Welcome to this special edition of No Particular Order in honor of my favorite holiday: Halloween!
There were many directions in which I could have taken this post– favorite horror movies, most underrated horror movies, scariest horror movies, etc. But I wanted the challenge of picking a few films which I deem perfect for Halloween but which won’t alienate your non-horror-fan friends. So, hopefully I’ll have picked a diverse little collection here of films that can act as perfect compromises, for those of you wondering what to watch tomorrow, that won’t bore the gore-lovers but which won’t gross out the more faint of heart which coexist in your group.
Written by Stephen King and directed by George A. Romero, this film is at once silly and scary and masterfully made if the masters were having fun with their work of course. Comprised of short stories which carry with them the legacy of cheesy horror comic books (which the overall structure of the film was trying to mimic), this movie still amuses me to this day in its gleeful representation of horror. Its special effects are just creepy enough to please people like me, who genuinely enjoy seeing a corpse tell us he got his cake, but also over-the-top enough to be seen as comedic, like harmless Halloween decorations brought to life. I will say, though, that the tales which are the most genuinely terrifying are those in which these effects are not relied on so heavily, such as the final segment which is enough to make anyone squeamish. So that is something to keep in mind. But overall, I think a film that is broken up so intentionally like this and which doesn’t take itself so seriously really lends itself to being a throwback, vintage tale of terror that can easily be accepted by just about anyone.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
This film was my favorite as a child, the VHS nearly wearing out from my repeated viewings. So my opinion might be a little biased due to nostalgia, which I think is better than if my opinion had grown more jaded upon the film’s recent surge of merchandising. Anyway, this movie is perfect for Halloween but also for Christmas if your holiday film taste edges more toward the eclectic. I love this film for either holiday; it is appropriate for children, sure, but it’s also so dark and its whimsy so Gothic in nature, that anyone can love it, really. The way Halloween is represented in the film through the town and its characters is like an homage to the holiday, both its kitsch and its traditions. For all the effort and imagination that that took alone, not to mention that which the beloved songs and stop-motion fluidity required as well, I will always respect and enjoy this movie wholeheartedly.
In my humble opinion, this is a flawless film. Its script is witty. Its direction is just highly stylized enough for humor and effect (I mean, who doesn’t want their zombie survival rules to pop up on screen like that, or to see our protagonists destroy an outpost in semi-slow motion?) The cast (and cameo) is talented and just oozing with chemistry. This is a zombie comedy that gets everything right, and never forsakes one of those terms for the sake of over-emphasizing the other, and in fact, the two kind of aid each other, which is a rare and difficult feat for horror comedy genre hybrids in general. But in what other movie could we see a zombie kill of the week that is so hilarious and brutal that everyone watching is equally satisfied?
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Working backwards to Edgar Wright’s first Cornetto trilogy installment, this is the original zombie comedy, with romance in it as well. The humor is as sly and odd as any other British comedy, but again, the zombies really add a component to the human interactions that makes them all the more hilarious, with higher stakes and certainly stranger contexts. To have an entire sequence involving hitting a zombie with billiard sticks to the precise beat of a Queen song coming from a jukebox within the story space was irreverent and brilliant. And above all, we really care about these characters. They can be stubborn and naive but with so much heart, that the zombies become simultaneously part of the joke as well as a true threat. In that way, the film is effective no matter what level you’re connecting with it on, because it does so well with incorporating and really respecting each genre it was marketed under.
One of my favorite things, and partly why I wanted to make this list as opposed to a straightforward horror movie list, is when horror tropes and images are made silly, morphed and transformed into something that is a humorously skewed self-reference. For me, Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice does this effortlessly and in fact relies on it for the duration of the film. Everything from Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin distorting their own faces for a terrifying effect, to the DMV-like space in the afterlife where they seek advice, come across as funny precisely because of how creepy it could have been when you truly think about it. To make horror into comedy as opposed to merely combining them takes innovation and perhaps a sick sense of humor, but the effect is one that is perfect for Halloween viewing; a kind of chilling but mostly nonsensical representation of things that could very well have been frightening. By making these things into part-homage, part-parody creates common ground between people who happily recognize the ideas being referenced and spoofed, and those who can now process those same ideas as something safe, now that they fall within a language of comedy that they can approach without fear.
I hope these recommendations are helpful and I especially wish everyone a happy Halloween! For those of you who were perhaps expecting a strictly horror movie post, you’ll just have to stick around and keep reading my blog; those kinds of topics come around far more often here, seeing as I need no holiday as an excuse to think them up! But seeing as Halloween can mean a lot of different things for different people, I thought I’d give my picks for some favorite films that are appropriate but more diverse in their genres as well. Enjoy!