Scary Movie? Sure. Halloween Movie? Not Necessarily.


It’s that time of year again, when dry leaves lose their grip on the extended fingers of tired trees, a dry crispness replaces summer’s last humidity, and underpaid retail workers everywhere get the command, “Put the scary movies over there.” Of This Is What I Will Speak.

See, scary movies can come all year long. Silent Night, Deadly Night proves the attempt. HOWEVER—just because something is scary, does it make it right for the Halloween season? Just because something’s for the Halloween season, does it have to be scary is a Snoopy-led discussion for another post.

So, what IS all this Halloween stuff? For the uninitiated, Halloween is the most wonderful time of the year. A Celtic celebration of harvest time and the worlds of the dead touching the worlds of the living. To quote Tommy, “It’s when we get candy.” BUT–to the devotee of the cinema, Halloween is so much more. What, then, in your learned author’s opinion, makes a Halloween movie? There are several things, but perhaps it’d be easier to define what a Halloween movie ISN’T.

Many of my dearest friends are Kaiju Fans. They go nuts about the big, sometimes Asian, well, USUALLY Asian, monsters. Some of them are legitimately frightening. The thing that isolates them from the Annals Of Halloween Movies is the scale–and not just of the models. Usually, there are dozens, if not hundreds of characters involved. Well, at least running away with destined-to-be-mockingly-dubbed screams. You get a sense that This Thing Could Eat The City. Urban renewal aside, Halloween stories and movies tend more toward the intimate. For a Kaiju flick to really capture Halloween, Godzilla would have to shrink down in a dryer and apply himself to the old SNL Land Shark routine at your door.

Okay, I’ve referred to urban renewal. That could be a launch for zombie movies. Can zombie movies be Halloween movies? Depends on a few things. First, like I said, the scale. Compare Night of the Living Dead with 1963’s The Haunted Palace. Smallish casts. Isolated environs by an large. More importantly, atmospheric settings that lend itself to the FEEL of Halloween. NOTLD has the haunted house feel, kinda like if Tom Poston got booted out of The Old, Dark House and the Venus probe stopped by for tea.

When a lot of people think of Halloween movies, the Universal Bigs come to mind. The Wolf Man. Frankenstein. Big D. What do all of these have thematically in common? Personal danger and risk. Semi-Gothic Olde Worlde settings. A lingering sense of dread. Other classic Universal horror movies have some or all of these, but do they count as Halloween movies? Not for me. The Wolf Man and The Creature From The Black Lagoon are two of my all-time favorites. The Creature, though, feels more like a summer movie because of all the swimming, bathing suits, and setting. The Wolf Man? Halloween all the way. What, you may ask, about the Invisible Man?

Well, what ABOUT the Invisible Man? Or The Fly, either the original or the remake? They’re sorta nebulous, and not just because they’re both occasionally hard to see. There are certainly scary scenes, but it seems more with these and others of their ilk it’s more science run amok than true horror. Splitting hairs? Yeah, probably. But the supernatural is a big part of the Halloween feel.

Okay, let’s go supernatural. What about The Amityville Horror? That was always played around Halloween, and my family in Jersey lived close enough TO Amityville that I always heard about it around Halloween. Now, you wanna split hairs? I think the original could be a Halloween movie. The remake? I don’t think so. It’s just a different feel. In a similar vein, the Poltergeist pair, original and new. The original has an awful lot going for Halloween-ness. The new one? It’s CLOSE. It tries really hard. There are some definite Halloween touches, but the jury in my head is still out.

What about (The Legend of) Sleepy Hollow? The Depp/Burton version, the Goldblum version from 1980, the Disney one, any of them, Halloween all the way. The story is nearly the epitome of the Halloween tale. The same could be said of The Fog. Hauntings, curses, revenge–throw in some fencing and Mandy Patinkin and you’ve got a Rob Reiner Halloween. The first Night of the Demons works for Halloween, too, but not just because it’s SET on Halloween. There’s mystery, there’s occult, there’s Linnea Quigley–but I digress.

Now, the undead elephant in the room. Franchises. A Nightmare on Elm Street. Friday the 13th. Alien. Scream. Wait, what was that other one–wait, it’ll come to me, tall guy wearing a Captain Kirk mask–crap, WHAT was that? is THAT a Halloween movie? I jest.

The first three Halloweens are Halloween movies because, well, they’re set on Halloween. The night is almost a character in and of itself for all three. Despite the Pasadena locations, there’s a nouveau autumnal feel for them. Some of the Friday the 13th movies could be Halloween movies, despite the marathon play every year. Ever since Shakespeare had the three witches in the Scottish Play in the woods, the woods have been creepy in productions. The Evil Dead takes that idea and goes all the way with it, branching out into uncharted territory along the way.

No, I don’t regret that turn of phrase.

What about Freddy Krueger? When he’s written to be scary, it works. When he’s written like a game show host in need of Bactine, it works–but not as Halloween fare.

Let’s talk about Scream. They’re well done. A few jump scares. But they’re a little too meta for Halloween. They’re like when you talk your big brother into dressing up or taking you to the haunted hayride two towns over. Yeah, it’s Halloween-esque, but too self aware for the full effect.

So, whattaya think? Am I nuts? Is this off base? Any ones I missed? I barely touched on any of the classic Vincent Price movies, but that’s mostly because I didn’t wanna type until Thanksgiving.

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~ by Sean on October 23, 2017.

One Response to “Scary Movie? Sure. Halloween Movie? Not Necessarily.”

  1. My failure to mention The Lost Boys was just that–a failure. For the record, DEFINITE Halloween movie, and not just because of Amy Beth Kalson.

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