The Halloween Countdown: Spooky Movies

Eric and I always watch lots of Halloween specials and scary movies to help celebrate the season. I have my favorites, and Eric grew up watching monster movie specials on television. Combined with Netflix, we’re left with no shortage of things to watch. But some of our choices have been better than others. Here is a small sampling.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: Come on, it’s a classic. You can’t watch Halloween specials without watching this. As an adult I find myself picking out all kinds of things in this Peanuts special that I’m sure I didn’t notice when I was younger. For example, when Linus takes one bite of his apple in the opening sequence, only to then toss it right into a trashcan, I thought, “How wasteful!” How … grown-up of me, tee hee. But some things don’t change. I still think Violet’s mean girl laugh at Linus as he waits in the pumpkin patch is hysterical, and I still find the extended sequence of Snoopy flying around as the Red Baron the perfect time to get up and make some popcorn – as long as I can make it back in time to see him creep across the deserted country after he crash-lands, because that part’s cool.

Garfield’s Halloween Adventure: Originally titled Garfield in Disguise. This classic is rarely played anymore, which I think is bunk. Come on, it’s awesome. It used to air right after the Peanuts special and I loved watching them back-to-back. Now you’re reduced to watching the Peanuts special with parts of it cut out for times sake while those stupid pop-up ads appear in the bottom of your screen. (I HATE those.) Anyway, this special is not-to-be-missed. Garfield the cat enlists Odie to help him trick-or-treat so that he can have double the candy, but then they wind up fending off a band of pirate ghosts. It’s highly amusing and the songs are gold. I will never tire of this one.

Hell House: This documentary by George Ratliff shows us the inside of a Dallas megachurch that puts on a giant evangelical “haunted house” operation every Halloween. I say “haunted house” loosely because that’s not really what it is. You don’t see any ghosts or ghouls but rather a tour of “real life” situations, played by actors representing hell-bound people. At the end of the tour, guests are encouraged to repent so that they, too, do not wind up in hell like the poor unfortunate Hell House characters. Now, my own church put on a haunted house every year, too, but we had stuff like zombies crawling out of the ground, a mummy popping out of his tomb, and a man with a knife chasing us down the hall. One year I even got to play a crazy woman in the insane asylum and freaked everyone out, hehe. So the concept of using Halloween as an excuse to scare people into becoming Christian is alien to me. I think that Ratliff did an excellent job of showing the work that goes into putting the production together, exposing a couple mistakes made along the way – you guys, the Star of David and a pentagram are not the same thing – and introducing us to the people behind the Hell House, including a family man, a charming teenage girl with acting ambitions, and a kid trying to impress people with his “knowledge” of the underground rave scene. (The last one highly amused me, which I’m quite sure was not his intention). I do want to note that the first three times Eric and I tried to rent this from Netflix, each disc we received had been mysteriously sabotaged with some type of chemical. It wasn’t until we got a Wii and streamed the movie from the Netflix channel that we were able to watch the whole thing!

The Crazies: What happens when there really is “something in the water”? Well, in this remake of a 1973 Romero flick, everyone starts to turn into a homicidal maniac. The “good guys” who are lucky enough to survive are left to fight their way out of dodge – and the “crazies” aren’t always the ones they’re running from. Timothy Olyphant, who also stars in FX’s excellent modern day Western, Justified, plays the sheriff. (He was also in Scream 2!) Radha Mitchell is the town doctor/his pregnant wife.
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The Nightmare Before Christmas: A musical Tim Burton classic with amazing visuals tells the story of Jack Skellington as he tires of being the “Pumpkin King” of Halloween … and becomes infatuated with the Christmas spirit instead. A very clever way of saying “Just be yourself.” We watch this every Halloween and Christmas.
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Creepshow and Creepshow 2: Several different horror stories in each one! Creepshow director George Romero has said that Tales from the Dark Side is the unofficial “Creepshow 3” – not the actual movie of the same name – so I’m going to watch that one next.
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Halloween series: These movies are hit-or-miss. Nothing compares to the first creepy tale of Michael Myers stalking his estranged sister, but the second one makes a good attempt! Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there. The character of Michael Myers was supposed to be retired following Halloween II; from that point on, the Halloween series would devote itself to an entirely new spooky story, separate from all the rest, with each flick released. I would’ve loved to see this idea come to full fruition, but it never did. You can thank the third movie, Season of the Witch for that, I’m sure, because it was laughably bad (and rotated around an incredibly irksome commercial jangle). So Michael Myers returned for Halloween 4 and every Halloween sequel after that brought him back over and over again to shuffle toward another set of screaming teenagers. Just kill him already!
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Tremors: I had somehow never seen this. It’s more funny than scary. Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, and Finn Carter are part of a crew of small town residents fighting off man-eating worms that stalk them from under the ground. Look for Reba McEntire as one-half of a couple of gun enthusiasts.
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The Descent: I’ve been spelunking (caving) twice in my life, and I am SO thankful this movie came out years afterwards! A group of six women explore a North Carolina cave system in this superb British film and find themselves stalked by man-hunting creatures that live there. Excellent acting, characterization, and a well-done terror buildup. But if you are prone to nightmares, this is the last movie I would recommend you view. There is a sequel which I haven’t seen.
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WordGirl: Tricks and Treats: Looking for silly things to watch on the Wii Netflix channel while we waited for our next Netflix disc to come in, Eric and I came across this Halloween episode of a PBS Kids series called WordGirl. The series revolves around a vocabulary expert and her alter-ego, WordGirl, solving crimes; in this case, she battles evil candy-stealing robots. I was pleasantly surprised; it’s clever.
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The Blob: This 1988 remake makes a team out of an unlikely set of teenagers – a popular cheerleader and a delinquent with mostly good intentions – as they fight to defeat a giant blob that’s devouring and dissolving almost everyone. I dug it.
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The Monster Squad: A childhood favorite of Eric’s. A 12-year-old kid and his monster club fight off an invasion by Dracula, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, Wolfman, and “Gill Man” (read: the Creature from the Black Lagoon). Cute and funny 80s movie gold.
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They Live: A John Carpenter classic about a construction worker who discovers a pair of sunglasses that show him the horrifying truth about who really controls Planet Earth.
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Night of the Lepus: I am so glad that Eric told me about this hilarious 1972 film (starring Janet Leigh) about a pack of giant man-eating rabbits, breeding like crazy and terrorizing mankind! Basically, the filmmakers just found a bunch of cute rabbits, blew up their images and then filmed the actors screaming and running away as the rabbits hop after them, twitching their noses. Awwww.
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Monster Island: We rented this in part because we were hoping to get a modern day utterly cheesy giant monster movie a la the Sci-Fi Channel (oh, excuse me, SY FY Channel), and in part because Adam West (of Batman TV show fame) was in it. We should’ve known MTV wouldn’t be able to produce anything that glorious. This movie was so stupid we couldn’t even watch it all the way through. Any fan of monster movies knows that the best part about the movie is THE MONSTER. Here the giant flying insects of Monster Island get precious little screen time next to a slew of horribly bad actors with way too much dialogue. Half the point of a monster movie is to laugh at bad actors as they get eaten left and right, but that’s just not happening here. It’s not cheesy, it’s not fun, it’s just … bad.
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Ice Spiders: Speaking of SyFy movies, make sure you catch this one. Giant spiders terrorize innocent skiiers! Hehehe! Other recommended Sy Fy flicks are Mega Piranha, Sharktopus, and Mansquito. Hilarious! Now that’s how you should be doing a monster movie.
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Trick ‘r Treat: An anthology of stories that all take place on Halloween and all fit together somehow. If you wish there was a horror/Halloween-based Love Actually, you’ll probably like this. True Blood star Anna Paquin dominates one tale.
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National Geographic Kids: Creepy Creatures: Another kids’ special we came across on the Netflix channel. Clawdette the cat tells you all about some of nature’s creepiest creatures and sings a few really silly songs. Appropriate for very young children who are just learning about animals and won’t find the songs unbearable.
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National Geographic’s Is It Real?: Ghosts: I don’t know what it is with National Geo. I love their magazines, their web site, and their museum in D.C., but what’s up with their television series? Both Is It Real?, which explores ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, etc. and Taboo (which explores different cultural views of things like obesity and prostitution) use images and narration that are awfully redundant. Here, this episode of Is It Real? explored the belief in ghosts, but skimmed over many things that I wanted to hear more about while assaulting me with way too much flash and blur. Now it was interesting enough, but definitely not my first recommendation.
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Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead: You can’t go wrong with a classic Romero zombie film. And the remakes of both are awesome as well. (Caution: Not all Living Dead remakes are genuine Romero, as the movie’s rights are now in the public domain. The Dawn of the Dead remake shown here was directed by Zack Snyder, and to my knowledge Romero had nothing to do with it other than the fact it was adapted from his original screenplay, but it is excellent.)
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We have Rankin and Bass’s Mad Monster Party coming in the mail next! I can’t wait – after seeing numerous Rankin and Bass Christmas specials, I’ve been waiting on this one for a long time!
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What are your favorite scary things to watch, at Halloween or any time of year?

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