Every Halloween I sit near the front door with a huge bowl of candy, and another bowl for trick-or-treaters. In front of me I have propped up a tablet on which I always have a classic scary movie playing. Well… sometimes scary. Most of the time it’s more of a funny-scary. It’s my personal Halloween tradition now that I live in the suburbs.
This year, my wife will be joining a friend and they’ll be taking the kids trick or treating. My son will be barely two months old. Yeah. I was invited to join them, but I think I’ll stay right here and continue my tradition while slowly working myself into a sugar coma.
Here are four great movies you can enjoy as well… and for free online via either YouTube of Archives.org.
No slasher flicks. No serial killers or purges. Just good Halloween fun.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
Famed comic duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello play Chick and Wilbur, a pair of baggage handlers at a Florida train station, who receive a shipment addressed to a wax museum that supposedly contains the bodies of Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. After a botched phoned-in warning from Lawrence “Wolf Man” Talbot (played by Lon Chaney Jr.), trouble begins. As this is a comic mashup with classic Universal horror monsters, it’s no surprise that Dracula (played by Bela Lugosi) rises and, in turn, revives the monster (played by Glenn Strange). The plan? Dracula is teaming up with a gifted surgeon who intends to correct Dr. Frankenstein’s original mistake and replace the monster’s brain with a more manageable one, in this case, Wilbur’s.
Hijinks ensue. The Wolf Man shows up and helps out Chick and Wilbur. Monsters are chased off and/or destroyed. Or are they? Keep an eye open for an invisible cameo at the end.
Fun fact: Despite Lugosi being best known for playing Dracula in the original 1931 film, this is only the second time he has ever played the actual character in a film. He has played other vampires in film, but not actually Dracula again for any amount of time until Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.
This was the first of several Abbot & Costello meet Universal monster movies. Future films feature Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Mummy, and The Invisible Man. They’re all fun, but this is the one I make sure to catch every year around this time. There are a few official releases available on DVD and it’s now available on Blu-ray, and there’s a nice clean version available from the Internet Archive.
Plan Nine From Outer Space
Sci fi or horror? It can be both. Unintentionally funny? Well, that’s part of its legacy. That, and it being the final film of Bela Lugosi. This movie’s reputation precedes itself, but in short: aliens want to stop Earth from developing weapons that may one day pose a threat to the galaxy. They enact “Plan 9” which raises the dead in hopes of giving mankind another threat to deal with, and to listen to the aliens in rejecting doomsday weapons. If not, the aliens will use their armies of ghouls to wipe out humanity.
Long hailed as the worst movie ever made, its campy quality, bad acting, cheap and obvious special effects, and low-budget stagecraft all make for a fun movie to watch if for no other reason to laugh at it. The legacy of the film is as entertaining as the film itself.
The Tim Burton film, Ed Wood, does a great job in telling the story of the making of the film and the life of the iconic writer-director starring Johnny Depp. It’s a surprisingly good film for something from Tim Burton. And yes, Bela Lugosi died during the filming of this movie and was replaced by a larger actor who covered half his face with a cape, and bore no resemblance to Lugosi.
Not even close.
On the plus side, this film showcases the acting talents of Swedish pro wrestler Tor Johnson.
Obviously, this is a prime movie for the MST3K treatment. To fill that need, Mike Nelson of MST3K fame and RiffTrax has a download available at rifftrax.com, and there are some excellent versions available on Hulu and Amazon Prime. But even without the commentary, it’s a fun movie to watch on its own with friends. Everyone should see it at least once.
Seems a shame to go this whole column without at least one giant monster movie. While Japanese kaiju movies are great and all, I’ve always had a soft spot for Them!, a movie about giant, radioactive ants. A nest of these ants are discovered in the New Mexico desert, but become a larger problem when a queen and its consorts escape to build a new nest in the sewers of Los Angeles. There’s a fair amount of tension and action as police and military scramble to contain the threat, and there is, of course, the underlying message of man’s impact on nature.
It’s a fun, action-packed movie, and was partly responsible for launching the career of Fess Parker (Disney’s Davy Crockett) and James Arness (Gunsmoke). A very pre-Star Trek Leonard Nimoy has an uncredited role as an army staff sergeant in the communications room scenes. Try and pick him out. (I don’t recommend watching this with babies in the house. The sound effects given to the giant ants seems to be disturbing to very young ears. Alas, I won’t be playing this again this month while my newborn son is within earshot.)
House on Haunted Hill
This is one of my favorite Vincent Price films. He’s a creepy, looming, and constant, subtle threat. Price, playing eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren, invites five guests to a strange party in which the guests will each receive $10,000 if they manage to survive the night in a “haunted” mansion Loren and his equally creepy wife have rented. There is a lot going on–not just involved in frightening the guests with strange happenings and gunshots in the dark, but a husband and wife who despise each other, and a long-standing knowledge that the wife (Annabelle) is trying to kill the husband (Loren).
After a series of jump scares and other horror tropes, Annabelle and her lover fall victim to their own machinations, but the film closes on an even creepier note as the unrepentant Loren accepts whatever justice will dish out, then ends as one of the guests–a true believer in the supernatural–turns to the audience and warns that the ghosts are coming for you, too!
It’s a fun, classic gothic horror story. One of its claims to fame is that it was directed by notorious director William Castle who was known for him gimmicks. In this case, it’s the floating skeleton in the basement of the haunted mansion. In theaters, a large plastic skeleton would fly over the crowd on wires. In the film, it’s still pretty effective.
House on Haunted Hill makes for a great “drawing room horror” (as compared to “drawing room comedy”). It’s a good ensemble cast, placed in a great setting, and a very entertaining character study in addition to a chilling story. Highly recommended. There is also a Rifftrax version on Hulu, but you can view the original on YouTube.
Which is going to be my Halloween night’s viewing this year? Hard to say. Probably not Them! considering how the baby reacted. I’m leaning toward the Abbott & Costello one, but Vincent Price is good too. I’ve watched Plan 9 too much too recently. I think I need a break from that.
I think the way it will go will be Abbott & Costello while waiting on trick-or-treaters, and House on Haunted Hill just before bed.
Yeah. Just before bed.
What could go wrong?
Cheers! And Happy Halloween!