We are just a few days from the greatest holiday on the calendar. The tinsel on the Christmas tree and a finely roasted Thanksgiving turkey are nice, but little compares to the thrill of carving a pumpkin and the collective inclination toward the scary that comes with each October 31st. Halloween is a celebration of the dark and creepy things we aren’t always comfortable admitting that we love. The time of year everyone becomes a horror fan to some extent or another. However, there are those whose desire for the seasonally macabre is trumped either by crippling squeamishness or the desire to not give their children irrepressible nightmares.
So how does one scratch that Halloween movie itch and still be able to gather the kids around the TV before the twilight beckons them to begin the door-to-door pillaging for sweets? There are plenty of family-friendly films that are still firmly rooted in the tricks and treats, the howls and haunts, of the season.
Why is it so many kids grow up knowing and loving The Peanuts characters and their movies generations after their first appearance? It’s because The Peanuts have evolved from simple comic strip to an indelible part of American culture. In this particular Peanuts adventure, Linus opts to abstain from the typical Halloween festivities to wait for the mythical Great Pumpkin. The same way in which A Charlie Brown Christmas has become a staple of its holiday, It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown gives Halloween a quaint, lived-in feel that is ultimately very sweet. There are even scores of hardcore horrorphiles that swear by the film as requisite Halloween viewing.
The Universal Monsters are the ghastly pillars of American horror, and their legacy is unquestioned. While it is true that the tame terror of the Universal monster movies, a function of the era in which they were made, renders them suitable for kids, it may be hard to get them excited about Dracula, The Wolf Man, and Frankenstein’s creation. Enter Fred Dekker’s Monster Squad, a film that gives the kiddos a taste of the classic boogeymen while infusing them with the energy and spark of the 1980s — a decade that yielded the very best live-action family films. You may, however, have to have the uncomfortable conversation about the word “nards.”
This selection is a bit of a wild card. Moreso than any other film on this list, Ernest Scared Stupid plays directly and almost solely to the younger crowd. It also demands a prerequisite tolerance for Jim Varney’s hapless yokel shtick. However, there is something fascinatingly dark about this installment of the Ernest P. Worrel franchise. The movie’s about an ancient troll who menaces children and transforms them into wooden dolls so that he may be inhabited by evil sprits to become more powerful. Yeah, and somehow it’s still a slapstick comedy. It’s a strange sort of cross-trainer for more grownup horror fare.
By the pricking of my thumbs, your Halloween marathon needs this one. John Clayton’s filmic adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes is a bizarre and wonderful pseudo-horror experience. Jonathan Pryce gives a career-defining performance as carnival operator Mr. Dark whose mystical and ominous fair exposes the hidden desires of the corrupted human soul. Mr. Dark is a sci-fi take on the classic Faustian antagonist, the devil offering good people the chance to indulge their most lascivious cravings with a heavy price tag attached. It’s a morality play rolled up in an autumn-themed fantasy; one of Disney’s boldest films.
Speaking of Disney, another of their catalog that should be a mandatory component of any family’s Halloween night is the animated incarnation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Based on the classically spooky story by Washington Irving, Disney’s venture into the eerie little hamlet of Sleepy Hollow is a wondrous mix of the foreboding of the 19th century poem and the magic of late 40s Disney animation. The silly, waifish milquetoast Ichabod Crane is a nice juxtaposition to the terrifying black-clad rider with the flaming jack-o-lantern where his noggin should be. This short film will make the perfect post trick-or-treat bedtime story for your family’s Halloween night.
[Photo Credit: Lionsgate, Buena Vista]
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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