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Best Halloween Movies: Six Flix To DIE For

Halloween is the prime time for terror, and few experiences are more visceral than being scared out of our wits by a great horror film. This Halloween, check out one of the following movies. You won’t be disappointed. Scared out of your wits, yes, but not disappointed.

Warning: Some of the movies are not recommended for younger viewers. 


“Did someone say, ‘Halloween’?” You know we couldn’t leave Michael Meyers out of our Halloween round-up.

Setting Up Your Theater
Granted, there’s no trick to loading up a DVD or streaming a movie, but your viewing conditions do matter. Aside from the popcorn, in order to get the most out of a horror movie, try the following tips:

1. Lights out! Getting the room completely dark helps you concentrate on the screen and sets the mood.
2. Silence those cellphones! just like a public movie theater, turn off all those electronic devices. Horror movies are all about sustaining a mood, which you just can’t do it if you’re busy Tweeting your friends.
3. Make sure everyone’s onboard. Make sure your pals actually want to watch the movie. Wisecracks and tweets don’t add to the movie experience.

And now, our feature presentations…

1.  Buried (2010)
(Stream Buried tonight.)


Ryan Reynolds faces one of man’s basic, primal nightmares — waking up in a coffin — in Buried.

Many of the best horror movies tap into our most basic fears, and one of the most frightening is being buried alive. That’s exactly the predicament that Ryan (The Green Lantern) Reynolds’ character faces in Buried, as an American contractor working in Iraq who is kidnapped and drugged. When he comes to, he’s underground, in the dark, in a big wooden box. All that’s keeping him from a slow and terrifying death by suffocation are a butane lighter and his cell phone. It’s an exercise in mounting tension, as Reynolds frantically tries to contact somebody who can scrape together the ransom money his kidnappers are demanding…before the lights go out for good. Buried is a thriller that excels because of its basic and horrible premise, proving that terror doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. It only has to be terrifying.

2. The Body Snatcher (1945)
(Stream The Body Snatcher tonight.)


Bad Boris Karloff gets down to business in The Body Snatcher.

Proving that old horror movies really can be scary, The Body Snatcher boasts a chilling (and true) story by Robert Louis Stevenson about doctors who need cadavers (in order to further medical science) and the creepy criminals who supply them with dead bodies. But the real reason this film makes our list is the casting of Boris Karloff in the title role. Karloff may be best known now as the voice and narrator of the classic cartoon How the Grinch Stole Christmas, although he rocketed to international stardom decades earlier as the first actor to portray Frankenstein’s monster. (He also was the first actor to play the Mummy.) Karloff is horrific here: in his first scene, he’s all fake smiles and good cheer, helping a handicapped girl into a wheelchair. Scenes later, as he prepares to dig up a freshly buried corpse, the smiles are gone and he’s using a shovel to kill a dog standing watch over his dead master’s grave. Karloff’s sinister voice was an instrument of pure terror — maybe the most frightening in film history.

3. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1991)
(Stream Bram Stoker’s Dracula tonight.)


You’ve never seen a vampire (or vampire movie) that looks like this: Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

One longtime staple of the horror genre has been the vampire movie, which routinely gets updated for new generations of audiences. Recently, the Twilight series has leaned toward romantic themes, making for a kind of teenage, vampire soap opera. Meanwhile, the screen vampires of old (going back 80 years now) are usually not scary enough for modern audiences. So what’s a vampire fan to do? Try this curiosity from Francis Ford Coppola, which stars Gary (The Dark Knight Rises) Oldman in a more faithful retelling of the original vampire novel, which is why author Stoker is mentioned in the title. Rounding out the cast is Keanu Reeves, Anthony (Silence of the Lambs) Hopkins, Winona Ryder and others. The movie has great special effects and a rich, gorgeous look to it, thanks to Coppola, who uses some of his same Godfather tricks to make us root for a villain…whether we want to or not.

4. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
(Stream Night of the Living Dead tonight.)


Daylight provides no escape from the zombie onslaught in Night of the Living Dead.

Another mainstay of horror movies are zombies, and although the undead had been featured in horror films dating back to the 1920s, the category really began with a cheaply made “drive-in” movie that contained no stars and only crude special effects. Despite these weaknesses (which may actually be strengths, given the genre), George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead  is among the most influential of all horror movies; it’s spawned a flood of sequels and remakes. The plot is as simple as dirt: Zombie hordes have arisen from their graves and are slowly lumbering across the landscape, desperate to feed on human flesh, while a group of survivors holed up in a farmhouse tries to remain sane and off the zombie buffet. If you’ve only seen the later versions, do yourself a favor and tune in to TCM on Halloween night (9:30 pm, EST) and see where filmdom’s zombie fest began.

5. Halloween (1978)


Turn out the lights: The original Halloween makes more use of shadows than special effects.

This one’s really a no-brainer, given the movie’s title and setting. However, be warned: There’s a hefty difference in quality between John Carpenter’s 1978 film and the many inferior slasher movies that it’s spawned over the years — both within the Halloween series and all the other popular maniac-with-a-knife franchises (i.e., Friday the 13thNightmare on Elm Street, etc.). And while villain Michael Meyers has legions of fans — in fact, it’s more appropriate to say that he’s the hero in the Halloween movies, considering that he’s the character that many (if not most) audience members are rooting for — the real star here is director Carpenter, who relies on traditional horror movie elements (such as expert use of spooky lighting and shadows) to get his point across. Does the original still deliver the goods? One viewing will give you the answer.

6. Below (2002)
(Stream Below tonight.)


What if you were trapped with ghosts? And what if you were six hundred feet underwater? Below takes you there.

Yeah, haunted houses are great for giving us shivers, but ghost stories can happen anywhere — such as onboard a claustrophobic U.S. Navy submarine during World War II. In Below, an American sub rescues some sailors from a sinking ship. The Americans quickly learn that no good deed goes unpunished as things start getting super-strange, with all kinds of paranormal activity taking place. Before long, the sub’s crew starts to crack up. The situation becomes so haunted and intense that in one amazing scene, one of the crewmen becomes completely unhinged and runs through and out the sub’s torpedo hatch while the vessel is still submerged. The sailor is so terrified by the ghostly visions he’s just seen that he doesn’t even pause to consider the watery fate waiting for him. Below is consistently tense and delivers a powerful underwater punch…maybe because it was written by Darren (Black Swan, The Wrestler) Aronovsky, who may just be the best American director currently working.

Gotta Have Horror
Horror movies start with an idea, but require the talents and skills of many creative professionals before they hit the big screen. For aspiring film directors and editors, it’s a thrilling time to prepare for a career in the digital arts. The key is receiving expert instruction from trained professionals, with the latest technological tools and cutting-edge software, such as Final Cut Pro. At Digital Media Academy’s summer computer camps, the emphasis is on hand-on training, delivered on some of America’s greatest college campuses. If you want to be there when the cameras start rolling, start learning the industry with DMA.

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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

A Tribute: Alfred Hitchcock, Legendary Moviemaker and “Master of Suspense”

If you’re considering a career in filmmaking you’re probably studying the masters. Directors like Alfred Hitchcock. Maybe you’ve heard of him? He created such vintage thrillers as “Rear Window,” “The Birds” and “Vertigo,” but Hitch saved his most outlandish filmmaking tricks for a black-and-white classic called “Psycho.”


Hitchcock wasn’t kidding: Armed guards were posted in theaters to keep stragglers from wandering in after the film had started. Hitchcock felt that if the audience came into the picture too late, they would have no idea what was going on. 

Made in 1960, “Psycho” was the most shocking film audiences of the day had ever seen. And for a long time, it was considered the most frightening movie ever made. Even now, it ranks high on the list of movie thrillers and horror films.

Making Crazy
Considering it’s revered as a classic, it’s amazing to think that Universal Studios (the studio that backed Hitchcock) didn’t even want to make the movie. Hitchcock ended up financing it himself, using the production crew from his television show. Universal provided the set – building the famous Bates Motel and the Bates house on the Universal back lot, where both remain to this day. The film’s production budget? About $800,000 – a relatively small budget for a major picture, even in 1960.

Hitchcock’s “Psycho” is now world-renowned as a Hollywood classic and worth looking into for several reasons. However,”Psycho” is best known for “the shower scene.” Like Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws,” it’s what the audience doesn’t see that scared the heck out of ‘em.


Hitchcock and crew worked on the famous shower scene for seven full days.

Hitchcock was notorious for pulling the rug out from beneath his audience. He’d lead you down one path and suddenly leave you wondering why you didn’t end up where you thought you were going. But in addition to being a master storyteller, he was also a tireless perfectionist – using 70 camera set-ups to produce the necessary 45 seconds of footage for the shower scene.

Pysche-ing Out the Audience
Hitchcock used other clever tricks to psyche out “Psycho’s” audience too. Like refusing to let anyone into the theater after the film had started, and enforcing this rule with actual security guards who were posted at selected theaters during the film’s first run. (The reason is obvious, once you watch the movie.) Did the unusual approach to taking a film this serious pay off? You bet it did.)

The movie created a worldwide sensation – and a national panic over showering in motel rooms. One concerned parent actually wrote to Alfred Hitchcock and complained that since seeing “Psycho,” her daughter had refused to take a shower out of fear. Hitchcock jokingly replied, suggesting the parents send their child to the Dry Cleaner’s.

“Psycho” is now more than 50 years old and by now, all of its shocks and surprises have been fully integrated into American pop culture. “Psycho” is now considered the parent of every slasher movie to come along during the last five decades. However, in a very real way, Norman Bates remains the scariest slasher of them all, because he doesn’t rely on gore or gimmicks (like Freddy Kreuger or Jason or Michael Meyers). Norman Bates looks like an average person…most of the time. Measured by this standard, “Psycho” is far scarier than any monster movie, because it’s about the real monsters that walk among us.


“And…cut.”

Meet the Masters in Film School
If you’re serious about becoming a filmmaker and learning about the techniques that masters like Hitchcock used to make movies, why not start by going to film school? If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, there’s no better time to learn the craft than now. Tools like Final Cut Pro X and After Effects make it easier than ever before to bring your cinematic vision to life. Who knows? You might have what it takes to be the next Alfred Hitchcock.

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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments