How to Plan the Perfect Halloween Horror Movie Marathon
Historically, Halloween is the most popular holiday when it comes to watching movies at home. Christmas might have more sentimental favorites, but when it comes to people watching movies in the luxury of their own living spaces, Halloween has it beat, hands down. And, as such, it's tempting to want to have a Halloween movie marathon, particularly in the weekend before Halloween and especially because television doesn't really do the holiday the service that it once did (AMC used to have an entire month of Halloween-related programming, usually hosted by a horror luminary like Tim Burton; now you're lucky you get a week of genre-related fare beyond an endless marathon of "Walking Dead" episodes).
So, with that in mind, here are some ways to optimize your Halloween movie marathon experience at home. This list assumes you are going to watch all of this in a single day, but the rules and guidelines could be applied to a marathon that stretches out over multiple days. Just take these lessons to heart and your Halloween movie marathon will be 10 times spookier and more enjoyable than that yutz down the hall from you (yeah, you heard me, Roy).
10 a.m. | Start Slow
So, you've just poured yourself a bowl of Franken Berry cereal (oh, sorry, you're more of a Count Chocula person) and you want to get this marathon off to a great start. But it's a little too early for blood and guts and flying eyeballs. Instead, start off with something calmer and tamer: "Mad Monster Party," the Rankin/Bass stop-motion charmer that features the voices of Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller, or maybe one of the "Hotel Transylvania" films (I'd say the second one; there are more gags and it's generally zippier and more enjoyable). Other applicable titles: Tim Burton's wonderful, under-appreciated stop-motion animated "Frankenweenie" or last year's somewhat undercooked "Goosebumps" adaptation. "Daffy Duck's Quackbusters," a 1988 package film featuring some of the very best Halloween-themed Looney Tunes, is also a top-notch pick. Another great choice would be something like "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." The point is: start slow, start gentle, enjoy your monster-themed cereal.
11:30 a.m. | Palette Cleanser
Okay, so you've just watched something that is equal parts sweet and scary (and, if for some reason you haven't, don't worry, there's another opportunity later on), why not take a moment and indulge in a brief bit of nastiness, with an hour-ish devoted to your favorite horror show? Obviously, you could do two episodes of "The Twilight Zone," "Tales from the Crypt," or "Tales from the Darkside" (currently on excellent horror streaming service American Horror Story," or that episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" where they all turn into their Halloween costumes (the one, later on, with the tiny demon at the frat party is pretty good, too).
12:30 p.m. | Midday Hokum
It's always fun to watch a little something more goofy than scary, especially when the sun is still out. This was one of the pleasures of the old horror movie marathons. In the daytime, you'd get to see something that wasn't exactly bone-chilling but was fun, in a campy kind of way. If you want some fun '60s camp, go with one of director William Castle's schlocky classics, like "Homicidal" (1961) or "Strait-Jacket" (1964). "Straight-Jacket" starred Joan Crawford, so the camp value might be higher. This slot also seems primed for a bit of stop-motion fun, so why not check out "The Valley of Gwangi," quite possibly the greatest (and only) cowboys-versus-dinosaurs romp you're likely to see, featuring visual effects by pioneer Ray Harryhausen, based on a story co-conceived by the godfather of stop-motion Willis O'Brien, who died before production began. You could also do one of the myriad of giant monster movies from the atomic era, like "Them" or "The Giant Gila Monster."
2:30 | Escalate the Intensity
OK, you're settling into the afternoon, time to turn the dial up a little bit. The sun is still out and it's still early enough in the day that a full-on bloodbath isn't ideal, but you can still escalate the intensity. Think about things like "Tremors," "Gremlins" (although, you might want to save that for Christmas), "The Monster Squad," or "Army of Darkness." Nothing too intense, but definitely a step up from earlier in the day; this is your gateway movie.
4:30 | Afternoon Anthology
For some reason, late afternoon is the perfect time for a good, old-fashioned horror anthology. Horror anthologies just feel like Saturday afternoon cable programming; this is where so many of us discovered these cobbled-together classics. Watch the excellent "Tales from the Darkside: The Movie," which fills this slot nicely. Other contenders include the uneven but fun "Twilight Zone: The Movie," the John Carpenter-supervised "Body Bags," Stephen King's "Cat's Eye," and one of the recent undisputed kings of the horror anthology, "Trick 'r Treat." If you want to go with an emphasis on first-person gore, any of the "V/H/S" movies would do the trick ("Safe Haven" from "V/H/S/2" is the best), and if you like your horror both intense and foreign, then check out "Three ... Extremes." Of course, the best horror anthology of all time is, arguably, George A. Romero and Stephen King's "Creepshow." A colorful ode to the classic horror comics of yore, this captures the perfectly goofy should-I-be-watching-this spirit of discovering these horror comedies as a youth.
6:30 | Half-Hour Classic
Ready for another palette-cleanser? It's time for a half-hour Halloween classic, before the main run of the night's entertainment begins. Obviously, the go-to is "The Simpsons." It doesn't get much better than "Treehouse of Horror IV," which features wraparound segments written by Conan O'Brien, and the greatest string of segments in between -- "The Devil and Homer Simpson," "Terror at 5 1/2 Feet" (a parody of a famous "Twilight Zone" episode that was remade in the '80s movie), and "Bart Simpson's Dracula." (The following year's "V" was also great.) The point is to have a bit of nostalgic fun before the serious scares start -- oh, and eat some dinner. You'll need your strength.
7:30 | An Undisputed Classic
This is it, the time when you put on an honest-to-devil favorite. We're talking "The Omen," "The Exorcist," "The Shining," and other horror mainstays that don't have definitive articles (grammar humor!) If you're watching with others, consider this a fundamental crowd-pleaser that will get everyone in the Halloween spirit (even if they've been grumbling about your selections so far). If you're watching by yourself, think of this as paying homage to the horror gods by watching something classy and timeless: "Rosemary's Baby," "Night of the Living Dead," "Don't Look Now," "Psycho," "The Howling," or one of the Universal Monster movies (hey, the interconnected Dark Universe is just around the corner). This is your chance to really watch one of your favorites, in a wonderful, slightly sleepy setting.
9:30 | The Centerpiece Film
You've done the classics, now it's time for your centerpiece film. This is a statement movie. Maybe it's one of your personal go-to's that you feel has been unjustly overlooked (like the subtle zombie freak-out "Dead & Buried" or the superb 3D remake of "Fright Night"), maybe it's a recent film that you can't wait to watch again (hello, "The Neon Demon") or maybe it's something that feels epic and strange in a way that feels desirably Halloween, like this is the only night that you can get away with watching it (the complete "Grindhouse" double-feature, maybe?) This is something that you play to either remind yourself of what you love about horror movies, or to blow the minds of the people in the room. Bonus points if the movie you play actually has minds being blow out of the back of somebody's skull. Pour one out for pink mist.
11:30 | Go Out With a Bang
You've made it! It's almost midnight! But you've got to stay awake. But ... how? By watching a movie so outrageous, so insane, so full of wall-to-wall violence that you can't sleep (and when you finally do sleep, you'll probably have nightmares). To me, "The Return of the Living Dead" (which was recently re-released in a great new edition by Scream Factory) is the perfect movie. It's got tons of violence and nudity, is really funny, and has such a quick pace that it doesn't slow down for even a minute. Something like "Hausu," the bonkers Japanese cult classic, would be spot-on, as would Alexandre Aja's blood-soaked remake of "Piranha." The point is: it's going to be something zippy enough that it'll keep your attention and also be a satisfactory close to a movie marathon that has lasted you all day.