Halloween Watching with Ginn Hale
I love Halloween; it has been my favorite holiday since 1976, when I first had the surreal experience of seeing the streets of my new neighborhood flooded with hundreds of small monsters—all clutching little sacks, laughing and running wild through the darkness.
At that time I was only eight and had lived in the mountains, largely removed from American culture. I had no idea what I was witnessing; I only knew that it appeared to be a night when strangers opened their doors to the weirdest of creatures and gifted them with candy, fruit, and baked goods.
From my uninformed perspective Halloween seemed to embody the most generous and beautiful capacities of human beings and our communities. Here were people, looking past alien, strange, frightening and often ugly appearances—even welcoming them with exclamations like, ‘Oh what big teeth you have!’— and celebrating their very ‘otherness’.
As a stranger—and something of a little weirdo—I was nearly moved to tears.
Though I have long since learned about the genuine origins of Halloween, that first impression has remained with me. To this day I think of the holiday as a celebration of diversity; a time when the small generosities of a neighborhood can accumulate into treasuries of sweetness, and when strangers at the door are greeted warmly no matter what they look like or how different they seem.
With that in mind I’ve compiled a list of a few Halloween movies that I feel reflect my idea of Halloween.
The first two are very much a joy to watch for kids and adults alike.
Nightmare Before Christmas
Vivid, animated musical about the king of Halloween, growing bored and deciding that he and his people should dedicate themselves to the production of Christmas.
Also animated and very stylized, ParaNorman tells the story of a boy who can see ghosts and his attempt to placate the spirit of a wronged witch. This one stands out to me for the depth of side characters, truly funny slap-stick and an ending that speaks to both the difficulty and power of forgiveness.
Next are films that contain more adult themes or violence but are still funny and also reflect a surprising depth of humanity.
A comedy classic that still manages to evoke the poignant isolation felt by a monster. It’s hilarious, sweet, and silly.
Shaun of the Dead
A zombie movie that pokes fun at zombie movies, while staying true to them and contemplating the importance of friendship.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Like Sean of the Dead, Tucker & Dale is a send-up (this time of the slasher in the woods sort of films). But here the would-be killers are the protagonists while the boisterous college students who are so often the fodder of these kinds of films become the relentless threat.
The final list of films are, on the surface, straight up horror, involving vampires, zombies, insane killers and invading monsters. But these films are also studies of coming to terms with suffering, loss, alienation and violence both from outside and within ourselves. Be warned that the endings of these films are often satisfying but not always happy.
(While Attack the Block and The Host both have comedic elements, their overall tone and their endings made me include them with this group instead of the more up-beat ones listed above.)
The Host (Korean Film not American film based on Stephanie Myers book)
A dysfunctional family slowly pulls together to attempt to save one of their own from a monster. It’s the unique combination of quirkiness, terror, and sincerity that makes this a fascinating watch, for me.
A beautiful and horrific recounting of the Spanish Civil War as seen through a lens of fairy tale grotesquery. This film is brutal in its depiction of war, cruelty and sacrifice. It would be almost unbearable if not for the sheer magic of it.
An inventive, tense, and scary study of a woman battling not to succumb to a monster within, while still caring for her wild son and mourning the loss of her husband.
Let the Right One In (Original Swedish version)
Young boy befriends vampire girl who is at turns a brutal, vulnerable and loyal friend.
Attack the Block
Inner city kids battle monsters from outer space in a London housing project.
The Girl With All the Gifts
A zombie film that explores the place of old values and societies in the face of a new kind of humanity.
So, those are a few of my favorite humanist Halloween films. Any I missed? I hope so because I would love to have recommendations from other folks!
Happy Halloween, to you all!
Ginn Hale resides in the Pacific Northwest with her lovely wife and wayward cats. She is an award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy, as well as an avid coffee-drinker.
Connect with her on her website.
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