M.R.S. Recommends: Halloween Edition!
We asked our columnists to recommend their top five favorite movies and TV specials to watch during October. If you end up watching any, please let us know what you thought on social media or by dropping us a message on our contact page!
Jenny from the Grave
Ernest Scared Stupid (1991)
Bride of Boogedy (1987)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Halloween (Season 2, 1997)
Billy & Mandy's Jacked Up Halloween (TV Special, 2003)
Halloween Tree (1993)
Ginger Snaps, dir. John Fawcett (2000) Adolescence is uniquely horrifying anyway, but is made even more so as impending adulthood comes with another set of bodily transformations for Brigitte’s sister, Ginger.
Raw, dir. Julia Ducournau (2016) Desire is monstrous and all-consuming for veterinary student Justine in this French film.
The Last Exorcism, dir. Daniel Stamm (2010) I don’t actually remember very much of this movie, except that I was incredibly scared and that it did give me a good excuse for pressing my face into the shoulder of the guy who showed it to me.
The Lost Boys, dir. Joel Schumacher (1987) This is my favorite vampire movie, hands down. It’s extremely ‘80s, right down to the younger sibling saving the day.
My Friend Dahmer, dir. Marc Meyers (2017) I’m not sure that this is exactly a horror movie, but it does have a very creepy energy as it follows a teenaged Jeffrey Dahmer through high school.
Honorable Mentions: The Goth Kids episodes of South Park; the Disney Halloween TV special of the early 90s.
The Halloween That Almost Wasn't aka the Night Dracula Saved the World (1979)
Dracula and Igor see a TV broadcast that says Halloween might end, so they ensemble all the monsters of the world to figure that shit out. Hammy acting and Scooby-Doo-esque comedy ensue. Also features disco dancing.
Spaced Invaders (1990)
Prepare to die, Earth scum! Some less than intelligent, watermelon-headed aliens hear a War of the Worlds broadcast on Halloween night and think it's time to take over. Cute robots, cool Halloween costumes, and aliens with attitudes.
A Disney Halloween (1983) An anthology of various spooky Disney shorts and clips from movies. I love the atmosphere of the chosen clips and how they complement one another with ranges of mild spookiness from decades of animation. Several versions exist, and this iteration is made up of Disney Halloween Treat (1982) and Disney's Greatest Villains (1977), hosted by an unseen narrator and later, the face in the Magic Mirror.
Garfield's Halloween Adventure (1985)
So good, I can't believe its run time is only 24 minutes, as Garfield, Jon, and Odie run the gamut of stuff one does on Halloween. The song Garfield sings when choosing his costume enters my head every few weeks, nestled in my subconscious with its catchy tune and the special thrill of choosing a costume. When Garfield settles on pirate, it pretty much seals their fate as his greed for candy brings him and Odie to a house on a remote island where ghosts come out at night.
Witch's Night Out (1978)
This stylized Canadian cartoon used to air with The Halloween That Almost Wasn't, and the disco vibe to both makes that make a lot of sense. In a town where Halloween is kinda lame and boring, a witch (voiced by Gilda Radner) answers the wish of some trick-or-treaters, who think she's a fairy godmother. The witch uses her magic to turn them into their Halloween costumes, which, honestly is everyone's secret Halloween dream, isn't it? What could possibly go wrong?
Like Wu-Tang, Halloween is for the children. There are certainly plenty of activities for adults to enjoy too, but that spirit is born in the early, formative years, before the mundane world gets in the way, and our inner monster kid has time to take up permanent residence in our brain, bursting out every October for a month of costumes, candy, and funny, spooky specials that form lifelong memories. With that in mind, here is my list of favorite Halloween specials and movies from my childhood that are still priceless to me now.
It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)
To me, nothing says Halloween quite like this absolute masterpiece. Charles Schulz had an unequalled ability to mix humor, melancholy, and wisdom in his Peanuts comics and animation, and this did a great deal to enhance my Halloween excitement every year. Whether it was watching the kids trick or treating and having a party, which provided me a lifelong soul brother in Charlie Brown, or the adventurous (and spooky thanks to Vince Guaraldi’s mesmerizing soundtrack) thrill of seeing Snoopy the World War I flying ace take on the Red Baron and go down behind enemy lines in the French countryside, or even the innocently misguided Linus sacrificing all other Halloween fun for his sincere dedication to the Great Pumpkin, this special gave kid Mike characters to relate to and still gives adult Mike material for philosophical reflection.
Garfield's Halloween Adventure (1985)
I see this as a sister special to Great Pumpkin, as they were always aired back to back, and that made for the best one-two punch of television all October. It may be a cautionary tale of greed, but as a kid I found other things to relate to, like Garfield watching pre-dawn morning television, having a rampant excitement for Halloween candy-candy-candy-candy, and getting to every house possible in the quest for sugary treats. The spooky specters and real world, life threatening calamities Garfield and Odie faced in the climax caused me wide eyed tension, with a sigh of relief at their eventual safe return home that calmed me just in time to ensure both myself and my parents a full night of sleep.
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
With all due respect to the great but not Halloween related Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, this is all about the brilliant explosion of built tension that is the outstanding adaptation of Washington Irving’s classic tale. This was my first exposure to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and I was immediately sucked in by the gorgeous Disney animation and succinct storytelling through song, but then Bing Crosby’s lyrical narration went away, as did the sunshine, and we were left with Ichabod’s harrowing attempt at a midnight return trip home, only to be interrupted by the cranium craving Headless Horseman, a character I loved so much that at eight years old I’d spend October twilights riding my bike around pretending to be him, and even now as an adult I make occasional comics with him as a main antagonist. And it remains one of the few stories so satisfying that, even with an intentionally inconclusive end, you walk away happy and wanting more.
Disney's Halloween Treat (1982)
Keeping with Disney, we now have this classic clips collection of vile villains doing dastardly deeds. Hosted either by the mirror from Snow White or a puppet pumpkin depending on what release you saw, there were several scenes shown featuring baddies from many Disney films and shorts, including my beloved Headless Horseman mentioned above, but what absolutely fixed my eyes on the screen, jaw dropped, was the only segment my single digit self was unfamiliar with, Night on Bald Mountain from Fantasia. Even though only a short piece was shown I was entirely mesmerized by Chernabog, the God of the Night, and all of the demons and spirits he summoned until sunrise forced him to once again don his mountain peak facade, and since I was watching with my mother, who adored Fantasia, she was quite excited to fill me in on the details, and we watched the full segment together when it was finally released on VHS.
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
This is technically not a movie set on Halloween (though there is a masquerade ball), yet in the days before films were easily accessible and cable was not quite ready for the world, this would be on television only in October. When I was around five years old A&CMF became my introduction to spooky movies, somewhat spoiling my future Universal Monster film watching by giving me Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman and even an Invisible Man cameo all in one film, and I have great memories of it being a bonding conduit with my dad. He liked the comedy duo and I adored spooky stuff and silly humor, so whenever it came on we’d watch together, with little me running to find my mom and older sister to invite them to watch with us.
At the end of the day, you either watch movies because of their plot or you watch them because of their vibe. While I usually lean towards what vibe a movie has, this is especially so for my Halloween picks. Sure, a film might happen during Halloween but does it actually feel like it does? Does it bother to involve trick-or-treating, or crossing the blurred line between the normal and something weird? Does it immediately take me back to my childhood wonder of being surrounded by an orange glow, heft of candy weighing on my wrist, and the smell of Ben Cooper swag filling my nose? Below are a handful of films which do that very thing for me and what I watch every year to get in the correct mindset!
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) Say what you will about the lack of a knife happy William Shatner, nothing oozes the spooky season more than this third installment. From the iconic masks to the televised Samhain sacrifices, it always reminds me of the "out there" stories my friends and I would concocted as we trick-or-treated. Pure 'weenie fun!
Ernest Scared Stupid (1991) It was only recently that I discovered the majesty of Ernest P. Warhol and this film sees Jim Varney firing on every cylinder. We've got trolls enacting ancient curses, a small town decorated to the nines, amazing costumes for nearly every character, Eartha Kitt being fabulous, Bulgarian Miak and the many impressions of Jim Varney in rapid succession! When will this get its much deserved Collector's Edition? I'm looking at you Shout! Factory or Arrow Video!
The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Halloweenie (Season 2, 1994) The gold standard! From the care and planning Little Pete takes in carving his jack-o-lantern (with a fog machine attachment!) to Big Pete's initial hatred turned rediscovered love of Halloween, this 24 minute episode has layers. Also, the Pumpkin Eaters: monster heels with an iconic look, you hated them as much as envied their taste for chaos. Except for smashing the pumpkins, we'll leave that to Billy Corgan!
Over the Garden Wall (TV Series, 2014) A few years back, I watched this solely based around seeing a GIF of pumpkin people dancing. Now, I watch it as a yearly tradition! When two brothers cross into the forest, unsure of how they got there, they begin an olde tymey journey of evil forces, instrument playing animals, singing frogs and rock facts. It honestly feels like a 1920s Halloween postcard magically turned into an animated series.
The Boxer's Omen (1983) Pure cinematic insanity. While this film is not directly about Halloween, its vibe radiates the "thinned veiled" narrative of the lines between worlds becoming non-existent. An injured boxer becomes a Buddhist Monk to fight a Black Magic Wizard and soon falls deeper into this web of rampaging monsters, flying human heads, crocodile skeletons, sexy female zombies, demonic bats, lasers, and devils galore! Truly, not for the faint of heart but if you enjoy bonkers in your cinema then look this one up!