CS Exclusive: Amanda Reyes’ Halloween TV movie playlist
Last year ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with film scholar and archivist Amanda Reyes to discuss the TV horror subgenre and her history with it. This Halloween season we found out her favorite made-for-TV horror films and top recommendations for the holiday, listing them in reverse order. Check out Reyes’ full list below!
10. Midnight Offerings – 1981
Midnight Offerings with Melissa Sue Anderson and Mary McDonough is one of my all-time favorite TV movies. It’s about basically two witches, a good witch and a bad witch, and the good witch moves into this new neighborhood and this new high school. The bad witch doesn’t want to give up her turf, and they basically fight over turf and cute boys and it’s the best. Anderson is so good at being evil and it’s really fun. It’s also a really interesting movie in terms of second wave feminism and supernatural films, it’s very emblematic of how women were treated in these types of films, meaning that if they showed any kind of agency or independence, their powers, what made them unique had to be diminished. So Midnight Offerings does that, as well as several other of those types of films, but it’s my favorite of that kind. I like it because it is conflicting, and it makes me think when I watch it, but it’s also a really fun movie. I love movies that could be entertainment, but you can also deep dive into and pull all kinds of stuff out of. It’s a movie that really needs a home video release of some sort, and I don’t know why exactly it doesn’t have one, but we can hope. It’s definitely teen angsty, there’s a lot of teen drama in it, but there’s also magic fights. She’s really scary in it, like she’s really mean and she destroys people and she sets them on fire and it’s just really fun because it goes all kinds of places and the acting is top notch.
9. The Midnight Hour – 1985
I think a perfect Halloween movie would be The Midnight Hour, which came out in ’85 and it’s about Halloween. It’s a movie that I saw and I knew about for a long time, but didn’t really, really come to love until we did it in our podcast. It’s really layered and it’s fun and it’s smart and it’s self-aware and it’s postmodern and it’s creepy and it’s got really great music. It’s really well paced and the acting’s wonderful. It’s a cult film and it deserves to be a cult film, it’s so good and I can’t believe I didn’t really appreciate it until we did the podcast, but I’m so glad that we picked it. I don’t even know how to explain it. There’s a Halloween costume party and something goes awry and all of a sudden the people become zombies. It’s sort of through this teenage boy’s point of view, while he’s romancing this girl who’s been dead for like 30 years who comes back from the dead. She’s a cheerleader and they have a sweet romance. So it’s got all these things happening in it, and it has a really weird ending, too.
8. Chiller – 1985
One of my all-time favorite movies that I have a hard time getting people to sit down and watch, and when they watch it they don’t seem to like it as much as me, but it’s Wes Craven’s Chiller. It’s my favorite Wes Craven TV movie, and I love all of his TV movies immensely. But it’s the most thoughtful. It’s basically about a guy who dies very young and they put him in a cryogenics lab and something happens and he has to be thawed out. They bring him back, but they don’t realize that once you die, your soul departs. So it’s still him, but without his soul. It’s sort of a metaphor for ’80s corporate life, and it’s really fascinating and it’s creepy. Michael Beck plays the guy who comes back from the dead, Beatrice Straight plays his mom. So already you have two amazing actors, Jill Schoelen’s in it and Paul Sorvino plays a priest. It’s got this amazing cast and it’s really methodical. Not a lot happens, it’s very much a drama with horror elements, which I think turns some people off. But I think it’s really, really thoughtful and it’s written by the guy who wrote Dark Night of the Scarecrow.
7. The House That Would Not Die – 1970
Another one I love, it’s kind of a recent discovery is The House That Would Not Die, which is a 1970 haunted house movie with Barbra Stanwyck. So it’s based off of “Ammie Come Home”, which is my favorite horror novel by Barbara Michaels, that’s a terrifying book. I read the book and then I sought out the adaptation, and what I like so much about it is that it’s sort of a classic ghost story. There’s not necessarily a lot of surprises in the story, but they do things in there that I really like. So I’m an archivist by trade, and they do a lot of old school research in the book and some of that carried over to the film and it’s fascinating to watch how they use certain things to rebuild the family history and figure out what happened. Also, there’s some legitimately creepy scenes for me in that, especially when Stanwyck’s love interest is being possessed and he becomes like this really aggressive boyfriend with her. There’s like these almost rapey scenes that are really full of tension, and I love that. I think it’s just really creepy, it gets under my skin, and it also has a really moving ending. When everything’s said and done, you understand why the ghosts are there and what brought them. I think it’s kind of sad. Actually, the first time I saw it, I cried, so it just kind of stuck with me as a movie that I really love.
6. No Place to Hide – 1981
Another one of my all-time favorites is No Place to Hide, which is a 1981 thriller starring Kathleen Beller, directed by John Llewllyn Moxey, Keir Dullea’s in it and Mariette Hartley. It’s a mystery, but it’s really suspenseful and it’s really twisty and turny and it’s got like twists upon twists. It has three major twists and I think it’s really engrossing. Beller is the perfect ingenue of the ’70’s and ’80s TV movie. She did only a handful, but she’s really good in them, and this is my favorite of hers. I don’t know that it’s scary per se, but it does have moments, and it’s really interesting because it came out in ’81 [and though] it’s not a slasher, they use slasher tropes in it, so there’s definitely her transformation into the final girl. I’s just a movie that I find really enjoyable and I’ve seen it so many times. When I wrote the book, I wrote an essay on it or a review, and I watched it like four times that week. Like you know what I mean? Like I couldn’t stop watching it, I loved it so much. And I’ve seen it before, but I’d forgotten how good it was. And so, it’s one I return to over and over again.
5. Bad Ronald – 1974
The next one on my list was Bad Ronald because it’s a classic and it’s a classic for a reason. It’s one of the creepiest TV movies ever made. It’s haunting. It’s claustrophobic to the point you’re choking while you’re watching it. It’s really scary and it has that amazing money shot at the end and it’s got great build-up. I think Scott Jacoby is one of the most amazing actors ever on the planet, and I love that he was able to make Ronald sympathetic and that you kind of feel for him, even though he’s kind of not a great guy. In the book, he’s not a great guy. It’s almost like a grindhouse movie in its way, it feels like something you might be able to have seen in the theater in the ’70s, even though it withholds all the sex and violence, but it’s really gritty in a way.
4. The Night Stalker – 1972
I picked our favorite The Norliss Tapes, because it’s super scary and it’s perfect for Halloween because it’s moody, I love the atmosphere of this film. It’s a lot of really gray, it’s raining a lot and it really sets the mood. I like the sober approach that they took, I like that they made it sort of the opposite of The Night Stalker with the basic premise. I like having the protagonist as a debunker, I think it’s got a real kind of glamorous look to it because he’s affluent and he’s sophisticated and he drives that beautiful sports car. It’s so easy to kind of get lost in the visuals of it. Aesthetically, it’s one of the most beautiful films I could think of that was made for TV, and it’s also scary and really engaging. I like the monster a lot as well and Angie Dickinson’s great in it.
3. Fantasies – 1982
I picked a movie that’s pretty lost, but I actually showed it here at the Austin Film Society when they do a thing for TV that’s free. No money gets made for it, so you’re allowed to show certain things, so I showed a TV movie from 1982 called Fantasies with Suzanne Pleshette. It’s a slasher basically about a woman who creates a nighttime soap opera and somebody starts killing her cast members. It’s just sort of about her life as this is happening, so it’s got slasher elements in it, but it’s also like a police procedural. Suzanne Pleshette’s really amazing in it, she’s a really strong, independent woman, like nothing’s going to stop her. It’s got all these things in it that are just so wonderful, but it also uses real soap actors playing soap actors. So it’s got this layer to it that’s really fascinating and that’s how they marketed it because at the time General Hospital was like 30 million viewers a day. They took a lot of actors from that soap and others and then implemented them in large and smaller roles throughout the film. If you’re really into soap operas from that time period, it’s such a treat to see these actors play different characters, especially Stuart Damon from General Hospital. He played Alan Quartermaine in the movie he’s amazing in Fantasies. I’s one of my all-time favorite movies, it’s one I watch constantly.
2. Dark Night of the Scarecrow – 1981
My next one is a bona fide classic and that’s Dark Night of the Scarecrow, which is one of my all-time favorites that I’ve seen a gazillion times and I love. The more I watch it, the more I like it, although it’s harder to watch as I get older, because the way they treat Bubba at the beginning of the film is really painful. You really feel for his character, even though Larry Drake’s only in 10 minutes of the movie, you’re haunted by his story. Charles Durning is amazing in it. It’s scary and atmospheric, like The Norliss Tapes. It’s very serious and suspenseful and I just think it takes time with its story and I love it. One of the things that stood out to me recently, re-watching it, it has final girls in it, but the women in it are marginalized. It’s an older woman and it’s a young girl, and those are characters that you don’t normally spend time with in these kinds of movies, and they’re very strong characters. They’re very much standing against the authority figures that are the murderers, they’re not afraid of them and I really like that. I think it’s got a lot going on in it that’s very thoughtful that maybe I didn’t pick up the first time I watched it.
1. This House Possessed – 1981
My all-time favorite TV movie of any genre of any kind is This House Possessed from 1981 starting Parker Stevenson of The Hardy Boys, and oh my gosh Lisa Eilbacher and Joan Bennett. I don’t know if I would say, ‘Oh, this is the scariest movie ever made,’ but I saw it when I was 10. I watched it when it originally aired because Stevenson was in it and I loved it, loved it,loved it. TBS used to play it every Halloween, so once a year I was able to watch it through most of like my teens into my ’20s, and then it kind of disappeared for many years and has only resurfaced illegally. I actually have three bootlegs of it, and each bootleg, the quality gets a little better. But the first copy I got was on VHS off eBay when they used to sell bootlegs, and it was almost unwatchable. But it was the only way I could access it and I watched that copy to death because I didn’t have another copy of it. But so basically, it’s a movie about this pop singer and he suffers from exhaustion at this concert. He ends up in this hospital with this beautiful nurse and he gets this idea that he’s going to hire her out privately and they’re going to go just to parts unknown and relax. They find this really strange, beautiful, modern house and they move into it and the house has secrets about the nurse. The movie’s about her discovery of what happened to her as a child and how she’s attached to the house. It’s got a really interesting story, [I’ve] talk[ed] about it in my lecture about how it’s about grief and mourning and how the walls absorb your memories and your love and [that] a home is more than a home at this point. It’s by the same people who made Fantasies, it’s by David Levinson and William Wiard. It’s very superficial in a way, but it’s also really deep in other ways. It’s a comfort blanket, when I’m really blue, I put it on and my whole life gets better. For 90 minutes, I feel good. [Plus] the pop music in it is astounding, you have to listen to it to fully understand how amazing it is, but it’s really fucking good.