Recycled Film Experience! I wrote some of this in advance -- years in advance in fact -- to free up time to enjoy this costume crazed holiday. I originally published this list in 2005, but I've tweaked it some. Plus, not all of you were around in 2005. Herewith, the top 12 movies that remind me of Halloween. It's a top ten list and it's not even Tuesday. I'm so generous.
12 The Batman franchise (1989-2008)
In 1997 I went out Halloween clubbing as the Uma version of Poison Ivy. Whenever you dress up as a movie character the year the movie comes out, you'll have competition. There was another Poison Ivy there but I buried her, I promise. I had the horns and all the details, see. It was the longest I ever spent getting ready for Halloween (which is saying something): glue guns, orange wigs, fake foliage, you name it. I don't try as hard anymore. Last year, there were hundreds of Ledger versions of The Joker. I suspect there will be this year, too. Group costumes are always my favorite so I love seeing whole groups as Batman and his rogues gallery.
11 Sleeping Beauty (1959)
It's all about Maleficent. She makes me think of this festively dark holiday because I always thought that, on the right person and with the right commitment, the perfect Maleficent costume would be unbeatable. I know you can buy mass produced versions but I've never seen anyone anywhere come close to approximating this sorceress' majesty, gorgeous evilness, or the correct color of her flawless skin. And even if the right Halloween reveller could nail this singular look, they couldn't morph into a fire breathing dragon anyway.
Maybe the only way to do right by Maleficent on Halloween is to ditch the witch costume halfway through the party and finish the night out as the dragon?
10 Velvet Goldmine (1998)
Sandy Powell's costumes are glam rock heaven. And, more universally, looks that go with music (glam rock, disco, goth) are always hits as costumes go.
09 Clue (1985)
I imagine you're scratching your head. That Tim Curry comedy from the 80s? That board game? Why, yes, my friends. I played the game all the time with my family growing up. I still play the game actually -- two weeks ago in fact. I saw the movie three times in the theater. Little remembered fact: The DVD features three 'what if' endings but in the theater there was only one. You had to try different theaters to see all the endings. Dutifully, I fell for the marketing ploy.
"Too make a long story short..." "TOO LATE!"
Much later in college one year, a Clue discussion erupted into party plans. There were six of us. We would dress as Clue for the party we were attending! I was Mr Green. [tangent: It was the first and the last time that I was ever seen w/ a moustache. Yuck]. The brilliance of dressing up with a group as Miss Scarlett, Mrs White, Mrs Peacock, Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard, and Mr Green (and a dead body if there's a seventh person) cannot be overstated. It's easy. It's creative (the movie characters are just one visual interpretration). It's not expensive. And, despite there being no definitive look to adhere to, people will recognize who all of you are, provided you stick together and especially if you bring the weapons.
08 Kill Bill (2003)
For the past several Halloweens I have had this fantasy of being Uma Thurman as The Bride. (What is it with me & Uma, come October 31st each year?) Long blond locks. An imitation Hattori Hanzo sword. A yellow jumpsuit. With blood stains. Friends as the remaining DVAS (Deadly Viper Assassination Squad) or the crazy 88s. They form my entourage and strut down the street with me. It's like one massive Sally Menke edited, Robert Richardson lensed, Quentin Tarantino directed dream sequence that's all about glorifying me. Me. Me. Me! (This fantasy has been brought to you by the holiday Halloween, my inner drag queen, and my tireless enthusiasm for self-aggrandizement. Just pretend that Halloween is my birthday. Go with it.)
07 Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
Mainly because during its warm holiday-filled Americana it breaks for that lengthy somewhat atonal trick or treat segment. [more on that classic]
06 The Wizard of Oz (1939)
I'm thinking of I should make this movie exempt from all lists -- I talk about it too much.-- because it has so many advantages. This movie is so deeply enmeshed into the collective subconcious that one can, if inclined, connect it to all else. The more fascinating list to make would probably be along the lines of "Top Ten Things That Don't Make Me Think of The Wizard of Oz". It makes me think of everything: childhood, television, the cinema, Thanksgiving, Christmas, other 'friends of Dorothy', showtunes, midgets, shoes, Broadway, lions & tigers & bears, fantasy versus reality debates, beauty fascism, dreams, emeralds, short work days, hot air balloons... I could go on all day. I'll spare you.
But we're talking about Halloween. You'll see riffs on every one of its main characters this time of year. Silly spins (hirsute drag queens in Dorothy wigs), innocent enthusiasms (it makes a great family group costume), and every other imaginable interpretation. The second and better reason is the beautiful wickedness of The Wicked Witch of the West. Audience affection for this villain runs deep, but only on Halloween, the night when evil is good, does it seem appropriate to wish that Dorothy had never tossed that bucket of water her way. What a world... what a world.
05 The Crow (1994)
I've seen the mime face w/ black leather pants (easy, iconic) every year on the streets. But that's not why it reminds me of Halloween. There's also the creepy intertextual ghoulishness of a story about a dead man being played by a man who was killed on the set while filming the role (Brandon Lee, rest in peace). But that's not why it reminds me of Halloween. The Crow appears because I hail from Detroit, Michigan and so does this gruesome story.
If you'd have told me as a child that I'd have to explain "Devil's Night" (the night in which all The Crow's narrative mayhem occurs) to other people when I grew up I would have laughed at you with the easy myopia of childhood. 'Who doesn't know what Devil's Night is?' I would have scoffed. Apparently lots of people. Or so I discovered when I moved out west for college. When The Crow opened, I suddenly had an easy-to-cite cultural reference to explain the night of vandalism, arson, and general mischief that precedes Halloween. I thought everyone grew up tepeeing houses, egging cars, setting fires, and sneaking around their neighborhood on October 30th each and every year.
04 Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Which I talked about briefly in my Towleroad article this week
03 Halloween (1978)
Well, duh. Of course it would be on the list. True story: I saw it for the first time in 2004. I have this way of avoiding movies that I think will scare me. I only saw Silence of the Lambs a year after it opened because I had to (the Oscars you know) and I kept having nightmares about it. I figured, 'why the hell not? I'm already having nightmares!' The nightmares stopped once I saw it. It wasn't as scary as the nightmares. But Halloween is evilscary. The daylight scenes are even scary.
02 Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
Nothing says "Halloween" more than sunlight aversions and blood-lust. Of all vampire films, Francis Ford Coppola's elaborately bizarre, colorful, and passionate treatment of the vampire mythos is the one I hold most dear. It's not the "best", though. The most peculiar thing about this film and my love for it, is that I don't really think that much of it works. A good deal of the problems seems to be in the casting. The most interesting performance among the major characters (Sadie Frost as Lucy... previously discussed) has the least screen time. Keanu Reeves is wooden as Jonathan Harker, Gary Oldman lacks the sexual charisma that this romantic horror epic needs (though otherwise the performance works) and strangely, despite it being filmed during what were unarguably her peak years, Winona Ryder also flails about for the entire running time. She never was adept at period (nevermind those two Oscar nominations) but her star turn reads over the top rather than operatically passionate once the blood hits the wall. Still, despite many misgivings, the film is a spectacle in the best sense. You can't take your eyes off of it. Coppola's passion for le cinéma is evident throughout as he tries every conceivable camera trick in the book. His approach is a perfect fit for this grand guignol tale.
There's no trace of laziness in the movie (even the bad actors are trying hard), no fingerprints of the undead were involved in this film's making, only fully committed living and breathing artists attempting something awesome. For whatever reason, this particular Coppola film is never booked for repertory houses or even midnight screenings (though it would seem an ideal fit for both) . That's a shame because this epic was meant for big screens where the enormity of its oddness and those Oscar winning techs (costumes, makeup, visual effects) were properly showcased and able to cover for the clumsy bits.
01 The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Who better to be considered the cinematic patron saint of Halloween than weird, wild-haired auteur Tim Burton? Maybe his films aren't what they once but it's hard to argue with that initial run encompassing Frankenweenie, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman and Edward Scissorhands (1990). Other highlights like Ed Wood and Mars Attacks! (and Corpse Bride, Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd if you're feeling generous) display a magical combo of the macabre and innocent, bound together with dark humor and visual invention. In other words, it's easy to love Tim Burton's movies for the exact same reasons that it's easy to enjoy Halloween.
The storyline of the frequently rereleased The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was actually directed by Coraline's Henry Selick (Burton produced and came up with the story), is actually or at least initially about a longing for Christmas. But from its hilarious and jokily gruesome opening number "This is Halloween" to its triumphant 'let's put on a show' reaffirmations of purpose at the end, this movie subverts all the yuletide love into an ode to Halloween as the supreme holiday for those with ghoulishly creative minds. That twist is this movie's grand trick and The Nightmare Before Christmas is still a treat.
I went pretty personal with the list. So let's hear yours: what movies most remind you of Halloween and why? And what are you dressing up as this year?