10 Great Halloween Movies (and How They Can Help You Write)

Yes, this is the Headless Horseman before he lost his head. He's got a fevah... and the answer?

Yes, this is the Headless Horseman before he lost his head. He’s got a fevah… and the answer?

Alright. I learned a word the other day through the intrepid Ms. Williams (her blog post here) called paracosm. While it’s a very common trope throughout the fantasy genre, I believe for us living in the Real (and not currently living in a book. Not all of us of course. haha), there’s another form of paracosm, and that’s television. It’s the window through which we see others’ imagination, dreams, nightmares, conflict, and resolution.

I love paracosms with atmospheric gusto, environmental finesse, and a saturation value that sinks into your bones. Given it’s October and my favorite holiday is coming around, I must divulge my list of must-see movies. I’ll keep the paracosms to ten (and I will possibly, marathon-style, watch all at once. Or mostly at once. If I get the time). Most are scary. Some are jumpy. Fair warning.

Honorable Mention: Casper

The feeling I got while watching Casper changed my perspective on a lot of things in my life. I fell in love not with the ghost or the movie, but something I can’t quite name or touch. The environment? The scenery? The gothic aspect of it? (Even though I didn’t know the word gothic back when I was ten)

10. The Brothers Grimm

While this isn’t specifically Halloween-based (a few aren’t), this movie woke a lot of fantasy-thirsty vibes in me. It was marketed as a children’s show, then revealed itself to be not-so-Once Upon a Time-y. Heath Leger and Matt Damon costar as the two brothers Grimm, who dedicate their lives to creating, then dispatching, evil witches and goblins and ghouls. When they find an actual spell in an actual location, they must put their understanding of the evil to use and save the town–and possibly much more.

I love the scenery, the environment, the dialogue. I love the spells. I love the saturated feel it gives me while I watch it. If you have children, this might not be the best movie to watch, since it has puppy death, sexual undertones, murder, and twisted reality.

Enchanted evils like the big bad wolf and the gingerbread man seem to exist to survive. Anything can happen.

9. The Skeleton Key

My main focus, while living the Halloween Dream, is something I equate to magic, and how people “get it right.” I spent a long time with a fundamental understanding of “magic,” and it went against the grain of most writing styles. This. Movie. Does. It. Right. It’s got solid creep value, great environment, and few hokey “jump” moments. It is based in real magic practice, and any movie that has an actor who says, “Don’t worry dear. If you don’t believe in it, it doesn’t apply to you,” is worth watching. Period. Naomi Watts stars as a in-house care specialist for a catatonic old man, but the house has other ideas for her while she’s there. Powerful.

No clear protagonist/antagonist in this movie.

8. Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Classic Halloween eye-fare: Johnny Depp is a quasi steam-punk investigator who goes to the town of Sleepy Hollow to understand the series of killings. Again, environment is key with this movie: dismal cloud cover, foggy corn fields, everything seems wet and fall-esque. It’s beautiful. Yes, I grew up in the Midwest where foggy mornings were delightful (despite the deer) and Autumn still feels enchanting, so I might have a bias toward this kind of movie. And the Headless Horseman is quite enjoyable.

This is not a movie to watch for anything more than aesthetic value: creepy, but barely. Violent, but barely. Little blood. Little philosophy. Great atmosphere.

One horror. One hero. Simple and simple. (Also, Christopher Walken as the Hessian. Whaaat?)

7. The Haunting

Up to the dilapidated gates of an abandoned mansion we go. While I love the dream-imagery, the gardens and makeup of a gothic old mansion, and the story behind it, this movie is quite a bit jump factor and little to back it up. Some tools used in the movie only provide a way to kill off, one by one, the group of people living there, while the rest seem only for fear value alone. While I enjoy the story, it does not cause a lasting memory. I absolutely love the protagonist and Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luke Wilson. The cast seriously made this movie great in my eyes, but what saved it was the mansion.

One big evil slave owner, manifesting in the house as a dark force.

6. The House on Haunted Hill (remake)

Total sugary horror. A million dollars awarded to whomever lasts the night in a dilapidated old mental hospital built around the 1950’s. The plot thickens when the hospital wakes up, locks everyone in, and commences a replay of all the horrors that happened to shut the place down. This movie has many little horrors, but the ending is a total copout due to a lack of good storytelling. Or funds. Or time. Or something. Love some of the little scary things that went around the place, and the overall feel of the “theme night” feels very halloween-esque.

Many horrors/patients/doctors. One All Evil guy keeping them around.

5. The Frighteners

Peter Jackson made this movie with Michael J Fox back in the 90’s. The story surrounds a detective that swindles loved ones of exorcisms, even though he actually sees ghosts and dead people. Unfortunately, a creature that looks exactly like Death begins to kill the living, and it’s up to Fox’s character (and his dead friends) to find who is doing it, and stop him. It’s pretty funny and fun for the first half, but the second half gets deadly serious. Not great on environment, but has a decent story and is very enjoyable to watch.

One horror. More of a thriller whodunnit than anything else. Sometimes feels like more of a roller coaster than a slow sneak.

4. Hellboy

I might get in trouble for this one, but gosh darn it if I’m not a sucker for costumes. Yes, this is a superhero movie, but it’s so dark and Urban Fantasy and full of whimsical characters, I simply had to include it. Hellboy is saved from the Nazis during WWII, grows up to be a careless crime fighter, and the movie has him going against the legions of darkness, Lovecraftian demons with unconventional abilities, looks, fighting styles. Very well done. I watch this movie for the characters and the story. Love the both of them.

Rasputin is the Top Evil, though he has many demons at his beck and call, along with some clockwork guy that does silly things like run out of sand and assassinate people.

3. Insidious

Another one of those movies that gets stuff right. I saw this again recently, and I had chills throughout the movie. One of the great things about the story is it’s unconventional. The viewer believes one thing is happening, then another, then a third, and finally a fourth thing ACTUALLY goes on. Brilliant. Also, the way this movie is filmed, you see little hints of things to come before they actually show up. Pattern recognition, I guess, where the observer sees something strange out of the corner of the shot, wonders what it was, then it reveals itself in the resulting scene. Love love love it. Great story. Great thematic use. Very intelligent writing.

Demons, ghosts, ghoulies, the dead, and hypnotizing are all evils in this movie. The sequel is not as good as the original.

2. The Crow

Oooh. I absolutely love this classic. While also Brandon Lee’s final movie, this show has a dark, dreary, vampiric feel to it. A man who died a year before comes back to life to fight a huge gang running amok during “Devil’s Night.” Guns, bullets, needles, heroine, and Gaiman-like magic abound. Great environment, (at the time) memorable quotes, and a unique idea that was executed very well. While you root for Eric (the Returned) at the beginning of the movie, by the end you realize how he has no place in the world and must ultimately be stopped. 90’s emotional, this movie also does an incredible job of combining the Vampire and the Zombie templates into one.

The whole gang is evil, although I found Eric Draven the man to fear in this movie. Don’t watch this one with kids.

1. Hocus Pocus

Aaaaaand the perfect Halloween Movie. Period. I know some might argue for the Harry Potter series, or Air Bud, Golden Trick-or-Treater, I can’t imagine a more Halloween-perfect movie than this. It has the environment, it has witches, it has Trick-or-Treaters, it has the feel, the saturation, the environment, the story. The humor. It’s kid friendly. It’s very, very enjoyable. I remember growing up and wanting the house the main characters grew up in because of its New England Autumn feel. Love it.

Sanderson Sisters (witches, three, they’re known to be) dedicated to stealing all of the town’s children so they can have eternal youth and power.

So why is this great for a writer? It’s a special kind of cheat. While you don’t have the opportunity to collect vocabulary words from your favorite writer, or understand how the sentences fit together in a paragraph, you get to visually find a place from where to write your seasonal, thematic, fantastic, or dark literature. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to write, only to sit down and not have environment right inside my head. A dark piece suddenly is devoid of cloud, or rain, or dour mood. A cold day suddenly turns bright. These movies can help that by simply observing. Be it urban, or rural, or romantic in mood, these movies do a wonderful job of jump-starting my creative process.

What are some Halloween-themed movies that get your creative juices flowing?


8 thoughts on “10 Great Halloween Movies (and How They Can Help You Write)

  1. Oh man, you have two of my favorite directors on here, Terry Gilliam and Guillermo del Toro. Both of them directors who are (or who employ?) great art directors. I’ll tell you, Pan’s Labyrinth blew me away, as did the second Hellboy movie (almost against my will, I tend to hate sequels). Guillermo del Toro FTW.

    And The Crow, yes. I think there are few people in our generational plateau who didn’t go as Eric Draven for Halloween at least once. (Adult Halloween. Like, trick-or-treat only with bars instead of neighbors). The ‘rightfully dead’ element of The Crow always appealed to me too–the end wouldn’t be right if he kept on kind-of living.

    It’s funny, I’ve seen almost all of these and agree with you on almost all of them (Skeleton Key I found a little tiresome, but that’s me). All of them are strong, strong milieu movies, where setting and mood are as important if not more important than character. Which, honestly, is probably how horror should be.

    Have to add: that scene in Sleepy Hollow where Christopher Walken re-heads (there is NO VERB for what happens. NO VERB.) was one of the two things that scared me sleepless when I was younger. The other was the pollution monster in Fern Gully.

    • Okay my friend. I’m looking for the Gilliam influence in this lineup. Unless he did something I’m wholly unaware of… or you managed to read my mind last night while I wrote this. I nearly put the Adventures of Baron Munchausen or Tideland up, but since the former didn’t strike a strong cord for me and the latter screwed me up in the head (and I’ll never watch again), I decided against them.

      del Toro is an IDOL of mine. If I were to meet two men in my entire life, it would be Dan Simmons and Guillermo del Toro. Speaking of. I plan to meet Rothfuss on the 3rd of November outside St. Louis (at a gas station. I love him so, so much. Kidding). Super stoked.

      The Revenant that is Eric Draven. Sigh. Maybe that will be my take on the Vampire genre: a written reboot of The Crow. Yum.

      The re-heading was magnificent. Magnificent. Glad you liked the list (except for the Skeleton Key).

      • Brothers Grimm was Gilliam! Wasn’t it? I could’ve sworn, it sure looks like one of his movies…but yeah, him and Guillermo del Toro for me. Both fantastic.

        Sweet on meeting Rothfuss! A note–you might want to go for the motel instead of the gas station. More bush cover. I assume you’ve already bought your camo for this encounter, and possibly your tranq gun as well. 😛

        Seriously, I JUST MISSED Lev Grossman by one day–he read at a local bookstore the night I finished The Magicians. Ooof. Bitter. So bitter. I’ll regret it until I magically somehow get the chance to stalk him I MEAN SEE HIM READ again.

      • Okay so. I just grabbed the movie. You are right. Haha I had no idea it was him directing. It makes that movie even cooler.

        I’d love to see Grossman read. (I must admit: I’ve never been to a book signing/reading in my life. Ever. Total. Noob.) Not sure how I must compose myself with Rothfuss. I’ll just sit in a chair and nod intensely. Sounds badass enough for me.

        My dad said I should follow him on Twitter, then tweet to him I’m going to see him while casually mentioning I need people to read my book and give their thoughts. haha Oh, dad.

      • Believe me, I would’ve liked to see him read too! 😦

        I’ve been to a few readings, but most of them were smaller and/or for college. Not sure how you’re supposed to handle a large public reading that isn’t for school–a serious face and intense nodding sound about right to me. If I were in back, I might throw in a war whoop every now and again–just so he knows you’re there–and possibly some beguiling music to catch his attention. Maybe flutes. Flutes are beguiling. (Don’t forget your tranq darts for afterward!)

        Haha, your dad and my grandmother could have a whole conversation about this. “Well, what good is social media if these people like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett aren’t TALKING to you?” Grandmama should’ve written my book, she’d be way better at getting it out there than I am.

  2. I love The Frighteners! And my favorite is The Halloween Tree but that’s cheating because it’s based on the book written by Ray Bradbury.

    • I’ve never seen The Halloween Tree. Now I’m intrigued! I’ll have to go hunt it down. Also, nice to see another Frighteners fan. I thought I was the only one. Haha

  3. Pingback: Walking Dead Zombies vs. The Strain Vampires: Who would win? | hittingthesweetspot by Bob Skelley

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