How to survive your horror movie marathon

From Elm Street to Jason, we’re here to help your Halloween marathon watching

dream warriors

Halloween is almost upon us, and the time-honoured tradition of binge-watching horror films must be, well, honoured. If you’re settling in for a long night of revisiting some of the best and worst franchises that the genre has to offer, we wanted to offer some pointers for how to get through the long dark night of the soul that is watching eight Halloween films in a row, for example.

First of all, some general pointers. These are all common sense, but…

  • Stay hydrated
  • Get a proper meal in there at some point
  • Don’t drink too much too early
  • Take regular breaks (going outside is a good idea)
  • Don’t be afraid of napping
  • No one is making you do this. You can stop

So, let’s break down what you can expect from our favourite horror franchises (if you’re looking for Leprechaun, you won’t find it), and what you need to do to make it through….

nightmare on elm street

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

For the newcomers: Dream demon/murdered child killer Freddy Krueger stalks through the nightmares of the kids of the parents who burned him alive. You die in the dream, you die for real. Inventive set pieces and increasingly wink-heavy quips ensue.

Number of films: 7

A sensible marathon would be: 1, 2 (Freddy’s Revenge), 3 (Dream Warriors), 7 (New Nightmare)

Take a nap during: 6 (Freddy’s Dead)

Advantages: First of all, you’re getting two genuinely excellent sequels with Dream Warriors and New Nightmare, and the Elm Street franchise has the advantage of relying heavily on visual spectacle in an effort to entice viewers. The nightmare sequences become increasingly elaborate, ranging from totally daft to impressively horrible. Even the later sequels manage to offer such madness as a man melding into a motorbike, souls trapped in pizza and a woman turning into a cockroach. Also, the unintentional (surely slightly intentional) coming-out message of Freddy’s Revenge makes it a magnificent curio.

Disadvantages: They do all get a bit samey after Dream Warriors, and if you’re doing it right you will have to sit through the second half of Freddy’s Dead. Eurgh.

Star spotting: Patricia Arquette, Johnny Depp, Breckin Meyer, Tom Arnold, Roseanne Barr.

Above and beyond: Freddy Vs Jason, the terrible remake.

halloween_1978

HALLOWEEN

For the newcomers: Fifteen years after murdering his family as a child, Michael Myers escapes from his asylum and returns to Haddonfield to make life miserable for babysitters and his haunted but equally relentless therapist Dr Loomis.

Number of films: 8

A sensible marathon would be: 1, 3: Season Of The Witch), 7 (H20: 20 Years Later)

Take a nap during: 4, 5, 8

Advantages: The influence of John Carpenter can be felt for at least three of the sequels: Rick Rosenthal’s decent Halloween II (which follows straight on from the first film), Tommy Lee Wallace’s excellent standalone Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (which has no Michael Myers at all), and Steve Miner’s underrated H20, which brought back Jamie Lee Curtis’ survivor Laurie Strode. John Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s soundtracks are always amazing, Haddonfield is THE iconic Halloween setting and you’ve got the privilege of watching the great Donald Pleasence, who returned as Dr Loomis until his death in 1995.

Disadvantages: They do get very samey after III, as it was clear that audiences just wanted more of Michael Myers. Danielle Harris’ Jamie is a good addition in 4 and 5, but the cult business that gets introduced is pure nonsense. Finally, Resurrection is woeful (apart from its opening sequence).

Star spotting: Paul Rudd, the entire cast of H20 (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams, LL Cool J), Katee Sackhoff, Tyra Banks.

Above and beyond: Rob Zombie’s decent remake and its terrible sequel.

jason

FRIDAY THE 13TH

For the newcomers: Years after a disfigured boy drowned at Camp Crystal Lake, teenagers foolishly return to get hunted and brutally murdered by the returned, unstoppable monster, who now has a hockey mask and a machete.

Number of films: 10

A sensible marathon would be: 1, 2, 4 (The Final Chapter), 10 (Jason X)

Take a nap during: The rest of them

Advantages: You know what you’re getting with Friday The 13th. Until Jason goes to space in the magnificent Jason X, you’re settling in for a long run of movies in which teenagers go to the woods, have sex, and then get murdered by a masked lunatic. Gorehounds will have a good time (especially in 4, which brought back effects maestro Tom Savini), the “chi chi chi ha ha ha” never gets old, and you can nod off during any of them and not worry about getting lost when you wake up.

Disadvantages: The Jason movies are even more standardised than the Halloweens. If you’re relying on surprises to keep you awake, you won’t find them here (except in the bit in 9: Jason Goes To Hell where a possessed coroner eats Jason’s heart and becomes him, kind of). Sheer monotony will drive all but the most dedicated Crystal Lake fans to sleep.

Star spotting: Kevin Bacon, Corey Feldman, Crispin Glover.

Above and beyond: Freddy Vs Jason, the forgettable remake.

hellraiser

HELLRAISER

For the newcomers: A puzzle box invites a team of pain/pleasure S&M demons into the world, led by Pinhead, who want to tear your soul apart. Lots of blood, chains and hooks ensue.

Number of films: 9

A sensible marathon would be: 1, 2 (Hellbound), 3 (Hell On Earth)

Take a nap during: 5 (Inferno), 7 (Deader), 8 (Hellworld), 9 (Revelations)

Advantages: The first three Hellraisers all have something to offer, from the genuinely great first to the tremendously entertaining second, to the third, which…yeah, it has its moments. 4 (Bloodline) has the charming quirk of being set in three separate time periods (yeah, one of them is space), and canon lovers get to see Ashley Laurence’s Kirsty back in 6 (Hellseeker). There is an enduring power to Clive Barker’s creation that can still (just about) be felt as the franchise lumbers on into DTV territory.

Disadvantages: The later sequels are pretty bloody lousy. Mostly written as non-Hellraiser films then hastily adapted to include chains and Doug Bradley, they’re by-the-numbers “don’t you understand yet?” chillers that are only of interest to reckless completists.

Star spotting: Adam Scott, Henry Cavill, Dean Winters

Go further: Frankly, watching the later sequels is going further than we’d recommend.

dawn

LIVING DEAD

For the newcomers: It’s the textbook zombie outbreak tale, and as the world ends George A Romero’s focus moves from group to group, from basements to shopping malls to humanity’s last stand.

Number of films: 6

A sensible marathon would be: 1 (Night Of The…), 2 (Dawn Of The…), 3 (Day Of The…)

Take a nap during: 5 (Diary Of The…), 6 (Survival Of The…)

Advantages: Romero’s original Dead trilogy is a trio of bona fide masterpieces (alright, Day has some big problems), so if you’re looking for a classic horror experience you can’t do much better. His 20-years-later return Land Of The Dead is great fun, if not on a par with his originals, and the quality of the effects and gore remains excellent throughout thanks to the stunning work of his groundbreaking team.

Disadvantages: Pretty much the only disadvantage is the fact that, if you’re going the whole hog, you’ll have to do the final two movies. Diary Of The Dead isn’t terrible but it’s nowhere near his own high standards, and Survival Of The Dead doesn’t have much to recommend it at all.

Star spotting: Dennis Hopper, John Leguizamo, Tatiana Maslany.

Go further: The generally good fun The Return Of The Living Dead franchise, Zack Snyder’s surprisingly strong Dawn Of The Dead remake.

Texas

TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE

For the newcomers: A family of inbred hillbillies hunt, brutally kill and eat whoever is unfortunate enough to come across them on their lonely patch of Texas. Don’t eat the chilli.

Number of films: 4

A sensible marathon would be: 1, 2

Advantages: Putting aside the fact that the original has lost none of its power to shock, Tobe Hooper’s follow-up is a fascinating sequel. He decided not to go down the obvious crowd-pleasing route, instead delivering a gross-out satire of Reagan-era America, and a great heroine in Caroline Williams’ radio DJ Stretch. As for the other sequels, well, there’s the fun of star spotting.

Disadvantages: It’s not got as many sequels as the other films here but there’s no real reason to go beyond the second one. There’s nothing particularly interesting about the third and fourth movies, and two films do not a marathon make.

Star spotting: Matthew McConaughey, Renée Zellweger, Viggo Mortensen.

Go further: The OK remake, the remake’s naff prequel, the confused and terrible sequel/reboot Texas Chainsaw.

chucky

CHILD’S PLAY

For the newcomers: Dying criminal Charles Lee Ray uses voodoo to put his spirit into the body of a Good Guy doll, becoming Chucky. Thus begins his murderous quest to find a new body, later helped by his girlfriend Tiffany.

Number of films: 6

A sensible marathon would be: 1, 2, 4 (Bride Of Chucky), 6 (Curse Of Chucky)

Take a nap during: 3

Advantages: The Chucky movies are surprisingly consistent. While it’s not the most highly regarded of the horror franchises, writer Don Mancini has taken good care of his creepy baby over the years, from its beginnings as straight (ish) horror through to its rebirth as horror comedy with Bride Of Chucky, introducing Jennifer Tilly’s magnificent Tiffany. If you’re not a fan of the trash-tastic, totally comedic Seed Of Chucky (and we kind of are), then the most recent sequel, Curse Of Chucky, was a welcome return to form. And lest we forget, Brad Dourif is brilliant as the voice of Chucky.

Disadvantages: The first two sequels aren’t great, in fact 3 is terrible. The later sequels are divisive, so there’s a good chance you just won’t get into the idea of a bickering killer doll couple. But you should.

Star spotting: Jennifer Tilly, Jenny Agutter, John Ritter, John Waters, Grace Zabriskie

Go further: Not an option as yet, as that rumoured remake never happened.

exorcist

THE EXORCIST

For the newcomers: Ancient demon Pazuzu possesses young Regan MacNeil and only Max Von Sydow’s Father Merrin can drive it out. Getting rid of the bastard for good proves to be tricky, as the later films demonstrate.

Number of films: 5

A sensible marathon would be: 1, 3, 5 (Dominion)

Take a nap during: 2 (The Heretic), 4 (The Beginning)

Advantages: Well, first of all, who else is going to be doing an Exorcist film marathon? Who would put themselves through that? You’ll also get to enjoy the dour po-faced-ness of William Peter Blatty’s vision and filmmakers failing to interpret it. Part III is actually really good, with a strong lead turn from George C Scott and one of the best ever jump scares, and Paul Schrader’s take on the prequel has a certain something. Also, The Heretic is completely barking mad, so there’s that.

Disadvantages: You’ve chosen a very glum series of films for your marathon. Staying awake through these self-serious, deeply flawed sequels and the two duelling prequels will require a real effort and a love of Catholic guilt.

Star spotting: Richard Burton, Samuel L Jackson, James D’Arcy.

saw

SAW

For the newcomers: Dying cancer sufferer John Kramer becomes serial killer (or not, technically) Jigsaw, who forces bad guys and people who don’t appreciate their lives to get themselves out of horrifying traps.

Number of films: 7

A sensible marathon would be: 1, 2, 3, 6

Take a nap during: 5, 7 

Advantages: No film series on this list benefits more from being watched consecutively than the Saw movies. With one being released every year, the filmmakers put a ludicrous amount of emphasis on leaving clues and picking up on details from previous films, with two sequels actually running simultaneously. They’re also very consistent in tone, inventiveness, brutality and, for the most part, quality (after the obvious post-original drop). It should also be noted that the quality of the acting remains fairly high thanks to Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith and others.

Disadvantages: Well, if you’re not up for seven films of people being tortured to death, this isn’t for you. That tonal consistency also means that things get samey pretty quickly as you head into your fourth or fifth film of people getting torn apart by clockwork devices. And Saw 3D is awful.

Star spotting: …Chester Bennington?

final

FINAL DESTINATION

For the newcomers: After having a premonition of an elaborate deadly accident, a high school kid saves the lives of himself and his group. However, Death is coming back for all of them in one way or another

Number of films: 5

A sensible marathon would be: 1, 2, 3, 5

Take a nap during: 4

Advantages: Like the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, the Final Destination movies rely on inventive carnage to up the ante, finding increasingly implausible but heavily signposted ways for the characters to meet their ends. With the exception of the dull fourth movie, all the Final Destination movies are hugely entertaining: knowing, gory, funny and surprising.

Disadvantages: The fourth film is a stumbling block, and even the otherwise good fifth film takes a weird terrible turn towards the end before pulling it back. There’s also the fact that, if you’ve seen the movies before, there’s not a huge amount to them beyond the surprises.

Star spotting: Seann William Scott, Ali Larter, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, David Koechner.

So there you go! Remember to watch responsibly and have an excellent Halloween. Everyone’s entitled to one good scare.

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