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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!).
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.
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).
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!
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.