As Halloween approaches, some people ready their “sexy” costumes and gear up to chest-heave cocktails onto the lap of their fellow ex-frat bros and/or Uber driver. Some wax nostalgic for the days when the Castro was resplendent for the holiday, before violent straight people necessitated that party’s demise. Others among us have long since reverted to the default sentiment “Fuck it, I’ll just watch a movie.”
You needn’t watch that Halloween celluloid at home, however. There are plenty of relevant options at local theaters, from the family-friendly mallflick options of already-opened animated The Addams Family and live-action fairy tale Malificent: Mistress of Evil to the arthouse-ier new The Lighthouse, another period horror film from the director of The Witch. (See our review here.) Also for grownups, albeit in a less rarified way, is gore-comedy sequel Zombieland 2, which opens on the 18th. No doubt scarier than all the above combined will be another new release, the documentary Where’s My Roy Cohn?, about the notorious slimebag lawyer who managed to be mentored by “red scare” careerist Joe McCarthy, then mentor aspiring monstrosity Donald Trump. (Who proved a success, not least by refusing to visit or communicate with his benefactor once the latter was known to headed toward his 1986 deathbed from AIDS complications.)
Farther off the beaten path from these commercial releases, however, the Bay Area’s embattled-but-not-yet-
Sorceress Sabbath Witchcraft Film Festival at the Balboa
While today we’re neck-deep in zombies, in the 1960s and 70s the cinematic supernatural flavor of choice was often Satanism. Who could resist this day-long marathon of witchy entertainment from (and one tribute to) that golden age, which reaches back as far as Jacques Tourneur’s memorable 1957 British production Night of the Demon? Also coming from the U.K. five years later was a fine little “B” thriller, Burn Witch Burn, in which a professor’s wife secretly practices the occult arts—to his benefit, then to his considerable misfortune. Similarly, 1966’s The Witches has Joan Fontaine as a woman who discovers the quaint little English town she’s relocated to is chock-full of…uh, you-know-what.
Daughters of Satan (1972) globe-trots to embroil a pre-Magnum Tom Selleck in occult doings of the “Manila Assembly of Lucifer.” It mostly played drive-ins in America, as did 1971 curio Simon, King of the Witches—a coolly countercultural take on similar hijinks—and 1975’s The Devil’s Rain, wherein William Shatner discovers the Devil looks a whole lot like Ernest Borgnine (which makes sense, really). You can spot not-yet-famous John Travolta as one of many Satan worshippers who melt into a climactic puddle of colored guck. Writer-director Anna Biller (Viva) had those and other very Seventies films in mind when she made 2016’s The Love Witch, a meticulous Me Decade exploitation homage in which a pretty, swinging sorceress (Samantha Robinson) seduces various men—but oh, how they’ll regret disappointing her. Author, educator, artist and practicing witch Maja D’Aoust will speak between films at 6:30 pm. Sat/19, Balboa. More info here.
Also at the Balboa in the weeks leading up to Halloween are screenings of 2015 comedy horror Dude Bro Party Massacre III (Wed/23), the underrated, Boonville-shot 2008 action/horror blowout Pig Hunt (Sun/27), and James Cameron’s 1986 terror-in-space sequel Aliens, with Sigourney Weaver once again in tentacled trouble. More info here.
Horror Classics at the Castro
The city’s oldest still-operating movie palace offers plenty of vintage screen creepiness between now and All Hallow’s Eve, starting Fri/18 with a “P.J. Soles Double Feature” starring the googly-eyed cult actress in John Carpenter’s slasher-genre-igniting 1978 Halloween (she’s the girl who gets strangled by the telephone cord), as well as the next-year’s non-horror Rock ’N’ Roll High School. On Mon/21 there’s early 60s expressionist phantasmagorias Night Tide (featuring young Dennis Hopper in love with a maybe-mermaid) and nightmarish Carnival of Souls.
Sun/27 brings the mother of all dueling-diva horrors Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, plus Brian De Palma’s original Carrie, the mother of all high school revenge fantasies. Mon/28 offers gay auteur James Whale’s biggest popular hits, the 1931 Frankenstein and its delirious 1935 sequel Bride of Frankenstein. On Tues/30, strong arguments against child-bearing arrive in the form of Roman Polanski’s 1968 smash Rosemary’s Baby, as well as Larry Cohen’s 1974 monster-infant opus It’s Alive! Finally, on Halloween itself the scares go sci-fi with two much-remade Atomic Age sci-fi classics: Don Siegel’s initial take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the 1951 version of alien-in-the-Arctic thriller The Thing. More info here.
Other Cinema Spooktacular
Exploring film/video’s psychotronic and ephemeral underbelly, far from the glare of mainstream commercial features, Other Cinema’s pre-‘ween extravaganza will provoke either delight or a sudden need to adjust your meds. On tap will be everything from fringe-Christian madness (we’re promised “Pat Boone speaking in tongues”) to the very different churches of UFO-lovin’ Unarius and snark-worshippin’ Sub-Genius, not to mention 1980 scare film Revival of Evil, in which New Age crystals, heavy metal and Dungeons & Dragons are fingered as introductory hors d’oeuvres to the Dark Lord’s eternal banquet. Plus plenty of audiovisual esoterica on the uses of ritual magick, backward-masking, and more. There will be treats (BYO pumpkin spice beer), but it’s probably safe to say the evening will lean more heavily toward the trick side. Admission is $6.66, so don’t say you weren’t warned should you find yourself toasting in the fiery depths of Hades. Sat/26, Artists Television Access. More info here.
Don’t Go to the Alamo!
Of course you should go to the Alamo Drafthouse—but if a 1970s drive-in thriller had to be made about it, the above would be our chosen title. They’ve got a very busy late October of horror titles planned. Sat/19 there’s 1935 Karloff-Lugosi faceoff The Black Cat, a Poe-inspired fever dream that was the most mainstream assignment for subsequent “Poverty Row” maestro Edgar J. Ulmer, as well as arguably Hollywood’s deepest dive into the twisted aesthetics of silent-era German Expressionism.
Sun/20 brings grindhouse cult fave Doris Wishman’s A Night to Dismember, which we describe at greater length here. The next night there’s a rare screening of the other 1931 Dracula—not Tod Browning’s famous Bela Lugosi-starring version, but the Spanish-language production Universal shot simultaneously, directed by George Melford, with Carlos Villarias as the man in the cape. It is considered by some to be the better of the two films. Tues/22 provides a welcome 35mm revival of Ti West’s terrific 2009 House of the Devil, one of the best of many tributes since to the “golden age” of 1980s VHS horror. Wed/23 brings one of the best bad (or just berserk) movies ever, John Boorman’s 1977 Exorcist II: The Heretic, a notoriously panned sequel as daft as it is visually inventive. Linda Blair Pazuzu + Richard Burton = 2Getha 4Evah!
The laughs are more deliberate in Monday’s revival of the original Ghostbusters, as well as Tues/29’s pairing of Wes Craven’s inaugural slasher semi-parody Scream with front-loaded campy comedy Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. There is, strangely, no special screening planned for the Alamo on Halloween itself. But the night before, you can indulge your teenage witching fantasies with an interactive “movie party” featuring The Craft, in which Neve Campbell and Fairuza Balk were among picked-on prep schoolers who use the occult to make those mean girls pay. Candles, rosaries, snakes (!) and other “witchy accessories” are promised to “welcome you to the coven.” Oh San Francisco! You still really are Hell’s own flaming Pit!
Perhaps the most terrifying temptation on the Drafthouse calendar, however, is the all-day Sun/27 event AGFA Presents Dismember the Alamo, at which the American Genre Film Archive celebrates its 10th anniversary with no less than five vintage drive-in and exploitation horrors. The titles are being kept a secret, but it’s promised that one will be a “world premiere restoration”—because restoring such disreputable genre treasures is exactly what AGFA does. It is sure to be a morally unimproving eight hours or so of gratuitous violence and nudity, from the late, lamented days when you couldn’t just get that stuff for free on the Intraweb. More info here.
Seance on a Wet Afternoon
Leave it to the Pacific Film Archive to class up the joint on All Hallow’s Eve with this sole quasi-Gothic entry from its ongoing “Looking Back at the British New Wave” series. Bryan Forbes’ 1964 feature stars Kim Stanley as a frowzy suburbanite who convinces husband Richard Attenborough to kidnap a child so she can claim to have “found” the missing tyke—thus bringing publicity to her hitherto failed business as an ersatz psychic and medium. Dysfunctional adult relationships are the spookiest thing in this unsettling suspense tale that borders on psychological horror. A decade later Forbes endeared himself to genre fans with what was arguably the first feminist horror movie, The Stepford Wives, adapted from Rosemary’s Baby author Iva Levin’s best-seller. Thurs/31. More info here.
Gialloween and more at the Roxie
The Roxie’s main bow to the spooky season this year will be “Gialloween II,” a Wed/22-Fri/25 series of four vintage 1970s Italian thrillers that we preview here. (But info can be found here.). Also playing Wed/22 is something that carries on that subgenre’s traditions in its own campily self-conscious way. Yann Gonzalez’s recent French Knife+Heart, a lurid concoction with Vanessa Paradis as an unstable lesbian producer of 1970s gay male porn whose crew and “talent” start getting offed by a mysterious assailant. The special Frameline-hosted screening also includes Jader’s Super-8 drag queen short Ew Yuk! Other Roxie tricks ’n’ treats are a revival of Mel Brooks’ classic sendup Young Frankenstein (Sat/26) and Film School Drop Outs’ presentation of Wes Craven’s first Scream (Thurs/31). More info here.
Get Out with SF Symphony
Jordan Peele scored a major sleeper hit two years ago with this Stepford Wives-y, satirical yet harrowing take on U.S. racial relations. David Kaluuya plays the new boyfriend taken home to meet Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents (Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford) in a lily-white suburbia where something is very wrong with the few other African-Americans in residence. Michael Abels’ original score was particularly acclaimed, and he’ll conduct the full SFS orchestra in this kickoff to this season’s Symphony Film Series. Subsequent live-music-plus-movie programs will include Disney-Pixar’s ‘toon Coco, the original Ghostbusters, Yuletide classic It’s a Wonderful Life, romcom Love Actually, and Ron Howard’s NASA drama Apollo 13. Wed/30, Davies Symphony Hall. More info here.
The Horror of SF Jazz at Grace Cathedral
Even God’s casa can make a little room for the Devil’s work on Halloween—hey, he’s part of the fam, too—so SF Jazz is providing a program of live accompaniment for two classics of silent horror on the big night. First up is F.W. Murnau’s 1922 German Nosferatu, with Max Schreck as the memorably repellent bloodsucker Count Orlok. It’s a film that’s become a timeless classic despite being successfully sued at the time for unauthorized lifting of its entire plot from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which resulted in many original prints being destroyed under legal order. It’s preceded at Grace by the 1920 Hollywood version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with “Great Profile” John Barrymore—then still America’s leading stage heartthrob—as Robert Louis Stevenson’s protagonist, who finds his scientific experiments unleash a monster within. Renowned performer-composer Dorothy Papadakos will play the Cathedral’s 7500-pipe organ for both features. Thurs/31, Grace Cathedral. More info here.
Occult Amusements at public libraries?! Alert Betsy DeVos!!
All the above events cost money, but you can get your scary-movie fix for free at various SFPL branches over the next couple weeks. On Thurs/24 the original 1982 Poltergeist screens at the Main Library. On Fri/25 the Vistacion Valley branch will screen 1993 witch comedy Hocus Pocus, while Mon/28 brings the 1940 film of Hawthorne’s Gothic tale The House of the Seven Gables (starring Vincent Price, well before he became largely identified with horror) to the Golden Gate Valley library. On Halloween itself the Main will show both George Romero’s 1968 zombie trailblazer Night of the Living Dead and another B&W classic, the silent 1923 Hunchback of Notre Dame with Lon Chaney. For the full October SFPL schedule of free films, click here.
XX at SFMOMA
Also free is this Halloween showing of a 2017 horror omnibus feature by four women directors. Jovanka Vuckovic’s opening segment “The Box” is based on a story by the reliably unsettling late author Jack Ketchum. Much less serious, “The Birthday Party” from Annie Clark (better known as the musical act St. Vincent) is an absurdist nightmare with Melanie Lynskey as an upper-crust mom determined that no mere dead body will ruin her little sweetie’s big day. Roxanne Benjamin’s “Don’t Fall” revisits Horror Movie Rule #1: Never, ever go hiking or camping in the wilderness. Because you will die.
Finally, Girlfight and The Invitation director Karyn Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son” is another parental nightmare, this time involving a child whose imminent arrival at legal adulthood seems to be triggering Omen-level degrees of malevolent bad behavior. Hint: Andy’s dad may be the same horned one who sired the much-aforementioned Rosemary’s baby. A Sundance-premiered feature that saw very little theatrical release, XX is more idiosyncratic than your typical Tales From the Crypt-inspired horror anthology, with artful linking sequences of Svankmajer/Brothers Quay-type stop-motion animation by Sofia Carillo. It will get a rare local big-screen exposure at the museum this holiday. Thurs/31, SFMOMA. More info here.