I think it's fair to thank the timing for a good chunk of Halloween's success - by releasing it so close to its namesake holiday, audiences are never going to be more in the mood than they are right now (and also, they didn't have to compete with too many parties just yet). All month long, we've seen or made social media posts about the horror movies folks are watching, some even doing 31 day challenges (amateurs! Hahaha) and going to all-night marathons. It seems like every year there are more and more people who want to celebrate the season by popping in their favorite scary movies (some even try to find new ones, bless them) rather than wait until October 31st to do anything "seasonal".
But I noticed something odd: a lot of folks namecheck and watch movies that, to me, don't seem particularly Halloween-y. And I don't mean they're not "set" on Halloween; indeed, I've long said that Carpenter's The Fog is just as much, if not more of a perfect movie for the season than Halloween even though it's set in the spring. No, I just mean they don't quite invoke the spirit of the season, making them feel like odd choices. For example, the Arclight shows The Shining around this time every year, and while there's nothing wrong with the movie and it's certainly a good big-screen experience, nothing about it really screams "October!". Even if we ignore the obvious, better holiday to watch it on (New Year's), it's a cold, dark, largely humorless film, which is like the opposite of what Halloween is all about. I may've been pretty angry that the Paranormal Activity series kind of derailed the Saw franchise, but I have to admit that those camera-loving ghosts were more fitting for this time of the year, offering spookiness and fun jump scares instead of torture and complicated storylines.
Don't worry, I'm not the Movie Police - folks are free to celebrate however they like. I'm just saying that, for me, the likes of The Shining or Silence of the Lambs will likely never find their way to my Blu-ray player this time of year. Instead, outside of my well-documented admiration for the Halloween franchise, I tend to focus more on things like the Universal Monsters and Vincent Price movies, i.e. ones that are more charming and fun than outright terrifying. Of course, now with a kid I end up seeing things like Hocus Pocus and the Halloween episodes of (name a modern kid's cartoon) more often than the likes of Lugosi and Karloff, but to be honest I'd rather watch the evil Mayor on Paw Patrol steal the kids' candy than Hannibal Lecter eat Ray Liotta's brain at this time of the year.
However, I think we can all agree that movies set on Halloween are the best options, and Scream Factory has just released special editions of two of the best: Creepshow and Trick 'r Treat. To be fair, Creepshow's holiday ties are rather slim - it's pretty much just the wraparound segment that seems to be Halloween-themed, and even that isn't exactly drenched in holiday decor. But the spirit of the film is exactly what the day is all about: it's mischievous and macabre, telling its tales of revenge and comeuppances with a twinkle in the eyes of its creators. Thanks to the comic book transitions and stylized lighting/framing for most of the death scenes, only a fool would take it very seriously, as director George Romero and screenwriter/co-star Stephen King didn't have to put bats and witches in every shot to invoke the right mood.
As for Trick 'r Treat, I don't think there's a single shot in the movie that doesn't scream "OCTOBER 31st!!!". They shot it in Vancouver, but honestly you'd have to go into Salem, MA on the days leading up to Halloween to see anything that even comes close to how much Mike Dougherty and his production team positively drenched the movie in seasonal "attire". It's entirely set on Halloween, so pretty much every character is in costume throughout, but everywhere you look you'll see decorations, orange lights, enough proper foliage to make Tommy Wallace weep, the whole nine yards. Some even say it's their preferred movie to watch on Halloween, and while I prefer my beloved trip to Haddonfield in general, it's a fair assessment: due to the budget (and foliage-free Los Angeles shooting locations) it's easy to forget the movie is set on Halloween at all, as the dressing is rather limited. A few Jack O'Lanterns aside, there just isn't much Halloween-driven activity onscreen. Michael's the only one who seems to have bothered dressing up.
More importantly, they're fun movies that are ideal for parties and gatherings, as their anthology format doesn't require start-to-finish viewing. Watching Creepshow's "The Crate" in its entirety might peg you as a bit antisocial since it runs around 40 minutes (a third of the two hour film!), but the others are around 20 minutes apiece, which is a perfectly reasonable amount of time to take a break and tune out the revelry around you. Trick 'r Treat is a bit trickier since the first two stories are interwoven in a more "ensemble film" kind of way, but again, you never have to commit to it for long to get a complete story and then go back your party.
In fact, I can't help but wonder if that's why Halloween-themed anthologies are so prevalent. A couple years back we were blessed with Tales of Halloween, which found several genre filmmakers (Neil Marshall, Axelle Carolyn, Mike Mendez, and Dave Parker among them) presenting a collection of short stories set in the same town on Halloween night, with some crossover for added fun. As with the above, the appeal was not just in the holiday setting, but also the ability to enjoy several horror sub-genres in one tidy package. If you're a horror fan that doesn't like slasher movies, there's only one Halloween for you (Season of the Witch), but you'd be hard-pressed to watch Tales, Creepshow, or Trick r Treat without getting any of your itches scratched. Tales in particular offers ghosts, witches, aliens, killer pumpkins, evil children - you name it, it's probably in there somewhere. Creepshow is a little more limited since there's a "don't be an asshole or you'll pay for it" theme running through pretty much everything ("The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" is an exception; my man just wanted two hundred bucks), but it still offers voodoo, bugs, zombies, and monsters (Fluffy!). And Trick r Treat gives you werewolves, ghosts, a serial killer, and...John Carpenter?
OK, actually, it's Brian Cox as an old man named Mr. Kreeg, a typical Halloween-hating grump who learns a lesson or two, but Cox apparently wanted his demeanor (and hair!) to be a tribute to the famously irascible filmmaker (he even gets to honor The Thing via a choice line of dialogue), which made for a hilarious tribute. That anecdote and zillions of others can be found on the film's special edition, which has all the features from the previous Blu plus plenty of new ones, and an updated transfer, as well. Still, it's not quite as exciting as the new release of Creepshow, as the film has been disgraced by Warner over the years, with both its DVD and Blu-ray release featuring nothing but the trailer, despite a nice special edition in the UK. It got to the point where another studio basically just released a special edition that had everything except the movie itself, just to give fans a way to celebrate and explore the film, but now we get something proper. The new transfer is fantastic, and it has more bonus features than I was even able to get through, including two new commentaries and a half dozen lengthy interviews with key crew members. One thing I did watch was a fun chat between Tom Atkins, Marty Schiff, Tom Savini, and John Amplas, hosted by Mike Felsher, where the men just sit around and trade stories (with some occasional ribbing) about their time making the film and working with Romero, who sadly passed before he got to contribute anything to the disc himself.
Of course, a good movie doesn't need to wait until it's seasonally appropriate to watch it (especially in Creepshow's case, since the holiday dressing is so minimal), but both of these are flat out perfect to watch in October, and I was stoked to have new editions of both as a good excuse to revisit them. As I've said in other columns, I'm not big on rewatching most films (this was probably only the third time I've ever seen Creepshow in its entirety), but they are just so in sync with how I feel about the holiday that I had zero problem devoting a few hours to each one (sampling the extras, of course), getting me in the Halloween spirit more than any pumpkin spiced flavored (name a food item) ever could. Dougherty even notes on one of the new interviews that Halloween isn't about being terrified (he says something like "Parents wouldn't send their kids out to strangers' houses to get things to eat" if it was), but embracing the fun part of things that go bump in the night. These films encapsulate that feeling perfectly, and we are lucky to have them as options if/when we want a break from Michael Myers.