Darren Stockford

Halloween post-mortem

Halloween pumpkinYep, it’s the annual ‘look at my pumpkin’ blog. The pic is slightly out of focus, but you get the idea. I think he’s better than last year’s effort. He has more character and is definitely more evil-looking. I’m not going to chuck him out just yet - he’s glowing away on my desk as I write.

Tara and I kicked off last night’s celebrations with The Simpsons’ Treehouse Of Horror VIII on Channel 4, before firing up the DVD player for 1982 spookfest Poltergeist, a film I saw at least half a dozen times in my teens (it was one of the first movies that my family rented when we got a VCR, and it had a big impact on me).

Watching Poltergeist for the first time in about 20 years, I was struck by how well it still worked. Though my quickening pulse during the build-up to the ‘face-ripping’ scene was, I’m sure, a Pavlovian reaction from my teenage years, I noticed something I don’t recall affecting me before: the horror of the Freeling family’s situation - the separation from their little girl. I chose Poltergeist this Halloween because I thought that Tara would enjoy it - it’s a horror film with heart. But I wasn’t expecting to feel it in quite the way I did, and the treat was partly mine.

JoBeth Williams, Craig T Nelson and Zelda Rubinstein in PoltergeistIt’s been commented many, many times that Poltergeist looks and sounds more like the work of its writer/producer, Steven Spielberg, than its credited director, Tobe Hooper. From the way the camera moves and the style of editing, to signature riffs such as bright lights and lashings of spectacular ILM effects wizardry, the movie has more in common with Close Encounters Of The Third Kind than The Funhouse. Among fans, the authorship debate rumbles on, but I think it’s clear that Spielberg was a massive influence on what ended up on screen. And on the evidence of this latest and long overdue viewing, the new ‘25th anniversary’ DVD is being slotted into the Spielberg section of my collection, as it’s where I feel it’s most at home. Sorry, Tobe. I still loves ya.

The second movie of the night was Tales From The Crypt, the 1972 Amicus anthology. My first viewing of this, a good few years ago, left me with the impression that the weakest of the five stories was the first, And All Through The House (Joan Collins murders her husband on Christmas Eve), while the strongest was the film’s closer, Blind Alleys (a home for blind people gets a new and hateful manager). To my surprise, my opinion flipped 180 degrees last night.

Joan Collins in Tales From The CryptThe calm carol-singing (playing on a radio) that soundtracks the festive piece is most unsettling, and Collins is perfect. Last night, this story worked on atmosphere alone, which is handy when you know the ending. Conversely, Blind Alleys seemed to drag - I spent the entire time waiting for the, admittedly satisfying, pay-off.

I don’t want to rattle on at length here, but I found the other three stories compact and enjoyable, and the endings still satisfied. There’s something wonderfully unnerving about this strain of '70s British horror - let’s call it the macabre - so when the big scares (a glimpse of a rotted face or a bloodied, still-beating heart) take aim they usually hit.

And now, alas, the candle in my jack o’lantern is starting to go out, so I’d better lay down my quill and exit this blog before I’m plunged into darkness. I hope that you too had a good Halloween.

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