The spookiest, sickest, stupidest offerings on streaming
Halloween falls on October 31, but only if you’re lame. Real pros know that Halloween is a state of mind. Deep in a bunker underneath Vancouver, Wash., Garbage Day HQ has been dutifully working on a fool-proof, guaranteed-to-please, guide to horror. Specifically, horror that’s easily accessible on major streaming services.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988, streaming on Amazon Prime)
We’re starting off really goofy here, folks. Killer Klowns is dumb as shit and fun as hell. The premise is similar to that of The Blob: an alien menace descends on a small town, hell-bent on eradication, except you replace a gelatinous ooze with vicious extraterrestrial clowns. The appeal of the film is the amount of fun everyone seems to be having—several of the actors can barely keep a straight face throughout the proceedings, the visual gags that accompany all of the kills are stupid in the best way possible, and the titular clowns look really unique, like awful claymation characters come to life. Of particular note are the powerhouse performances from John Vernon (Animal House’s Dean Wormer) as the tyrannical sheriff and Michael Siegel and Peter Licassi as two idiot pals who ride around in an ice cream truck all night and somehow manage to score with some alien clown chicks. It’s a very stupid time; good luck getting the theme song out of your head!
Hellraiser (1987, streaming on Amazon Prime and Shudder) & Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988, streaming on Shudder)
Have you ever gotten so insatiably horny that you open up a demonic gateway to Sex Hell where hideously disfigured demonic entities tear at your flesh with meat hooks and chains while monologuing about how this does it for them? Despite spawning a litany of mediocre-to-awful sequels, the first two Hellraiser movies are masterclasses of high concept, low budget horror filmmaking. Written and directed by British horror author Clive Barker, adapting his own novella The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser tells the story of a young woman named Kirsty who discovers that the house she and her father moved into is haunted by the living, skinless corpse of her uncle Frank. In searching for the ultimate pleasure, Frank uses an ancient puzzle box to summon Cenobites (the aforementioned demons) into our reality, and now needs a series of blood sacrifices to free him from their grasp. For a movie made on roughly $1 million, the makeup and gore effects are fantastic, punching far above their budgetary weight class.
The following year’s sequel saw Barker pass directing duties to Tony Randel, with an increased budget that allows the story to go to even wilder places. On top of the skinless people and bizarre demons, Hellbound takes us to the hell dimension only vaguely referred to in the first movie. Deeply upsetting, outlandish violence gives these movies a tone that’s never been perfectly recreated anywhere else. They’re unique, creepy and gross as hell, making them a perfect double feature this Halloween.
The Ritual (2018, streaming on Netflix)
This streaming-only offering is, bar none, my favorite horror film of the last few years. It mixes a simple, “poorly prepared campers get lost in spooky woods” premise with genuinely affecting emotional beats to create a horror movie as focused on loss and mourning as terror. I don’t want to give too much away, but the elevator pitch is this: A group of old friends convene in the mountains of Norway to say goodbye to a comrade who died in a tragic, easily avoidable way the previous year. Halfway through the grueling hike, they decide to take a shortcut through the woods. This goes poorly. I don’t want to divulge anything more, as the shock value of how hard The Ritual escalates is a major part of the joy of the film. These characters aren’t cardboard cutout teenagers from a Blair Witch ripoff—they’re very flawed but well realized humans who banter and bicker believably, even when the reality of their situation starts to set in. It makes what happens even more of a shame. The mounting tension of the first two acts gives way to a fevered, nightmarish finale that you have to see to believe. That’s all I can say about it.
Pieces (1982, streaming on Shudder)
A Spanish-American co-production, Pieces is one of the crowning jewels in the career of Juan Piquer Simón, who also directed the adaptation of paperback schlock classic Slugs and one of the all-time great MST3K episodes in Pod People. The premise: someone is murdering co-eds on a college campus with a chainsaw and stealing select body parts. The police are brought in to find the killer. This sounds pretty simple, but every single scene in Pieces contains some baffling, completely out-of-left-field choice that you didn’t see coming. If you’ve seen Pod People, it’s similar to how that movie carries itself, except replace awful musical numbers and idiotic aliens with atrocious red herrings and inexplicable karate.
The Prowler (1981, streaming on Amazon Prime and Shudder)
Moving from impossibly dumb slasher nonsense to vicious slasher nonsense, this somewhat underrated bloodbath is worth a watch if you need some spectacular gore to round out your viewings on Halloween night. The Prowler is short, brutal and effective. A mysterious stranger, dressed from head to toe in army fatigues, sets upon a small town in New Jersey to restart a murder spree that began 30 years ago. His weapons of choice: a pitchfork and an incredibly large knife. Needless to say, the kills are the primary reason to see this movie. It doesn’t have the idiotic charm of Pieces, but it’s a great time, assuming you’re down with the wholesale slaughter of co-eds.