It has always been beyond me why anyone would voluntarily invite adrenaline to course through their body or nightmares to render them sleepless for weeks. (Why, just . . . why?) I’m pretty much guaranteed to turn down invites to haunted houses, any movie with sentient dolls or evil clowns, and even goofy zombie hay-rides. This may logically lead you to believe that I dislike the Halloween season, but au contraire mon frere: I love Halloween almost as much as I hate being scared.
Halloween isn’t just about scaring you right out of your pants! No! It’s about costumes and candy and good old-fashioned camp. Creepiness can be fun instead of unpleasantly terrifying if you do it the right way. Halloween is awesome, and one of the best ways to celebrate is to set yourself in front of the TV for a proper Halloween movie marathon whilst eating your body-weight in pizza and fun-sized Snickers. So, for my fellow Horror Haters out there, here is a (somewhat) complete guide to Hallo-weenie approved movies.
Monsters at the Drive-In
Although they definitely still have the capacity to be creepy, 1950s monster movies are often campy and dated enough to inspire humor rather than terror. Their perfect blend of monsters and bad acting make them 100% Hallo-weenie approved.
- The Blob (1958): “Very soon the most horrifying monster menace ever conceived will be oozing into this theater.” This movie is classic for a reason. It has all the tropes of a mid-century monster flick. Teenagers making out in a convertible find the monster, it comes from another planet, it EATS PEOPLE ALIVE! Plus it’s just very fun in general to watch Steve McQueen being chased by what looks like a giant amorphous pile of Jell-O.
- Them! (1954): Nuclear radiation, what’s the worst that can happen? Well, we could get giant fuzzy ant-monsters that start attacking people. Can America’s greatest weapons of science combat these nightmare creatures? Also, Edmund Gwenn, the man who plays Santa Claus in A Miracle on 34th Street, is in it so there’s another reason to watch this flick.
- Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958): “Once a normal, voluptuously beautiful young woman, she drove into a nightmare of horror!” Love, insanity, alcoholism, infidelity, and . . . giant monster women? Is this a soap opera or a monster movie? It’s a bit of both.
I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts
Oh wait, I super am. Unless I’m watching any of these ghostly films.
- Ghostbusters (1984): Obviously Hallo-weenie approved and an all-around classic. I recommend making real life marshmallow versions of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man while viewing.
- Casper (1995): Oh, early ‘90s CG. Remember when you were so cutting-edge? If you’re in the mood for sophomoric humor and a young Christina Ricci as a strong-female-lead, dust off this VHS tape on Halloween.
- Ghost (1990): This movie has everything! Patrick Swayze’s awesome dancer’s bod jumping through walls, sassy Whoopi Goldberg as a con artist and medium, the Righteous Brothers, plus the guy who plays the POTUS on Scandal.
- The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947): The movie features Rex Harrison at his most Rex Harrison-iest. He plays a curmudgeonly and (of course) mildly sexist sea-captain turned ghost who haunts (and inevitably falls in love) with the widow living in his old home. The whole thing is charming and perfect.
- Ghost Town (2008): Ricky Gervais plays a dentist whose near-death experience gives him the annoying ability to see and hear ghosts who all want something from him. This leads to him eventually falling for the widow of a persistent ghost (Greg Kinnear) looking to make peace with the wife he left behind. This creates an impossible love-triangle between Gervais the widow and her deceased husband.
- The Ghost Breakers (1940): A classic screwball horror-comedy starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard that just happens to have ghosts and zombies in a Cuban haunted mansion. Just watch it, the jokes are gold.
Creatures From Out of This World
Others might argue with me on this, but I believe that classic sci-fi has its place in the Halloween canon. What’s more monstrous than an extra-terrestrial, or mankind’s own ability to do harm?
- Forbidden Planet (1956): Gotta love Robbie Robot! Who wouldn’t want a robot that could produce a cheeseburger or slinky evening gown for you on command? There are space explorers, a mad scientist (with an alluring daughter, of course, for the space explorers to flirt with), and theremin riffs galore. There’s also some impressive set design and SFX for both the era and genre.
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): A classic Steven Spielberg film that also includes the famous French New Wave director Francois Truffaut for some reason. Watch this movie with others while eating mashed potatoes and hold a contest to see who can create the best Devil’s Tower.
- E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982): If there’s one thing Spielberg does well, it’s aliens.
- THE THING From Another World (1951): Scientists in Alaska discover a (nearly) indestructible and violent alien creature frozen in the ice. This one is actually super suspenseful, if not actually terrifying. You may find yourself yelling “WHY WON’T YOU DIE?!” at the screen as they try to destroy the alien.
No Twilight allowed. (Ever!)
- Dracula (1931): Bela Lugosi is Dracula and will always be Dracula in my book. His hypnotic, glowing eyes and thick Transylvanian accent will penetrate you TO YOUR SOUL. *cue evil laughter*
- The Lost Boys (1987): Van Morrison’s “People are Strange,” a young Corey Feldman and Corey Haim as very self-important vampire hunters, a chick named Star, and teenaged vampire bikers with mullets. Yes. Just, yes. Also—SPOILER ALERT—Mr. Gilmore from Gilmore Girls is totally the king of the vampires.
- Hotel Transylvania (2012): This is a frothy movie that’s great if you’re choosing to movie marathon with kids. Its classic monster references are pretty clever, and it includes a star-studded cast of gifted comedians if you’re looking for something on the lighter side.
Brains on the Menu
As a Hallo-weenie I generally don’t go in for the gratuitous gore in traditional zombie movies, but here are a few exceptions.
- Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998): Not gonna lie, this movie terrified me as a child. The zombies are real! Velma can’t just say “Jinkies!” and pull off a mask. But, as an adult I think it’s safe to say that this children’s animated feature is Hallo-weenie approved. Probably.
- Warm Bodies (2013): Hey, it’s just Romeo and Juliet with the added bonus of zombies and a happy ending! Not to mention a killer soundtrack, pun intended.
- Shaun of the Dead (2004): Simon Pegg can make me like pretty much anything, even zombie movies. Plus no one’s better at black comedy than the Brits!
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003): Remember how this is actually a zombie movie in addition to being a pirate movie? Dead men tell no tales . . . UNTIL THEY BECOME UNDEAD. That totally should have been the tagline. Undead wise-cracking pirates are the perfect companions on any Halloween night.
Witches are the bread and butter of a classic Halloween, so here are a few spellbinding movies that won’t give you nightmares.
- Hocus Pocus (1993): Did you really think we’d get through this list without mentioning Hocus Pocus? Its cheesy “Disney Channel Original Movie” quality and sneaky jokes are part of its inherent charm, and Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy knock it out of the park as three spellbinding sisters.
- Halloweentown (1998): Speaking of Disney Channel Original Movies, Halloweentown is about as classic as they get. You might be a ‘90s kid if you got sick of this movie after it played on a loop for the entire month of October for your entire childhood.
- Practical Magic (1998): This movie features Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as sisters who just so happen to be powerful witches with an unfortunate family curse. The Girl Power is so thick in this movie you can cut it with a knife—and it’s awesome.
- The Wizard of Oz (1939): “Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?” The Wicked Witch of the West and her sister’s striped tights have been Halloween costume inspirations for generations. This masterpiece from the golden age of Hollywood is perfect for even the most timid of Hallo-weenies.
- The Entire Harry Potter Franchise (2001–2011): Spend Halloween with your favorite adolescent magicians! You can have yourself a marathon within a marathon by watching all eight films.
For my senior capstone course in college I took a class all about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and its adaptations in film and literature (and that, kids, is why you always become a liberal arts major). So, long story short, I could probably write 10 blog posts just about Frankenstein. But I did try to reign myself in! Here’s an abbreviated list of some of my favorites non-terrifying Franken-flicks.
- Frankenstein (1931): This film adaptation by James Whale is more imitated and culturally relevant than the novel that inspired it. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it yet I am now assigning it to you as homework. Everything that comes to mind when you hear the word “Frankenstein” comes from this movie.
- The Bride of Frankenstein (1935): Also directed by James Whale, this film pulls more elements from Shelley’s novel including having characters portraying the Shelleys and Lord Byron at the beginning of the film. It’s also got a much more dramatic and artistic creation scene, in my opinion.
- Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948): Abbott and Costello meet a lot of monsters through the years, but this one is my favorite. It’s a slapstick comedy with suspenseful monster chases and actually quite a lot of focus on the Wolf Man and Dracula, despite the title.
- Young Frankenstein (1974): That’s Frahnk-en-shteen, to you. This movie is essentially a parody of Whale’s 1931 film rife with delightfully quotable and inappropriate 1970s humor. Truly Gene Wilder was born for the role of a mad scientist.
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1974): Although his creature has blond hair and a tan instead of bolts in its neck, Frank-N-Furter is a version of Dr. Frankenstein. This movie is too weird, campy, flamboyant, and fabulous to be truly terrifying. Ergo, it gets the Hallo-weenie stamp of approval!
Classic TV Remakes
Hallo-weenie approved movie adaptations of classic television series.
- The Addams Family and Addams Family Values (1991, 1993): The perfect psychopathic family to spend your Halloween with. Also, can I just say that Morticia and Gomez Addams are the perfect couple? Well, perhaps “perfect together” would be a better way to put it.
- Bewitched (2005): This movie didn’t get great reviews but I like it a lot. It’s dumb and charming—no, maybe not as charming as the 1960s sitcom—but it still has it’s own fluffy magic. Plus Steve Carell does a spot on Paul Lynde impression in the film, if that’s something you’re into seeing.
- Twilight Zone The Movie (1983): This one is actually a bit scary for this Hallo-weenie, but it’s a manageable kind of scary. Just like the original TV show.
The best thing about these films is that they make you think and have great dialogue while at the same time leaving you hanging on the edge of your seat.
- Literally anything by Alfred Hitchcock: But I would suggest starting with Psycho, Rear Window, Strangers on a Train, 39 Steps, and The Birds.
- Wait Until Dark (1967): Audrey Hepburn plays a blind woman who has to evade a violent criminal in her own home who is searching for drugs left there by mistake. It’s super suspenseful but a great thriller and not too scary for Hallo-weenies.
- Arsenic and Old Lace (1944): This movie directed by Frank Capra is rife with charm. Cary Grant stars as a newlywed who discovers that his dear old aunties have been murdering men and burying them in the basement with the help of his brother, who happens to believe that he is Teddy Roosevelt. Throw in another brother who looks “like Boris Karloff” with murderous intentions. And you thought your family was crazy.
Tim Burton is the Pumpkin King
Pretty much anything by Tim Burton is a good way to go on Halloween. He’s consistently eccentric and creepy without going overboard on terror. Here are some go-tos for your next monstrous marathon.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993): This one’s currently on Netflix, folks! It does have its pretty creepy parts (I mean, hello, there’s an evil Oogie Boogie man trying to kill Santa Claus) but it’s balanced by the artistry and whimsy of Burton’s creations and a brilliant score by Danny Elfman.
- Edward Scissorhands (1990): This is technically another Frankenstein movie but I’m grouping it with the rest of Burton’s films. It’s a classic Tim Burton movie criticizing suburbia and our idea of what “normal” and “good” really mean.
- Corpse Bride (2005): Zombie weddings and murdered young brides as told by jazzy skeletons and Victorian prudes.
- Beetlejuice (1988): Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice . . . If I had to choose a way to be haunted it would be being forced to sing Harry Belafonte songs at dinner parties.