From 60’s B-movie horror with screen icons like Lon Chaney Jr., Joi Lansing and even country legend Merle Haggard to Oren Peli’s original Paranormal Activity, here. is your daily silver screen fright fix.
October is here once again, which means all things spooky, creepy, and outright horrifying are currently making their way into the homes of millions of people – through their screens, of course. All Halloween aficionados know that this is the month where we attempt to watch as many horror movies as we can, marathoning as much blood and guts as anyone might be able to stand (or delight in). It may as well be a sacred tradition.
In that spirit, Knotfest has called on our very own Ryan J. Downey as well as resident film critic Nicolás Delgadillo to put together two individual lists of vital Halloween horror picks for every day of the month. The wide variety of macabre favorites range from classics to more obscure cult films and feature zombies, demons, serial killers, vampires, and monsters of all kinds from all different eras.
‘Hillbillys in a Haunted House’ (1967) Directed by Jean Yarbrough
Now streaming on Amazon Prime Video
As with some of the best songs from Nekromantix or the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the triple mixture of music, horror, and comedy, when done well, offers a diversity of delights during an October binge.
Hillbillys in a Haunted House could double as the title of a Rob Zombie song and this 1967 b-movie isn’t without its own musicality and semi-sinister charms. It’s a strange collision between cult horror icons and The Nashville Sound.
It’s a sequel to The Las Vegas Hillbillies, released the prior year, but never fear, as this isn’t really Marvel Cinematic Universe level continuity. The first movie’s cast included screen legend Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren (1957’s Untamed Youth) in a story about a country singer who inherits a casino.
In the follow-up, a pair of country singers and their manager break down on the way to Nashville and spend the night in a seemingly abandoned house. Ghosts, ghouls, and… a gorilla.
Horror icon Lon Chaney Jr. is one of the house’s mysterious inhabitants, who are actually a ring of dastardly spies using the artifice of a “haunted house” as cover for their work. Joi Lansing, who cinephiles recognize from the opening tracking shot in Touch of Evil (1958), is one of the hapless travelers. Country singer Sonny James cameos and the movie treats audiences to onscreen performances from the great Merle Haggard and Molly Bee (her version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is fantastic), seen in the movie as the duo’s manager watches TV.
Director Jean Yarbrough, a native Southerner himself, puts his considerable comedy experience to work. This guy directed Abbott and Costello multiple times, plus, his horror chops are impressive as well. His filmography includes The Devil Bat (1940), King of the Zombies (1941), She-Wolf of London (1946), and House of Horrors (1946).
Sadly, the Amazon Prime version seems to omit a lot of the musical performances, so it’s worth seeking out elsewhere.
‘Paranormal Activity’ (2007) Directed by Oren Peli
Available to rent or buy online
1999’s The Blair Witch Project was what put the found footage genre on the map in addition to changing the landscape of horror at the time. It paved the way for Oren Peli, who wrote, directed, photographed, edited, and produced the first and probably forever best Paranormal Activity, to change the game once again.
Peli’s film employs much of the same power as its ’99 predecessor, using minimalist handheld video cameras to capture the story of a couple (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) who are haunted by a malevolent supernatural entity in their house. It’s the increasingly eerie way the film builds suspense, combining the use of the performances, the sound design, the way its cameras are staged, and the power in scaring you with everything you don’t see that makes it such an effectively chilling movie.
Made on a minuscule budget and turned into a box office smash thanks in part to a genius viral marketing campaign, Paranormal Activity is a pretty perfect horror flick that almost instantly got swept up in the shadow of its immediate and numerous sequels and the many, many copycat movies that followed. But Peli’s original is just as genuinely scary as it ever was.
Knotfest 2021 Halloween Horror Coverage: