Ah, Halloween - the most divisive holiday on every Christian’s calendar. Now, regardless if you enjoy celebrating it or just aren’t comfortable with such a macabre holiday, I am a middle-of-the-road kind of person. I can do without the ugliness, the witchcraft, and zombies. (*Blech*). However, I do love the fun costumes, candy, and our family’s annual Halloween party!
It’s too bad we had to cancel most of the fun and games this year. However, there is one thing my family likes to do through October that didn’t have to be canceled: our Halloween movie binge. We may not abide extreme slasher films, but we do like creepy silliness and sometimes a good thriller. So just for fun, I’d like to share with all of you, my loyal followers, some of my personal favorite Halloween films. With that being said, I want to clarify that our family’s definition of Halloween film doesn’t necessarily mean it has a Halloween theme. It simply refers to specific movies we like to watch during the Halloween season. And with that, here is my list of some of my personal favorites!
(*Since Halloween is a sensitive topic to Christians at large, I’ll leave little warning labels on each of my selections. Just so you’d know what issues you may be in for if you’d like to go see these movies for the first time.*)
#5. The Nightmare Before Christmas
(*Grotesque and Frightening Images; Some Peril*)
The Nightmare Before Christmas . . . is an odd movie. Par for the course for a director like Tim Burton, but what else makes this film so odd is that I as of yet am not sure whether to label this as a Halloween film or a Christmas film. It mostly centers on Halloween themed characters in a Halloween location, yet it takes place during and centers around Christmas time. Maybe it’s secretly a Thanksgiving movie. Who knows?
When I first saw this, I didn’t like it all that much. Most character designs were a tad too grotesque for my tastes. The story felt rather random in places, and the whole ‘kidnapping Santa Claus’ thing left me a bit too uncomfortable. However, even to my own surprise, I found myself liking this movie more after later viewings. The main reason for this was the film’s main protagonist, Jack Skellington. For a king of all things Halloween, he’s actually a very charming character. He’s really very kind and generous to most everyone, and even though his attempt at ‘making Christmas’ was impulsive and poorly thought out, he’s well intentioned and just so giddy and happy to partake in such an opposite holiday, that you can’t help but love his enthusiasm. Not to mention his struggle throughout the story is very relatable.
Even if you’re super talented at something, that doesn’t mean you won’t crave to do something different after doing it over and over. In Jack’s case, he’s tired of causing festive Halloween scares. So you can get why the guy (or skeleton) decides he wants to try spreading Christmas cheer instead - even though he doesn’t fully understand what that entails. But then, after he realizes taking over a holiday you half-understand is rather dumb, he doesn’t mope for long. He owns up to his wrongdoing, fixes his mistake, then determines to be thankful and appreciate the special gift he has - scaring people. (Hey! Maybe this really is a Thanksgiving film!) That’s actually a pretty refreshing and Biblically sound conclusion in today’s ‘chase your dream no matter the cost’ mentality.
Add in impressive stop-motion, some catchy songs, with such a charmingly likable lead, the Nightmare Before Christmas found itself a place on my favorites list.
#4. Casper the Movie
(*Inaccurate portrayal of afterlife; A tad of mild language*)
Ah, Casper the Friendly Ghost. It’s hard to hate on a ghost when he’s small, cute, and genuinely desires a friend. Now, I can’t say I really grew up on the original Casper cartoons. There was one on an old VHS that I watched as a kid that, shall we say, was equal parts depressing and happy for me. Depressing because the adorable fox Casper befriends gets shot. A weeping Casper even buries the poor thing. Happy, though, in the sense that the fox’s ghost comes out to be with Casper forever. (Yay! But seriously, cartoonists. Jerk move.) Still, Casper is a classic cartoon beloved by many, so it’s no surprise for him to eventually get his own feature film.
Now, my expectations weren’t very high for this film. I’ve already seen bad and mediocre cartoon film adaptations before, and Casper seemed set up for the same result. However, I surprisingly found myself enjoying it a lot more than expected. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not something I’d call a masterpiece or anything. I just found it a lot more cute and entertaining than most the other cartoon adaptation films.
It had good special effects. It had a good sense of humor, and yet it also has some rather poignant and touching moments that can take you by surprise. Plus, I so appreciate that the storywriters did not make the characters play ‘idiot ball’ for plot contrivance. Everyone, though flawed in certain ways, still stayed likable. I also liked how the story carried a meaningful message of letting go and not letting tragedy keep you from living life, moving forward, and doing the right thing.
Casper may not be a remarkable movie, but was is what it needed to be - friendly.
#3. Dial ‘M’ for Murder
(*A couple uses of ‘bloody’ and God’s name in vain; A relatively mild murder scene*)
Who knew that a story primarily told in a single space could be so intriguing! Directed by movie making legend, Alfred Hitchcock, Dial ‘M’ for Murder originally was a stage play that Alfred thought deserved to be a movie, and boy howdy was he right! I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here. I highly recommend people just to go watch it themselves, but I do want to talk about the cleverness of this film! It is truly something to behold.
The story is about a retired British tennis player who hatches a foolproof plan to murder his adulterous wife. Don’t worry. That’s not a giveaway. It’s the story’s premise, and it’s how he goes about planning the crime and the events that follow that really makes this flick so mesmerizing. The first thing that I loved here is the dialogue. Whoever wrote this dialogue deserves an award. At no point does it drag, and it’s delivered with such a charming British wit that it makes murderous schemes sound like a civil teatime conversation. It’s a good thing the interactions are so good too. Ninety-percent of the movie takes place in a single apartment flat. You’re stuck there for so long, but the conversations are so engaging, you find yourself not minding it. It’s truly impressive!
Then there’s our antagonist. Ray Rammond as our villain practically stole the whole show with this performance. He’s so suave he makes everything he does and says seem effortless. You might even find yourself admiring his dastardliness. His friendly yet condescending language, alongside his subtle gestures, make his intents subtly apparent. Just watch him carefully yet casually put every object in place as he’s making small talk. You literally see him talking both sides of his mouth as he says one thing but his movements tell us something different. He acts so prepared - so in control.
Which is what makes what follows so much more interesting. I won’t say anymore to preserve first viewing enjoyment. But do you know that old saying about best laid plans? Well, I’ll say no more. But Dial ‘M’ for Murder goes to show you, that even the simplest looking sinful task can be infinitely more complicated and consequential than you think.
(*A woman in a bra; Some major violence; A couple crude words*)
The famous Hitchcock staple, Psycho is often cited as this celebrated director’s magnum opus. And it deserves it. Now, I figure most people reading this has likely already seen it, or at least heard about its big twist, but in case somebody here doesn’t know it, I’m not going to be the one to spoil it.
The mind can be a frightening place. It’s capable of playing horrible tricks on us, causing harm to ourselves and even others, and Psycho does a pretty good job on capitalizing on this uncomfortable reality. Its story, based on a book by Robert Bloch, tells a tale about a scandal, a motel, a shower, and the dangerous subtleties and extremities of a disturbed psychosis. This film pulls several clever bait and switches throughout the story as we follow our protagonists. The way it starts kind of reminded me of my favorite Edgar Allen Poe classic, The Telltale Heart: the story of a murderer driven mad by his own guilt. Then just when you think you’ve got a handle on Psycho’s plot direction, it pulls a complete 180 - throwing you for a loop. Then as you sit there, hoping the characters will figure everything out without dying, an even bigger twist puts a whole new light on everything you just witnessed!
Even after multiple viewings, Psycho is still worthy of replay to me. Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant cinematography, his handling of the fragility of the human mind, and his impactful use of simple yet practical effects (from watermelons to chocolate syrup) are the pieces that make up this incredibly memorable thriller. It’s scared people from taking showers in the past, and I’ll bet it will continue to do so in the future.
#1. The Sixth Sense
(*Some Language; Some Scantly Clothed Characters; Creepy Images; Inaccurate Portrayal of Afterlife*)
Probably the most beloved of M. Night. Shyamalan’s films, The Sixth Sense was one of the first adult-level scary movies I ever saw growing up. I think every big kid would remember the first time mom and dad decided they were old enough to watch something. For me, it was The Sixth Sense, and yet as far as scary films go, this one is top tier to me.
For anyone who has not seen or heard of it, The Sixth Sense follows a child psychiatrist who is intent on helping a quiet yet highly disturbed boy curb his extreme anxieties. Soon, though, he finds that the kinds of anxieties this kid is facing goes way beyond school bullies or a broken home. He’s sporting scratches on his arms. He stares at walls like they’re going to eat him. Even locks of this young kid’s hair has lost pigmentation. Our psychiatrist has only seen symptoms like these in one other of his patients - one that he failed to help, so it’s all important to him that he not fail this boy. However, he is most unprepared to learn this kid’s terrifying secret and all that it entails.
The Sixth Sense has everything that I’d want to see in a good thriller. It certainly nails down the scary parts with some cringe worthy moments, but unlike most thrillers I’ve seen, this one actually has two very likable protagonists that I want to root for. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that classic fright movies like Halloween and Poltergeist aren’t all that focused on producing compelling, likable, or non-idiotic protagonists. They’re too focused on the monster/killer and how scary they can make them look. Here, though, we have a charming man not only try to help a boy cope with the traumas associated with his secret, but we eventually see the boy, in his own way, help the psychiatrist with his own problem too.
Between the scares, there are so many wonderfully deep and touching moments throughout the film. Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment provide some stellar acting as our protagonists. Every scene where they are together is golden from dialogue to action. Even other scenes like the ones between the boy and his mother and the psychiatrist and his wife are also great. There are times when you want to smile. There are plenty of times when you’ll want to cry. (Honestly, having opportunities to release tension helps scary scenes be all the scarier if you ask me.) However, what makes me really really love The Sixth Sense is the resolution to the boy’s problem. In most scary films, the endgame for the hero is normally either to escape the danger or fight the danger off, but The Sixth Sense takes on an unexpected, heartwarming approach. Our protagonists don’t simply brave the danger. They find a viable way to deal with it through patience and kindness. After all, as Christ’s example has taught us, sometimes it takes nerves of steel to listen and show someone or something the compassion it needs.
And then comes the big twist which layers another wonderfully poignant lesson in the story. Again, I’m not going to spoil it. In fact, I refuse to ever ever ever spoil it, because it is so well setup and so well executed, that it makes the first viewing literally an event. It’s honestly one of the best story twists of all time. If you yourself know it already, don’t spoil it for others. If you don’t know it yet, see the film. It’s a thing of beauty.
And so, for its wonderful story, superb acting, and wonderful sense of emotional balance and pace, The Sixth Sense (for me) is my absolute favorite Halloween movie. Save for a few un-choice words and minor cases of near nudity, I cannot recommend it enough for all of the tricks and treats it gives.
And so I hope you enjoyed this fun list! If you have a favorite Halloween movie you’d like to share, tell us in the comments below! Happy Halloween, everybody!