Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema continued this month’s Halloween theme with a look at movies set on All Hallows Eve. Here are the films discussed on the show as well as a few additional titles.
Trick or Treat
There have been several movies with some form of the title “trick or treat.” The 2007 film Trick ‘r Treat is a horror anthology directed by Michael Dougherty. It has an impressive cast that includes Anna Paquin and Brian Cox and the film consists of several stories that are scary but also possess a sense of humor. Trick ‘r Treat was not seen very much in its initial release but it’s one of those movies whose reputation seems to get bigger every year. Trick ’r Treat has become a Halloween movie staple and the demonic trick or treater Sam has been heavily merchandised.
The 1982 film Trick or Treats reworks the “babysitter in peril” motif. An aspiring actress babysits an obnoxious little boy who pulls pranks on her all night. Meanwhile, a madman escapes from an institution and makes his way to their home. This isn’t a great movie but it is an amusing curio from the early 1980s.
Also from that decade is 1986’s Trick or Treat, alternately titled Ragman. This film was made in the midst of the satanic ritual abuse hoax and paranoia about demonic lyrics in heavy metal music. Very much in tune with its time, 1986’s Trick or Treat is about a teenage superfan of a recently deceased rock star who plays a record backward and unleashes an evil spirit. The film includes cameos by Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons. Trick or Treat isn’t that great but it has gained a cult following in part because of its soundtrack by Fastway. Unfortunately, the movie has become difficult to find.
Disney Halloween Films
The Nightmare Before Christmas is officially a Disney film but it was originally released through Disney’s subsidiary Touchstone Pictures. In 1993 Disney executives were concerned that the movie was too dark for their brand. When it became a hit and annual holiday viewing in many households, The Nightmare Before Christmas was rebranded as a Disney title. It has now become one of the studio’s most merchandised films.
Released the same year, Hocus Pocus was a Disney film about a trio of witches who reappear in Salem, Massachusetts on Halloween. The original script for Hocus Pocus, written by David Kirschner and Mick Garris, was considerably darker than the film that was ultimately produced. The movie was a financial failure in 1993 but it found its audience through television and home video. It’s become such a favorite that Disney has ordered a sequel that is expected to debut on Disney+ in 2022.
Disney also found success with its Halloweentown series. These films were produced for the Disney Channel and imagined a magical world where vampires, witches, werewolves, ghosts, and other spooky beings reside. The original Halloweentown debuted in 1998. It was well received and three sequels were released between 2001 and 2006.
Comic Book Adventures
Batman: The Long Halloween is based on the graphic novel of the same name. It offers a sample of everything that viewers look for in a Batman movie and in fact the source material was influential on many of the live action films, namely The Dark Knight. But The Long Halloween also possess a film noir quality that none of the live action films have ever achieved. It also has a unique visual style that synthesizes the sensibilities of a graphic novel and a feature film.
Based on the comic book, The Crow was about a man who rises from the grave on Halloween to avenge the murder of himself and his fiancé. It’s a bleak and violent picture and very much a product of the 1990s but it has aged well and The Crow remains one of the best comic book films. Several sequels were made, with diminishing returns upon each attempt.
Night of the Demons
1988’s Night of the Demons was about a group of teenagers who gather in an abandoned funeral parlor on Halloween and unwittingly unleash supernatural evil. It’s fun ’80s shlock with some impressive makeup effects. Two sequels followed. A remake of Night of the Demons was released in 2009. It’s not a great movie but neither was the original and as remakes from that period go it’s ahead of the curve. 2009’s Night of the Demons has a terrific soundtrack that makes a great addition to a Halloween playlist.
Of the films and television programs that are watched ritualistically every holiday season, the Peanuts specials hold a particular fondness for many people. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown first aired in 1966 and was broadcast every year until 2020 when AppleTV+ got exclusive rights to the Peanuts specials. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is a bit different from other animated Halloween specials such as Garfield’s Halloween Adventure or Toy Story of Terror in that it doesn’t attempt to be scary. It’s more about the childish joy of Halloween and that’s probably why It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is so beloved.
Many sitcoms have included a Halloween episode as part of their yearly schedule although this was more frequently the case in the era of twenty-two episode seasons. The Simpsons has been running annual Halloween specials since 1990. Referred to as “Treehouse of Horror,” each Simpsons Halloween episode usually consists of three segments, often parodying popular sci-fi and horror films.
Michael Myers and the Halloween Series
The movie series most obviously associated with All Hallows Eve is 1978’s Halloween. Irwin Yablans, who was a producer on several of the early Halloween films, has claimed that the popularity of the contemporary Halloween holiday is linked to these movies and Yablans is partially right about that. Halloween was a part of American culture for decades before the 1978 movie. But the transformation of Halloween into a multibillion dollar industry that’s now perhaps the second most widely and enthusiastically celebrated holiday on the American calendar does have something to do with that film series. It came along just before the moral panics of the 1980s, namely the satanic ritual abuse hoax and the urban legends of razor blades in candy, which nudged Halloween to become a more adult oriented holiday. This R-rated slasher film and its many sequels and remakes helped solidify the contemporary conception of Halloween.
The oddball entry of the Halloween series is the third film, subtitled Season of the Witch. While it was made by many of the creatives behind the first two pictures, it took the series in a radically different direction. Halloween III attempted to pivot the franchise away from the slasher genre and reimagine it as a series of scary films centered on the holiday. That didn’t work out and the Halloween series returned to its roots but in recent years the reputation of Season of the Witch has been rehabilitated and it has become quite popular.
Boys in the Trees
Boys in the Trees is an Australian film following teenagers on Halloween night in 1997. A pair of boys who were previously close reconnect and roam the city streets while reminiscing about the past, speculating about their future, and encountering supernatural phenomena. Not really a horror film, Boys in the Trees is a fantastical take on the “one crazy night in high school” story
Coco is not really a Halloween film. It’s an animated feature built around Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration which is its own holiday and distinct from Halloween. But the two holidays do overlap and as Mexican and American cultures diffuse, each holiday adds to the other.
Tales of Halloween
Tales of Halloween was a 2015 anthology film consisting of stories set on the holiday. The anthology is pulled together by a wraparound sequence with a radio announcer played by Adrienne Barbeau and the cast includes a lot of genre stars including Barry Bostwick, Barbara Crampton, Lin Shaye, and Caroline Williams. It’s a fun and occasionally audacious anthology.