Halloween is a special time of the year for horror movie fans. 364 days out of the year, our near encyclopedic knowledge of the kinds of movies where power tools are regularly applied to the bodies of screaming co-eds isn’t exactly the kind of thing you can bring up at trendy parties. But for one, beautiful day out of every year, if you have a reputation for knowing horror flicks, that knowledge becomes a commodity for all your normal friends looking for something gross and fun to watch on Halloween night.
So as in years past, this FFR is devoted to a few of fun picks I’ve recently stumbled across that would make solid viewing for your Halloween activities this year.
“When the world is ruled by violence and the soul of mankind fades, the children’s path shall be darkened by the shadows of the Neon Maniacs.”
Right now, you’re probably wondering what the hell that means, and while I’ve seen the movie, I’m honestly as in the dark as you are. But that brief, puzzling opening monologue is the closest thing to rhyme or reason we’re given in the events of Neon Maniacs, a 1986 monster flick that sees, among other things, a monstrous samurai, a caveman, a cop, and a Native American warrior emerge from the Golden Gate bridge to wreak havoc and mayhem. Are they ghosts? Zombies? The product of some kind of gypsy curse? God only knows, but the film is fun enough that any lingering questions you may have get quickly cast aside.
Neon Maniacs feels like it was probably intended to start off a future cult horror franchise, something in the vein of Puppet Master. Sadly, it never happened and all we got was this one, weird, goofy as all hell but somehow endearing flick, a fun little monster romp that feels like it was probably someone’s passion project. Somewhere out there, there’s an alternate reality where Neon Maniacs became this cult horror classic with a dozen or so sequels, high-end merchandise and an impossibly detailed wiki. We don’t live in that universe, and if you ask me that’s a shame.
But if you’re in for a more traditional, slightly less batty monster flick, Pumpkinhead may be what you’re looking for. Genre mainstay Lance Henricksen plays a good ol’ boy whose son is killed in an accident involving some rowdy teens, and does the only thing a grieving father would do in this situation: go to an old spooky woods-witch who uses his blood to summon Pumpkinhead, a snarling vengeance demon who proceeds to hunt down and kill the aforementioned teens.
What I love about Pumpkinhead is how defiantly oldschool it is. The story has this intentionally folkloric bent to it, like this could almost have been a Jersey Devil movie or something. There’s no hint of modern cynicism or post-modern hipness to elements like the scary witch, who naturally lives in a smokey forest, has a big ol’ crooked nose and lets out one of the all time great “Witch Cackles” near the end of the flick. It isn’t trying to be hip or edgy, it just wants to be a dyed-in-the-wool monster flick with lots of gory kills and a big cool monster at the center.
And speaking of which, Pumpkinhead himself is a glorious pre-CGI animatronic affair created by Stan Winston (who also sat in the Director’s chair for this one), the now departed effects guru who worked on everything from the Terminator flicks, Aliens, and even the first Iron Man. The creature may not be the most elaborate or iconic in Winston’s repertoire, but looks damn good on screen even today.
But if you’re in the mood for something in a bare bones but effective slasher flick, no monsters or witches, just a crazy dude, a bunch of victims and a pretty decent gore effects department, maybe I can interest you in Intruder.
The set-up is simple, after the announcement that a local grocery store will soon be closing down, the owners and staff have to pull an all-nighter marking everything down. Of course, prices aren’t the only thing getting slashed (sorry, I had to) when a mysterious killer shows up and starts picking the staffers off one by one.
Even though you can enjoy sincerely, thanks mostly to some solid gore effects by Greg Nicotero, Intruder is a hell of a lot of fun to just riff on with your friends, which is exactly how I first enjoyed it. It has all these weird aesthetic choices, like POV shots from inanimate objects that led me and my friends to the running gag that half the items in the store were actually “were-things” that turned into phones and boxes of facial tissue by the light of the moon. Neon Maniacs has the same riff-worthy qualities, but Intruder comes a bit closer to balancing between being a big goofy romp and actually serviceable slasher fare.
Walk-on appearances by Ted and Sam Raimi and Bruce “Don’t Call me Ash” Campbell don’t exactly hurt either.