Every year round this time, as people ring in the spooky days surrounding Halloween with a good horror flick or two, I prepare to watch my own small cache of movies to celebrate the season. While I don’t mind horror movies, they aren’t movies that I regularly seek out. Also I’m not much into being visually terrified, so if I’m going to watch something scary, I’d rather it tend towards comedic or campy horror — the kind of stuff that’s not nightmare-inducing, but rather sends me off to dreamland with giggles and a smile. With that in mind, here’s five movies that I have queued up and ready to watch as the air chills and nighttime spirits come out to play.
P. S. Minor spoilers for older movies ahead, possibly.
I’ve adored Tim Burton’s movies since the halcyon days of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. And nothing can top Burton’s over-the-top and beyond-the-underworld movie Beetlejuice. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve seen this movie. It was one of the first movies I ever recorded onto a VHS tape. Once it hit the rotation on cable, I’d watch it just about every chance I got. Beetlejuice is crazy, brilliant, and beautiful. And you’ve seen it, surely? I’m not spoiling anything when I talk of the genius of Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice, the delightfully demonic “bio-exorcist” who’s brought into reality by a recently deceased couple, the Maitlands, played by Geena David and Alec Baldwin, right? Who else could they have called up to scare off the horrible Deetz family (including the wonderful Winona Ryder as daughter Lydia) who had mangled their lovely home? While Beetlejuice is more funny than terrifying, had its share of less-than-pleasant sites. In the clip above, the toothy caricature of Beetlejuice’s head on a snake’s body is still something I don’t enjoy seeing – it’s just…so…(((shivers))).
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Speaking of Tim Burton, let’s get my other favorite not-quite-scary movie by him out of the way. One of the great things about Burton’s works is that they are timeless, and The Nightmare Before Christmas serves as testament to this. Since viewing this story of Jack Skellington and his motley band of Halloweentown residents in theatres long ago, it’s become a perennial favorite and a must-watch for me at Halloween. Stunning stop-motion animation (one of my favorite types of animation), plus a fantastic group of voice actors, plus a fun yet poignant story about Halloween, Christmas, and freindship, PLUS a musical soundtrack for the ages…I mean, it simply covers all the entertainment bases. But above all stand its character creations. The monsters and ghouls of Halloweentown were so intricately and carefully designed. There is so much charm behind the all the ghoulish looks and dark stares! Jack and his crew attempting to make Christmas their own by creating a number of macabre toys (shown above) is one of my favorite scenes. Something about the “rat hat” makes me snicker every time I see it.
Arsenic and Old Lace
Cary Grant is, without a doubt, one of my favorite classic movie stars. Regardless of what history says of him now, his suave manner, quick wit, and good looks can’t be denied. And he displayed all of those facets and then some in Arsenic and Old Lace. It’s not a “Halloween” movie, but it’s set around that time of year. It’s not a scary film, but it provides a few tingly moments. It’s definitely one of my all-time favorite movies. Arsenic and Old Lace tells the story of Mortimer Brewster (Grant), a professed and published bachelor who’s secretly getting married. In the span of a single evening, viewers are treated to Brewster’s unsettling discovery about his “sweet” aunts, the antics of his brother who believes he’s Theodore Roosevelt, the chilling revelation concerning his other brother and his “mad” doctor cohort, and his brush with an insane asylum. Arsenic and Old Lace is a joyous farce with elements that both delight and unsettle. The cast is top notch with a number of well-known actors at Grant’s side. It’s perfect any time of year, but it’s especially great around Halloween. Grant is at his comedic best in the scene above — seriously, there are few actors who could and can portray so much through facial expressions alone — though it’s his aunts who steal the show.
Army of Darkness
As far as actual horror movies go, the original Evil Dead movies are probably the ones I most enjoy (and really, the first one is legitimately scary). Of the trio, I have a very soft and slightly warped spot in my heart for Army of Darkness. Bruce Campbell is at his best as S-Mart employee Ash Williams who’s thrown back to Middle Ages and reluctantly battles the undead in order to return to his own time. My mind reels as I think of all the goodness that’s in this movie, from the classic one-liners (“THIS is my boomstick!”) to the bizarrely disturbing army of skeletons and demonic creatures that arise to fight. The movie swims and delights in highly perturbing sites (seriously, that witch Ash has to fight in the pit is really horrible), as much as it does comedy and camp (the scene with Ash and the tiny Ashes in the windmill says it all). Also on display is the intensity and fun associated with Sam Raimi. Hard cuts and jarring scene changes occur throughout the film and not at all to its detriment. His best films play out almost like comic books, and Army of Darkness is an awesome example of this. In the clip above, as Ash and his army find themselves in the midst of battle with the hoards of undead, things border on the ridiculous, but he gets the job done. It’s just so terrific.
Yeah, you know who you’re gonna call! There are plenty of 80s movies that are perfect in their own ways, and Ghostbusters might just be the best of that decade to combine scares with comedy. It hardly needs any sort of introduction – Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis – that should tell you everything you need to know. So yes, the movie is hilarity incarnate with Murray, Ackroyd, and Ramis as the original ghost busting team out to save New York from its hellish fate of being crushed by the giant Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. But before that, the trio (turned quad) had to take on the likes of the government (super scary!) in addition to any number of spooky creatures that have been released from the gates of beyond. Ghostbusters is oh so entertaining on a number of levels, from the great acting and wonderful setting to the fantastic story and soundtrack. I love how the song “Magic” in the scene above plays so eerily against the haunting and possessing of an entire city. No need to cover your eyes – Ghostbusters begs to be watched and enjoyed.
Do you have any favorite non-scary movies that you enjoy watching around Halloween, or do you prefer to stick out the dark evenings with traditional scary movies?