As a kid I was afraid of roller coasters, the dark, and pretty much anything that jumped or barked. So you can imagine how I fared around Halloween, when everything around me was plastered with ghosts, witches, and pictures of Freddy Krueger’s mangled face. The month before Halloween I avoided as much of the creepy stuff as I could: I never went to haunted houses, I shuddered at the thought of nighttime hay rides, and I certainly avoided the Halloween TV Specials and movies that flooded the market before All Hallows Eve. Whenever I attempted to watch an even remotely scary movie I ended up freaking out and turning it off. Some of my friends loved that creepy feeling they got watching a horror movie, but I categorically hated it.
I’m not a kid anymore, but I’m definitely still a scaredy-cat. You might think that my aversion to horror movies means I don’t enjoy Halloween, but that’s not the case; luckily for me there are plenty of great Halloween movies that aren’t particularly scary. If you want to scream your guts out that’s fine by me (and I suggest you check out Jason’s Top 10 List of horror movies) but if you’re at all like me, there are films out there that celebrate Halloween without making you hide behind your hands or check under the bed. So here are a few suggestions for movies that will get you in the spirit without keeping you up at night, from one Halloweenie to another.
Hocus Pocus was released when I was ten, and I still love it. It’s got everything a Halloween movie needs: witches, black cats, the undead, and virgins. No, seriously! Omri Katz (best known for his role as Marshall Teller on the show “Eerie, Indiana”) plays Max, a virgin who accidentally frees three witches from an ancient spell. With the help of a talking cat, buxom classmate, and annoying little sister (played by a very young Thora Birch), Max must stop the witches from stealing childrens’ lives. Did I mention that the witches are played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy? The three actresses have a lot of fun with their roles, and it’s worth watching the film for the scene where Midler and her cohorts sing “I Put a Spell on You.”
Casper is another movie that filled my little teenage heart with joy. It’s got humor, warmth, and a little bit of tweeny romance. (My teenage heart definitely went pitter-patter for a pre-Final Destination Devon Sawa back in the day.) Casper is the ghost of a young boy who, along with three ghost uncles, haunts his childhood home. He befriends the house’s new tenants, a ghost therapist (Bill Pullman) and his daughter (Christina Ricci). Yes, you read that correctly: Bill Pullman plays a ghost therapist. Ahem.
Casper has all the hallmarks of a good haunted house film (secret rooms, belching ghosts, and creepy machines that reanimate the dead) with the addition of humor (Eric Idle! Cathy Moriarty! Did I mention farting and belching ghosts?). For a childrens’ movie about the undead, the film has some surprisingly powerful things to say about what it means to be living.
Arsenic and Old Lace is another movie that centers on the secrets hidden within a house. The film is a lesser-known Frank Capra vehicle, released two years before his Christmas staple It’s a Wonderful Life. The film’s premise is surprisingly disturbing for a Capra film: Cary Grant plays a man who discovers his aunts are killing lonely bachelors and burying them in the basement. It’s a grim set-up, but the film surrounds the macabre plot with slapstick, frenzy, and silliness. I’m honestly surprised that Arsenic and Old Lace hasn’t received more attention over the years, since it’s really a fantastic screwball comedy; Grant is at his comedic best as the dutiful and incredulous nephew, while Josephine Hull and Jean Adair play the homicidal aunts so innocently that they’re actually endearing. There’s even an appearance by the ever-creepy Peter Lorre as the aptly named Dr. Einstein.
My last Halloweenie recommendation is probably my scariest. Based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name, The Witches tells the story of a young boy named Luke (Jasen Fisher) who discovers a convention of witches at a hotel. Luke overhears the witches plotting to turn all the children of England into mice, and enlists his grandmother’s help in stopping the evil plot. The witches are led by Anjelica Huston, who is deliciously unnerving as the Grand High Witch. The film was produced in part by Jim Henson Productions, whose magical touch is evident in the incredible makeup and special effects of the film. The Witches is at its most grotesque in a scene where the women take off their human disguises, revealing their hideous vulture-like faces below.
So there you have it–some not-so-scary movies to help you get into the spirit of the holiday without losing either your lunch or a good night’s sleep! Happy Halloween to the both the horror-watchers and the scaredy-cats out there!