By: Josh Bravo
If you’re reading this, you probably love Halloween as much as I do. It’s just the best - pumpkins everywhere; horror movies on basic cable; cool air (depending on where you live); autumnal colors (also depending on where you live); Spirit Halloween stores popping up; the costume and decoration section at big box stores; mini Snickers; those orange Oreos; haunted houses; fog machines; haunted trails; skeletons; Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" being overplayed; Halloween-themed TV episodes; bobbing for apples; people discovering The Misfits; costume parties; blah, blah, blah. I could go on forever. I really think the best part of October is that everyone suddenly relates to all of us horror fanatics for 31 days. Everyone is in the mood to watching something scary. Where are these people the rest of the year? Who knows!
But let’s get to the bottom line of this article: every October I have a sustaining desire to watch movies ABOUT Halloween. I’m not even exclusively talking about something scary. I’ll take something family-friendly or funny or weird or whatever it might be. If it’s about Halloween, I’m in. And I’m not talking about having one scene set during Halloween. I’m saying, if you can replace Halloween and set it around any other day or holiday, I’m out. Halloween has to have a crucial part of the plot.
So, with all that said, I’ve compiled a list of some of the best and some of my favorite Halloween movies, TV episodes and specials. Right off the bat, I’m not including the usual suspects: John Carpenter’s Halloween, Hocus Pocus, Trick R Treat, It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, and Halloweentown. These are Halloween staples and just way too obvious to include. I want to shine a light on the more obscure ones; the ones that I believe should be on the Halloween display in every movie section. I feel like these capture the spirit, flavor, and charm of Halloween perfectly. Oh, and I promise I won’t include a complex, wordy book report on each one that so many “lists” include nowadays.
The Midnight Hour is too good to be a TV movie. It's a much darker Hocus Pocus. I mean, people straight up die in this movie! And that ending would put test audiences into a frenzy. Did I mention it’s similar to Hocus Pocus? A group of kids on Halloween inadvertently resurrecting a witch? Check. Trying to break the curse before midnight? Check. The undead roaming around the town? Check. Someone from the past coming back to a put a stop to the curse? Double check.
This arguably might be better than Ghostbusters II. This Halloween special (which was aired during prime-time) shows what would happen if you erase Halloween from existence - which is, you know, demon-monsters rising up and destroying New York. It also has a great Halloween song sung by the Ghostbusters. But the best part of this special is the design of the main demon. It’s so downright creepy that he might as well be the Devil. Did you hear what I just said? Yes, it could basically be boiled down to the Ghostbusters vs the Devil on Halloween night.
I have a soft spot for teen horror flicks from the 80s. You just always know what you’re going to get: a group of way-too-old-to-be-in high-school teenagers; that one girl that you want to see naked will get naked; tons of over-the-top kills; one person will survive until the sequel; and the whole thing will be set to music from a Casio keyboard. Night of the Demons doesn’t do anything new but it’s the Halloween version of all of that. Oh, and it’s the best Linnea Quigley movie ever.
Out of all the anthology horror television shows, this is the one that was the most unsettling, especially that intro! I’m taking the two Halloween episodes and making them one big episode for this entry. On one side, you have the episode “Halloween Candy” directed by Tom Savini, who knows a thing or two about scary shit. If you’ve seen Trick R Treat (and you probably have), it plays out almost identical to the final segment. It's a true Halloween and curmudgeonly old man tale if there ever was one. Speaking of a curmudgeonly old man, “Trick or Treat” - which was written by George Romero - will seriously have you yell out, "Holy shit!" It has probably the scariest witch I have ever seen and what I can only imagine is Satan (hey, it’s his second appearance on this list) handing down punishment for taking the “trick” in trick or treat too far. Basically, if you’re an old man, don’t hate on Halloween - it is never going to end well for you!
Some of the best cartoons are the ones that find that middle ground of not too childish and not overly adult either. You know, it starts out pretty normal and funny and cute but as it gets going it begins to get spookier and spookier, until it has you at that point where a telephone ring would make you jump. That's this one. And it has a Halloween song by Lou Rawls that you will have to immediately add to your Halloween party mix after hearing it.
The Addams Family in color! And real color, not that colorized BS. This special televised reunion was meant to be a reboot for a new series, which ended up never happening. How appropriate for the family of weird to get such a weird Halloween special. This one is shot on videotape instead of film - which gives it a cheap middle school production feel - and is filmed in a real house as opposed to a studio. Plus, there is a new opening theme song and a laugh track that can’t decide whether to join in or sit out. All of that aside, having the Addams Family prepare for Halloween by putting up a Halloween scarecrow and singing Halloween songs is too good to leave off. Also, there is a flute gag with Gomez that is just perfect.
Why don’t local news stations do Halloween specials anymore? Do they even dress up for Halloween on the air anymore? If they don’t, they should. But I digress. The fictional film, WNUF Halloween Special not only captures Halloween in a nutshell but it perfectly captures the VHS era. Recording your favorite movie or TV show on a cassette tape; fast forwarding through the commercials; and sometimes not hitting record fast enough and missing the first few seconds - WNUF has all of that plus fake commercials to go alongside the broadcast. It’s a genuinely refreshing take on the found-footage genre and even takes it up a few notches.
He is never going to be mentioned alongside Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, or Klaus Kinski but goddamn is Judd Hirsch really funny as Dracula. Okay, funny is different for everyone, so I will be more specific: This one is pretty slapstick-y. It even has a Scooby-Doo style chase in it. My biggest takeaway from this movie: wishing the real world loved monsters like the kids in this movie do.
This is a legitimate love letter to Halloween that is written and narrated by Ray Bradbury. You don’t get much better than that. It inches toward PBS educational territory, as we learn about the historical significance of the holiday, but then the plot goes deep and dark with a child about to stare death in the face. It features a ton of Halloween imagery and some damn fine animation, courtesy of Hannah Barbara. When it comes to animated Halloween tales, this one is unrivaled.
I am going to combine episodes again: making ’The Haunted Mask Part I' and 'The Haunted Mask Part II' into one big episode really makes it much scarier. It tells the tale of a mask that simply won’t come off, which is terrifying. Not only will it not come off, but it slowly begins turning you into someone or something else entirely. And remember, these are prepubescent kids that are in danger here - a theme that you see a lot during Halloween.
This is a theatrical release that should have been a TV movie. A really fun film that has all the imagery of a hectic Halloween night. You’re not going to find anything macabre here but you’ll get Adventures in Babysitting on Halloween. Plus, it’s one of those movies that gets a little too raunchy for its own good - you know, for a family film.
This spot would easily go to Halloweentown but that one has gotten pretty popular over the years, and as I said in the intro, I'm omitting the more popular choices. You can find the entire Halloweentown series on DVD in almost any store but Under Wraps is the one that seems to get kicked to the curb. In this Disney Channel Original, a group of kids help a mummy that needs to get back to his coffin before midnight on Halloween. It also features a Halloween-obsessed kid that I’m sure everyone can relate to.
Remember when I talked about kids in danger? Well, killing kids is literally the plot of this movie. I mean, how brilliant is it to take the two biggest factors of Halloween (kids and costumes) and turn them into a method of murder for the antagonist? I swear, this movie would be a classic if it didn't have "Halloween" in the title. That fact is ironic because Season of the Witch is way more about Halloween than Carpenter's Halloween is about Halloween. This is the movie that should be the October equivalent of A Christmas Story. It would be such a metal parallel device to have everyone singing that "Silver Shamrock" tune in real life. You would get sick of it just like Tom Atkins got sick of it in the movie!
There you have it! Thirteen films and specials that should give you those Halloween feels when you need them the most. Sit down and watch them in the dark; project them onto a wall during your annual Halloween party; have them playing in the background while you’re carving your pumpkin; or any time you just want to get into the Halloween spirit. These all deserve to be seen, especially in October.