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Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Spooky Fun for the Family: 15 Great Halloween Movies for Scaredy Cats

Many of us have people in our lives who just aren’t as into horror as we are. Come October, it is tempting to simply hide away, shunning them for a month as we indulge in our favorite genre, as we no doubt will do at least some of the time. But then, they may be open to getting into the Halloween spirit at least a little bit.

For that, there are a number of terrific movies that take place on and around the holiday that are not out of the question for the squeamish. Some fit comfortably into the horror genre and some are far from it, but all beautifully capture the essence of the season.

So, here are a few of our favorite family Halloween movies to get you and the scaredy cat in your life into the Halloween mood for spooky season…

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

family halloween movies arsenic and old lace

Right from the opening title cards this film bares its Halloween-loving heart. Starring Cary Grant, directed by Frank Capra from a script by the Epstein brothers of Casablanca fame, and based on a popular Broadway play, Arsenic and Old Lace is the gold standard for classic Hollywood Halloween films.

Drama critic Mortimer Brewster (Grant) stops by the home of his aunts on his wedding day and is unwittingly brought into their scheme—poisoning lonely old men with arsenic (and strychnine with “just a pinch of cyanide”)-laced wine, which they view as an act of compassion. They also run afoul of a pair of criminals on the lam. One a plastic surgeon played by Peter Lorre and the other, Mortimer’s brother Joseph, who due to multiple surgeries, now looks like Boris Karloff. The part was originally written for Karloff, but he was unavailable to appear in the film as he was performing the role on Broadway during production, leaving it in the capable hands of Raymond Massey. With its dark humor, just enough of the macabre to suit its calendar date, and a touch of romance, Arsenic and Old Lace is essential Halloween viewing and the Criterion disc available this month is a timely and welcome addition to any classic film collection.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1948)

This Walt Disney film is two stories lasting about thirty-five minutes each. The first is perfectly enjoyable, but it is the second half, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, that is an unforgettable Halloween masterpiece. There is little that needs to be said about this film except that it is thirty-five minutes of cinematic perfection. The final section in which Ichabod Crane is pursued through the woods by the Headless Horseman is masterful and the flaming jack-o-lantern hurtling through the covered bridge nothing short of iconic. It is an absolute must-watch for the Halloween season, though even this might be a bit too scary for the youngest scaredy cats in your life.

Kenny & Company (1976)

family halloween movies kenny & company

This pre-Phantasm charmer from Don Coscarelli is one of my favorite recent discoveries. An episodic childhood adventure, Kenny & Company follows Kenny (Dan McCann), his best friend Doug (A. Michael Baldwin), their eccentric young neighbor Sherman (Jeff Roth), and those in their orbit in the southern California suburbs in the mid-1970s. Flag football games, bullies, soapbox racers, homemade costumes, garage-based haunted houses, childhood pranks, and more fill this excellent coming-of-age story. It all culminates with a Halloween night adventure that Kenny and his friends will never forget. A lot has changed in the more than forty-five years since Kenny & Company was released, but kids are kids and still face many of the same deeper challenges of growing up. This film is a fantastic exploration of the ups and downs of those awkward, trying, and magical years.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

I never realized just how deeply embedded in the Halloween season this movie is until seeing it this past summer in a 40th anniversary IMAX screening. Decorations, candy (Reece’s Pieces, specifically), costumes, and eerie atmosphere (think of that sequence with Henry Thomas as Elliott searching for “the goblin” with his flashlight) permeate the film even before Halloween night and the iconic flying scene. Great Halloween moments include E.T. dressed as a ghost encountering a child costumed as Yoda, the diminutive alien attempting to heal the “wound” from a fake knife on the head of Elliot’s older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton), and Dee Wallace as the kids’ mother attempting to extinguish a candle with her wand. Ironically, it is after Halloween has ended that the most frightening elements of the film occur as government agents invade the family’s home.

In some ways, the movie itself is about fear. Fear of “the other” before learning to understand and, in the process, creating a deep emotional connection. As the years go by, it becomes clearer to me that Halloween is absolutely essential to what makes E.T. such a remarkable film.

Lady in White (1988)

Lady in White

Another gauzy and sentimental look at childhood, Lady in White is something of a forgotten gem. It stars a very young Lucas Haas as Frankie Scarlatti who is locked inside his school’s cloakroom by a pair of bullies on Halloween. During the night, he has a vision of the ghostly apparition of a young girl who is strangled by an unseen force. Soon after, a man enters and catches Frankie, choking him to within inches of his life. We soon learn of a series of child killings and the Black janitor of the school is arrested for the crimes. It feels something akin to To Kill A Mockingbird by way of a Ray Bradbury childhood epic like Something Wicked This Way Comes or Dandelion Wine with a touch of The Turn of the Screw. There are some intense moments sprinkled throughout but, like E.T., generally tempered by its childlike perspective.

Though Lady in White continues on into other times of the year, it somehow maintains the Halloween feeling throughout as a constant reminder of Frankie’s first encounter with the ghostly presence of Melissa. The film slowly and deliberately unravels the mystery of the Lady in White along with a few others in the process, making for a very engaging experience.

The Halloween Tree (1993)

family halloween movies halloween tree

While trick-or-treating at a giant, dark manor, a group of children are offered a “trick” by Mr. Moundshroud, voiced by Leonard Nimoy, who whisks them away through time and space to the roots of Halloween. From ancient Egypt to the time of the druids, medieval Europe to a modern Dia De Los Muertos celebration in South America, the children are treated to the best history lesson ever as they race against time to save their ailing friend. With narration by the author of the original novel Ray Bradbury, The Halloween Tree remains one of the very best animated Halloween specials ever produced and well worth seeking out.

Hocus Pocus (1993)

This is probably the most obvious inclusion on any list of family Halloween movies, but it seems incomplete without it. Hocus Pocus is a celebration of Halloween through and through. Salem, the Sanderson Sisters, that crazy adult party, Binx, Billy Butcherson, and much more all instantly evoke the seasonal spirit. Perhaps my favorite moment is the Sanderson Sisters mistaking Garry Marshall dressed as a devil for their actual dark master and encountering his wife, played by Garry’s sister Penny Marshall. Stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy are clearly having the time of their life throughout and their joy is contagious. The enjoyment of this film is often attributed to childhood nostalgia, but I came to this movie well into adulthood and find it to be a delightful story of familial bonds, particularly between siblings, and just a lot of fun to watch.

Casper (1995)

Casper Peacock

Recently widowed psychologists to ghosts Dr. James Harvey (Bill Pullman) is hired by a greedy gold-digger to expel ghosts from a house she has inherited that supposedly holds a buried treasure. James has an ulterior motive in that he hopes that the ghosts he encounters will be able to reconnect him with his deceased wife. Dragging his daughter Kat (Christina Ricci) along with him, they encounter three antagonistic spirits and their friendly ghostly nephew Casper, whom Kat befriends. Meanwhile, she struggles her way through the obstacles of her young teenage life and volunteers her current residence for her new Junior High School’s Halloween dance, where the film eventually reaches its resolution. Filled with charm, humor, and heart, Casper is one of those terrific family Halloween movies that all ages can enjoy together.

Monster House (2006)

family halloween movies monster house

Most neighborhoods seem to have that one house that people just stay away from. But Monster House takes this to a new level. Outsider buddies DJ (Michael Musso) and Chowder (Sam Lerner) discover that the house across the street occupied by local “get off my lawn guy” Mr. Nebbercracker (voiced by the great Steve Buscemi) comes to life and attempts to lure neighborhood children inside itself to an unknown fate. They soon team up with one of the house’s would-be victims Jenny (Spencer Locke) to discover the secrets of the Monster House, making the neighborhood safe for the trick-or-treaters who will soon flood the streets. Featuring a voice cast that includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jon Heder, Kevin James, Nick Cannon, Jason Lee, Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, and Kathleen Turner, Monster House is perhaps the best example of the “motion capture” form of animation. It avoids some of the pitfalls of other films of this subgenre by keeping its character designs as far out of the uncanny valley as possible, imbuing the film with a great deal of energy and life.

Fun Size (2012)

Fun Size follows a group of teens in the suburbs of Cleveland on the day and night of Halloween. Primarily, it is the story of Wren DeSantis (Victoria Justice), her mother (Chelsea Handler), and her silent but mischievous little brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll). Though this is a Nickelodeon film, it has some surprising edge, especially in how it deals with the loss of Wren’s father and the ways the family members contend with that loss in their own unique ways. It also has its fair share of dirty jokes and teenage misadventure to earn its PG-13 rating. Parties, costumes, pranks, and everything that makes Halloween great is on full display from beginning to end in this film that is ultimately a “one crazy night” movie for teens. But even as an adult, I find Fun Size to be on the silly side for sure, but still a lot of fun to watch.

Coco (2017)

This celebration of the Mexican celebration of Dia De Los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) is one of Pixar’s finest. Young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a talented young guitarist, seeks to connect with his past and discover why his family forbids the playing of music. He finds himself crossing the veil into the Land of the Dead where he encounters Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) who takes him on a quest to meet his idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), one of the greatest musicians of all time. In the process, Miguel learns of his family’s history and makes unexpected connections with generations past both living and dead. Coco is bright, complex, beautiful, and extremely moving. Though sometimes overlooked because it is not specifically about the Halloween celebration, it is a perfect addition to any seasonal watchlist of family Halloween movies.

Hubie Halloween (2020)

family halloween movies hubie

Adam Sandler gathered together all his regular collaborators for this return-to-form, over the top comedy set in Halloween-town, USA: Salem, Massachusetts. Sandler plays Hubie Dubois a Halloween crazy scaredy cat determined to protect his town from even the slightest dangers the townspeople may face on the big night. As it turns out, there are several very real dangers lurking this particular Halloween. Armed with his self-made “Swiss Army Thermos” Hubie keeps watch over the town full of colorful characters that come in and out of his life throughout the day and night. Sandler’s humor may not be for everyone but when Hubie Halloween hit Netflix in the spooky season of 2020 after months of seemingly endless lockdowns, it was a welcome diversion for many and remains a chuckle-inducing and sometimes even heartwarming way to set the seasonal mood.

Honorable Mentions

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). This classic musical takes place over the course of a year and gives us the greatest Christmas song of all time (in my opinion at least) with Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” But it also features one of the greatest Halloween scenes ever and is absolutely worth checking out.

“It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” (1966). The only reason this is not in the main list is because it is not a feature film, but no television special puts me in the Halloween spirit quite like this one.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Is it a Halloween movie? Or is it a Christmas movie? The answer is…yes. This beautiful blending of the two holidays is one of the great animated films, but because it is a blend, I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it belongs in October or December, or if you’re like me, both.

Of course, there are many more options worth adding to this list, I just happen to be particularly fond of these. And for those of you who wonder why I didn’t include Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)—call me a scaredy cat if you’d like, but that movie is terrifying!

What are some of your favorite family Halloween movies?

The post Spooky Fun for the Family: 15 Great Halloween Movies for Scaredy Cats appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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