Welcome back, boys, girls, and beyond. It’s time once again for a Sacred Walloween listicle! The Greatest Sacred Walloween Ever now continues with a look at the scenes that explore what makes this holiday tick. And that means we’re going to be taking a look at the Top Ten Best Halloween Scenes Ever.
Now, what does it mean to be a “Halloween Scene?” Well, I’m defining these as the best sequences in cinema set on the night of All Hallows Eve. It does not have to be a scary scene, or even a scary movie. The sole purpose here is to explore the defining moments in film history where characters, for whatever reason, dress up in costume, carve pumpkins, and collect candy as payment for not performing obnoxious pranks.
Now, because Halloween is arguably one of the three biggest holidays in American culture (alongside Christmas and Fourth of July), there are a lot of great films to choose from. I immediately ruled out short films and animated specials, so there’s no It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! or Donald Duck shorts like Trick or Treat. As for the rest of my Honorable Mentions, I explored a long list of genres and styles. On the comedic side of things, films that just missed out include the Halloween-set Arsenic and Old Lace, the overtly saccharine nature of Meet Me In St. Louis, and the millennial classic A Cinderella Story (it takes place at a Halloween dance, after all).
On the more dramatic side of things, I took a brief look at Donnie Darko, the hauntingly well-acted car ride in We Need To Talk About Kevin, the bonding moments in Kramer vs. Kramer, and of course the iconic angst of American Splendor(“I’m Harvey Pekar, lady! I ain’t no superhero! I’m just a kid from the neighborhood!”). While not an explicitly scary list, I did consider a few horror films, including the underrated Trick r’ Treat, the spooky Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, and my beloved The Guest, which sets is climax on October 31st.
And I can’t forget some lesser-quality entries that stand out in the collective subconscious, like last year’s delightful Hubie Halloween, Netflix’s rom-com meet-cute When We First Met, the 80s gender dynamics comedy Mr. Mom, the so-bad-it’s-good masterpiece Showgirls, and a film I came this close to picking, Batman Forever (when the Riddler and Two Face dress up as children to assault Wayne Manor). All memorable entries that just missed the cut. But let’s stop dwelling on who wasn’t selected. Let’s take a look at the Top Ten and see who was.
E.T. the Extraterrestrial
Because its story is so universal, people often forget that E.T. takes place around Halloween. In fact, that famous flight through the forest and in front of the moon? That takes place Halloween night! In fact, in order to sneak Elliott into the woods, the Taylor children smuggle the alien out through their Halloween costumes, whilst mother Mary (Dee Taylor) is none the wiser. Dressed as a ghost and passed off as little Gertie, Michael and Elliott sneak the walking extraterrestrial right past their parental figure – pausing only for the requisite photo session, where the flash humorously stuns the little alien – and out the door, past a sea of Yodas and other product placement. The entire sequence is perfectly structured by Spielberg, not only through the whimsical forest flight, but through the capturing of a suburban Halloween in 1982.
Probably the least-seen film on this list, Ed Wood possesses perhaps the most poignant Halloween moment of them all. Following legendary so-bad-it’s-good director Ed Wood’s rise (or descent) to the top, a large chunk of the film pertains to Wood’s (played with hyper-earnestness by Johnny Depp) friendship with legendary horror actor Bela Lugosi (played lovingly by Martin Landau). Well past his prime and his fame, Lugosi spends his Halloween watching his 1931 Dracula on TV and lusting after Vampira (Lisa Marie), and reminiscing about his past fame. Feeling fatigued, Lugosi gets a second wind when a group of young children arrive to trick-or-treat, donning his vampire fangs and old costume to scare the children once more (all except for one little brat, humorously). It’s a poignant scene about reliving the glory days, and its great fun to behold as it captures the spirit of the Halloween season.
Well, I mean, duh. Of course Halloween would make the cut. It’s right there in the title. There are honestly two significant moments I could pick from, each equally spooky in their Halloween fright. The first is Halloween 1963, when a six-year-old Michael Myers first snaps and murders his older sister, dressed in his clown costume. The second is, of course, the main thrust of the movie, where Michael spends his day stalking teenager Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and then picking off the babysitters on both sides of a suburban street, one right after the other. Trick-or-treaters constantly pop up, kids watch scary movies and eat candy, and the festivities of a small-town Halloween may infiltrate the film on occasion, but ultimately, this is a horror story about what goes on without our knowing, and the masks, pumpkins, and candy are simple window dressing to a spookier, more brilliant tale.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Holidays play a bigger role in the Harry Potter book series, and most of the films only celebrate one major holiday – Christmas (no, you stupid Die Hard people, Harry Potter isn’t a Christmas movie either). However, audiences often forget that there’s another holiday that appears at least once, quite memorably, in the Harry Potter film series – and I’m not talking about Half-Blood Prince’s Valentine’s Day scene. I’m talking about Sorcerer’s Stone, where Halloween not only makes an appearance, it makes a central appearance. That’s right, it’s on Halloween night, when that gorgeous castle is adorned with floating pumpkins and orange lighting, that Professor Quirrel comes bursting in to declare “TROLL! IN THE DUNGEON! Thought you ought to know (thud).” That’s right, the iconic troll scene takes place on Halloween night, 2001, when Harry and Ron save Hermione and solidify their friendship. It’s a fun scene of childish adventure, perfectly rendered by the production team and directed by Chris Columbus, and it’s an all-time Halloween moment in cinema.
Once again, we have another movie where the entirety of the film takes place on All Hallows Eve, making it difficult to pick a specific moment. But how can you not embrace the silliness and Halloween whimsy of Hocus Pocus? It’s a perfect little fantasy “horror” set in a small town – Salem, Massachusetts, no less – on the night of Halloween. Each set piece in this silly picture, following three deceased witches (icons Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker, and the great Bette Midler) hunting down children to devour in order to stay alive, explores a new detail in a small-town’s celebration of the spooky holiday: fancy soirees, kids trick-or-treating, a first responder force spread thin by pranks, breaking into spooky old houses, trips to the graveyard, bullying older kids, and beyond. If I had to pick a specific moment for the list, I suppose it would be the Halloween dance where the witches inexplicably sing “I Put A Spell On You.” But honestly? This film qualifies as a whole.
The Karate Kid
Die-hard Karate Kid fans will recall that Halloween night serves as the catalyst for the entire series. It is on that night that Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) – who is hilariously and absurdly dressed as a shower – first gets his revenge on his bully, Johnny Lawrence (Billy Zabka). It is for that reason that Johnny and his gang of Cobra Kai pseudo-fascists chase him down – dressed as skeletons, because this is the greatest movie ever made – and beat him nearly to death (you know, as kids do). And it is because of this beating that Mr. Miyagi (the irreplacable Pat Morita) emerges from the fog to single-handedly beat the sh*t out of a group of violence-crazed teenagers. That’s right – if it weren’t for Halloween night, not only would we have missed out on one of the most iconography-driven sequences in 80s film history, then Daniel LaRusso might never have met Mr. Miyagi and become the eponymous Karate Kid. We have Halloween to thank for that.
Perhaps the all-time great Halloween party scene in cinema, leave it to Tina Feyto perfectly satirize the joy, double standards, and teenage angst present in a teenage Halloween party. Dubbed by Cady (Lindsay Lohan) as the “one day a year when a girl can dress up like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it,” Halloween in Mean Girls Land is the perfect encapsulation of the double standard of being a teenage girl – dressing slutty because you’re “supposed” to, and yet only doing so because it’s the only time you’re “allowed” to. This is perfectly encapsulated with Academy Award-nominee (not for this movie, but it should have been) Amanda Seyfried’s declaration, “I’m a mouse. Duh!” The only person, memorably, to not get the memo, is poor Cady, who shows up in an entirely accurate (and unflattering) Zombie Bride costume. It’s brilliantly written, brilliantly acted, and one of cinema’s best Halloween moments.
The Monster Squad
Some films just have a knack for capturing the magic of the Halloween season, especially through the eyes of a child. Thus is the case with The Monster Squad, written by Lethal Weapon and Nice Guys scribe Shane Black. The film is something of a mixed bag; on the one hand, it is pretty juvenile. Outside of funny lines like “Wolf Man’s got nards!” the film is pretty gross, with many of the teenage characters unlikeable, and the older sister constantly being unfairly maligned. But on the other hand, its premise about a monster-obsessed group of suburban kids banding together to battle Dracula and his array of monsters from Classic Hollywood (Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy, etc.) is top-notch, and perfectly capitalizes on the nostalgia for The Goonies and Stand By Me. It captures the fun of the season – of hanging out with your friends, watching scary movies, and letting your imagination take you on a journey. It’s silly, funny, and spooky – just like the holiday itself.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
You know, for all the debate surrounding whether The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween film or a Christmas film, the answer is, seemingly, in the text itself. After all, only one scene in the entire film takes place on Halloween (ok, actually two, but they are one extended sequence). The rest takes place on the build-up to Christmas. However, if your one Halloween scene is going to be “This Is Halloween” (and its follow-up “Jack’s Lament”), then I think you’re in pretty good shape. I mean, this is one of cinema’s greatest openings, following the land of Halloween Town in the aftermath of their big holiday. The song introduces us to a town of surprise and scares (“yet they’re not mean”), each celebrating their best outing yet. There’s witches and ghosts, laboratory creations and bug-filled sacks, creepy trick-or-treaters and two-faced mayors, and above all the skeleton Pumpkin King himself, Jack (voiced here by Danny Elfman). The stop-motion is still unlike anything seen before, whimsical, spooky, and iconic in the best of ways, and even if it’s only one brief scene, it perfectly captures the magic of Halloween.
To Kill A Mockingbird
As we come to the conclusion of this list, we come to a scene from a movie you probably weren’t expecting to make an appearance. While not thought of as a Halloween movie To Kill A Mockingbird actually features one of the most iconic Halloween moments in all of cinema. You see, the film’s climax, which ties together all of the movie’s (and the book it is based on) themes, takes place on October 31st, in the aftermath of a school pageant where Scout, for reasons I still can’t figure out, plays a ham. In an out-of-character bit of horror for the nostalgic look at small-town heroism in the face of racism, Scout (Mary Badford) and her brother Jem (Phillip Alford) get the feeling they’re being followed. The slow race through their sleepy town’s streets to their home soon becomes nightmarish as they are attacked by an unseen force – made worse by the fact that the audience can’t see what’s happening due to the ham suit’s constraining both her view and the audience’s. We don’t learn the gist later, when Robert Duvall emerges from the shadows as the then-unseen and supposedly-terrifying Boo Radley, a supposedly-evil presence in the town who had rushed in to save and kill the venomously racist Bob Ewell and save the children. It’s an all-time great scene in American cinema, in American literature, and in Halloween canon.
Well, that wraps up our look at the Best Halloween Scenes Ever! I hope you enjoyed this trip into Spooky Town. Feel free to comment below on the scenes selected, as well as to provide your favorite Halloween-set moments in film history! I’ll be back tomorrow with more horrific reviews, and will return next week with an all-new listicle for you. Until then, stay spooky my friends.