These lists get bandied about every October –Top Ten Scary Movies for Halloween, or whatever — and for the most part, they get the job done. The original “Halloween” is pretty scary. The original 1931 “Dracula” starring Bela Lugosi is actually pretty boring, although the stuffed armadillo as a décor item in a Transylvanian castle was an interesting touch.
“Plan 9 From Outer Space” has long since become a cult classic, and is a fine example of the blunt-force trauma filmmaking style of Ed Wood. For that rarest of breeds, the comedy-horror movie that actually works on both levels, you can’t go wrong with “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” starring Don Knotts, “Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein” and the more contemporary “Shawn of the Dead.” In our house, the Disney Channel-ready “Hocus Pocus” has been an annual Halloween tradition since our boys were…well, boys.
But for a last-minute choice, I stumbled upon something good – the original 1982 “Poltergeist.” Steven Spielberg’s love song to 1970s-era suburbia, complete with avocado green kitchen appliances and television consoles the size of Buicks, quickly becomes mercilessly, unrelentingly terrifying. This was long before digital effects took over the movie world, so all that scary stuff is camera tricks, props, good old-fashioned analog special effects, and the occasional bit of cartoonish animation. Watching it again, I marveled at just how often I got genuine, honest-to-goodness chills up and down my spine. When the smoky hand-like apparition jumps out of the TV set, I felt like I’d backed up against an electric fence.
Netflix Streaming doesn’t have it, but you can rent it from Amazon Instant Video, and you can buy a download from YouTube.