10. Shaun of the Dead
I am not a big zombie movie fan. This one I loved. Mostly because of the opening scene. The rest is honestly quite forgettable. The way that the routine actions of people are shown comments on how we are already zombies. Maybe that is why the cultural fascination. Or maybe it is because we need a break from our zombified existence and actual zombies is a fun and ironic way to do it.
This movie shows why we need escapist holidays like Halloween. It is the same reason that it is only after the zombie apocalypse that people take shape in the movie.
9. Sweeney Todd
This is definitely in the category of Tim Burton’s better works. I love musicals, and this one is not only haunting, but, like much of Stephen Sondheim’s work, very difficult. It is amazing that few, if any of the leads are trained singers. Johnny Depp did a phenomenal job, but Helena Bonham Carter really pulls the film together. I keep hoping to see the younger stars in something else, but I am still waiting.
This story is truly horror. The real monster is a human just like anyone else. And yet, it is not frightening. The portrayal is lighthearted enough to not have viewers on the edge of their seats. It is more of a view inside a disturbed mind. This is far more haunting. We realize that we can identify with other human beings, even ones as twisted as Todd.
8. Arsenic and Old Lace
Speaking of twisted people who seem just like anyone else, meet the two nicest little old ladies you will only meet once. In many older movies you never see the monster, the fear is left up to your imagination. This is in that spirit, in a way. The monsters live among us. But you can’t really call these ladies monsters. They do what they do for all the right reasons.
On Halloween we extend our trust to people we have never met, and will probably never meet again. Some people take advantage of that, but most do all they can to be a good neighbor. This story is about two ladies who fall into the second category, but are the ones to be feared. They are just so nonchalant about it, you wonder how they ever get away with it!
7. Edward Scissorhands
Another Tim Burton/Johnny Depp entry, this one is in some ways the exact opposite of Sweeney Todd. Edward looks like a monster, but he just has the sweetest heart. Vincent Price, part of so many of Hollywood’s golden age of monsters, is the kind, yet lonely inventor of Edward, whose heart is made from a sugar cookie.
This film comments on how much importance society puts on physical appearance. Initially the neighbors are curious about the strange newcomer, but they quickly change their tune at the first hint that he has any negative intentions. While there is no actual villain in the movie, there are several people whose intentions are less than admirable, and yet are permitted to remain part of the neighborhood.
5. & 6. Hotel Transylvania & Hotel Transylvania 2
These are just too cute not to have on this list. Monsters have deliberately recoiled from humans, because humans would not accept them. The monsters have hid so long that the stories take place in a time when the supernatural is not to be feared, but rather idolized. Now it is up to the monsters to accept the humans.
These movies deal with the idea of acceptance, but in a way that is not about ‘real’ topics. This is a kids movie, and makes a fun way to introduce these ideas to kids, under the guise of just a fun movie.
4. The Addams Family
This movie is so quintessentially Halloween it is almost hard to discuss. Every person in the film is twisted in their own way. The Addams are awesome because they don’t try to hide it.
This movie is all about being yourself. This is a common theme throughout the lore, but since this one is about Fester’s faked return, and eventual real return it is even more present. There is no reason not to be who you are.
3. Young Frankenstein
Frau Blücher. If you have seen it, you know what comes next. In Mel Brooks’ overly campy style, this is tops. Jokes repeated so often that they aren’t even funny anymore still manage to be hilarious. This is about the descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein, who prefers to be known as Dr. ‘Fronkonsteen’. (Original spelling from the script.) The young doctor inherits the old family mansion and follows in the family footsteps. (Walk THIS way) In the end he realizes that he is a proud Frankenstein.
This movie plays with so many concepts and turns them on their head. This is really a fun escape from everything, while we play in the world of monsters. Not really for kids, most ‘adult’ jokes will go right over their heads. That said, I was nervous to watch it as a kid because it seemed like it would be scary. Because Brooks is making fun of the old Hollywood style, there are some moments that have the tension, but it is broken with a joke almost immediately.
2. Nightmare Before Christmas
Being a Halloween list, you get not one, not two, but three Tim Burton movies. This is the first one of his movies I ever saw, and is the benchmark that I hold him to. When the Pumpkin King learns about Christmas, he thinks that he has found what he has been missing. He gets all of Halloween town to make Christmas their own. I seriously wish that some of the toys they made for the kids were available. Okay not in the full magic attacking mode, but real plushies, jack-in-the-boxes, etc.
This movie is about the yearning that we all have to do something different, the craving for adventure. In the end though, it is about learning to love yourself. It is only after Jack does that, that he finds love for another.
1. Rocky Horror
By now you have probably noticed that I do not like scary movies. Most of these have been for kids. This one is decidedly not. If you are ready to have some important conversations with your kids, feel free to try it, I’m not one to say don’t. I love this movie and the “f— what you think, I am doing things my way” attitude.
My introduction to this movie was honestly the most scary part of the movie for me. I went into the room where my mother was watching it. The first thing I see is Susan Sarandon running around in her bra and a torn off slip showing her underwear to the world. Keep in mind the only movie that I knew the actress from was Little Women. I left my mother to watch whatever this was in private and went back upstairs. Once I watched the movie though, I was hooked. I have seen three different live productions, and watched the movie in theaters a few times too. After a long night of trick-or-treating, nothing quite ties up the night like Rocky Horror.