Halloween is far and away my favorite holiday. I don’t know what specifically causes that response: it could be the weather is vastly superior (White Christmases may be pretty to look at, but try standing in it for more than fifteen damn minutes), it could be the awesome atmosphere, or it could be how everyone celebrates the realm of fiction. It’s pretty much the only month that has an entire genre surrounding it (sure, Christmas has more television specials, but there are very few Christmas movies, just movies of other genres set around the holiday). Long story short, this is my favorite time of the year, and I will be kicking off a yearly Wednesday Listicle Series: Sacred Walloween (I’m so sorry for that pun). All this month, I will be posting a Wednesday Listicle dedicated to the month and the theme of Halloween.
This week, we’ll be looking at Travis’ Must Watch Movies of October. These are the ten (technically eleven-we’ll get to that) movies that, every October, I have to watch. Even if it means skipping class all day to finish them (sorry, Mom and Dad). They could be comedies, children’s films, or horror, but they all do one thing: they remind me of the spirit of the month, and the sense of joy I first felt watching these films. Ok, enough backstory, let’s get down to the reason you clicked: finding out what movies bring me joy and, if you check them out, will bring you joy too.
I mean, duh. How could you not watch Halloween in October? It’s the horror movie. It’s scary, it’s eerie, it captures the mood of the time, and it has Halloween in the name. Michael Myers is the perfect horror villain, and Jamie Lee Curtis is the perfect foil, using her brains and her strengths to combat evil incarnate. I remember watching it in college with a group of kids who had never seen it, and expected an “old, vanilla movie.” By the end, they were nearly wetting themselves in fear. Halloween is not only a quintessential October experience, it’s the quintessential October experience.
On the other end of the spectrum, Disney! If I’m being honest, I prefer Halloweentown 2: Kalabar’s Revenge. It’s the Empire Strikes Back of the series. But Halloweentown is the Star Wars. It creates a unique mythology filled with magic, mystery, and the classic Hero’s Journey. Plus, you get Debbie Reynolds, Judith Hoag, and Disney protégé Kimberley J. Brown. And Benny! Who doesn’t like a sassy skeleton? Disney does many, many, many things wrong, but Halloweentown is one of the things they got right. It will live forever.
What can I say? It put a spell on me (God, what’s wrong with me?). Look, Hocus Pocus is silly, stupid, and ridiculous. But are you going to tell me a movie about three Salem witches, based on the Three Stooges and played by Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker, who eat children and are brought back to life by a virgin, and must team up with his little sister, crush and a talking cat to kill the witches, who bring to life a zombie and brainwash the parents with a catchy tune, is a bad idea? Ok, ok, shut up. But it’s a cheesy little slice of the 90s that fills me with joy every October, and it has been a staple on my television for fifteen years. Fun fact: the voice of Binx the Cat is Jason Marsden, who Disney wanted to be a major star so badly, they put him in everything. I’m talking Boy Meets World, Full House, The Goofy Movie, etc. He is your childhood.
By far the newest film on the list, I actually didn’t expect this one to be here. Yes, It Follows is the best horror film in years, and yes, it’s the only horror film to ever make my Top Ten list at the end of the year, but it came out in 2015-that’s hardly enough time to make itself a Travis October Classic. However, it’s the staying power of the film that propels it to this lofty honor. On a technical level, it’s a simple yet marvelous little feature, getting by without special effects and relying on tension instead of jump scares. But the reason it stands out to me is the way it captures the town it takes place in. Many major cities have films that define them: Chicago has Ferris Bueller, New York has Annie Hall, L.A. has Chinatown, and the Detroit suburbs now has It Follows. The depiction of both the Michigan lakeside, the suburbs of Detroit, and a sequence set in the very movie theater I watched the film help craft a movie so near and dear to my heart, I can’t let a Halloween go by without watching it. It is an excellent example of horror filmmaking, and the perfect accompaniment to the eerie nights of October.
It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!
As mentioned earlier, Christmas gets all the great holiday specials, while Halloween gets the shaft. The closest they get to those classic specials are the occasional Disney Channel Original Movie. However, there is one true tradition every Halloween that you can’t pass up: Charlie Brown! There’s no better way to recapture the joy of childhood than to watch a Peanuts special, and to me, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! might be the best. You not only get mopey Charlie Brown and the faith-filled sensitivity of Linus (his openly weeping at Lucy’s vicious disemboweling of a pumpkin is the true start of the season), but you also get Snoopy at his best-the World War One Flying Ace. Sure, Linus never gets to see the Great Pumpkin, and Charlie Brown only gets rocks and a pumpkin drawn on the back of his head, but we get to experience the joys of childhood and the magic of Halloween through a beloved cast of characters, and I don’t know a better way to get in the spirit of things than a little bit of Vince Guaraldi in your life.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Honestly, this is the film that inspired me to make this list. I didn’t see this little film until I was 16. Over the course of an hour and twenty minutes, I realized that I had made an egregious error for sixteen years. The opening sequence, “This Is Halloween,” is one of the greatest sequences ever put on film, the rest of the animation is gorgeous, and the music is perfect. Songs like “Jack’s Lament,” “What’s This?” and “Kidnap the Sandy Claws” are instant classics, working for both Halloween and Christmas. The magic of this film is on display in every frame, and my love for this film has inspired me to see it in theaters, go as Jack Skellington for Halloween, and to watch it at least twice a year since (roughly fifteen times since). I’ll just leave you with this video. You’re welcome:
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure/The Pee Wee Herman Show
Tim Burton appears on this list twice. The first was his baby, Nightmare Before Christmas. As for the second, I’m sure most people would assume Beetlejuice would be the go-to Halloween film. And I won’t slam Beetlejuice. It’s a great film. But for me, Halloween is about being weird, being childish, and having fun. And no Burton film sums those feelings up like his first film, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Pee Wee Herman’s quest across the United States is weird, at times frightening, and all around fun. I dare you not to laugh when he does his Tequila Dance, or scream when he meets Large Marge. It’s a bizarre little masterpiece, and one of my favorite Halloween traditions. Of course, while Big Adventure is the best film by Pee Wee, it’s not the best Pee Wee. That would be the original play, a spoof of children’s shows like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, titled The Pee Wee Herman Show. It’s darker, it’s funnier, and it’s more colorful, and makes for one of my weirdest, but most beloved, Halloween traditions.
Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical
In 1936, William Randolph Heart began a campaign to make marijuana illegal, for reasons not fully comprehensive. He relied on lies, false morality, and racism in his campaign, and eventually demonized the product. The campaign was picked up by a small group of filmmakers, who made a film about how smoking weed once will result in rape, murder, atheism and interracial marriage (in that order). It’s supposed to be a horrific experience, and ends with the narrator directly warning the audience that it could happen to their own children. The film flopped, but was found in the 60s and realized for the comedy it was. In the early 2000s, a group of composers created a spoof horror camp musical that serves as the perfect satirical takedown of the film. It has everything: the Devil, goat man orgies, murder, cannibalism and ghosts, and starred Alan Cumming, Ana Gasteyer, Steven Weber, John Kassir, and a then-unknown Kristen Bell. It’s a dark critique of censorship, but above all, it’s a spoof of horror films. And I love spoofs of horror films. Just check out my next film if you don’t believe me.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
I have eight favorite films of all time. Some are classics. Some are modern. Most are intellectual. And then there’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show. An homage to the cheesy horror films of the 50s, as well as the free love era of the late 60s-early 70s, the film is famous for being incredibly wrong. And it’s true-everything in this film is done wrong, on purpose. Characters break the fourth wall, there’s scenes that intentionally lead nowhere (“Janet! Dr. Scott! Janet! Brad! Rocky! Dramatic look.”) and it ends in a big orgy. It’s a weird film to have on a list of favorites, especially when that list also includes The Wizard of Oz. But, in fact, these two films have a lot in common. They challenged what the rules believed to be “proper” filmmaking, they feature timely, memorable songs, and they center on a key topic of acceptance. Characters in both films long for someone to understand them, and who can help them understand themselves. Janet feels it, Dorothy feels it, Frank feels it, Scarecrow feels it, Brad feels it, Cowardly Lion feels it, and so on. It’s a film of acceptance, all wrapped up in a cheesy horror backdrop. And hey, any film that can portray Frankenstein’s monster as an Adonis-like blonde hunk is a classic in my book. There are scarier songs, but I’ll leave you with Frank’s incredible entrance. It’s a class act.
R.I.P. Gene Wilder. This was his brainchild. He conceived it, he wrote it, and he starred in it. And the result? One of the funniest horror spoofs of all time. With thousands of send-ups to the early Universal Monster films, specifically the Frankenstein films (duh), Wilder and Mel Brooks crafted a film that may even surpass the originals. Filled with cheesiness, killer lines, “frightening” moments, and the fantastic performances of Wilder, Cloris Leachman, and especially Marty Feldman (I honestly don’t know the proper pronunciation of “Igor,” his performance is so iconic). Some of my favorite memories include watching the film with my father, my brother, and best friend at college. It’s fun, it’s campy, and it’s the true spirit of Halloween. God bless Wilder, and God bless Halloween.
And that concludes my Ten Favorite Halloween films. Tune in next week for a brand new list for Halloween, and remember to watch out for Spooky Scary Skeletons.