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  • Ian Waldie

Spirited and Spooky (But Not Scary) Halloween Classics

Be honest, are you a scaredy-cat? Although I love horror movies, sometimes I am. I can admit that! Like uhhh do I really want to watch this cool scary movie ALONE, or watch something a little more, ahem, family friendly so that I can sleep with ease? Oops, just admitted I’m alone a lot. Anyway, with Halloween fast approaching, the pressure to watch a bunch of horror is more prevalent than ever. It’s lucky then, for those who scare easily, that there are so many cool, imaginative movies that capture the Halloween spirit and that WON’T cause you to dream up delusional murder scenarios or result in you performing daily exorcisms—despite your family and peer’s objections. Been there, done that. Here is a list of seminal movies infused with the fun and scary spirit of Halloween. Feel free to keep the lights off!

Scooby-Doo (2002)

Scooby Doo has been shocking audiences (not really) for years since its inception as a cartoon about a rag-tag group of teen detectives unmasking evil-dooers, and when it comes to fun-filled Halloween antics, Scooby Doo is as Halloween-y as it gets. This James Gunn penned live-action version is no exception; in fact, the Gunn version is even weirder than the original series. Directed by Raja Gosnell, the movie takes our anachronistic sixties-clad heroes and immerses them in present day, where after a two year breakup, they come together to solve a mystery on Spooky Island. Originally intended to be an adult-oriented spoof in the vein of the brilliant Brady Bunch movies, this movie was tempered down for a family-friendly audience, and the result is a stylistically ambitious, fun, and weird ride. The spooky gags and colorful visuals will perfectly align with your Halloween desire to see something out of the ordinary. But, trust me; this movie is anything but ordinary! It won’t scare you too badly unless you’re particularly averse to CGI incarnations of anthropomorphic Great Danes. Which, if you are, fair enough.

Casper (1995)

Casper is so cute. There, I said it. I know that if Gremlins has taught us anything, it’s that just because something is cute, does not mean it won’t eat you for lunch, but gosh dang it, Casper serves as a counterargument to that! He’s the friendly ghost guys, he isn’t trying to eat your face. The original Casper movie is cute, and spooky, and stylistically ambitious! Directed by Brad Siberling and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, a young teenage girl and her father move into a mansion that they come to find out is haunted by Casper and his unruly 3 uncles who just want the place to themselves. Cue ghost vomit and hi-jinks combined with a surprisingly nuanced storyline concerning existential dread. Huh? Yeah, this one gets dark but it’s not nightmare scary. It’s more representative of the daily fears that we push into the corners of our brains in order to keep living. FUN! I’m okay, I swear.

Hocus Pocus (1993)

What isn’t more fun to watch on Halloween than Bette Midler singing “I’ll Put a Spell on You” as a witch? It doesn’t get more on the nose than that, thankfully. Hocus Pocus is a seminal spook-fest classic because it does something rarely done in movies about witches: it makes fun of them. Yes, these witches are obscene, but they are so conventionally wicked that all we can really do is laugh at them. Truly, what is sillier than 3 witches cackling in the moonlight while flying on vacuum cleaners? The kids in the movie are representative of that subset of boring 90s actors reserved for guest spots on Full House (1987-1995) or something, but that’s okay because the witches and gags are so fun. Did I mention there’s a musical number?

The Addams Family (1991)

Duh nuh nuh nuh *snap, snap*. An iconic theme song thankfully preserved in the feature length version of the gothic family. Teetering on the line between spoof and earnest remake, The Addams Family offers both wit and dark, eerie fun. The plotline is more emblematic of the madcap TV Show, in which an imposter tries to infiltrate The Addamses. Not quite as funny as its darkly hilarious sequel, this one still provides a macabre, gothic vibe perfect for Halloween. The director, Barry Sonnenfield, would later offer up more zany, weird fun with the Men in Black series and although Anjelica Huston was nominated for a Golden Globe as Morticia, the real scene-stealer is Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams, aka everyone’s inner voice personified. It also stars the hand that unexpectedly grabs you when you reach for the Halloween candy.

Labyrinth (1986)

Fun fact: David Bowie’s wig was a real diva on set. No, just kidding; he got along with everybody! But in all seriousness, who else was more perfect for this role than David Bowie? It’s like the creators decided to take the Ewoks from Star Wars and combine them with a glam-rock god. A perfect idea in my book! Labyrinth is perfect for Halloween because again, it’s just absolute bonkers. We’re talking anthropomorphic worms, rambunctious bird-like devils, and a whole array of puppeteered creatures that make up a majority of the cast. Directed and partly conceptualized by the puppet god, Jim Henson, this movie captured the epic scope of our imaginations similarly to adventure-fantasy movies like The Princess Bride (1987). The only difference is that Labyrinth excels in some magnificent nightmare imagery that will make even the bravest 7 year-old look under their bed for a screaming puppet. But if you’re an adult, you should be fine! Okay, well, maybe avoid public mazes right after watching.

Beetlejuice (1988)

Arguably, Michael Keaton’s best role (which is hard to say because he’s so good in everything!), Beetlejuice allowed us to enter a word of pure weird without hesitation, lighting into the pop culture mainstream so fast, as Tim Burton films tend to do. Interestingly, Beetlejuice solidified Burton’s talent in the studio world, foreshadowing his string of classics such as Batman (1989) and Edward Scissorhands (1990). Honestly, it’s the perfect Halloween movie. It’s outrageous, imaginative, and shocking in the best of ways, possessing all of the components necessary to get you in a devilish mood! Starring now comedy veterans (Catherine O’Hara, Jeffery Jones, Alec Baldwin) and the alternative princess of the late 80s/early 90s, Winona Ryder, this movie had just the right talent to complement its otherworldly tone. Not to mention, the unorthodox Burton-esque special effects, costumes, and makeup, which will have you cosplaying as the eponymous Beetlejuice in no time.

Halloweentown (1998)

How could I leave this one out? The Halloweentown movies are honestly awesome, but the magic of the first film really encapsulates everything fun, slightly scary, and mischievous about Halloween. Premiering during the GOLDEN AGE (at least in my non-academic opinion) of Disney Channel Original Movies, Halloweentown felt like an instant classic. A bold feat for a TV Movie to accomplish, but just about every millennial and possibly older person will know what you’re talking about if you mention it around them. We all know the premise: Marnie finds out she’s a witch after overhearing her mother and grandmother, so she follows her eccentric granny (Debbie Reynolds! RIP) back to Halloweentown, where all sorts of creatures and out-of-the-ordinary people live. There’s no solidified mythos really, it’s just a mythical town that hosts Halloween-like things. It’s slightly lazy, but so fun and SO Halloween! Not to mention, there’s a lot of good stuff about self-acceptance and the acceptance of others’ differences in there. Good work, Disney! Also, is it hyperbolic to say that the Grandma’s bottomless bag is the most magical thing about this movie? Didn’t think so.

Want more spooky but not scary? See literally any Tim Burton movie, aside from Big Eyes (2014).

See? Those don’t seem too scary. You won’t be checking your closet quite as often, and you’ll have some family friendly jokes and gags to laugh you to sleep. Glad I could help. Now, if you’re brave enough, go watch something truly terrifying like the motion-cap animation abomination that is The Polar Express (2004). *shutters*

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