Retro Rental: 20 Scary Movies to Get You Ready for Halloween

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Universal/Overture Films/New Line Cinema

[Depending on what's in theaters, what's in the news or what's on his mind, film critic James Rocchi brings you The Retro Rental, an older film on disc or download that connects with the here-and-now. ...]

It's easy to feel ambiguous about Halloween -- so much delight and so much excess, every sign of joy on the face of a true believer paid for with a grim, hobbled, hollow-eyed walk of shame home on one broken high heel -- in my case, a shame specifically because my "Sexy Ripley in 'Aliens'" costume was, like, totally both interpretive and respectful. But there can be a middle way -- the fun-size package. A tiny Twix is better than too many, and far better than none at all. With that in mind, this week's Retro Rental is a Halloween Fun-Size Edition -- 20 sentences about 20 scary films, done with no notes and only a cup of coffee to guide me as I write, in one stream-of-consciousness sitting, an attempted mix of usual suspects and curveballs for your potential browsing and enjoyment between now and Halloween...

  • 1

    'Zodiac'

    Worth re-visiting even more so in light of the recent death of Harris Savides, but also David Fincher's excruciating, invigorating, fascinating look at the central fear of our past American decade: The terror of not knowing when the terror will be over.

  • 2

    'Day Night Day Night'

    A ticking-clock political thriller about where monsters come from, and what they do, and long day's journey that plays like the slowed-down version of Petula Clark's 'Downtown' for playing at funerals.

  • 3

    'Pan's Labyrinth'

    Bedtime stories and the worlds around and below us, fraught with both ethereal beauty and a brute-force kick as real as a cloven hoot at the end of a childhood bed.

  • 4

    'Inside'

    The Weinstein Company

    A nativity story, and a tale of motherhood, and a desperate harrowing siege as a woman outside at a late hour on a snowy night before Christmas at a lovely house in France knocks to tell the due-any-time pregnant woman alone inside 'Let me in … and I'll cut out your baby …' before making good on her word in this near-perfect meshing of crimson and character.

  • 5

    'The Creature from the Black Lagoon'

    Strange creatures and the ripe rotting musk of creation and desire in vivid black and white, capped off with a truly moving performance by, yes, the title being.

  • 6

    'The Brood'

    David Cronenberg called this his 'Kramer vs. Kramer,' but his divorce-horror film pulls no punches, with a brilliant slippery sense of the id unleashed and drenched in a poisoned mother's milk of revenge.

  • 7

    'My Little Eye'

    This cheapie-chiller about a reality TV show set in a desolate wild only has one great scene -- really one great moment -- but really, one great scare is better than none.

  • 8

    'Kill List'

    The single most grimly riveting experience I've had in a theater in the past decade as a man and a mission slide, blood-slick and stone-cold, into hell with queasy slowness.

  • 9

    'Near Dark'

    Well before twilight -- literally and figuratively -- Kathryn Bigelow ripped the ruffles and slapped the powder off the vampire film, making for a scarlet shocker ripe with two-fisted madness to boot.

  • 10

    'The Host'

    A giddy creature-feature with buckets of heart and a perfectly scary unique creature, and a grade-A B-movie.

  • 11

    'We Need To Talk About Kevin'

    Monsters and the unknown playing out on the bright lawns of America, with bloodstains left everywhere as Tilda Swinton tries to comprehend her killer son Ezra Miller.

  • 12

    'Paper Mask'

    A lost neo-Hitchcock gem with Paul Mcgann ('Withnail and I') as an orderly who finds a dead doctor's wallet … and slips into a dead doctor's life with kind of the charm, confidence and guts that are no substitute for an actual medical degree …

  • 13

    'Dawn of the Dead'

    Yes, the Snyder re-make, just for the brilliant pre- and actual credits sequence that works as brilliant film making about 9/11 with a hangman's short, sharp shock.

  • 14

    'All the Boys Love Mandy Lane'

    Another lost film, and the swiftest and smartest re-invention of the slasher film since 'Scream,' as to-die-for popular girl Amber Heard is a teenage dream that turns to a nightmare.

  • 15

    'Phase IV'

    Visual design maestro Saul Bass directed one film, this trippy '70s eco-terror about a group of scientific observers who are being observed right back.

  • 16

    'Slither'

    Another great creature feature, and a nice piece of work from writer-director James Gunn; I wasn't a fan of his 'Super,' but 'Slither' is another horror film that, like 'The Host,' contains nice nods to the past and also marches to the beat of its own weird weird drummer.

  • 17

    'The Crazies'

    And yes, the original -- for one great scene that's a textbook example of great sound editing in horror films plus the spirit of its time coming for you with either guns or bare hands.

  • 18

    'An American Werewolf in London'

    As the horror-film version of 'Why Bad things Happen to Good People,' it shouldn't work -- but it does, and magnificently, and with real pathos and real fake fur.

  • 19

    'Pontypool'

    The zombie film for word nerds, as language becomes a transmission virus and a radio DJ is our last baritone hope, holed up inside the glassed-walled broadcast booth unsure if he's broadcasting salvation or destruction.

  • 20

    You Decide!

    … And for the last treat, a trick: Please name whichever single horror film you love -- B-side or hit -- this list made you think of, so we can, for lack of a better term, pay it gore-ward?

(These films are available on disc, download or possibly through a shifty-eyed clerk in the back of your local very good video store.)
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