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Must See and Must Avoid Halloween Fare

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Some of my most vivid memories stem from helping my grandmother decorate her house for Halloween. A lover of all holidays, my precious Nanny paced the floor just waiting for the first orange leaf to fall from the oak tree towering in her front yard. Before that orange piece of foliage hit the ground, Nanny had unpacked the storage closet and boxes upon boxes of decorations littered the living room floor. She placed her hands on her thin hips and says with determination, “Alright. Let’s get going.”

We buzzed about for hours, stringing orange lights around every doorframe and setting miniature scarecrows on every open table space. After an afternoon full of decorating, we would settle onto our couch with bags of candy corn to participate in our second favorite Halloween activity—watching: Halloween movies and TV shows.

Even though I’m much older now and I spend Halloween with my friends rather than my Nanny, I still scour the TV Guides every October for these Halloween classics. And while life now isn’t as carefree as it was sixteen years ago, there are still a few things that are on my must-see list every year.

Here is my list of the Top 5 Halloween Films/TV Shows.

5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer “Halloween” Season 2, Episode 6

In the first Halloween episode of Joss Whedon’s girl-power infused action-dramedy hybrid, the group is forced to volunteer at a school-sponsored Halloween event for younger children and costumes are required. Buffy and her friends head to a new Halloween store to purchase their costumes. After Giles’s old frenemy Ethan Rayne casts a spell on the costumes, the gang suddenly becomes the characters they were embodying for Halloween. Buffy becomes an English noble woman, Xander turns into an army soldier, and Willow emerges as a ghost of herself. Tracking down Rayne without the slayer makes this episode a hilarious Halloween television episode.

4. Hocus Pocus (1993)

I was four-years-old when this movie was released way back in the days before DVRs. During this dark time, we recorded things on VHS tapes. I had Hocus Pocus on an old Polaroid VHS that I watched and rewatched so many times the tape eventually broke. Hocus Pocus stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as the Sanderson sisters, witches who were hanged in the seventeenth century after the kidnapping and murder of two children. However, before their death, they cast a spell on a black-flame candle that when lit by a virgin would resurrect the sisters so they could wreak havoc. When skeptic and new kid on the block Max Dennison hears the legend, he can’t resist lighting the candle, putting himself, his little sister, and his crush in direct path of three very reanimated witches.

3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer “Fear Itself” Season 4, Episode 4

As the Scooby gang enters their first year of college, they discover what so many freshmen do — fraternity parties. But, like everything else in Whedonverse, this particular party takes on a supernatural twist. When decorating the house for the party, the brothers choose a strange looking symbol out of a book of spells. A drop of blood accidentally falls onto it and activates the symbol, which in turn sends the house in lockdown mode, eliminating all windows and doors. Trapped inside the fraternity house, Buffy and her friends must battle the dreaded fear demon Gachnar.

2. The Witches (1990)

This 1990 film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book has always been one of my favorite (and most oft-quoted) Halloween movies. When young Luke and his ailing grandmother vacation on the coast, they find themselves caught in the middle of a coven’s scheme to turn all children into mice via poisoned chocolate. Watching Luke the mouse turning the tables on the head witch, portrayed brilliantly by Anjelica Houston, is always fun and this movie adaptation is one of the best.

1. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

This Halloween children’s classic penned by creator Charles M. Schulz always makes the top of my list. Linus’s undying belief in the Great Pumpkin should remind all of us of our inner children who long to return to the days of innocence when waiting all night for the Great Pumpkin seems commonplace.

Sadly, as dear as the above are to me, there are some items I would advise everyone to stay away from.  Here is my list of must-avoids:

3. Paranormal Activity

This newly nationally released film is being called the “scariest movie of all time.” I disagree. I went to see this movie with my roommate, also a lover of scary movies, because we believed the hype. We left the theater seriously considering asking for our seven dollars back. The filming is so shaky you’ll be nauseous ten minutes into the movie. The occurrences all center on a noise similar to the THX deep note effect and the result isn’t creepy. The only scary part may be the ending, which Steven Spielberg asked to be changed to its current form, but even it won’t leave you shaking in your boots. I was thoroughly disappointed with this film all around.

2. Quarantine (2008)

If bad acting weren’t enough to ruin this movie, the premise would definitely do it on its own. Documenting a reporter and her cameraman quarantined in an apartment building, this movie features bad acting, a bad script, and when the “heroine” of the movie finally disappears, I was compelled to cheer. This movie was so bad, I don’t even have an idea of how it could be improved.

1. The Haunting of Molly Hartley

Note to self: if in writing a film script, you require an hour and fifteen minutes of backstory to make your audience understand what is going on, get a better plot. They didn't heed that advice with this movie. The titular Molly Hartley isn’t even haunted, she’s cursed to become something on her eighteenth birthday. I use the word "something" because that’s exactly what the movie tells you. Has she become a demon? A ghost? A zombie? A spoiled teenaged girl who suddenly starts wearing a lot of black and too much red lipstick? I don’t really know. Obviously, neither did the writers.

Now that the autumn leaves have begun their yearly descent from the trees and the temperature grows too cold to spend more time outside than is absolutely necessary, cuddle up with your Nanny, your favorite fall candy, and my list of the best and worst Halloween media. It always works for me.

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About Meghan Partain

  • Yeah yeah, you only wrote this so you could take another swipe at Paranormal Activity. Just kidding.

    Great call on The Witches which is certainly a candidate for best Dahl adaptation ever — not to mention best Roeg film. More people need to see it. Heck, I need to see it again. (Heads to Netflix.)

    You are probably correct about Quarantine (I haven’t seen it), but I have seen the original Spanish version [Rec] which is a terrific little zombie movie with one of the creepiest child zombies since Night of the Living Dead.

  • Hmm, if I were actually going for TV scare factor, the Buffy episode I’d choose would be “Hush.” Nothing quite as creepy as The Gentlemen gliding along.

    That said, the scariest thing I’ve ever seen on television, ever, is the X-Files episode “Home,” which would make Halloween almost unbearably scary. And disturbing.