Halloween horror picks: an Edmonton genre film buff gives five spooky movies to watch this weekend

·4 min read

Halloween this weekend could see many of us trading in costume parties or haunted houses for an eerily quiet night in with a piece of spooky cinema.

A mandatory 15-person limit on indoor gatherings in Alberta has put a damper on some usual Halloween plans.

But CBC Radio's Edmonton AM turned to cult movie buff Kevin Martin, the owner of The Lobby, to guide viewers to the most essential horror movies to watch this year.

This week, Martin recommended five movies for Halloween, drawing from his love of genre films and his 15 years as owner of a video rental store.

Supplied by Kevin Martin
Supplied by Kevin Martin

The Lobby, known as the last video rental shop in Edmonton, boasts a vast collection of alternative genre and cult movies.

Martin is also the creator of DEDfest, a long-running genre film festival, and has dabbled in filmmaking himself with a short movie he created that played at the South by Southwest festival in 2019.

As a horror film aficionado, Martin tapped into his knowledge of the genre to offer up five picks to watch this Halloween.

Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock's classic Psycho celebrated its 60th anniversary last month. Based on a novel of the same title by Robert Bloch, the movie stars Janet Leigh as an embezzler on the run who stays at the secluded Bates Motel.

Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, is the motel's proprietor who loves his mother and wouldn't hurt a fly. Making the film's villain a seemingly harmless shy guy is what makes Psycho a classic, Martin says.

"Horror never really hit home until the great, legendary Sir Alfred Hitchcock took Robert Bloch's book of Psycho and turned Norman Bates into a household name of madness," Martin said.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

A highlight of classic low-budget, independent grindhouse cinema, the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre from 1974 is an unapologetically nasty film, Martin says. He praises it for being terrifying while lacking gore, and for touching on contemporary life during a turbulent time in U.S. history.

The film was inspired by the real story of Ed Gein, a convicted murderer who exhumed corpses from graveyards. Director Tobe Hooper took the idea and twisted it into a story of a group of hitchhikers who come across a chainsaw-wielding killer and his family.

"Tobe Hooper was inspired to take this real-life case, switch the setting to Texas and create a family dysfunction that no one had ever seen up to that point," Martin said.

Black Christmas

One of the earliest examples of the slasher film genre comes from Canada, in Black Christmas from 1974.

Martin says the film, which is about a group of sorority sisters stalked by a killer, is as powerful now as when it was released. He also credits it for being distinctly Canadian with its cold setting and a cast featuring Canadian actors Margot Kidder and Andrea Martin. Martin was a star in the classic sketch comedy show SCTV.

"Black Christmas is all about atmosphere, and it's all about really uncomfortable phone calls and sounds, and a really ambiguous ending," Martin said. "That's the charm of Black Christmas."

The Thing

John Carpenter's name resonates greatness in the horror genre, Martin says, adding that the best work of his long career is likely The Thing from 1982.

The film stars Kurt Russell on an Antarctic base where a small crew of researchers tries to stop a shape-shifting alien from escaping. The film's most memorable aspects, Martin notes, are the beautiful music by the famed Ennio Morricone and its practical special effects.

"Even the most cynical person looking at older movies has to look at these effects to this day and [their] mind is blown," Martin said.

The Return of the Living Dead

Martin credits his gateway into watching genre films as a kid with seeing The Return of the Living Dead from 1985, which he calls a perfect blend of horror and humour.

The movie sees a group of punk-rock misfits facing off against an onslaught of zombies. It plays with familiar tropes of the zombie movie genre while having an amazing soundtrack, Martin says.

"You want a fun time at the cinema, you want to be spooky but not too spooky, that's what this movie is all about," Martin said.