Spook & Smiles: Halloween on the Screen

Happy Halloween,
movie lovers! Sure, the kid in the pumpkin costume is adorable, and that
spider-decorated cupcake beats the usual Collins fare, but the best part of
Halloween season isn’t the creative costumes or unlimited candy—it’s getting to
dig out our favorite Halloween films and enjoy them all October long. 

My focus this Halloweekend, however, is determining whether the movies we adored growing up are still worth watching. So I’m going to let you in on my favorites, from
those that are genuinely frightening or funny to the flicks better left to our
younger siblings. 

The Actually-Scary

Stanley Kubrick’s
award-winning film, The Shining, has to be among the greatest
horror movies of all time. Though it was released way back in 1980, don’t be
deterred by the film’s age. The Shining strips horror to the
bone with its small cast of impossibly eerie characters, subtle special effects and
mind-twisting plot.

Set in the isolated
Colorado mountains, the story follows a couple and their young son, Danny, who
have agreed to take care of the Overlook Hotel for the winter. Though living in
an empty hotel may seem like every young boy’s dream, as Danny rides his
red tricycle from room to room he begins to find that neither the building nor his
family is all that it seems to be.

Ever heard the
phrase, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?” The Shining will never allow you hear those words again without
sending a shiver up your spine as the terrifying Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) brings a perfectly sinister feel to the film. Or
maybe you’ve seen the image of two malicious looking twins standing at the end
of a long hallway? Kubrick’s mastery of true suspense (meaning it lacks the
obvious violence or special effects that we see in most horror movies nowadays) terrifies as The Shining
turns from mundane to manic inside the haunted Overlook Hotel.

The Classic:

When I think of a
timeless thriller movie, The Exorcist immediately comes to
mind. Upon its release in 1973, this film won two Oscars and a place on the
list of the top horror movies of all time. The spine-chilling thriller follows
12-year-old Regan and her actress mother through their seemingly normal life,
until, of course, things begin to go terribly wrong. Regan suddenly
stops speaking and moving in the pleasant, little-girl way that she had before.
She begins jerking spastically and cussing wildly, her behavior worsening until
it is fully apparent that she has been possessed by the devil. I don’t think I’m giving too much away (just look at the title) by saying that the
climax of the film includes a gruesome exorcism, so if you’re fainthearted about
bad language or green vomit, this may not be the movie for you. The Exorcist masterfully portrays a truly terrifying journey through hell and back.  

And no horror movie
list is complete without a title from the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred
Hitchcock. Best known for his thriller Psycho, Hitchcock builds
tension around every corner and breathes fear into every scene. As in The
and many other horror films, Psycho follows
the creepy lodging plot line as main character Marion Crane is caught in a
storm and stops to spend that night at the Bates Motel. Marion soon wishes that
she had continued driving, however, as things quickly take a deadly turn inside
the motel’s insidious walls. Hitchcock’s notable lack of visual violence
somehow adds to the implicit horror as our minds get the best of us.

The Funny Movie:

A funny Halloween
movie always used to seem like an oxymoron to me—how can a film incite
both screams and laughter? Yet a recent viewing of Beetlejuice swayed
my mind just a little bit. This ironic and silly Halloween movie focuses on
Adam and Barbara, a seemingly normal couple in a seemingly normal house, with
one small hitch: They’re dead. After their sudden deaths, the couple settles
into life as ghosts until their peace is suddenly disturbed by a new family
looking to buy their house. Adam and Barbara put on their scariest
performances, yet nothing that they do can scare the newcomers away. This is
the perfect Halloween movie to watch in between two scary ones; you’ll laugh
yet remain in that spooked state of mind. 

The Kids’ Movies:

It’s the Great
Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! 
is the ultimate
throwback Halloween movie. Holidays aren’t complete without a Peanuts special,
and this short, yet heartwarming, film still deserves a watch. Along the same
lines comes Boo to You Too! Winnie the Pooh. All of our favorite
characters from the Hundred Acre Woods come together in what is still the
scariest VCR I own (don’t worry, you can find it online). So make sure to turn
on these two favorites while getting into your costume this weekend, and let
the happy memories come haunting back.

The Movie I
Wouldn’t Watch Again:

I found The
Nightmare Before Christmas 
spooky and fascinating as a child yet was
utterly disappointed when I recently flipped channels to this classic Halloween
film. Maybe I just can’t sit through the songs anymore, or perhaps I don’t feel
the suspense as much as I used to, but this film fell flat. My advice is to
leave The Nightmare Before Christmas on the shelf until you’re
with younger company, who can enjoy its frightening fun.

So, if you find time
between Harwood and Halloween TNC this weekend, or if you want to turn a movie
on while you’re putting on your costume (as I will be doing), pick an old
favorite. Scare yourself with an old and true classic, take a trip back in time
with a children’s special or laugh your way through a goofy comedy.

But don’t believe me: Just watch!

Sawyer Henshaw SC ’17
is a media studies major. Believe it or not, the film columnist wasn’t allowed
to watch R-rated movies until she was 17 years old. 


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