Last week, I gave you the first half of my list of 10 great “geeky” horror movies, and with Halloween arriving this week, it’s time for the next five films (and two honorable mentions) on that list.
As I wrote in the previous column, the films on this list represent some of my favorite films that fall outside the usual Halloween standards, and whether due to their cast, characters, plot or other factors, have distinct ties to the geekier side of Hollywood. While they might not make any hard-core horror fans’ lists of the greatest films in the genre, they’ve become Halloween traditions for me and – judging by the response to the first half of my list – for many of my fellow geeks out there, too.
Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter
I generally prefer the more imaginative machinations of Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise to suped-up serial killer Jason Voorhees of the Friday the 13th movies, but I make an exception for the fourth film in the franchise. Why? Because the hero of The Final Chapter (Spoiler: It wasn’t actually the final chapter) isn’t the last teenager standing or some adult who realizes how to take out Jason in a sudden burst of enlightenment. The character who saves the day is just a kid who loves horror movies. Played by Corey Feldman, Tommy Jarvis is basically a representative of 90 percent of the film’s audience: preteen kids who have seen enough horror movies to: A) know how things work in a slasher movie; and B) not get so scared at the sight of the killer that you become easy prey. Sure, his initial encounter with Jason prompts the appropriate pants-peeing shock, but once he realizes what’s happening, he saves the day through the clever application of his horror-movie savvy (which is a heck of a lot better than what happened to horror nerd Randy Meeks in Scream 2.)
Of all the films in the Friday the 13th franchise, The Final Chapter may be the one that shows the most awareness of its audience, and it rewards their support by making them the hero of the film this time around. Tommy Jarvis is one of us.
The word-of-mouth success of this 2003 Australian zombie movie led to director siblings Michael and Peter Spierig being handed the reins of 2010’s sci-fi vampire movie Daybreakers (which is also worth checking out), and it’s easy to see why their first feature was such a viral (pun totally intended) hit. Equal parts gory zombie-survival film and weird sci-fi mystery, Undead follows former beauty-pageant winner Rene (Felicity Mason) as she attempts to first get out of town, then simply survive a zombie plague brought on by strange meteors raining from the sky. She’s accompanied on her journey by an eccentric, hillbilly alien abductee named Marion (Mungo McKay) who wields a massive, four-barrel shotgun. Throw in some mysterious aliens and a strange tractor beam from the sky that occasionally sucks people into the air, and you’ll understand why this movie is the sort of weird that, when it works, is absolutely brilliant.
So why is it on this list? Well, it’s just scary enough to serve up some good horror elements, but it also does a nice job of blending some cool sci-fi elements and enough badass, effects-driven sequences to hit the sweet spot in a bunch of other genres, too. It also gets the nod for being entirely funded by the filmmakers and their friends and family, and for having all the special effects rendered by the directors themselves on their home computers – which is always good for a little extra geek cred.
Shaun of the Dead
The movie that made director Edgar Wright the favorite filmmaker of countless geeks on both sides of the ocean, Shaun of the Dead has proven to be the gateway drug for many American audiences who had previously disregarded the grand tradition of British geekery. Not only did the film offer audiences a fresh take on the zombie-apocalypse genre, but it featured a cast culled from one of the greatest, geek-friendly television series ever to grace the small screen: Spaced. But let’s be honest: the amount of homage Shaun of the Dead packed in for classic and lesser known films, music, games and television series is the real treat – and the fact that there’s a great story threading it all together is just icing on the cake.
At this point, actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have supplanted Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes as Hollywood’s favorite pop-culture slackers, and it was Shaun of the Dead that played the biggest role in that changing of the geek guard. If you haven’t seen Shaun of the Dead, you owe it to yourself to do so – but be warned: there’s a good chance you’ll end up diving into Spaced as well as every other film to feature Pegg, Frost or Wright’s work not too long afterward.
Evil Dead II
This one’s a no-brainer for a list like this, as it’s the film that serves as the gold standard for geekery in the horror scene. Bruce Campbell plays a reluctant hero who accidentally unleashes a demon and is subsequently forced to sever his own hand, only to replace it with a chainsaw.
Because demons need killing and a chainsaw will do the job, that’s why.
That’s all you should need to know about this film if you haven’t seen it already, because that’s all I knew about it when I first popped in a VHS tape of the film back in the late ’80s and was instantly obsessed with the story of Ash Williams. Evil Dead franchise director Sam Raimi went on to become one of the most respected cinema geeks in the industry after making this film, and Bruce Campbell still reigns supreme as one of the most iconic B movie heroes of all time. (Heck, he’s the reason I watch Burn Notice.) This film has become a regular in my Halloween movie marathons, and for good reason – it never loses its low-budget lustre.
30 Days of Night
Easily one of the best movies based on a horror comic, this 2007 adaptation of the original story by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith offered a fresh take on vampires that stripped them of all the pomp and sexuality permeating the genre and framed them as savage, blood-hungry creatures more demon than human. The story chronicles the fate of residents of Barrow, Alaska, a remote town that annually experiences 30 days without sunshine due to its geographic location. The promise of a month-long feast attracts a tribe of vampires, and the townspeople find themselves ill-prepared to deal with this new threat as the sun sets for the next 30 days.
Superhero comics are getting all the attention in Hollywood these days, but if you missed 30 Days of Night, now’s the perfect time to remedy that situation. It’s a terrifying, brutal film that offers a nice example of the compelling stories being told in comics that have nothing to do with superheroes, and how Hollywood can actually get it very, very right when it comes to stories like this. If vampires that sparkle or prance around in ruffled shirts aren’t your thing, you owe it to yourself to see 30 Days of Night – and to track down the rest of the comics that continued the story.
Honorable Mention: Feast and House
The winning project in the third season of Project Greenlight, Feast is one of those under-the-radar movies that’s so ridiculous it’s, well… kind of fantastic. I tend to rewatch it at least once a year, either on Halloween or when I discover that someone I know hasn’t seen it yet. It earns a heap of geek cred not only for its DIY origin and the homage it pays to classic horror-movie tropes, but also for its cast, which includes musician-turned-actor Henry Rollins, slacker icon Jason Mewes (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back), comedian Judah Friedlander, and Naughty by Nature rapper Anthony “Treach” Criss.
As for House, my love for The Greatest American Hero television series first attracted me to this horror-comedy featuring the series’ star William Katt. It ended up being one of my favorite horror-comedies of all time, and I confess to getting a little excited every time I see a listing for House in the television guide, only to be terribly disappointed when it inevitably turns out to be the medical drama starring Hugh Laurie. I wore out multiple copies of the movie on VHS tapes over the years, and I’m hard-pressed to decide which role of Katt’s I like more: reluctant teacher-turned-superhero Ralph Hinkley or reluctant novelist-turned-ghostbuster Roger Cobb.
So there you have it, folks – 10 films (and two honorable mentions) that lie in the overlap between my everyday geekery and my Halloween movie-watching routine. There are a lot more out there that fill a similar niche, so make sure to let me know (in the comment section) what films hit that sweet spot for you!
Rick Marshall is an award-winning writer and editor whose work can be found at Movies.com, as well as MTV News, Fandango, Digital Trends, IFC.com, Newsarama, and various other online, print, and on-air news outlets. He’s been called a “Professional Geek” by ABC News and Spike TV, and is still not quite sure how he ended up writing (and talking) about comics, video games, and movies for a living. His personal blog can be found at MindPollution.org, and you can find him on Twitter as @RickMarshall.
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