Today’s picks include zombies, machine gun wielding teenagers, killer clowns and more
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.
Today’s picks include an apocalyptic zombie tale from the 80s that’s much different than what you might expect, and the most recent adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most famous stories.
‘Night of the Comet’ (1984) Directed by Thom Eberhardt
Night of the Comet sits comfortably in the end-of-the-world, horror, and zombie genres, yet somehow manages to keep things light, with brisk momentum pushing the story along, and an absolutely charming cast. (Plus, the old school arcade game Tempest appears in it!)
The earth passes through the tail of a comet it last crossed paths with 65 million years ago. People go outside to watch, unaware this same comet wiped out the dinosaurs. Our heroes, teenaged sisters Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) and Samantha (Kelli Maroney), miss the comet. Reggie and her boyfriend Larry (Michael Bowen) spend the night inside the lead lined projection room at the movie theater where they work. Sam slept in a steel shed.
The next morning, they discover a red haze in the sky, and piles of red dust and clothing where people once stood. The first handful of “survivors” they encounter are essentially zombies – barely alive creatures, slowly disintegrating, mindless and violent.
Regina and Sam may be Valley Girls (incidentally, Bowen was in Valley Girl, the movie), but thanks to their green beret dad, they are no strangers to firearms and hand-to-hand combat.
Fresh off his directorial debut, Sole Survivor (a reworking of sorts of Carnival of Souls, but with zombies), writer/director Thom Eberhardt makes evocative use of empty streets, teenaged revelry, and smart action sequences, in equal measure.
The image of the two sisters bearing machine guns is one of my favorite from the mid-80s. The girls are anything but hapless or helpless, with a mixture of steely resolve and determination that never slips into melancholy or maudlin. Sandman creator Neil Gaiman praised Night of the Comet and it was an influence on the origin of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (one of my favorite characters, ever.)
Like many “cult” films, the box office wasn’t kind to this movie, though it was well-reviewed, and later found its audience via home video and HBO (which is where I first saw it, if memory serves correctly).
The shots of a desolate post-apocalyptic Los Angeles are a marvel, particularly considering the movie’s meager budget and lack of modern computerized effects.
The script is smart and takes its subject matter seriously but avoids dwelling in dread. Come for the end of the world drama; stay for the grounded, realistic, and charming lead duo.
‘It’ (2017) Directed by Andy Muschietti
Stephen King’s 1986 novel It has remained one of his most well-known and acclaimed stories for good reason. The tale of a group of misfit children – dubbed The Losers’ Club – terrorized by a mysterious and horrifying creature that often takes the form of a killer clown, It is an unforgettable and effecting reflection on coming of age and facing personal demons.
This most recent adaptation proved the timelessness of the story, shattering box office records to become the highest-grossing horror film of all time, terrifying an all new generation and solidifying itself into popular culture. Bill Skarsgård’s performance as the nightmarish Pennywise is one of the greatest to ever grace the screen, and while Tim Curry’s frightening take on the monster was certainly iconic for the 90s, Skarsgård’s childlike derangement and piercing eyes are what have gripped the minds of today’s youngsters.
The time period is changed this time around to capture that ongoing nostalgic yearn for the 80s, but that aesthetic thankfully is interwoven into both the themes and visuals that the Muschietti is going for. His adaptation has some truly unforgettable scares that all look fantastic, and in staying true to King’s work, it’s the adults who are just as much, if not more of a threat than even a literal monster.
Knotfest 2021 Halloween Horror Coverage: