Halloween and Horror Documentaries

I describe/review these as I track them down and view them, but the list is useful for Halloween aficionados looking for things to put in their queue about horror/sci-fi films and Halloween in general.  Many of these can be found on YouTube and virtually nowhere else anymore.

100 Years of Horror with Christopher Lee (1996) - Hosted by Christopher Lee, it's a good overview of notable (if not necessarily widely-seen or "essential") horror films, but because it takes on so much material in under two hours, it feels rushed beyond purpose.  It's almost a random series of clips (sometimes from very dated trailers) with occassional interviews and/or trivia about the film.  Films are loosely grouped by subject matter rather than chronologically or by quality.  In fact, there's nothing to indicate whether the film is actually worth viewing; it's just a series of "Here's another horror film."  Interestingly, this documentary was either re-edited or simply spun into a series of straight-to-video 30 min documentaries about sub-genres (e.g., witches, aliens, etc.).  I haven't seen any installments of that series, but perhaps they do less showcasing and more analysis.

American Movie (1999) - Terrific, engrossing documentary of a struggling amateur filmmaker trying to put together his own great American horror movie.  It has been described as something of a filmmaking bible, but rather than a technical document, it's simply an amazing demonstration of how much determination is required to put one's vision onto a screen. (Recommended!)

The American Scream (2012) -
A great look at three "home haunters" in the same Mass. neighborhood.  At least one of the families is unintentionally entertaining, but I found myself nodding at a lot of the observations from one of the others.  Lots of good ideas for decorations, and the film as a whole is good celebration of the home-haunting phenomenon.

The American Nightmare (2000) -
Another of many documentaries to feature interviews and analysis by
John Carpenter, Wes Craven, George Romero, Tobe Hooper, John Landis, Tom Savini, etc.  It attempts to tie historic trends to horror films of their day.  Rather than a scattershot overview, this one hones in on just a handful of the most notable films in the horror canon.

American Scary (2006) - A terrific overview of the history of horror hosts and the current state of this peculiar art form.  It's a broad subject, so the coverage of most hosts is too superficial to satisfy the appetite of fans of the genre, but it will whet it for those who never really thought much about what horror hosting is all about.  (Recommended!)

Attack of the 50ft Monster Mania (1999) - Again hosted by Elvira as the second part of the trilogy of "Monster Mania" documentaries. (Recommended!)

The Aurora Monsters: The Model Craze That Gripped the World (2010)

A History of Horror (2010) - A terrific survey of the genre in three parts with personal touches (e.g., autobiographical bits) by its host.  Produced by the BBC, a fourth part was added sometime later.  (Recommended!)

Beast Wishes: The Fantastic World of Bob and Kathy Burns (2013)

The Beast Within: The Making of Alien (2003) - A very thorough documentary about the creation of the film all the way from early drafts of the script through to its release.  All the principal players behind the scenes are interviewed extensively: Dan O'Bannon, Ridley Scott, H.R. Giger, many producers, etc. as well as most of the cast, and the material is appropriately cut up into topics arranged in chronological order in the filmmaking process.  Very thorough and effectively presented!  (Recommended!)

Best Worst Movie (2009) - An exploration of the phenomena surrounding the cult who love Troll 2), the latest contender for the "worst movie ever made."  The documentary is well-liked, but it honestly isn't as interesting as I'd hoped, and it fails to bring any insights to anyone who has seen the movie already.  More than anything, it simply allows fans to catch up with the cast of the Troll 2.

Boogeymen II: Masters of Horror (2002) - Hosted By Bruce Campbell, it's a collection of interviews with horror directors such as John Carpenter, Wes Craven, George Romero, Guillermo del Toro, Tobe Hooper, John Landis, etc. plus Rick Baker.

Bride of Monster Mania (2000) - Again hosted by Elvira as the third part of the trilogy of "Monster Mania" documentaries.  This one focuses on depictions of women in horror films and their transformation over time.  (Recommended!)

The Eldritch Influence: The Life, Vision, and Phenomenon of H.P. Lovecraft (2003) - Interviews with several authors (and others) including Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, and Brian Lumley as well as Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi about the Lovecraft's life and what influenced his writing.  It doesn't spend much time on the work itself though, so it's more like a biography of his work than a biography of the author, if that makes any sense.  Some silly interludes with others that I won't dwell on.  It's enjoyable for any Lovecraft fan, but not really interesting for anyone not already thoroughly familiar with his work.  See instead Fear of the Unknown (below).

Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner (2007) -
A making-of extra included with the release of the "Final Cut" version of the original film.  It's only 3 hours long, and yet you just know there's a wealth of material they didn't have the room to get to.  While it isn't as compelling as something like Hearts of Darkness, this easily ranks among the best behind-the-scenes documentaries ever produced.

Every Other Day Is Halloween (2009) (about horror host Count Gore de Vol)

Famous Monster: Forrest J Ackerman (2007) - A very short film (48 mins) about the legendary writer/editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland.  It's a very charming portrait that makes you wish for more, but I think the length was chosen wisely since it is easy to drift from creating context for the biographical material to just the opposite.  Forrey and the sci-fi/horror community are some inextricably entertwined that it would be easy to turn this into something more like The Sci-Fi Boys (see below).

Fantastic Flesh: The Art Of Makeup Efx (2008) - Not really an overview of the history of makeup, it's instead more of a collection of anecdotes by people in the profession (both makeup artists and the filmmakers who employed their talents over the years).  Only 60 minutes long, but very enjoyable.  (Recommended!)

Fear of The Unknown (2009) - A biography and analysis of H.P. Lovecraft and his works.  Features a surprising number of quality interviewees such as Neil Gaiman, John Carpenter, Guillermo Del Toro, S.T. Joshi (of course!), Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub, Robert M. Price, and others.  I'll bet more were intended, but there honestly wasn't enough room.  It is fairly thorough in its scope and honestly could have been expanded into perhaps three parts to allow adequate space for all the discussion required for everything they would have liked to have covered: discussion of the works, Lovecraft's influence on their work and culture in general, as well as all the biographical information.  (Recommended!)

Finding the Future: A Science Fiction Conversation (2004)

Flesh and Blood, The Hammer Heritage of Horror (1994)

Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: The 'Plan 9' Companion (aka "The Ed Wood Story: The Plan 9 Companion," 1992) -
Made a couple years before the Tim Burton-directed biopic, this documentary is in its own way far superior.  It has so many interviews with as many principal participants in the production, including Vampira herself, Maila Nurmi.  It is probably the most authoritative source of information about the making of the film since it was produced in time to access many people who have since passed away.  It was released as a bonus on some dvd releases of Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).

The Future of Fear (2011)

Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006) -
Great overview of the history of slasher films (with the notable absence of the Phantasm and Hellraiser series which admittedly are original enough that they perhaps can't be easily lumped in with the rest of the subgenre).  Loads of great interviews with insightful filmmakers and other folks tied to movie (e.g., stars, critics, horror magazine writers/editors).

Halloween: 25 Years of Terror (2006)
-  A flat and uninteresting overview of the Halloween movie series.  What's surprising is that there actually is really good material here: loads of interviews with cast members from all the films, convention panel discussion, behind-the-scene footage (including on-set home movies), and so on.  However, there's simply no direction to the assembly of all this material.  It merely tries to give complete coverage of the course of the films (and does so honestly, revealing mis-steps along the way), yet it fails to appreciate that the flaws make this a case study about film series in general.  It's a point that's lost and that a better filmmaker would have known how to channel.

Halloween Journey (2006)

Halloween: The Happy Haunting of America! (1997)

Hammer - The Studio That Dripped Blood (1987)
- A history of how this small studio became the successor to Universal in the monster movie business.  I think it would be more self-aware had it been made today, but the documentary was fortunately filmed at a time when the principal players (i.e., actors and studio execs) were still around to provide firsthand accounts of the creation of their works.  Features a lot of interviews with greats like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

The Haunted History of Halloween (1997) - A History Channel production dating from a time when they weren't so obsessed with aliens and pawn shops.  It's a little too hung up on the religious back-and-forth in Halloween's origins, but that's an essential party of the story.  Less emphasis is placed on the evolution of many of the customs we engage in today; there is only brief mention of their emergence, which means it fails to connect with modern viewers who are expecting the dots to eventually connect to what we call Halloween in the United States in the then-20th century.

His Name Was Jason (2009) - .A retrospective on the entire the Friday the 13th movie series (up to that point) that brings together the various directors, screenwriters, and seemingly dozens of D-list actors who played the massacred teens over the years.  Spends a little too much time celebrating the formula without acknowleding that, frankly, the worst killing occured off-screen by boring its audience to death.

Horrible Horror (1986) - Not really a documentary so much as a compilation of clips of bad horror movies (and even some bloopers), all hosted by the legendary Zacherley.  The whole thing is a modern (for its time) recreation of his schtick, including the bit about the pet amoeba, which is worth the price of admission if you're a fan (I am, obviously).  Most of this could today be found in pieces on YouTube, but it's fun to have it all in one place with the Zacherley segments to break it up.  (In fact, you can probably find Horrible Horror in its entirety on YouTube!)

Jodorowsky's Dune (2013) - I'm not sure this qualifies as a "Halloween movie," but there were certainly horrific scenes intended in this aborted (somewhat loose) adaption of Frank Herbert's Dune, and it's a fascinating look at would have been an amazingly over-the-top (and potentially just plain amazing) film.  Additionally, I would point out that it is surprisingly funny and entertaining on top of the coverage of the design and storyboarding work.

Monsterama (2003) - 24 episodes (about 15 minutes each) focusing on different personalities and pop culture plastic such as collectibles, Don Post Masks, the Aurora monster models, etc., all hosted and narrated by Elvira.  These were clearly done for fans by fans of the genre.  (Recommended!)

Monsterama: A Tribute to Horror Hosts (2004)

Monster Mania (1997)
- Hosted by Elvira as the first part of the trilogy of "Monster Mania" documentaries.  This one generally surveys the history of monster movies.  Nothing special here except nostalgia, but it doubles as a "must see" checklist for films in the genre, some of which even I still haven't gotten around to viewing.  (Recommended!)

Never Sleep Again (2010)
- A thorough overview of the entire Nightmare on Elm Street series, including New Nightmare and the Vs. spin-off.  Astoundingly, this film is four (4!) hours long, so there is tons of discussion about each movie.  In particular, there is a lengthy and hilarious analysis of the gay overtones in "Nightmare Part 2."  It's better than His Name Was Jason (above) by the same crew, possibly because the Nightmare series was simply more interesting on every level.  Enjoyable even if you aren't a fan.  I'm not especially, but I watched the series growing up, so this was an interesting way to revisit it.  (Recommended!)

Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue (2009) -
A dissection of the American genre from its beginnings almost a hundred years ago.  Note: Some of the interviews are recycled from
Boogeymen II: Masters of Horror (above), which is a bit disappointing, but the footage works, and it's a very thorough survey that connects the films to their respective historical context.  (Recommended!)

The Pagan Invastion: Halloween - Trick or Treat (2007) -
A hilariously pathetic attempt to denounce Halloween as a satanic holiday, produced by a Christian propaganda film company.  Particularly dubious claims about satanic cult murders, etc. that come from out of nowhere when the documentary purports to be about a holiday.  The scariest thing about it is there are people who will believe this bullshit.

The Sci Fi Boys (2006) - A terrific look at the childhood projects of the generation who grew up watching Ray Harryhausen movies and reading Famous Monsters of Filmland, then matured into professional filmmakers.  A very endearing portrait.  A lot of very genuine mutual admiration among influences.  (Recommended!)

Spine Tinger!  The William Castle Story (2007) - About the life and times of the most inventive gimmick-driven director in B-movie history (more about that on this page).  It's a very endearing portrait of the man, told from the perspective of those who worked with him, fans who grew up to work in the business (including the always-entertaining John Waters!), as well as personal details from one of his daughters.  (Recommended!)

Stan Lee: Here Come The Heroes (2002?) - Kevin Smith interviews Stan the Man about the creation of his most favorite character during Marvel's early years.  Stan is a great subject, and as much as Smith is famous for being a big talker, he's actually a really effective and knowledgable interviewer who keeps Stan on track.  (Recommended!)

Superior Firepower: The Making of Aliens (2003) - See The Beast Within: The Making of Alien (above).  Both documentaries were made as part of a box set of the film series (and also released on the deluxe editions of the respective films).  There are no more thorough discussions of the making of these films.  Of note is the extensive interview footage alternating between 2003 and during/around the time of the film's production.

Tales from the Crypt: From Comic Books to Television (2004) - A very thorough history of EC Comics (not just that one title) that covers the entire history of the company.  In spite of the documentary's title, the majority of the show focuses on the original print edition: it's inception, evolution, and demise, followed by adaptations (direct and indirect in the form of Creepshow) and the eventual reprints.  Excellent contributions by filmmakers and writers who grew up under the influence of the books.  (Recommended!)

That $#!% Will Rot Your Brain: How the Monster Kids Transformed Popular Culture (2012)

Vampira: The Movie (2006)

Vincent Price: The Sinister Image (1988)

See also:


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