“I don’t like scary movies”
-Everyone ever/the fun police.
October, much like December, is one of those months that has a certain feel to it. While December Christmas specials lean towards family and feel-good stories. Halloween is more or less the opposite. It’s about an eerie feeling that’s not just the new fall chill in the air. Sure, at this age, Halloween is not what it used to be anymore, but there’s still something fun about the lead up to the end of the month.
Something that begins to happen around this time is a bombardment of scary movies and Halloween-themed TV shows. The TV shows usually focus on mystery, or have a “it was all a dream…or was it!?!?” twist. The movies usually vary, but if you turn on AMC, prepare to be bombarded with non-stop Halloween sequels. Halloween is to AMC as A Christmas Story is to TBS.
Leaving AMC by its Mike Meyers-loving self, let’s look at some movies and TV specials that most people can enjoy, even if you’re part of the aforementioned fun police.
The One Comedy-Horror For Everyone
When I first saw Shaun of the Dead, I thought it was a hilarious fusion of horror and comedy. But the more I saw it, the more it became an instantly quotable film in the same vein as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy or Borat. Before I saw Shaun of the Dead, I hated horror films, finding the “jump-scares” to be too cheap – and yes, they worked on me.
There is so much attention to detail and references to other films of the zombie genre, that even Wes Craven fanboys had to applaud director Edgar Wright’s masterpiece. The acting and comedy is enough that even the squeamish can get over some of the films bleaker moments. Though not completely festive, it’s definitely a must-watch for this time of year.
The Greatest TV Halloween Special Ever
Boy Meets World was a show that had a great run and showed viewers the entire maturation of several characters. Whether you caught it on ABC’s TGIF, or in syndication, it still hit a certain soft spot. The episode “And Then There was Shawn,” was a wonderful, scary episode that included a then-relevant, but always hilarious cameo from Jennifer Love Hewitt as “Jennifer Love Fefferman.” This episode is what you expect from a horror-themed episode, from genuine scares mixed with the show’s typical humor (most of it from Eric Matthews) and plenty of twists and turns on the way to the ending. Plus, we get to learn about the Geneva Detention Convention.
The Horror Classic
It may be slightly corny today, but when it first came out, movie theaters did some seriously inventive things to make the viewing experience even more chilling. Allegedly, some movie theaters lowered the temperatures in some places during one scene in The Exorcist, so that when the room in the film got cold, you could see your own breath in the theater.Aside from theater dramatics, this movie is one of the most revered of the horror genre. With great acting performances, a theme of possession that today’s films seemingly butcher every chance they get, and one of the most haunting songs of all time, The Exorcist is perfect for the season.
The Annual Tradition that Keeps on Giving
The “Treehouse of Horror” from the Simpsons has always been a lot of fun. While you can argue that the show certainly took a bit of a creative dive in later seasons, the Halloween-themed episodes are always something to look forward to. There plenty of classic skits to pick, from Willie The Groundskeeper as Freddy Krueger, the Simpson rendition of “The Raven” voiced by the emphatic James Earl Jones, or any appearance by Kang and Kodos.
Sometimes they choose a relevant pop cultural reference to send-up, other times they pick a classic, but usually they yield some pretty awesome results. One of my favorite parts about this tradition, are the credits. Usually a disregarded, peripheral moment in TV or film, The Simpsons make the credits fun with goofy, sometimes overlong, nicknames done in a over-the-top font style. A great touch to a great tradition.
The Kitschy Modern Horror
Trick ‘r Treat is more or less THE Halloween movie. It’s a film that’s in love with the holiday and treats it more than a night where people dress up in costume and get to act differently. It lays out certain rules and makes sure people follow them. At the same time, it’s a genuinely creepy film that has its fair share or chills, twists, and jump scares. It’s also done in a very cool way, with several interconnecting stories. There are also awesome turns from Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, and one of the best “that guy actors” in Dylan Baker.
The Hotel of Horror
If The Exorcist is not your style, there’s always The Shining or Psycho, both brilliant alternatives. It’s odd that these two don’t get mentioned together often: both take place in hotels, both involve sensationally terrifying turns from their lead actors, and both are directed by legendary actors (Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock, respectively). If you want a bit of everything, The Shining is your film, but if you want a crescendo of a horror flick, then you’re more of a Psycho.
The Halloween Movie that Made Your Childhood
Disney really knew how to do Halloween. Hocus Pocus was the perfect childhood Halloween movie. There were laughs all while being festive, but nothing too scary. The “rule-of-three” is all over this one with the three witches, including a semi-pre-fame Sarah Jessica Parker. Talking cats, walking dead, and flying vacuums all made this movie a great adventure-horror. And also made your childhood.
The Halloween Special that Made Your Childhood (Part 1)
Or should I say…The Great Pumpkin Special that Made Your Childhood? Schultz always did holidays so well, but Halloween was his quirkiest. Linus, usually the voice of reason, has an odd belief that a saintly “Great Pumpkin” visits pumpkin patches each year to pick the greatest one.
Like all of the Peanuts holiday classics, It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown is poignant, and the wide-reaching appeal of the comic strip and series makes this a classic. And rightfully so, each year it seems like network TV dedicates a holiday time slot to the appropriate Charlie Brown special, a tradition that I hope won’t fade.
The Halloween Special That Made Your Childhood (Part 2)
Around Halloween time, Nickelodeon packaged up their specials in “Nick or Treat,” a contest that offered the lucky winners to trick or treat “on TV.” It was the goofy 90s Nick that you hear people talk about all the time, and was one of those specials where, as a kid, you secretly hated the kid participating. (Like those kids who got to run around Toys r’ Us taking everything in sight or those kids who won “Nick for a Day” at their schools.)
Really, you can pick any of the Nickelodeon Halloween episodes. Doug had the theme park episode where he got to get back at Roger, Rugrats had the haunted house episode that was never changed and aired through its many season, Hey Arnold paid homage to Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds,” in a high-stakes episode. But perhaps the oddest of the 90s Nick cartoons was Angry Beavers, which has a somewhat indescribable special that makes it seem more appropriate for Adult Swim than Nick.
(You can invert your colors if you want to watch the above clip. I know that if you have a Mac, you press cntrl+alt+cmd+8.)
Something New To Watch
So, you want a new horror movie and rightfully want to avoid the Hostels and the Human Centipedes of the world. Well, you’ve come to the right blog. In the same vein as Scream is Cabin in the Woods, produced by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly helmer Joss Whedon.
This genuinely funny and scary film is a wink to the horror movies of today and is really fresh twist on the whole genre. Those who may think that it’s doing what Scream has already done should really watch this film, because they are not at all alike. It has some interesting performances, especially from Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as, well…it’s better to left that unsaid.
Something New-ish to Watch: TV Edition
Halloween specials can be sort of iffy, because most sitcoms/shows have to live up to the standard that older specials put forth. Still, some rise to the occasion and have great episodes.
Community’s “Epidemiology” is a fantastic recent Halloween episode. Not only is it festive, but it has an entertaining, satisfying plot (especially for a 30-minute comedy) and is one of the best episodes of season 2. Nothing like seeing zombie Jeff Winger doing…exactly what regular Jeff Winger would do.
But who knows, perhaps a new Halloween classic is on the horizon. In the mean time, there are plenty of movies and specials to hold you over until then.