So it’s that the time of year again. Some of you will soon dust off that tired ol’ Freddy Krueger glove. Maybe you’ve just purchased this year’s “Slutty _____” getup. Perhaps you’re even ironing out your new Kim Davis wig. Me? I’ll be celebrating like I always do: from the comfort of my couch. And for us costume-averse, party-pooped, pop-culture obsessives, October is the coolest time of year for staying in and geeking out on movies and mixtapes.
I never need Halloween as an excuse to watch Carrie, my favorite horror movie of all time. If the 1976 original was the first flick to keep me up at night, it was also the first story to truly disrupt my childhood brain. I related to an outcast like Carrie White, but how could I feel sorry for someone who goes on a murder spree? And why the hell did she bisect Miss Collins, the closest she ever had to a friend, with a basketball goal? No matter how many times I watch this movie, I still wish somebody could somehow do the right thing. But even the good deeds lead to the inevitable bloodbath, and that always freaks me out.
That’s not the case with Burnt Offerings, another ’76 movie that scared me sh*tless back in the day. It’s about a family who looks after a musty ol’ house that’s clearly got a mind of its own. (The story partly inspired you-know-who to write The Shining.) But what was terrifying 40 years ago seemed pretty dumb last week, thanks in no small part to hilarious overacting from Karen Black, Oliver Reed and Bette Davis. Aside from a pale, grinning, beyond-creepy character named the Chauffeur, who still made my spine tingle, this was a major waste of time—“a big buildup to nothing,” to quote Leonard Maltin.
I rarely get through this month without watching Halloween, because when the hell else can you watch it? The scares wore off years ago, but it still gets me off as a piece of filmmaking—the music, the steadicam shots, plus my favorite movie neighborhood ever. I took a photography class several years ago, and when the teacher said, “If you want to know how to photograph houses, watch Halloween,” I knew I was in the presence of greatness. In fact, the last time I was in LA, I waited till my partner was asleep so I could duck in a cab and take pictures of 1530 N. Orange Grove Ave., the home where Laurie Strode babysat Tommy Doyle. How’s that for supreme dork-itude?
In between movies, it’s all about the turntable and a stack of old disco and house records that I cherish. There’s Cerrone’s “Supernature,” an epic Island of Dr. Moreau-esque tale set to sci-fi Eurodisco beats. Danny Darrow’s “Doomsday” is 10 minutes of fritzed-out noise in 4/4 time, as a freaky serial-killer voice whispers, “Doomsday’s a-comin’, so let’s get down to it, let’s drown in our juices of love.” More house/techno-minded folks hungry for something perhaps more contemporary might prefer Green Velvet’s “The Stalker (I’m Losing My Mind).” Over warped, wiggling, ominous synths, a mush-mouthed voice drones, “They were wrong when they said cats only have nine lives. Yours died a long time ago.” On the dancefloor, no one can hear you scream ...
Stalker anthems always sound a little sweeter during this time of year, and if there’s a more chilling song than Randy Newman’s “Suzanne,” I’m not ready to hear it. After finding a number on a bathroom wall, a lowlife tracks down a woman and makes lots of promises from afar. The song’s last verse—“And when you go to the pictures, and I know you do/Don’t bring no one with you, ’cause I’ll be there, too”—could be the creepiest set of lyrics I’ve ever heard. Unless that “Hey, little girl is your daddy home?” line from Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” or the “Put your tiny hand in mine” part from George Michael’s “Father Figure” count.
My vote for scariest song, however, goes to Richard & Linda Thompson’s “Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?” A sort of forensic report of a woman found “lying in a pool of herself with a twisted neck,” the lyrics present an unhinged party girl who burned many bridges, giving many motives to many men as she ran from the truth toward a forever that never happened. “They found some fingerprints right around her throat,” sings a deadpan Linda Thompson, her then-husband Richard icing up his guitar. “They didn’t find no killer, and they didn’t find no note.” That the two were basically divorcing while recording the tune only adds an air of perverse poignancy. Their number had been traced. The killer was calling from inside the house.