Happy Halloween, everybody! It’s Tim, here to celebrate the high holy night of horror movies, when even the most squeamish can steel themselves up to watch a scary movie, and scary movie lovers stock up all our best and blackest to watch in marathons of unendurable dread.
But let’s not go prattling about every random horror film that comes to mind (which is, I’m a little sorry to admit, the way that I assembled my movie playlist for the night). Instead, I’d like to ask everybody to pitch in their suggestions for a question always on my mind this time of year:
What movies best capture the spirit of Halloween?
That question already has a lot of wiggle room baked into it – do we mean Halloween as a night of ghosts and witches, Halloween as a night of trick-or-treating and costumes, Halloween as a night of crisp autumn air and fallen leaves? I don’t know, and that’s why I want to throw it out to all of you. But before I do that, I want to offer three suggestions of the movies that best capture what enters my head when I hear the word “Halloween”. (And I’m not including John Carpenter’s Film Experience-endorsed slasher film Halloween. There’s such a thing as too damn easy).
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Absolutely not a joke. The third of the seasonally-arranged film’s four chapters takes place in its entirety on Halloween night, and there’s not a film out there that better evokes a the feeling of dressing up and hunting for candy on a cool fall night. Not many directors in Hollywood history ever had a better grasp of what to do with color than Vincente Minnelli, and in this sequence, he and cinematographer George Folsey gorgeously capture the variations of browns and yellows that dominate the landscape during a Midwestern October (in fact, Carpenter and his DP, Dean Cundey, looked to this film as the inspiration when making Halloween). The warm nighttime lighting is just spooky enough to evoke the feeling of being a child who secretly wants to be scared, and it all couldn’t be more pleasantly nostalgic. Bonus: one of only two films that’s both a terrific Halloween movie and a terrific Christmas movies (the other, of course, is The Nightmare Before Christmas).
Kill, Baby… Kill! (1966)
Because, first, I’d be falling behind in my mission if I didn’t use an article about horror films as an excuse to talk about Mario Bava and the wide world of visually florid, narratively bonkers Italian horror cinema. And second, because my Halloween always needs a stop-over in foggy cemeteries and decaying, haunted Mitteleuropean villages, and some of the absolute best ever put to celluloid can be found in this story of a ghostly little girl making life awful for an isolated Carpathian town has some of the best. The normal rules of Italian horror apply: if you’re hunting for mood and blissed-out color cinematography, this will do you up right, and if you need a tight piece of storytelling… but hey, look at that cinematography! Still, there’s probably no place that approach is more objectively defensible than in a ghost story, where the uncanny and inexplicable is part of the fun. Nor do many movies about ghosts understand so well the primal, bedtime story impact that a good Gothic set can have when it’s been lit to be this creepy.
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
I can remember as vividly now as the day after it happened, the first time I saw Tim Burton’s last completely successful movie and thinking to myself, “That’s it! That’s autumn!” Not bad for a film shot entirely on a soundstage, without a whisper of natural lighting, for which we can credit both Rick Heinrichs’ just-exaggerated fairy tale woods, and Emmanuel Lubezki’s absolutely gorgeous lighting palette, beautifully evoking the yellow haze of light filtered through dying leaves (Heinrich won an Oscar, Lubezki was nominated. Frankly, the visuals would be enough to secure the movie a spot on my annual Halloween-time viewing schedule even if it wasn’t a pretty great ghost story, or didn’t have its own Halloween scene with quintessentially Burtonesque jack-o’-lanterns flickering in the background. There’s an atmospheric creepiness to the film that has everything to do with setting and place, not with plot (which, given the things the plot does, is for the best), and few things have ever colonized my feelings about walking in the woods quite so effectively.
What about the rest of you?
What's your favorite Halloween movie? Let us know in comments!