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Classic Fright Fests and Old Movies Highlight Halloween

Forget the pumpkins, trick or treaters dressed as Luke Skywalker and the bags of candy the kids hide under their beds. Halloween is not that. It is the annual trip back in time to the scary movies and all over the world horror fests and Halloween weeks are ready to pop up and scare you to death once again.

We love Halloween horror. The first horror movies go back to France and the 1890s and scary shorts. In America, films with Quasimodo, the deformed Hunchback of Notre Dame, started back in 1905 and continued throughout the years (there is a stage version of The Hunchback set to open in New Jersey next spring). If it wasn’t Quasimodo, it was a string of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde films, the long list of Dracula and Frankenstein movies (Son of Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Young Frankenstein, next door neighbor of Frankenstein). The 1930s were full of fright films, such as Freaks and The Mummy, in 1932. Horror films splurged in the 1950s, tied to science fiction and the Communist fear. The 1970s and ‘80s were full of supernatural fare and murders of every kind, from Amityville to your vill...

Halloween Festivals, with classic old films, many with frightening old silent movies from the 1915 to 1927 era, too, have been running all over the world this month, from the A Night of Horror festival, in Sydney, Australia, to the British Horror Film Festival in Leicester, England. They will be in the U.S., too, in places such as the Atlanta Horror Film Festival, the oddly named but truly trembling DOA Blood Bath Entertainment Festival, in Dallas, Texas, The Drunken Zombies Film Festival in Peoria, Illinois and the Halloween Horror Festival, in Tupelo, Mississippi. There is even an online Halloween movie bash, the Terror Film Festival, which will be held Oct. 31-Nov. 1. You cannot hit your TV remote without finding a Halloween horror classic this week.

New York City has two major Halloween film festivals and they are representative of the rest in their historic film fare and spooky atmosphere.

The Museum of the Moving Image, in Astoria (also home to thriving film production), See It Big started Friday with Nosferatu and continued Saturday with The Exorcist. Sunday saw a triple bill (remember them from the ‘50s?) of the silent, 1925 Phantom of the Opera, Bride of Frankenstein and Night of the Living Dead. The final film will be Poltergeist on October 31. The makeup man for The Exorcist, Dick Smith, died this year and the museum screening was a tribute to him. A professional movie make up man talked to the audience at The Exorcist about makeup in horror films.

The bone chilling fun does not stop with Poltergeist. Those films will run in conjunction with another Halloween film festival there – the Korean Horror Picture Show. That scary film festival starts Oct. 30 with Killer Toon and continues through November 2. Among the films to be screened are I Saw the Devil, Lady Vengeance, Epitaph, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and A Tale of Two Sisters. Altogether, the museum will screen twelve Halloween horror movies.

David Schwartz, the Museum of the Moving Image’s chief curator, thinks his lineup of Halloween movies is a good one. “We used the 1922 Nosferatu and 1925 Phantom of the Opera because they are not just classics, but the type of films that were the foundations for all the fright films that followed. They are two movies that have stood the test of time.”

He thinks audiences will enjoy the classic movies in the Halloween festival. “Horror films are a shared experience for people. It’s more fun to see one in a theater with lots of people than at home, and here, too, in some, you have musical accompaniment, just like in the 1920s. Today’s horror movies are very graphic, but the older ones have visual qualities in their stories that many of the newer ones do not. Horror films are provocative and this series works well. Fright films have always been popular and will remain so for many years to come.”

He’s right, and he does his film festivals right, too. I went to the museum’s festival yesterday and caught the 1925 fright classic The Phantom of the Opera. The museum hired international silent film accompanist Donald Sosin, who has played the music for silent movies for thirty years, to play his original music for the film (Joanna Seaton added some vocals). His combination of piano and organ music terrified a nearly packed house. He filled the background of the film with really chilling music and it made all the difference in the world in the scare level of the movie.

The film itself was presented in the brand new Sumner Redstone Theater, with its large screen and superb acoustics. The Phantom, who has reigned as a horror king for nearly 90 years, showed why again when star Lon Chaney’s phantom mask was pulled off and he roared his anger and showed that God awful, hideous phantom face (Chaney did all of his own makeup). Phantom is a 90 minute thrill a minute Halloween gem, with hundreds of angry Parisians chasing the beleaguered phantom through the dark town in the finale. The movie, and the film festival, was a great hit.

The Eighth annual Lincoln Center Scary Movies Festival in New York begins the day the Kaufman Museum of the Moving Image fest ends. From October 31 through Nov. 7 Lincoln Center will screen a number of films. Opening night starts with What We Do in the Shadows, Among the Living and The Harvest. The highlight of the night might be the no-holds-barred Vampire party that accompanies the screenings. Other films to be shown at Lincoln Center that week include When Animals Dream, Late Phases, A Reflection of Fear, the Pack and Backcountry.

These films are singles, but entire franchises have been built on horror movies, from the Frankenstein films (even Abbot and Costello made a Frankenstein movie) to Dracula to the many Halloween movies, plus the Saw series. Throughout those years, individual horror flicks scared everybody, too. Among the best, in addition to those named above, many horror buffs say, were Nightmare on Elm Street, Creepshow, The Haunting, Friday the 13th, the Dawn of the Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Ring and The Shining.

Horror movies have had their fans since the 1920s. Frankenstein, Dracula and company have wandered over the earth and the silver screen with shivering majesty for generations. No matter what the decade horror movies run, though, they still scare us and they really scare us around Halloween.