Low-Fright Movie Night: Halloween Movies That Won’t Scare Your Pants Off

I love almost everything about Halloween. Candy? Awesome. Costumes? Fun! Falling leaves, cider, donuts, tacky decorations? Sure! But there’s one big part of the holiday I can’t get behind: being scared. Slasher movies gross me out. I love ghost stories and spooky stuff, but as night falls and I’m alone in my 105-year-old house, I really, really wish I had skipped it. Besides, there’s plenty of real-life stuff to be afraid of, like repaying my student loans, or the prospect that the dead mouse I found this morning has left a widow and children somewhere in my house. Scaring myself silly over things that probably don’t exist doesn’t help matters.

So what to do if you want to get into the Halloween spirit, but don’t want the Halloween spirit to keep you up in the middle of the night? Here are some of my favorite Halloween movies – either gently supernatural, or set during the season – that don’t leave me feeling all goosebumpy.

Harry Potter

Pick a Harry Potter, any Harry Potter! But for the gentle, slightly witchy fun I’m looking for – before things get quite so heavy and house elves start dying – I like to stick to the first three movies. The Halloween scene in Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s (/Philosopher’s) Stone is especially festive. Note: I have also convinced myself that some of the Harry Potter movies are Christmas-appropriate due to the occasional picturesque snowfall or Yuletide celebration in the Great Hall.

The Crucible

You know what’s REALLY scary? McCarthyism. While the only demon here was the mob mentality bred by religious fundamentalism (Halloween fun!!!), the talk of witches and rustic New England setting make this a great one to enjoy in October.

When the two of us were in high school, we covered this play in English (of course), and entertained ourselves for weeks by saying things like “I saw Goody Traci with the devil, she ‘ad ‘is poppet! She signed ‘is book!” in an inexplicably Cockney accent. Yes, we have always been exactly the people we are right now.

This is coming to Broadway with Saoirse Ronan and Tavi Gevinson as Puritan teens and I couldn’t be more excited.

E.T.

There’s an awesome trick-or-treating scene, plus aliens always feel like at least a Halloween-adjacent topic. Halloween always makes me feel a little nostalgic and this movie takes me right back to my childhood in the late 80s and early 90s.

Hocus Pocus

Speaking of nostalgia, nothing could bring me back to my youth in a better way than the Halloween classic Hocus Pocus. It has an all-star cast – Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker! – gorgeous visuals, a fun plot, and even takes it back to Colonial times like the Crucible did. This movie is from 1993, but I swear it’s timeless. You can read our live blog here.

The Witches

Based on the Roald Dahl book, this movie has all the offbeat, macabre fun you’d expect, but it’s silly enough that – for an adult, anyway – it isn’t going to haunt your dreams.

Edward Scissorhands

This list is leaning heavily to movies that were shown on cable a lot when I was a child, but whatever, the 80s and early 90s were apparently a great era for non-scary, dark paranormal movies. Tim Burton movies, on the whole, are great Halloween viewing if you’re easily spooked, because everything is sort of dark and rickety, but it’s also absurd enough that it won’t scare you. There will be more where this came from!

Beetlejuice

Aha! Here we are again. Even as a little kid, I thought Beetlejuice was more fun than scary. What could be more Halloween-appropriate than an old-school “scary” movie night with Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and a few more from this list? While Tim Burton is an easy match for a list like this I’m also noticing that this is the third Winona Ryder movie so far.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Rounding out our Tim Burton trilogy, The Nightmare Before Christmas has an awesome aesthetic, great songs, and is part of a true golden era of Halloween entertainment (it came out the same year as Hocus Pocus! I was one lucky second grader).

The Addams Family

And Addams Family values: part of the weird 90s trend of making feature films out of long-dead tv shows (see also: The Brady Bunch, Leave It To Beaver, The Beverly Hillbillies). But while the show never particularly tickled my funny bone, this movie – particularly deadpan Wednesday Addams, played by a too-talented-for-her-age Christina Ricci – still holds up pretty well.

Rocky Horror Picture Show

None of the goblins and ghouls in Rocky Horror are scary  – in fact, the only “scary” thing is maybe what a weird place we were at in the 70s. It’s a cult classic for a reason, with a farcical plot and catchy songs that are just as outlandish in 2015 as they were 40 years ago (while we’re at it: 40 years?! Round of applause for Susan Sarandon!).

Mean Girls

It’s not a Halloween movie, but the Halloween sequence is truly classic – and, for us nostalgia-heads, a great peak back in the Paris Hilton-y early 2000s. I still get a kick out of Cady in her “ex wife” costume. Much like Harry Potter, I also convince myself that this is a Christmas movie because there’s a Christmas scene in it.

Halloweentown

I saw (and live blogged) Halloweentown for the first time a few years ago because I didn’t have Disney as a kid, and was hit over the head by how deliciously late 90s it was. You can also follow up with Halloweentown II, Halloweentown High and Return To Halloweentown (but I didn’t).

The Village

Fun(?) fact: I worked at a movie theater at the time and multiple customers told me I looked like “that girl in The Village” and I’m not sure that was meant to be a compliment, pretty as Bryce Dallas Howard is in other movies.

This isn’t M. Night Shyamalan’s most acclaimed movie, but it IS his least scary! By the end, when the Shyamalan-required twist is revealed, you will probably not be shaking in your boots – but it does have just the right amount of atmospheric spookiness and autumn scenery to make you feel like you tried. It’s like the movie version of going on the tilt-a-whirl, but not the upside down roller coaster.

Tower Of Terror

Look. It’s a TV movie based on a  Disney theme park ride. Enough said? But it’s sort of fun in a 1930s-meets-1990s way.

Kiki’s Delivery Service

I’m not into cartoons – well, except for Disney, Pixar, and Bob’s Burgers – but Hayao Miyazaki knows how to make cartoons that appeal to anyone who likes a well-made film. Kiki is a young witch flying around on a broomstick, but … I don’t know. It’s just a really nicely made movie. If you’re keeping count of the 90s child starlets, this is the second consecutive Kirsten Dunst movie. She’s gaining on Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci!

Honorable Mentions

If you like classics, To Kill A Mockingbird and Meet Me In St. Louis both have fantastic trick or treating scenes. And Goonies – which for me personally just doesn’t feel like Halloween – definitely wouldn’t be out of place either.

 

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Live Blog: Halloweentown

Welcome to our second Halloween Throwback Live Blog (the first was Hocus Pocus). Live blogging Halloweentown was a no-brainer: we love the 90s, we love live blogging terrible tv movies, and we love Disney Channel Original Movies (that’s DCOMs to all of y’all). Plus, Halloweentown is airing on the Disney Channel tonight! Read this to do your prep work, or follow along during the broadcast. I promise you would have predicted all of the spoilers anyway. Without further ado, your companion to Halloweentown:

– I’m already thinking this is going to be better than I remember, because one of the first things to show up on the credits is “Music by Mark Mothersbaugh”. You may remember that he did the spot-on music for Rugrats. Also, a little project called Devo.

– Fun fact: the main character, a Winnie Cooper-ish 13-year-old, is named Marnie. The timeline just about adds up for her to be the same age as the character in Girls today. So, if you get bored during this, just imagine the teen witch (SPOILER!) growing up to be Marnie Michaels.

Danica McKellar was presumably busy doing ‘oh God anything but this.’

– This flick features one of my favorite 90s stock characters, the dweeby, infuriating younger brother a la Ferguson Darling.

– Well, I spent the whole first 5 minutes wondering why Winnie’s Marnie’s wearing a Halloween costume when the whole plot is that her mom won’t let the kids go Trick-Or-Treating. Then, I realize that this is probably just an outfit in 1998.

– Marnie and her mom, Gwen, argue about trick-or-treating. Bam. Say what you will about DCOMs, we are five minutes in and the movie has already passed Bechdel test.

– Annoying younger brother (Ferguson, I’m calling him) says that talking about their father – who the kids don’t know – always bums their mom out. Why are so many childrens’ movies predicated on the idea that mama used to get around? Or maybe he’s dead.

– The kids’ grandma, Aggie, shows up and is a total witch.

– Aggie, by the way? Debbie Freakin’ Reynolds. Well, they can’t all be Singin In The Rain. If we learned anything from Hocus Pocus, it’s that children’s Halloween films are where beloved elder actresses go when they just don’t care anymore.

– Also, Gwen is Judith Hoag, so hell, they can’t even all be Nashville.

– After what seems like minutes (but, like, a lot of minutes), Tandy Gwen finally lets Aggie tell the kids a story. See, although a lot of movies have the trope where a parent is super strict but it’s for a very good reason the kids can’t know about, I still think Gwen kind of sucks.

– Aggie brings a picture book with crude illustrations of witches and goblins. Marnie loves it because it’s “all the stuff [she’s] into.” Things Marnie’s Into: (1) Drawings that look like they were made on Microsoft Paint, I guess.

I’m just going to go ahead and say that the entire budget went to Debbie Reynolds.

– Did every girl in the 90s have a white wicker bed, or was that just on tv?

– Aggie – wearing a diaphanous blouse that makes her look like Stevie Nicks as played by Debbie Reynolds – argues with Gwen that Marnie’s witch education should be done by now (Bechdel!). So, this is basically a way-less cool version of Harry Potter. Forget an owl on your 11th birthday, in Halloweentown-verse, you find out you’re a witch when your grandma visits.

– Marnie is surprisingly chill for a child who just discovered that she and her relatives are all supernatural beings. Meanwhile, I found out I’m part English last year and I’m still trying to get my head around it.

– Marnie and Ferg-wad sneak onto grandma’s super secret witch bus – which is just a school bus rocking back and forth in front of a green screen. Well, it’s no Knight Bus, that’s for certain. It’s like this whole thing was written by J.K. Rowling’s less-imaginative cousin.

– You don’t have to do a Halloweentown drinking game, but if you are, you should chug every time Ferguson Darling refers to himself as “the man of the house,” because he does it kind of a lot.

– It appears that everyone in Halloweentown is in costume, so who knows, maybe Aggie is going as Stevie Nicks this year.

– Fergie and Marnie’s sister, Sophie, followed them there. Oh yeah. Now’s a good time to mention that there’s a little sister. There was really no reason to talk about her before. She’s a generic brunette child with bangs.

– The kiddos run into a warlock who tells them that he “knew their mother a long time ago.” Knew biblically? Is he the baby daddy? Why is there so much Maury Povich and so little magic?

– Obligatory Disney meta-reference, re: skeleton chauffer: “He’s probably animatronic; Disney Land’s full of stuff like that.” But honestly? I’ve seen better spooky special effects in the part of the Haunted Mansion ride when the ghost appears next to you in the car.

– Revelation: the people in Halloweentown aren’t in costume, they’re actually supposed to be whatever it is that they’re dressed as. It’s bad, though. The Frankenstein, for instance, looks like a regular guy in a $7.99 latex Frankenstein mask from Party City.

– Marnie’s ready to begin witch training. Her Grandma needs another Cromwell lady to fight some kind of villain, who I already know is going to be way less cool than Voldemort — and I mean less cool than any incarnation of Voldemort, including under-the-turban Voldemort and Tom Riddle Voldemort.

– Luke, the Halloweentown “bad boy,” looks like a tough 13-year-old from the 50s. He has the face of Eddie Haskell, a hairdo that looks like a duck’s ass, and a sassy cropped vest.

– I believe that in Harry Potter parlance, we just learned that Marnie is a mudblood. In English parlance, she’s wearing a big freaking scrunchie.

– The mayor and Gwen reunite and I totally called it: they used to bone.

Gwen: You used to let the magic do the talking.

Mayor: You used to like it – or are you forgetting that part?

Marnie: I guess you like magic when he does it, huh?

– “You’re not a witch just because grandma says you are.” – Gwen, offering reassurance to every girl whose grandma just doesn’t like her very much.

– Disney throws in a hastily-written b-plot to make things more exciting for the older kids. The bad guy stands in an abandoned movie theater and explains what’s going on. It’s like the exposition version of deus ex machina – just really fast-tracking it.

– I worked at a movie theater for like 5 years, and my scariest movie theater story is that one time a teen couple had sex in the theater during Flushed Away, an animated feature about rats and poop.

Anyway. There’s a wicked spell, a bad guy who wants … something to do with power, people being turned into statues, and a magical talisman. Because there’s always a magical talisman in these things (Aggie has it). It’s like a winning row in scary movie bingo.

– Gwen and Aggie get petrificus totalus-ed. Accio, the last hour of my life! Please.

– Marnie says “duh!” because she’s not even cool enough for “doy!”

– Marnie: “We’re Cromwells! Together we can conquer anything!” (Anything like… Ireland? Seriously odd surname choice there, Disney)

– There’s a really pointless scene (as in, more than the other scenes even) with a Halloweentown hairdresser who’s like a lame, cat-like version of Cinna from The Hunger Games – doing the hair of a woman who looks like she’s from The Capital. He keeps saying “yeah, baby!” and I think Disney thinks it can make this movie funny by quoting Austin Powers.

– Sophie saves the day by remembering the spell. Pretty clear who’s the Hermione and who’s the Lavender Brown here (too soon?).

– We learn that spells are simple. “You just have to want it, and let yourself have it!” So now we know where that guy who’s making a ton of money from The Secret got the idea.

– GAME CHANGER. He Who Shall Not Be Named (because I forget his name… because it was stupid) morphs into Gwen’s ex-lover.

– Marnie drops the magic stick into a giant jack-o-lantern and defeats Voldumbort. Apparently his name is Kalibar. I spent a while looking for a cool anagram in there, but again, this is no J.K. Rowling. Unless Bail Ark means something. Maybe it does – as in “abandon ship? this movie is sinking?”

– Fergwad is a warlock, which is convenient for when Marnie inevitably gets Menudo-ed out of the Halloweentown franchise.

– Luke is nice, and as it turns out, troll-faced. He was under a spell before. Aggie is going to move in with the family to babysit. It’s over. Thank goodness. Good night.