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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Playlist of the Month: Songs From Musicals We’ve Been In

Ah, the first breath of spring. In high schools across the nation, now is the time for students to work together to create something bigger than themselves, to forge new friendships and let their talents shine. Baseball season? Nah. Prom planning? Please. It’s high school musical season!

We spent the first years of our friendship hanging out in our high school’s auditorium during musical rehearsals. We had snacks from a special “junk food locker” (an abandoned locker that we stocked with bulk candy) and played Bullshit and Spoons with the young, pre-gay gay boys we were friends with. Before high school, we were both big fish in our respective theater ponds, and being in chorus and dance company roles just felt so wrong, but we were still happy to be involved in a show.

Even the songs still stick with you years later. In honor of those hardworking theater kids in Hell Week for Grease or Man Of La Mancha right now, here are some songs from musicals we’ve been in – songs we still get stuck in our head over a decade later.

Check out the entire playlist on Spotify!

Molly’s Picks

Feel So Near – Some Weird Play From My Childhood

When I was a kid, I was in this odd, somewhat avant garde youth theater company. I mean, of course I was. For a few years our plays were these adaptations of obscure folk tales with minimalist staging and costuming and kabuki-inspired makeup. A chorus of children sang this folksy tune by Dougie MacLean and what do you know, it sounds pretty good sung by a chorus of children. I’m including this as a nod to my weird childhood.

Oh What A Beautiful Morning – I Seriously Cannot Remember What Play This Was

Oh, cool, Oklahoma? Nope. Just some random play I was in that rather inexplicably included the song Oh What A Beautiful Morning. Again, it was a strange childhood, theater-wise.

The Boy Next Door – Meet Me In St. Louis

In eighth grade, a group of 10-15 local Catholic schools got together to put on a mega-musical. It was like an awkward plaid dream team, and I was thrilled to land in the principal cast. Because I’ve been the same person my whole life, you won’t be surprised to learn that it was the comic relief character, who was an Irish maid. But I had a solo and I was very pleased and honored to finally be in a play where I wasn’t wearing white pancake makeup and a black turtleneck.

I Can’t Be Bothered Now – Crazy For You

When I was a kid my sister had the cassette tape of the Crazy For You soundtrack, and I thought it was just about the best thing ever. [A note: during my sister’s high school tenure our school was putting on, like, Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Rough.] I know the concept of compiling a bunch of Gershwin’s best tunes into a loosely conceived plot is probably, technically, bad, but our school put this on our junior year and years later, I can barely decide which song to include.

On The Street Where You Live – My Fair Lady

Senior year, we performed My Fair Lady and I learned that when it doesn’t involve Audrey Hepburn or Julie Andrews, I really don’t care for My Fair Lady. But we had fun with it – I remember sitting in English class singing Ascot Gavotte with extra-plummy accents because as seniors, and I guess as people, we just didn’t care. In true Lerner and Loewe fashion each number is catchier than the last,  but I’m including On The Street Where You Live because I remember my mom singing it when I was little, and in fourth grade I thought it was THE perfect song for my grade school crush. Yes, like so many theater kids before and after me, I was maybe just a little dramatic.

Traci’s Picks

Embraceable You – Crazy For You

Like Molly said, I could barely decide which song to include because every song was a classic. I legit changed my mind about which one to put on the list three times. Crazy For You was the first time I was really exposed to music of this era – that I actually paid attention to. Lo and behold, I took a liking to it. Since the musical is a bunch of Gershwin songs put together, this one is from Girl Crazy, as seen here by Judy Garland and a bunch of strapping young men. Swoonworthy.

Something Good – The Sound of Music

Okay, I’m cheating a bit. This song wasn’t included in the OG Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, which is the version I was in, but rather was added for the film that we all know and love. After the movie, however, this song was included in some revivals of the show so it counts. The version by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer is stunning and simple, like a reflection of their love *awwww cheesy stfu*

Close Every Door – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Like Molly said, we were “big fish” in our respective little ponds, and for me, that pond was my church. We used to put on full musical productions (and were kind of really good and well known for it in the immediate community?) so it’s not like me in a basement naming all the colors of Joseph’s coat. Anyways, this show marked my first “big” role – I was a Narrator. Emphasis on A, because I was one of 6 HAHAHA. When I would listen to Donny Osmond’s version of the soundtrack, I was obsessed with Close Every Door, particularly the last 45ish seconds when he does the key change and the riffs at the end – changed my life. Also, that’s when I retroactively developed a crush on Donny Osmond way past his prime. IDK you guys, I was a weird kid.

I Don’t Need Anything But You – Annie

Annie is like a rite of passage for any theatre kid, including this AZN one right here. I obviously wasn’t Annie, and by the time I did the show, I was too old to be an orphan, so I was a servant/the “Star-to-Be” aka the solo in NYC aka the part OG Annie Andrea McArdle plays in the Audra McDonald verz of Annie. This song always struck me as a super sweet tune between Annie and Daddy Warbucks, and was just filled with positivity about the future. She’ll learn soon enough.

Beautiful City – Godspell

Again, I guess this is cheating a bit, since Beautiful City wasn’t included in the original 1971 Off-Broadway cast recording, which is the soundtrack we went by when my church did the show. It was the first real musical I was ever in, and I’m kinda sad that this song wasn’t included. The song was written for the 1972 film, starring Victor Garber as the big JC, and the version above is from the 2011 Broadway revival starring Hunter Parrish as Jesus. When I first heard this, it was probably a mix of me not being too familiar with it and the fact that I was stunned by how beautiful Hunter’s voice is. It’s a haunting song that still holds up in 2015. Fun fact: My friends walked down the aisle to this song. Not creepy, really cute and made me cry.

I Saw 10 Ships: The Best Christmas RomComs

When you think of what children’s Christmas movies are really about – elaborate holiday fantasies about befriending Santa, visiting the North Pole, and getting the ultimate present – it’s a wonder that any kids like them at all. Real life never matches up.

You could say the same thing about holiday rom coms. I don’t know why I love watching attractive people fall head-over-heels in love (right in time for Christmas!) while sporting designer wardrobes. I could die alone in clothes from Target, but that won’t stop me from loving a good Christmas rom com. If you love rom coms too, make some time between now and 12/25 to see these three ten ‘ships come sailing in.

Traci’s Picks

Love Actually

What’s a Christmas movie list without Love Actually? Shit – is what it is. I remember going to see this with some friends in high school (at the theater Molly used to work at!) and immediately loving it about 10 minutes in. I was enamored with Christmas in London, hot Karl, Jamie and Aurelia’s unspoken love story, ‘Ifyou real-ly love Christtt-mas’ charming Prime Minister Hugh Grant, pre-fame Chiwetel Ejiofor & January Jones, everything about Emma Thompson, SAM – all of it. I bought the soundtrack and played it on repeat, even when it wasn’t Christmas. Needless to say, it’s not only one of my favorite Holiday RomComs, but all time movies in general. Besides Crash, Richard Curtis brought the intersecting storylines way of filmmaking into the the 2000s, and it’s been an influence on movies ever since.

The Best Man Holiday

Let’s be real. I only went to see this movie theater because of the impressive amount of HBMs (<- click for explanation). I hadn’t see the first one, but I figured I didn’t really need to know much about it, and they would recap me if necessary. And if you haven’t seen it either, the good news is that when you watch The Best Man Holiday, they’ll do just that. This group of longtime friends gets together for some quality time over Christmas, and while there are many laughs and near panty-dropping moments (like the one shown above), all I’m telling you is to watch with a box of tissues next to you. You will probably need them.

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

I wasn’t one of those girls into JTT. Just call me the 1%. I was too busy fangirling over Leo and BSB, I didn’t have time for a silly crush on a 90s It boy. However, I wasn’t exactly immune to his movies either. Like this one, a fun and festive adventure which has JTT speeding across the country in a Santa suit to get from California back home to New York in time for Christmas. Yes, that is Jessica Biel as his girlfriend. Yes, of course, the ride in a one-horse open sleigh together.

Bad Santa

Does this really constitute as a romantic comedy? Maybe not entirely, but these is some ‘romance’ in it, thanks to my girl Lauren Graham and her naughty relationship with Billy Bob Thornton’s Santa. He’s a disaster, but you know who really wins Christmas in this movie? THIS KID.

When Harry Met Sally…

When Harry Met Sally doesn’t entirely take place over the holidays, but a chunk of it does, and of course the end at New Year’s Eve, so I’m counting it. If you’ve read my previous post about this film, you’ll know that I was a late bloomer to this amazing movie, but I’m all in now. WHMS is a reminder that New York at Christmastime is a magical beautiful place – and then you snap back into reality watching Sally try to haul a Christmas tree by herself in the snow down the street. But all of it, the good and the bad, is a reminder why RomComs like this are the perfect thing to watch at the holidays. They make you laugh, make you cry, make you all tingly inside knowing that the season isn’t just about the trees and the snow and the presents – it’s about being around the people you love.

Molly’s Picks

The Holiday

The Holiday is one of my top two Christmas rom coms (it sort of shares first place with Love Actually). It has everything I could want in a Christmas movie: aspirational real estate (both the California mansion and the Cotswolds cottage), just-as-aspirational hair and wardrobe, precocious English tots, a kindly old man, and Jude Law right in the middle of what will someday be remembered as his golden era. Sure, it does fall into the romcom trope of everyone thinking the obviously pretty and charismatic Kate Winslet is some sort of sad sack, but – spoiler! it turns out she’s leading lady material after all. With Jack Black and Cameron Diaz rounding out the main cast, the Holiday is the perfect balance of rom and com.

Meet Me In St. Louis

As with regular-season rom coms, it’s important not to disregard the classics at Christmas. This musical (come on, you knew there would be a musical!) follows a year in the life of a turn-of-the-century family. However, the film ends at Christmas time, and is the origin of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. To be honest, I never would have bothered with this movie if (1) I weren’t in the play in 8th grade, and (2) it didn’t star Judy Garland while she was still … doing well. But it’s worth watching if you like musicals, holiday cheer, and one of the most talented performers of a generation.

The Family Stone

I recommend this rom com with one reservation: I am recommending the whole thing except for the last, oh, five-ish minutes. If you’ve seen it, you know why. But the rest of it is great, sort of a Yuletide This Is Where I Leave You. And like TIWILY, it’s at least somewhat relatable if you have a large family of grown siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews. The comedic parts of it hit a little harder than a lot of Christmas movies, which stick to the feel-good fluff. Plus, the cast is incredible: Christmas King Dermot Mulroney, as well as Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Luke Wilson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Claire Danes, Rachel McAdams,  Elizabeth Reaser and Paul Schneider (Mark Brendanawicz himself).

But I mean it about the last 5-10 minutes.

Elf

Elf, a rom com? I say that it is! It may be a children’s/ family movie, but I think it’s one of the funniest films out there. And I know I’m not the only one who thinks so, because just about every other adult I know can quote the whole thing. After a rocky start (the musical Law and Order: SVU episode setup that is Baby It’s Cold Outside), the gentle love story of Buddy and Jovie is a big part of what makes Elf so sweet. What can I say? Smiling’s my favorite.

While You Were Sleeping

If I had to explain to someone what 1995 was like, in the romcom world anyway, I’d show them While You Were Sleeping. This movie is just so delightfully normcore, before we had a word for it. Everyone’s hanging out in Chicago, wearing Gap sweaters and Land’s End khakis, telling lies about their romantic history and falling in love during comas and stuff. If you’re wondering why your mom still calls Sandra Bullock America’s Sweetheart, just watch While You Were Sleeping.