Monday, November 2, 2009

Diluting Halloween

I must not have much of a social life, because for the last five Halloween nights, I've been home watching a scary movie. Or at least a movie that was trying to be scary.

Up until this year, I have had a decent excuse. The previous four Halloweens fell on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. And yeah, you might go out for Halloween on a Friday night, but not if you're old, like my wife and I are. In fact, people less old than we are would go out any night of the week, and damn the consequences.

This year? Well, the Halloween party we usually attend was held on the previous Saturday, and my wife is in the midst of a really (I mean really) busy time. We did stop briefly by the Halloween bash being thrown by our next-door neighbors, which included karaoke, people who had flown in just for the occasion, and nearly 100% participation in wearing costumes. But we stayed for only 10 minutes, so I hardly think that counts. Besides, we had to get back to watch ... another scary movie.

And because those previous Halloweens all fell on weekdays, I'd seen nothing but scary movies on Halloween since that 2005 starting point of the current five-year streak/tradition. (I started keeping track of the dates I'd seen movies in 2002, but didn't watch anything on Halloween in 2002, 2003 and 2004). By that I mean none of them were days when I realistically could have gotten two movies in, since I was working. I guess the notable exception there was 2006, when Halloween was my last day of freedom before starting my current job. I did watch a second movie that day, and while it doesn't quite qualify as a horror, it is pretty damn grisly -- the craptacular Caligula, which includes gruesome disembowelments and plenty of other violence. So I count that as sticking with the theme.

This Halloween was a Saturday, which meant I had a full day open for potentially watching movies. Errands? Around-the-house projects? P'shaw. (Actually, I did get my hair cut). And my wife was out all day with one of those many things that are keeping her very busy. Even more of an opportunity for a mini-marathon.

So I diluted my Halloween horror streak about as blatantly as I could, watching a romantic dramedy about a highly mischievous dog: Marley & Me.

I actually had a handful of choices in the scary movie category. I'd borrowed both Poltergeist and Let's Scare Jessica to Death, a 1971 horror I knew nothing about except the title, from the library. But I didn't know which one we might watch that night, and besides, I started watching Marley & Me with my morning coffee. Horror before 9 a.m. just isn't that scary.

So sometimes I just like to let the choices come to me randomly, to cherry-pick them off the selections available OnDemand. When I saw Marley & Me, I knew that was probably going to be the choice. I like both Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, and had read an A- review of it in Entertainment Weekly when it came out last December. So Marley & Me it was.

Since that was all I really wanted to write about today -- the not-as-interesting-as-I've-made-it-out-to-be "irony" of watching Marley & Me on Halloween -- I might as well make a short story even longer by giving you a quick rundown of the titles we've entrusted to scare us over the last five Halloweens.

2005: Saw (2004, James Wan). My love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with the Saw series began on this date four years ago, my last Halloween that I lived alone. Perhaps it was being alone in the house that made this one creepier than it would have ordinarily been. After all, some of my friends left the theater laughing after Saw. But it worked for me, and got me excited enough about these films' potential for squirmy gore that I saw the execrable Saw II in the theater less than two weeks later.

2006: The Hills Have Eyes (2006, Alexandre Aja). Aja's High Tension has one of the most bogus endings you will ever seen in a movie, but up until that point, it was pretty freaking great, so I was interested to see what he could do with the Hills Have Eyes remake. (Despite not having seen the original.) I lived with my wife/then-girlfriend by this point, and she was okay with it too. Invigorating technique and some exquisitely graphic and disturbing scenes, but weird structure: Instead of killing off the innocents one by one throughout the movie, the ones that die are killed off within a ten-minute period in the middle of the movie.

2007: Cronos (1993, Guillermo del Toro). Pan's Labyrinth had whetted our appetite for del Toro's earlier work, and we'd heard this one was creepy. I honestly don't remember it that well, but his interest in bugs -- seen a few years later in Mimic, then regularly in the rest of his work -- was already present here. It was macabre and squirmy enough to do the trick on Halloween.

2008: One Missed Call (2008, Eric Valette). For the first time in this tradition, we did not prepare by renting something, so we let OnDemand dictate what we might watch. Bad move. One Missed Call came up massively short of the standards set by its predecessors, failing even to be as good as most bad Hollywood knock-offs of Japanese horrors that probably weren't as good as they were hyped to be in the first place. Please, I don't want to laugh on Halloween. I've got to learn not to let a good poster (featuring a ghostly face with two screaming mouths for eyes) hold undue sway over my better judgment.

2009: Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971, John Hancock). Ah, the 1970s. Back then they really knew how to creep you out -- no sophisticated gore effects necessary. I'm surprised I'd never heard anything about this film, since it absolutely gave me the willies for almost the full running time. A mentally disturbed woman, her husband and one of their friends leave the city for the countryside in order to try to clear her head, but end up in a mansion that's known to locals as the potentially haunted home of a woman who drowned in the lake behind the house in the late 19th century. Hancock does more with a vacant look, a whispered voice and an eerie soundtrack than all the buckets of blood and startle scares used by hacks in the last 20 years of horror filmmaking. Highly recommended. An additional testament to the film -- even the fact that karaoke was blasting through our closed windows didn't break the mood. (On a side note, we were referring to it as Let's Make Jenny Scared all night because that's the title my wife absorbed from a quick glance at the DVD cover.)

Happy (late) Halloween, everyone.

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