October is slowly coming to a close, and Halloween is almost here. Since I’ve been doing my Halloween Blogging Blitz, I’ve reflected a great deal on scary stories. Why do we tell them? Why do we listen to them?
I hope that, if you’ve been following any of my posts, that you’ve learned that so many horror films and books are art. And as art, they help us reflect upon reality: our prejudices, our fears, our secret desires. The right ghost story has much to teach us.
One of my favorite parts of the Halloween season are the TV specials.
As I’ve written about before, Halloween allows us to pretend to be someone you’re not for a little while. And Halloween allows our culture to engage in some some macabre activity that we don’t usually acknowledge. Death and violence are part of life, but Halloween helps us confront those unpleasant topics in a safe and fun way.
The Halloween TV special is part of that. Every show from The Simpsons to Mad Men has had Halloween episodes. For a short time, we get to watch our favorite characters explore secret sides of themselves, become monsters, run from zombies, and attend some of the craziest parties you’ve seen. It’s fun, it’s a little scary, and it’s an integral part of Halloween.
I’ve listed my favorite Halloween TV specials here. They range from silly to heartwarming to straight gross (looking at you, Community), but they’re all tons of fun, infusing Halloween scares into your favorite weekly shows.
In an earlier blog post, I asserted that Halloween is a valuable time of year for children because the holiday, as it has developed, enables children to safely engage in a variety of difficult topics. Halloween gently exposes children to human mortality and sinister forces, because there is no use in pretending these things do not exist. Children should be protected, but they will become adults soon.
I think screening children’s Halloween movies is an important way to engage children with these topics. They don’t always have to be about Halloween nor do they have to be straight up horror films. What these movies do is take scary and creepy stories and weave in uplifting and useful messages for children. These movies package unpleasant themes in a way children can manage and digest. They can absorb important lessons by feeling the age-appropriate shock only a horror movie can give you.
Though I didn’t quite realize it, children’s Halloween movies taught me some valuable lessons growing up. So I decided I wanted to take a trip back to Halloween Past. I decided I wanted to share my favorite children’s Halloween movies and some of the very personal life lessons I took from them. I hope kids in the future continue to watch these movies and learn from them, as I did.
As a devoted horror movie fan, I’ll be the first to admit that the market is glutted with horror movies, most of them terrible. And not in an enjoyable, over-the-top kind of way.
If you are a horror movie novice searching for a good horror movie, the simultaneous breadth of availability and lack of choice entertainment can be discouraging. Horror fans feel that way all the time, but we know enough that we can make solid recommendations.
With Halloween fast approaching, I decided to compile a list of horror movies that are both scary and accessible to a wide audience. The following films are perfect for a Halloween watch party because 1) they are relatively easy to find on streaming services, 2) they’re well-made films, and 3) they scare audiences in thoughtful, enjoyable, entertaining ways.
Even if you’re a horror movie buff, this list is a nicely packaged bundle of great horror movies that present a strong argument for the merits of horror. These movies are harrowing, smart, witty, and funny. They are heartbreaking and profound. They reinforce the magic of telling stories through the medium of film and legitimize a genre that critics loves to hate.
Mild Spoilers for Goodnight Mommy
I’d like to preface this review by assuring you that I am no lightweight when it comes to watching horror films. On-screen violence and gore usually elicits the expected level of shock and disgust, while body horror reliably grosses me out.
Part of my love for scary movies is remembering that a movie is only a movie, and art is only art. The onscreen images are powerful, but they aren’t real. I’ve never forgotten that fact. I have never had to run for a bucket, nor have I fainted in a movie theater.
So when I almost fainted during Goodnight Mommy, it was because Goodnight Mommy is so precisely calibrated to create a deeply disturbing experience that I forgot to breathe.
As I lay on the carpet in my living room, waiting for the walls to stop swaying, I realized that Goodnight Mommy is one of the most harrowing horror movies I’ve ever seen. My friend spoke softly to me, coaching me through breathing exercises and assuring me we didn’t have to finish the movie if I didn’t want to. Which was so embarrassing, to say the least.
One of my favorite things about horror movies is how long they’ve been around.
People started making scary films as soon as they could. Audiences have always loved going to horror movies. Films like Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were widely popular. A lot of these movies became genre classics. You’ll find them on many best-of-horror lists, where they are widely praised for employ innovative techniques and practical effects to terrify audiences.
There’s just one problem—the majority of those films are no longer scary by today’s standards.
This visit to the Winchester Mystery House is the latest entry in Project: Haunted House, a series of posts where I visit purportedly “haunted” places and write about my experiences. Read more here!
The crazy, reclusive woman is a well-worn archetype in literature and film. Emotionally and psychologically unstable, she is damaged goods, unable to escape from a painful past. She is isolated from others. Those around her define her by sorrow, anger, and “insanity.” Her behavior is misinterpreted and her motivations are ignored. She might start off as a psychologically stable character, but cruel psychological manipulation breaks her down. Sometimes, she really is insane, but her mental illness is far more complex than portrayed and we’re never given her full story. These portrayals twist her into something both delicate and dangerous
You know this archetype. The most famous example is Bertha Rochester in Jane Eyre, but she shows up in different versions as the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, and Jennet Humfrye in The Woman in Black. She also appears in films like Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Gothika, and The Ring. Some of these works are my all-time favorites. I’ve always been intrigued by these characters, probably because I’ve always seen them as very misunderstood.
The Crazy Lady also shows up in tons of myths legends, and ghost stories. One of the most famous examples of a weird, reclusive, possibly bat-shit lady is Sarah Winchester, mistress of the infamous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California.
Finally! School is out, summer is here, and we’re finally getting some good horror movies!
After a few months of anemic offerings, June is stepping up to the plate with some heavy-hitting horror flicks. Of course, the biggest name here is The Conjuring 2, sequel to 2013’s box office smash The Conjuring. But there are some other big names here too, like The Neon Demon, which offers a look into the shadowy, dangerous world of the modeling industry, and The Shallows, which serves up a straightforward horror movie involving a stranded Blake Lively and a huge man-eating shark. I don’t know if you can go wrong with any of these films.
There are some smaller titles, mostly foreign films that haven’t gained much press here in the States. But don’t let that dissuade you from checking them out in either their limited theatrical release or their digital releases on VOD. Sometimes great horror movies come out of left field.
With all the pomp and circumstance surrounding a prestigious Hollywood event, you probably wouldn’t expect a glittering affair like the Cannes Film Festival to include hard-hitting horror films. Cannes is where Hollywood finds a steady stream of award-worthy and award-baiting movies, right? The heavy, boring, historical drama stuff, right?
That’s true. Cannes is prestigious for a reason. Every year, the festival showcases emerging talents alongside master filmmakers, and many of those films are either good enough or earn enough hype to be marketed as highbrow cinema.
But it’s also true that Cannes has a deep commitment to varied viewpoints. The festival loves innovation. It pays tribute to films from different countries, different voices, and different genres, including horror.
Oh May, such a beautiful month but oh-so boring when it comes to horror movies.
Maybe it’s because May marks the official start of the summer blockbuster season, so distributors dump their mediocre movies where they can, knowing full well that the new Marvel or DC movie will dominate the box office. Or maybe we just have to wait a little longer for the good stuff (July 1 for The Purge: Election Year!!!).
Whatever the reason, May’s list of horror movies leaves a lot to be desired. Some of these have potential, like Bite or What We Become. Hell, Most Likely to Die looks hilarious. So I should reserve judgment. And honestly, I tried.
At the very least, some of these could make a really good RedBox or VOD rental.
Check them out!