Friday, October 30, 2009

Movies That Make Me Think of Halloween

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?


Unknown said...

Yes, yes, yes, Maleficent is Halloween for me. I've always wanted to dress up as her, always known I can't pull it off. She's everything Halloween would be in a perfect world: black, sexy, with a little dark humor. Evil with an 'e,' unencumbered by psychobabble or messy after-effects.

And better yet, I'd be perfect in the live-action version. Can't you see it?

Also, I think you misnumbered

steve said...

Carpenter's "Halloween" gave me nightmares for years after seeing it as a kid

used it for the subject of one of my final papers just to exorcise some of my demons

still one of my favorites of all time - pretty much atmospheric perfection

adam k. said...

You do realize you have two #7s and two #8s...?

Couldn't really get it down to ten, could we? ; )

adam k. said...

Also, I hate to be Mr. Nitpicky today, but IMDB says it was sound effects, not visual effects, that Dracula won.

(decided to look it up to see what else the film was nominated for)


omg. i had no idea i did a top dozen. HA.

Alison Flynn said...

The original Halloween is one of the scariest movies ever. I had nightmares for weeks after that. At Halloween I still watch it when they play it on TV and it still scares the hell out out of me.

Such a fantastic horror movie. And wasn't young Jamie Lee Curtis fabulous?

I was never a huge fan of Nightmare Before Christmas, but I love Beetlejuice. That's my Burton Halloween movie. :)

Glenn said...

As someone who has never celebrated Halloween, I still find it so bizarre to imagine people just walking around the cities and suburbs dressed like that.

J.L said...

1. Bram Stoker's Dracula
2. Nosferatu
3. The Cat and the Canary
4. Bride of Frankenstein
5. The Innocents
6. Day of Wrath
7. Batman Returns
8. Hour of the Wolf
9. The Black Cauldron
10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
11. Sleeping Beauty
12. Mommie Dearest
13. The Man Who Knew Too Much
14. Waterloo Bridge
15. The Passion of Joan of Arc


J.L. interesting list. I have to ask why on The Black Cauldron and Waterloo Bridge (I guess i don't remember that movie clearly!)

J.L said...

This list was maybe not the ultimate horror picture (then I would included Scream and others slasher or horror pictures) but it is a list of movies I associate with Halloween.

OK. With Waterloo Bridge I maybe don't have a good explenation. The Movie haunts me in a horroresque way.

The Black Cauldron for me is one of the most horroresque animated movies in history. This is perhaps the movie that scared the most shit out of my when I was a child. That's why I associate it with Halloween.


yeah, i wanted personal lists so thank you. I loved the Black Cauldron (book) when I was a kid but I was not a fan of the movie. I'm still perplexed that they removed all the Disneyesque things abotu one of the characters. Usually Disney Disneyfys! :)

i haven't seen it since it came out. so i should give it a look.

adri said...

We always watch The Nightmare before Christmas at our house (both at Hallowe'en and Christmas).

It and The Wizard of Oz really belong on the same list. They're movies for everybody, that stay popular, with songs that you hum or sing along with, and both leads realize that there's no place like home.

There are characters you identify with - I like the Scarecrow in Wizard, and often feel just like the Mayor in Nightmare, with my head swivelling around with those two expressions.

Toto said...

Donnie Darko, of course!
I'm rewatching it with a friend today.
There's something about it, not only 'cause it ends on Halloween and there's a big costume party, it's the setting, the town. Very Halloween-y.

Paul Outlaw said...

The Bride of Frankenstein
The Wizard of Oz
Mommie Dearest
The Wiz

Paul Outlaw said...

And why? Either Outstanding (or Egregious) Achievement in Costume Design or fun ghoulishness...

Chris Na Taraja said...

As long as I get to be the girl in the catholic school outfit with the ball and chain, I will be glad to help you fulfill your KILL BILL fantasy. And don't be ashamed about wanting to be Uma Thurman, Who doesn't want to be Uma?

Just saw HALLOWEEN a few weeks ago. It was obviously a low budget film shot in the summer, with totally green trees, BUT it is still a good flick. I jumped out of my skin a few times. I would say that HALLOWEEN is the mother of modern horror films...or at least that whole batch of films in the eighties (FRIDAY THE 13TH, NIGHTMARE ON ELMSTREET, CANDYMAN, HELLRAISER, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW)

ctrout said...

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) - I saw this for the first time in October of some year (I think it was '99) and I've always associated it with Halloween. When Scout is dressed in a costume at the end reminds me of this holiday. And Boo Radley will always be the perfect mysterious neigbor.

Halloween (1978) - This one is obvious. I don't think I saw it for the first time around Halloween, but it's the perfect movie to watch during that season. Nathaniel, you are right when you say that even the scenes shot in daylight are scary.

The Exorcist (1973) - This movie has that perfect feeling for Halloween. You know something is going to happen and you want it to happen. When it does, it's so perfect and you get so sucked in that you start to believe supernatural things can happen.

Hellraiser (1987) - I watched this movie for the first time about three years ago specifically for Halloween. It was surprisingly good and Pinhead makes for such a perfect villain. The way Doug Bradley plays him reminds me of the way the old monster movies were. It works for me.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) - Not one of my favorite movies and it's not even the best one in the series (I liked Dream Warriors), but this movie will always be a part of my Halloweens because my Mom dressed up as Freddy Krueger when I was about three years old. I'll never forget how shocked I was when I saw her creep up on me as I sat and watched the next film on my list.

Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) - The Creature might be the scariest movie monster for me only because he was the only one that had no human qualities in that original movie. He was a killer and there was no reasoning with him. He's the only one that ever gave me nightmares. Both this film and the Nightmare on Elm Street incident were solidified in my mind as Halloween classics on the same night.

Carl said...

Regarding Maleficent - Susan Sarandon did a more than credible job as a Maleficent-like villaness in "Enchanted", and threw in a morph-to-dragon, to boot. I do think Susan could channel her inner wicked streak and do the gig on Halloween as well.