When I didn’t have cable, Turner Classic Movies was one of the channels I missed the most. Where else can you stumble upon It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World followed by The Great Race? Or catch Zardoz at two in the morning? Their 31 Days of Oscar is annual must-see TV, their year-end “In Memoriam” segment routinely puts the Oscars’ version to shame, and they regularly schedule some real blockbuster mini-marathons like a recent evening where they showed Red River and Rio Bravo back-to-back. I so often point out their goodness on my Facebook feed, you’d think I worked for them or something. I don’t, but that doesn’t mean quality programming shouldn’t have attention brought to it.
And one place where TCM really shines is around Halloween. Ever since AMC’s Monster Fest deteriorated into their annual attempt to see how many times they can show bad Halloween sequels in a single month, TCM has been the go-to place for quality scares during October. Digging into the schedule, this year looks to be no different. Now there are horror movies scattered here and there throughout the month, but I’m just going to concentrate on the big chunks of scary TCM has in store for us.
Sunday, October 2
TCM usually does a “Star of the Month,” but for October, we’re getting a “Monster of the Month” as well. And stalking around on Sunday nights will be maybe the most recognizable movie monster of all time, Frankenstein. And boy are they kicking things off in style. Frankenstein and Bride are stone cold classics, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen Son. I know Bride heavily influenced Young Frankenstein (a title you should keep in mind), but I’m curious to see if Mel Brooks was at all inspired by Son.
Monday, October 3
The actual “Star of the Month” for October is Christopher Lee, a total no-brainer of a choice for Halloween. But this seems like an odd assortment of films to kick things off, especially when you’re classifying The Fellowship of the Ring as a horror film. Granted, Peter Jackson does do a lot of horror movie-style direction in this, especially with the Ringwraith and Moria scenes, and anyway, never a bad time to re-watch a Lord of the Rings movie. Same goes for the Richard Lester Musketeer films. Jinnah is a bio-pic of about the founder of Pakistan that Lee considered one of his best roles, and just the kind of obscure find TCM excels at.
Friday, October 7
On Fridays in October, Turner Classic Movies is becoming Terror Classic Movies, and they’re opening with a selection of silent horror. Nosferatu, Caligari and Phantom are the standouts here, particularly the surreal dreamscapes of Caligari, which is arguably the first Tim Burton movie ever made.
Sunday, October 9
Technically this is the second “Monster of the Month” night for Frankenstein, and Meets the Wolf Man and House are both fine bits of Universal Monster fun. But stay up into the wee hours for two of the greatest haunted house movies ever made in House (aka Hausu) and The Haunting. Or DVR them if you’re a remotely responsible adult who has to Monday.
Monday, October 10
Christopher Lee’s second night in the spotlight starts off on a classic but undeniably problematic foot with the first three of his turns as the pulp villain Fu Manchu. These were popular enough at the time to merit five films in all, but nowadays, well, it’s a white British dude playing the ultimate Chinese stereotype. But late night has Lee back in more traditional horror territory.
Friday, October 14 – Saturday, October 15
I’ve always preferred a more light-hearted, merry trickster sort of take on Halloween, so this slate of horror comedies is right up my alley. Young Frankenstein deserves better than a 1 AM time slot though.
Sunday, October 16
Frankenstein gets the classic Hammer Films treatment in the first two films of the evening, but then late night belongs to an interesting slate of Japanese horror, including one of the most bizarre kaiju films you’re likely to see, The X from Outer Space.
Monday, October 17
A grab bag of horror from Christopher Lee, including his first film with fellow horror legend Vincent Price in The Oblong Box. I’m not really familiar with these, and I imagine the main draw in them is Lee’s macabre presence more than anything else. Although going by its title, Horror Hotel could be a hoot.
Friday, October 21 – Saturday, October 22
This night of Terror Classic Movies focuses on evil scientists and doctors, before seguing into some classic Mystery Science Theater fare with The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and The Killer Shrews. Which probably won’t be half as funny without the running commentary, especially considering how late you’ll have to stay up (or how early you’ll have to get up) to see them.
Sunday, October 23
We finish off the essential, Peter Cushing Hammer Frankenstein films, but it’s the last two films that are really intriguing. The Phantom Carriage is an early Swedish horror film known both for its special effects and for being an early influence on Ingmar Bergman. And Epidemic is an early film from director Lars Von Trier. So we’re all moody and Scandinavian on a Sunday evening, apparently.
Monday, October 24
This is the Christopher Lee evening we’ve been waiting for, as we get six of his performances in the role that cemented his horror superstardom, Dracula. We don’t get The Brides of Dracula, since Lee missed that one, nor his final turn in The Satanic Rites of Dracula, but that’s ten hours of gothic magnificence right there.
Wednesday, October 26
Okay, I’m cheating a little here, because, despite TCM’s assertions otherwise, only one of these (The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy) is even remotely horror. But good lord look at that line-up. Time After Time followed by Time Bandits? Logan’s Run followed by Soylent Green? Damn, TCM, pace yourself before you get hurt.
Or maybe I spoke too soon…
Friday, October 28 – Saturday, October 29
Look at that. Seriously. Just look at it. Actually, on second thought, don’t look at it, because you’re not worthy to look at it. It’s greater than all of us. That’s nearly 24 hours of awesome that we clearly don’t deserve.
Sunday, October 30
We get our final salute to Frankenstein with the definitive humorous takes on the story (and a much more deserving time slot for Young Frankenstein), some prime Vincent Price goodness with Dr. Phibes, and some classic William Castle with The Tingler. It only seems like a letdown because of the magnificence that preceded it.
Monday, October 31
Okay, Halloween on a Monday sucks. If we can move Easter all over the calendar, we should be able to do the same with Halloween so it’s on a Friday or Saturday. But at least TCM is there to ease the pain with another stellar line-up, including our final night with Christopher Lee, who gets quite the tribute this month. And just good, solid horror before and after.
Honestly, the only problem I see here is how to possibly watch all of this. You’ll run out of caffeine. Your DVR will explode. You’ll forget to eat and bathe. You’ll turn into your very own horror story, wide sleepless eyes staring at your screen through the darkness. And you’ll love every minute of it. You can keep AMC running Michael and Freddy and Jason into the ground. This is Halloween.
And Mr. Turner, you’re welcome.