For the past two years, I’ve been doing Halloween Watchlists, selections of movies I think are perfect for Halloween, but that are a little less-known and off the beaten path. I love the classics ( and even did a post on my favorite Halloween movies that are more mainstream), but sometimes it’s good to watch new stuff. I always try to throw some more comedic movies on my lists, and with 2020 being the year it’s been, we could all use a few laughs right now. So here are some movies that tried to be scary, ended up being unintentionally funny, but are great for Halloween nonetheless. Enjoy!
Bad Ben: The Haunted Highway
I’ve included the previous six “Bad Ben” films on my earlier Halloween lists, and now it’s time for even more Bad Ben. Because approximately two of these are released per year. For the uninitiated, the Bad Ben series is the brainchild of creator/director Nigel Bach, who films all of his movies in his own home, all on a shoestring budget, and stars as the protagonist, Tom Riley. The first “Bad Ben” was meant to be a serious found footage horror film, with Tom Riley purchasing a home on Steelmanville Road in New Jersey (near the stomping grounds of the Jersey Devil, the Pine Barrens) only to quickly discover that his new acquisition is quite haunted. But it quickly ended up becoming a cult favorite due to its unintentional humor. The second installment, a prequel called “Steelmanville Road,” kept the serious tone, but eventually Bach embraced the goofiness of his films and the remaining entries were all more comedic, with Bach’s character of Tom Riley returning as a paranormal investigator who keeps getting into circumstances that bring him back to the Steelmanville Road house where all of his experiences began. Since last Halloween, two more films have been released: “The Haunted Highway” and “Pandemic.” Personally, I think “The Haunted Highway” is the real gem of these two, with the cantankerous (and always more annoyed than scared) Tom Riley now working as a driver for the DropUOff rideshare service (think Uber, but the destination is always to someplace haunted). Poor Tom Riley is now living in a tent, eking out a living driving people around, but wouldn’t you know it, all of Riley’s passengers end up in paranormal situations, or bringing him back to the house where he first encountered Bad Ben. Creepy passengers, a witch, a spooky scarecrow and more await Tom as he drives bad actors around southern New Jersey for an hour and a half. How could you go wrong?
“Pandemic” isn’t a bad entry, but it’s a bit on the long side. And due to the pandemic, is a bit more limited in scope, with Tom Riley back to being a paranormal investigator again (and inexplicably living back in the original Steelmanville Road house) mainly reacting to people on his computer asking for help and being attacked by all sorts of paranormal phenomena. In a cool twist, all of the actors in this film are fans that Bach recruited via social media to help make his movie, and some of the fans are actually damn good actors.
Currently, you can only watch the “Bad Ben” series if you watch them (for free!) on the Bad Ben Roku channel. Or you can buy the entire series on DVD at BadBen.com
MST3K – It Conquered the World
Mystery Science Theater 3000 was best known for making fun of movies so bad, that they were basically unwatchable without the jokes. But every now and then, they’d riff on a movie that wasn’t actually all that bad. Granted, these selections were few and far between, but they did poke fun at a few movies that were completely watchable without the ribbing. One of my favorites is “It Conquered the World,” one of the better offerings by infamous B-movie director Roger Corman. Starring high-profile actors from the time including Lee Van Cleef, Peter Graves, and Beverly Garland, the film was about disgraced scientist Dr. Tom Anderson (Van Cleef) butting heads with fellow scientist and best friend Dr. Paul Nelson (Graves) over his communications with an alleged alien from the planet Venus. Anderson thinks the Venusian has peaceful intentions towards humanity, while Dr. Nelson remains suspicious of the alien’s real motives. Ultimately, the Venusian’s plans for world domination are discovered, and the two scientists have to band together to save the Earth. For a Saturday matinee monster movie from the ’50s, it really isn’t bad – the acting is solid (if just a bit melodramatic), the story is good, and there’s even a heavy-handed message at the end (“He learned almost too late that man is a feeling creature…and, because of it, the greatest in the universe.”). Sure, the alien creature looks like Sigmund the Sea monster mated with a pickle, but it’s good-natured, wholesome fun about aliens trying to conquer the planet, and friends uniting to thwart the evildoers. The riffing in this film is amongst my favorite of all the MST3K episodes of all time, and I’ve had this one on VHS since it first aired. It’s one of my main “go to” episodes as the jokes flow free and easy. It’s hard not to be constantly laughing for this one
There’s an educational short prior to the film, “Snow Thrills,” an old newsreel about all manner of winter sports, most of which have gone completely extinct due to their ridiculous nature. Great stuff here.
“MST3K: It Conquered the World” is thankfully found on YouTube, after a long absence.
Rifftrax Live! Sharknado 2
Yes, I’m a sucker for riffing. Most of these “so-bad-they’re-funny” flicks aren’t that good unless they’re riffed, either by yourself or others, and the professionals always win. The “Sharknado” films are of course in this “so-bad-they’re-funny” category, but being riffed by the former MST3K crew, it brings it to a whole new level. The “Sharknado” films aren’t even remotely scary, but they’re gruesome, gory, and follow the stereotypical horror movie formula. And after the runaway train wreck that was the original, this sequel was made to be awful on purpose. In Part 2, Finn (Ian Ziering) travels to New York City with his ex-wife April (Tara Reid), to see his D-list celebrity brother-in-law, Mark “Sugar Ray” McGrath. Of course, a sharknado hits the Big Apple, and ridiculousness ensues as Finn saves the day, once again, all whilst surrounded by E-list celebrity cameos (didn’t think there was such a thing? watch the “Sharknado” movies). The live versions of Rifftrax are always great, as there’s no editing, and Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy sometimes can’t even contain their laughter – or horror.
In classic MST3K/Rifftrax tradition, there’s a short preceding the main attraction, which is also riffed, 1973’s educational film “Parents – Who Needs Them?” that is perfect riffing fodder. This is another entry that my son and I will watch all year long, no matter the season.
“Rifftrax LIve! Sharknado 2” is available on Amazon Prime.
Incognito Cinema Warriors XP – Let’s Roast Fallout 4
Ok, this one is not a movie, but a video game. But it follows the riffing theme I’ve established here. Fallout 4 is in many ways a horror game – the player is stranded in an apocalyptic nuclear wasteland, scrounging for supplies and fighting off ghouls (basically zombies), other scavengers, mutated human beings, giant bugs, and lots of other horrifying monstrosities. The game itself is set right around Halloween, so even in the aftermath of World War 3, there’s plenty of Halloween decorations including “Happy Halloween” banners and plastic jack-o’-lanterns strewn about. There’s even a crashed UFO and injured alien lurking in the game, if you can find them. In this series, Rikk Wolf and his robot friend Topsy Bot 5000 make fun of an entire playthrough of the game, from character creation to the game’s bizarre conclusion. The game (and riffs) are broken up into parts, and Part 3 sees Rikk and Topsy Bot dressed up for Halloween as they play, as it was just about October when this Part was released on YouTube. The game is Halloween-themed, the riffing is Halloween-themed, and the laughs are fast and furious. You may not think watching people playing a game could be funny, but you’d be very, very wrong.