct sequel to the original film titled The Exorcist: Believer. Directed by David Gordon Green and co-written by him and Peter Sattler, the film centers the parents of two demonically possessed girls desperately searching for help by someone who has had similar experiences. That someone is, of course, Chris MacNeil, with Ellen Burstyn reprising the role. Set to be released on October 6th, it has also been announced that, similar to the studio’s previous involvement with the Halloween franchise in recent years, it is the first of a new trilogy. Two sequels have already been confirmed to be in development with the same creative team involved. Its second installment, subtitled Deceiver, is scheduled to be released on April 18, 2025. As of now, it is unclear whether or not Linda Blair will also be reprising her role as Regan and possibly playing a significant part in any of these upcoming movies. Granted, it didn’t exactly do well for the 1977 sequel The Exorcist II: The Heretic. But with this new and (hopefully) fresh take on the franchise, who knows.

   With October in full swing, everyone’s already thrilled to partake in the Halloween spirit. Probably already decorating their houses or choosing their costume for the year. But at the theater, in addition to some new horror films that are screaming with anticipation, we have three other movies that deserve to be seen: An unapologetic hillbilly gore fest, an imaginative animated musical for all ages, and the supernatural phenomenon that many critics and audiences alike describe as ultimately the scariest horror movie of all time. Either choice we make, it’ll all be a scary good time.

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About the Contributor
Emma Christiansen
Emma Christiansen, Media Critic
Emma Lee Christiansen, contributing writer, liberal arts major, from West Sayville. Christiansen will graduate from SCCC in the spring semester, plans on continuing her higher education at Stony Brook University, and would like to major in creative writing and minor in film making/film studies. Christensen enjoys drawing, watching movies, and playing video games in her spare time.

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