Monday, October 15, 2012

Day 17: My Top 10 Halloween DVDs

Today's post is going to be all about something near and dear to my heart:

Halloween movies and shows! This time of year there is a definitive set of movies I want... nay NEED to see to get me fully in the spirit. There is one official new entry to the list this year, and for a very good reason. But before I dive in, I want to explain my criteria. This list is for movies that I consider to be Halloween movies... not just horror movies. I wanted to include movies that completely encapsulate the spirit of Halloween. My first two choices may not be strictly Halloween movies, and for this reason they only barely beat out a few other movies like Creepshow, Tales from the Darkside, and Pumpkinhead. But they were chosen for very special Halloween-y reasons.

10. Cabin In the Woods

So, the first film on my top 10 is a brand-new movie I was just given for my birthday this year, but I can guarantee it will be required viewing every year around this season. Cabin in the woods manages to wear several masks all at once. It's a straight-up horror comedy, with plenty of laughs and plenty of genuine scares. There are jumps, there are slow-boil scares, there are moments of real tension where you just don't know what to expect. All of these are required for a good Horror. But then there are the other layers of the onion. The stuff where things get weird. And it's this stuff that really turns the movie into not just a skewering of the genre, but a fun examination of why we like horror movies. It also gives us some meta lore on why it is we deep down need horror movies. There's no aspect of the atypical horror movie that isn't laid bare in this film.

See the other 9 films after the jump!

9. Scream

For the same reason that Cabin in the Woods is on this list, so is Scream. Again, this movie is more a celebration and examination of horror films, while still managing some real genuine horror in its own respect. Both of the first two movies on this list are studies on just why we need/love horror... just like a certain Holiday when these types of movies are most often watched. I can't think of a better double-feature than a cozy night watching Cabin and Scream back to back and feeling the love for all that has come before them.

8. Hocus Pocus

Another movie that I left off this list was Monster Squad. It was a heart-wrenching decision, but in the end, it was simply because Monster Squad was more of a celebration of classic Universal Studios Monster mayhem, and did not involve Halloween in and of itself (I know, I know, Cabin in the Woods and Scream are in the same boat, but I had to make some hard decisions). Hocus Pocus feels like its cut from the same cloth, except with a few less blood-stains on it. Both tell stories of kids who have to over-come ancient evils using magic. Except Hocus Pocus actually hinges a lot of its plot on Halloween, and the movie is one of those great classics where the Holiday itself almost becomes a character. It also takes some time to examine how different the holiday is for kids and adults. But if this were my top 20... man there would be a lot of movies on this list that don't exactly involve Halloween, but evoke it the way Monster Squad does.

7. Ernest Scared Stupid

Ernest Scared Stupid is one of the holy trinity of good Ernest movies. There's Ernest Goes to Camp, Ernest Saves Christmas, and this one, the spookiest of the bunch. It tells the tale of one of the many man-child characters that were insanely popular in the late eighties, early nineties. We take a character in the vein of Pee-Wee, Ed Grimly, and Ace Ventura, and drop him into an insidious plot by an ancient troll to transform children into wooden dolls and unleash an army of trolls on a small town on Halloween night. All of the trademarked Ernest P. Worrell stupidity is present, and the naivete and innocence of the title character eventually turns out to be the undoing of the troll in question. A couple of other movies that put me in mind of this one are Spaced Invaders and Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. Another couple of fun films, but not as fun as this one, which also manages to pack a few genuine thrills into the viewing experience as well.

6. Garfield's Halloween Adventure

The only traditionally animated special on this list, Garfield tops out other specials like It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown simply because its packed with non-stop fun, humor, and Halloween flavor. I am one of those few Geeks out there that genuinely love The Great Pumpkin, but ultimately finds it a bit dull and ponderous to watch. Garfield on the other hand has all the fun of the different aspects of Halloween: Choosing a costume, going for candy, being someone you're not for a night, spooky spooks, and it actually takes a few moments to celebrate the sheer excitement that kids feel knowing that Halloween is coming. This special has some excellent, catchy, brain-worm style songs, and some genuine thrills and chills. It still manages to have a heart-warming message, and stars an 80's icon that once upon a time, used to glue kids to the TV screen like nobody's business. I love Snoopy as the Red Baron, but feel like The Great Pumpkin is a little uneven in places, and just doesn't take joy in Halloween the way good old Gar-Halloween-Field does.

5. Halloween

Some will be surprised that this movie shows up as #5... not #2 or even the #1 spot. But honestly, despite the title, and the night the story takes place on, Halloween never felt like it was a celebration of Halloween. It definitely evokes a Halloween-y feel when one watches it, and that's great. And the movie itself is a slasher classic. Quite possibly one of the very best. Michael Myers is probably the most stone-cold, unstoppable, mechanical, and terrifying knife-wielding maniac ever filmed... so there are plenty of saving graces, and it earns a ranking on any Halloween film list, and any horror movie list in general. But there are other films I feel evoke the spirit of Halloween even better than this one.

4. The Nightmare Before Christmas

This one is another film that people might be surprised to find placed as far from the #1 spot as I have... but again, there is a great debate over whether this movies is in fact genuinely, 100% a Halloween movie at all. One could argue that the Christmas portion of the movie is just a distraction that Jack Skellington has to overcome in order to rediscover the "Halloween Spirit". I still remember almost tearing up and getting goosebumps when that first sequence played out in the movie theater (yes I saw the initial release in theater. It was a religious experience) because finally here was a movie that GOT Halloween. But there's still just so much... Christmas in there. This movie did give birth to the closest thing we will ever have to the official Halloween theme song or Halloween Carol in "This is Halloween" and for that, it gets plenty of play every Halloween season at this house.  Plus the creepies and crawlies that call Halloween Town home are almost a little too horrible for the children that are supposed to be watching it... and that is pure Halloween gold for any parent worth their salt.

3. Monster House

Now we're in it folks. The top 3 contenders. This movie was another one that visually and stylistically knocked my socks off when I first watched it. The sheer menace and genuine horror evoked by the villainous House in this movie is incredible, and makes me wonder how they got away with the rating they did. The story takes place on Halloween, and there is an underlying theme of maturity and responsibility (which really doesn't get a lot of play except in the beginning and ending of the film...) that actually begs the question: can we ever truly be too old for Halloween? The design of the house, and the angry menace it displays are just incredible and terrifying. The interiors of the house later in the film are just as off-putting and terrifying and one scene that takes place in the basement in particular put my daughter off this movie for a few years entirely. If this wasn't a computer animated movie in the vein of Monsters Vs. Aliens or UP, then this could easily have been a very adult film, and terrifying indeed. I feel like I need to go watch it RIGHT NOW. I'm also itching to see them do some sort of sequel, which I fully assumed would be a "Monster Motel" or something, based on the ending.

2. Sleepy Hollow

The penultimate film on my list is Sleepy Hollow, which I think people always just kind of turn their noses up without giving it a shot. The reasons for this are many: The countless years of people only knowing the Headless Horseman from Scooby Doo or the Disney short about Ichabod Crane gives the story  a sort of "kiddie" stigma (this could not be further from the truth). The fact that they lump it in with the other Burton/Depp collaborations that seem to have taken over Burton's career (this is not one of those films). And finally the extreme liberties taken with the classic Washington Irving story, which let's face it, is almost non-existent in its original form at all in this film (in many cases, the changes make a ton of sense from a film-making stand-point, and make for more interesting character dynamics in some cases). The problems I do have with the film are the pacing and weird attention to parts of the plot that tend to drag things down and complicate things unnecessarily. But when the Horseman comes out to do his stuff, you will NOT be disappointed, and the look and feel of the movie just gives you such an October chill that you'll feel it through the screen. And Depp's Ichabod Crane is one of his more interesting Burton-film characters, finding an excellent, amusing, and sometimes surprising balance between cowardly and competent. Overall, a Halloween must-see.

1. Trick R' Treat

Ahhh. A breath of cold Autumn air. This movie went into my eyes, and into my brain... and redefined what Halloween could mean. While the top five on this list could all compete for the role of "Halloween Mascot" (Michael Myers, Jack Skellington, THE Haunted House, The Headless Horseman and...) Sam, the demented trick or treater from Trick R' Treat who is definitely more than what he seems, takes the cake from almost all of them (Jack the Pumpkin King still puts up a pretty good fight, and the Horseman's been around for a while...). I'm going to write more about this movie in the future, so I won't do all of my slavering over it right now... but there is No. BETTER. FILM. to celebrate Halloween with. None. This whole movie is an orange, crunchy-leaf-filled love letter to all that Halloween means to us as people. All of the stories are inter-connected, in the very best way possible, and it is a dirty burlap thread that ties them all together. Between some of the bizarre imagery, the humor, the fun surprises, the writing, the cinematography, and the genuine spooky moments (I can't call the movie outright scary, but it has its creepy and shocking moments) this movie is a paean to the Halloween season. GUSH!

Nothing even remotely Goodwill-related in this post, I know... but I'll be back soon with more Ghoulish Goodwill Goodies soon enough! Until then, Happy Haunting!


  1. Trick 'r Treat has become my number one as well. Every aspect of it, is exactly what I want in my horror/Halloween movies.

    1. I finally watched V/H/S tonight! I would say it could easily be a contender for next year's top 10. Especially since the final story of the anthology involves Halloween directly. I really got a cool vibe from this one, though I kind of think some of the stories were a little too long ("Second Honeymoon" especially), and it would have been interesting to see even more, even shorter tales being told in the youtube-style vein.


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