Watch, listen… & be afraid10/4/2017
Des Moines filmmaker Kristian Day reveals his creepy playlist of Halloween movies and music
I just wanted to watch some scary movies
The year was 1992, I was in first grade at Jordan Catholic School in Rock Island, Illinois. This was the first Halloween I ever took seriously. There had been previous Halloweens of course, but this was the first time I didn’t let my mother pick out my costume. I thought vampires might be in since the Francis Ford Coppola directed “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” was about to come out in November, and the movie had a huge marketing campaign. Every video game console from Gameboy to Amiga all had lame 8-bit and 16-bit adventure games with ads that looked way cooler than the games themselves.
So my dad helped pick out the costume: a cape, white face paint, black hair spray, red blood paint and those cheap plastic fangs that rip apart your gums every time you bite down. The black pants, shoes and a white shirt I already owned as they were part of my school uniform. My classmates’ costumes were pretty lame. A couple clowns, a cowboy and probably six princesses were all sitting around me in this classroom that dated back to the 1960s. We would spend the morning having normal classes and then after lunch we would change into our costumes and prepare for our Halloween party.
Our teacher, Mrs. Sissel (who probably had been teaching since the 1960s), played several Halloween themed
records while we played games and ate candy. I remember it being one of those old suitcase-style record players with a built-in speaker that played everything in mono. Every record sounded dirty or was scratched, and I thought it was some of the best recordings I had ever heard. The day wrapped up with the teachers taking all the kids on a costume parade around the school grounds. Even the kids who forgot their costumes had to do a walk of shame with the rest of us.
When we got home, it was time for trick-ortreating, which I fully indulged in without listening to the warnings from my parents about apples with razor blades. (I hated apples, so I was safe.) I was still an only child, so it would just be my dad and me going door-to-door. He would stand close to the street smoking cigarettes while I gathered candy until my pillowcase was full of teeth-rotting, sugary goodness. We would head back home and end the night with my dad taking pride in showing me a couple horror movies that he thought would “wreck” me: “The Exorcist,” “The Omen” and “When A Stranger Calls.”
But after Halloween was over, everything returned to normal. Life was no longer interesting, and I quickly became bored with the normal day to day — so bored that my interest in horror movies and monsters stuck with me. By the time my mother and I moved to Cedar Rapids, I was going to Mr. Movies and renting seven movies for $7 for seven days. I would watch every horror movie I could find: “Dawn of the Dead,” “Faces of Death,” “Slumber Party Massacre,” “Hellraiser,” etc. When other kids were playing sports, I just wanted to watch more movies. I didn’t really fit in, and the kids who were sort of similar to me in the sense that they didn’t like sports were not into horror movies either. They were into anime and Pokémon, which I thought was totally lame.
I couldn’t get enough. But what is extremely important in all of this is that I am not into violence, and I never enjoyed horror films for violence. I enjoyed them for their creativity. A wild imagination is needed to come up with these ideas. Violent people commit violence; they don’t create art. I owe it to these films for igniting my interest in music and film and leading me to the career that I now have. My parents never worried about my getting weird
and violent because I never had those intentions. I just wanted to watch some scary movies and let my
imagination go wild. ♦
My 13 horror film selections
Author’s note: As big of a horror fan as I am, I am not into slashers. There is some nostalgia I get from watching the “Halloween,” “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th” films, but to be honest, I find the entire slasher genre quite boring. Demonic possession/exorcist movies are heading that direction for me, too. All of the films I feature in this story are, for the most part, one-of-a-kind movies.
“House By The Cemetery” (1981) directed by Lucio Fulci
When it comes to Italian horror, I am one of the trolls who prefer the majority of Lucio Fulci’s films versus the majority who loves Dario Argento. (I am still a huge Argentofan but sometimes I could do without the black gloves.) This was a film that I first became aware of after I heard a dialog sample on the Mortician (New York death metal band) album of the same name. I picked up a cheap DVD in Walmart in the $3 bin back in 2003 that turned out to be an illegal bootleg. Basically, a family moves into a big house (next to a cemetery), and there is an evil mutant scientist who lives in the basement. The kills are great. The movie opens with a young couple just wrapping things up after some hot action, and it unfortunately ends with the mutant doctor putting a rather large knife in the back of a young girl’s head.
“Monster Squad” (1987) directed by Fred Dekker
If you are a fan of the “Goonies” or the more recent “Stranger Things,” you will love “Monster Squad.” It’s a horror
adventure/coming-of-age film that definitely hits home for me. A group of misfit kids have a monster club. Little do
they know that there are real monsters who are in a league with Dracula and are trying to take over the world. You will learn that the Mummy is a weak villain, and that the Wolfman has “nards.” This is worth a watch.
“Scanners” (1981) directed by David Cronenberg
My favorite horror director is David Cronenberg (known as the king of venereal horror). I could have easily listed
four or five of his films on this list. “Scanners” hit home for me. There are a group of people who have psychic
abilities and a company called ConSec wants to use them for scientific purposes, until a renegade scanner rages war against them. This film features one of the most iconic head explosion scenes in horror film history. If you are into “Scanners,” also check out “Videodrome,” “The Fly” (remake) and “Rabid.”
“It Follows” (2014) directed by David Robert Mitchell
I don’t care for too many of the modern horror films, but “It Follows” is a beautiful masterpiece. There are so many ways to interpret this movie. There is an invisible force that follows its prey until it catches them. The only way to lose it is by having sex with another person, then that invisible force starts going after that person until he or she has sex with someone else and passes it on. The only people who see this predator are the ones who have been passed the curse. This movie is incredibly smart. The music also plays a huge role and sticks with you, just like several scenes in this movie. There is some deep Cronenberg worship with this movie (whether the director admits it or not). I cannot recommend this movie enough.
“Suspiria” (1977) directed by Dario Argento
This masterpiece just got a 4k restoration, and it looks amazing. Dargio Argento is known by many as the Italian maestro of horror. This is his best-known work and rightfully so. “Suspiria” takes place in a prestigious German dance academy that turns out to be run by a coven of witches. The term “balls out” definitely can be used to describe this movie, as it is beautifully orchestrated between the story, the visuals and the music (performed
by the progressive rock band Goblin).
“Maximum Overdrive” (1986) directed by Stephen King
I love a good party movie. This was the only feature film that horror author Stephen King was allowed to make, and it’s amazing. It opens with the man himself walking up to an ATM machine, and the screen reads “You are an asshole.” So, long story short, a comet flies over the earth, and all the machines in the world have turned against humans. Lawnmowers, toasters, video games and the main villain: a bunch of semi-trucks at a gas station. Did I mention that the soundtrack was by AC/DC? Well it is, and they even pay homage to the shrieking sounds heard in the shower scene in “Psycho.”
“Trick ‘R Treat” (2007) directed by Michael Dougherty
This is another one of the few modern horror films that I really dig. I would even go as far as to say that this film does a solid job of actually capturing the Halloween spirit that I find myself chasing after all these years. It’s an anthology film, but all the different stories are connected and interwoven in an extremely reative way. My personal favorite is the story of the bus filled with special needs kids whose parents paid off the driver to drown them all in a flooded quarry.
“Cemetery Man” (1994) directed by Michael Soavi
This movie is not for everyone. I first saw this on HBO at 2 a.m. when I was 15 years old. It is loosely based on the Italian comic book titled “Dylan Dog.” Rupert Everett plays Francesco Dellamorte, a groundskeeper at a cemetery where the dead seem to come out of their graves after a few days of being buried. He falls in love with a widow of one the recently departed, and when they are making love on his grave, he crawls out and bites her. Francesco goes on a spree of killing everyone who comes back from the grave until Death appears and orders him to stop killing the dead. This film is one of a kind, and nothing has ever come close to it. Watch this movie in the dark and when you are only half awake.
“The Witch” (2015) directed by Robert Eggers
If there is one film people will argue with me on it will be this one, but I will stand my ground on it. This movie’s creep factor is at the top of the game. The film is heavily inspired by the 1922 documentary “Haxan” that was a fictional history of witchcraft through the ages. A Puritan family builds a farm that is secluded near the woods. They have a child who is kidnapped, killed and made into an ointment. The kidnapping of the child triggers the family to unravel. This movie hits so many right notes, although some horror fans might find it boring. It’s not a party movie. It’s a movie that takes itself very seriously.
“Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things” (1972) directed by Bob Clark
From the director of “Porkies” and “A Christmas Story” comes something that is completely different. This was Bob Clark’s second feature film that he made for $70,000. Six annoying theatre kids (I say kids, but they are in their 20s) go to an abandoned island — that is only really used as a place to bury the dead — to have a “coming out” party. They dig up a dead body, say some crazy occult talk and eventually all the dead people who are buried on the island come back to life. This movie is really fun and has great “grit factor” to it.
“Return of the Living Dead” (1985) directed by Dan O’Bannon
If rock ‘n’ roll could be a metaphorical horror movie, the original “Return of the Living Dead” would be that film. The film was written by John Russo and was intended to be a sequel to “Night of the Living Dead,” however he and George Romero parted ways. George went on to make the more serious and ominous sequel “Dawn Of The Dead,” and John Russo went off to make horror black comedy sequel “Return of the Living Dead.” They are two very different films, both amazing in their own right. This movie featured a bunch of punk kids dancing in a cemetery. Acid rain falls onto the graves and awakens the dead, and all they want to do is eat human brains. The movie and the soundtrack are a good time all around. The film features great tunes by The Cramps, TSOL, 45 Grave and Roky Erickson.
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II” (1986) directed by Tobe Hooper
This film deserves a mention not only because Tobe Hooper recently passed away, but because this movie is in a league of its own. In comparison to the original (which is one of my favorite films ever made), this movie is out of control. This one totally falls under the party movie category, and the black comedy aspect outweighs the horror. That being said, I think both films are outstanding. Where the original movie is gritty and has high anxiety, this film gives you constant thoughts of “WTF?” Leatherface is very different, as he only has one mask on in the entire film, but his personality is much weirder, especially when he thinks the chainsaw is a sexual extension of himself. The music in this movie is similar to “Return of the Living Dead” with the rock ‘n’ roll /punk rock attitude with songs by The Cramps, Oingo Boingo and Timbuk3.
“Video Violence” (1987) directed by Gary P. Cohen
I had to slip in a shot-on-video (SOV) title into this mix, plus it’s a horror movie that takes place in a video store. Most of the titles listed were originally rented as videotapes from a Mr. Movies in Cedar Rapids. I could get seven tapes for $7, and this became my Friday ritual when I was growing up. SOV movies were generally made on small budgets from around $500 and up to $30,000. These movies were cheap and went direct to video. The acting was bad, the lighting was bad, and sometimes even the gore was bad. A lot of these movies were made in backyards with friends. “Video Violence” talks about a married couple that moves into town to run a video rental shop, but someone keeps leaving tapes of home movies of people getting murdered. The entire town is involved in a snuff film tape trading operation. Everything about this movie is pretty cheesy, but I like to think that it’s fun to see what small films people could make with their friends and with the cooperation and support of the community around them.
13 records to listen to around Halloween
A good Halloween music selection should be carefully considered. Some of these are harder to find than others. Some don’t even exist anymore, so I am sorry for being an elitist.
Author’s note: All records listed below were reviewed on the original vinyl release. No 180 gram $100 remastered re-releases. When at all possible, this should be the preferred way to listen to music.
John Carpenter & Alan Howarth – “Halloween III: Season of The Witch” OST
It might surprise people that my least favorite tune during the Halloween season is the original theme music to John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” I’m really over it. After so many years of hearing this, it has become a custom for me to take a three-and-a-half-minute restroom break when it plays. But the soundtrack to “Halloween III” gives me goosebumps every time the needle drops. The score is more diverse than the other films, even though it still holds on to that polished analog synthesizer charm and John Carpenter’s creepy/minimal melodies and rhythms. The “Main Title” is extremely ominous and dark, leading into my favorite track “Chariots of Pumpkins.” The overall art direction to this film is especially amazing with the original poster art of the three trick-or-treaters silhouetted with a red sky in the background.
Fred Myrow & Malcolm Seagrave – “Phantasm” OST
This score goes hand in hand with “Halloween III.” This one actually tops any of the “Halloween” soundtracks. It’s not entirely electronic, as they incorporate live percussion and an eerie church organ alongside the synthesizers. The melodies are a little more complex than John Carpenter’s and have more of a blues-style performance. If you close your eyes and play side A, you can transport yourself to the marbled interior of the mausoleum of Morningside Mortuary. This soundtrack also has a lighter side with some funk and disco tunes. This was the 1970s, after all.
Fastway – “Trick Or Treat” OST
Horror movies and 1980s hair metal go hand in hand. “Trick Or Treat” did not receive good reviews despite Gene Simmons’ amazing cameo (there is also a super lame cameo by Ozzy Osbourne) as a radio DJ named “Nuke” who gets fried by the demon rockstar villain. The band Fastway was given the job to compose all the satanic rock ’n’ roll songs that hypnotize and ultimately kill off the majority of the Lakeridge High Class of 1986. Highlights include all of side A: “Trick Or Treat,” “After Midnight,” “Don’t Stop the Fight,” “Stand Up” and “Tear Down The Walls.” Although side B falls short, the song “Get Tough” is righteous.
Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers – “The Original Monster Mash”
Call me old-fashioned, but this album always puts a smile on my face. I have owned the 45RPM single of “Monster Mash” for years, but only recently have I picked up a copy of the album. The weird humor of this album is fairly innocent, just like the era of 1962 when it was first released. If you are alive and human (or not?), you will recognize the title song “Monster Mash.” Some other goodies on this record include “Rabian The Fiendage Idol,” “Transylvania Twist” and “Sinister Stomp.”
Children of the Night – “Dinner With Drac!”
Now we enter my vault of obscurity. I originally discovered this album when I was working in Los Angeles and working on a story for Horrorhound Magazine on collecting horror-themed records. Imagine if The Doors performed as a discount cover band doing cheap knockoffs of Halloween party tunes. Pickwick International (whose catalog is mostly filled with children’s cover records of pop songs) released this album in 1976. The cover art features some familiar on-screen monsters in a “last supper”-style band photo. Only six out of the 12 tracks are actually songs; the other six are more like slapstick comedy sketches of the monsters running around a castle. The highlight of this album is the song “Dracula’s Undying Love,” which is where I get the The Doors worship from.
Steve Parson & Babel – “Howling II” OST
You will not be able to track this record down. I spent 15 years from the day I saw this movie looking for it and found it in a German record store in 2014. I have written about this record both in Fangoria Magazine (I made my first international phone call to interview Steve Parsons himself) and Horrorhound Magazine, and here I am with more to say about it. Filmtrax London was a one-stop shop for film producers when they needed a quick-and-dirty film score cranked out. Steve Parsons (formerly of the British punk band Sharks, who actually played Des Moines back in the 1970s) was given only an early draft of the movie script to base his music on. So the majority of the songs have lyrics with Parsons singing about the movie’s plot. The writer/director Philippe Mora also had written in a band to play on screen, so Parsons put together a fictional synth punk band called Babel that ended up playing the movie’s theme song live in a club, and the scene is used three times in the film. Highlights include “Howling Club Mix,” “Lover’s Sacrifice” and “Gotterdmmerung.” You will have to look for it on someone’s YouTube mix, as this LP went out of print the moment it hit the stands.
Wade Denning and Kay Lande – “Halloween”
This is another LP I spent years tracking down. Ebay was selling it for $60 or more, but I finally tracked it down at Half Price Books for $2.99 because someone was asleep at the wheel. I remember this record from when I was in grade school, and it still holds up. The opening song starts with “H A double L O W double E N spells Halloween!” It has a good, steady creep factor of howling winds, owls hooting and children narrating spooky nursery rhymes. Highlights include: “Halloween,” “The Pumpkin Tells” and “The Strange Three.” The cover art looks like something from a first grader or a right-handed adult who drew with a crayon in his left hand. As lighthearted as the album appears at first glance, it’s actually quite unsettling.
Misfits – “12 Hits From Hell” (author’s confession, this was a CD)
If you are a punk fan, you have probably annoyed the majority of the girlfriends you ever had by listening to albums by the original Misfits lineup. (Girls I have never dated have also told me that I dare not play a Misfits song in their presence.) But who needs a girlfriend when you have the Misfits? “12 Hits From Hell” is a great representation of the 1980s horror punk band (second only to the “Static Age” album). It features Bobby Steele from The Undead as the band’s second guitarist. This entire album is a highlight, but if I had to pick only a few: “Halloween,” “London Dungeon,” “Astro Zombies” and “Where Eagles Dare.”
“Return of the Living Dead” OST
A great party movie deserves a great party soundtrack. This album pairs well with cheap frosty beers and cheeseburgers. I would actually recommend playing the film on mute and then let the soundtrack play on the stereo on repeat while the dance party takes flight. Highlights include The Cramps’ “Surfin Dead,” 45 Grave’s “Partyime” (my favorite), TSOL “Nothing For You” and SSQ “Tonight (We Will Make Love Until We Die).”
Roky Erickson & The Aliens – “The Evil One”
I was 20 years old when I first heard this amazing record. This was horror rock ’n’ roll before anyone in the Misfits knew how to drive a car. The only thing that came close at this point was good ol’ Bobby “Boris” Pickett singing the “Monster Mash.” Every single song is amazing. The story goes that Roky Erickson — from Austin, Texas — actually wrote a bunch of Christian songs while in an insane asylum, but something snapped and he changed every reference of God or Jesus to Lucifer and included references to the occult and the paranormal. When I used to work odd retail jobs, I would plug my iPod into the overhead radio system and play this album. I would walk the aisles and see people tapping their feet to these horror-themed rock ‘n’ roll songs. Someone finally approached me about the music when the song “Night of the Vampire” was playing. Check out “Two Headed Dog,” “Bloody Hammer” (my favorite) and “If You Have Ghosts.”
The Undead – “Act Your Rage”
I own two copies: the original LP and the cassette (autographed by Bobby Steele). As mentioned earlier, this is Bobby Steele’s post-Misfits band. This is just a compilation album of recordings made between 1984 and 1986. Most of these tracks are demos, and they definitely have a garage/basement feel to them. The entire record is a fun jam and mixes well with Misfits, Roky Erickson and the “Return of the Living Dead” OST. The first five songs on this record should be in your party mix. My top three are “Evening of Desire,” “Hollywood Blvd” and “Eve of Destruction.”
Skinny Puppy – “Bites”
Skinny Puppy was my favorite band in high school, hands down. I had never heard electronic music done the way they did it: aggressive, spooky and with a DIY punk attitude. “Bites” is their first full-length LP and was recorded with old analog synthesizers, scrap/junk percussion and sound samples from many horror films. I actually learned about films just from listening to their early albums. Their instrumental songs always feature some type of dialog clip or sometimes just creepy ambient noise layered into whatever they were playing. It almost sounded like I was listening to a horror movie whenever I jammed to one of their records. Highlights on this album: “Assimilate,” “Deadlines,” “The Choke” and “Centre Bullet.”
Frankie Stein and his Ghouls – “Monster Sounds and Dance Music”
This small-budget record that Peter Pan Record sub label, Power Records, put out is like listening to a surf guitar band jam with the sound of monsters howling and growling in the background — sort of like when birds squawk in the background of Martin Denny records. I interviewed Donald Kasen, who is now in charge of the company, a few years ago and he could not stop talking about how much he loved the Frankie Stein records. Sure they are considered a discount record for kids, but they are super fun. I remember listening to them at my grade school Halloween parties. On the back, each song has the style of dance listed that you should be doing with the track. For example, for the song “The Creep,” you do the twist. Or to make things more complex, on the song “Saturday Evening Ghost,” you should do a combination of the surf and the twist. If you can find one of these records, it will take you down a memory lane of pumpkin buckets and paper bag masks. ♦
Kristian Day is a filmmaker, musician and writer based in Des Moines. Follow him on Twitter at @kristianmday.