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My Not So Scary Halloween Favourites

Monday, October 29, 2007

Mmm....Keanu Reeves...

I’m not a huge fan of the horror genre. Blood and guts, torture and mutilation aren’t my cup of tea – why do I want to see a bunch of teenagers get all hacked up beyond recognition? I get enough of that at home. This past weekend, Saw IV was the top money-maker at the North American box office. Which blows my mind, but there you go. Suffice to say, I haven’t seen any of the Saw movies, or the Ring cycles, or the Hostels, and when it comes to zombies, well, my favourite zombie movie is Shaun of the Dead, so that should pretty much tell you where I stand. Although I did like 28 Days Later, so go figure.

When it comes to Halloween, the movies that I like to watch are a tame lot compared to most. In fact, one of my favourite Halloween films is a comedy. Here they are, in no particular order:

Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)

Werner Herzog’s re-telling of F. W. Murnau’s 1922, expressionist film classic (which was based loosely on Stoker’s Dracula, because Murnau couldn’t obtain the rights) is a brilliant collection of shots. In typical Herzog fashion, the scope of the film feels epic – it’s grand and full of stunning visuals. The plot is basically the same as Dracula, but the construction is fragmented – dream like, dripping with dread. It’s as much an exercise about making a vampire movie, as it is a proper vampire movie. If you’re not hooked by the opening – a tomb of skulls, which, I believe is an actual crypt, shot simply with a handheld camera, monastic chanting hauntingly wafting in the background, then this might not be the film for you.
I'm so tired, I haven't slept a wink

Dracula (aka. Bram Stoker’s Dracula) (1992)

Francis Ford Coppola may have been well past his prime when he made this adaptation of the Bram Stoker classic, but for all its cheesiness, and bombast, this movie is a heck of a lot of fun. Okay, so Keanu may be a colossal example of bad casting, but Gary Oldman is great, looking eerily like John Lennon at times, and Mr. Burns at others, and Anthony Hopkins gets to be all crazy and shout and wave things around. There are also some stunning visual set-pieces, and a terrific gothic atmosphere.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) (minus the Mr. Toad bit)

Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a great tale, and Ichabod Crane is a fabulous character. Surprisingly, the Disney adaptation is pretty faithful to the source material. It’s a period of American history (round the turn of the 19th century) that isn’t depicted very often on film, or in animated form for that matter, and I think the atmosphere evoked by the Disney animators, and helped along by the smooth tones of Bing Crosby, is near perfect. It’s a short tale – just a half an hour, but worth every minute for the great climax – the headless horseman chasing Ichabod and his mule through a creepy forest.
Tim Burton tried to reinvent the Sleepy Hollow legend, but failed. His Sleepy Hollow was too ‘Burtonesque’, while Irving’s story depicts a place of beauty, and tranquility, with sun-dappled woods, and cozy hearths, but all the while there is something under the surface that isn’t quite right – a paradise that is almost too perfect. Irving’s story also has a fair amount of humour, something the Disney folks understood, and used to their advantage.

Young Frankenstein (1974)

“What knockers!”

What makes this the best Mel Brooks movie, ever, is how perfectly it captures the style, mood and atmosphere of James Whale’s original monster movies of the 1930s, Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein. While Blazing Saddles self-destructs in its final act, YF moves beyond simple parody, and becomes genuinely engaging, full of fabulous characters, and terrific one-liners. In the same way Shaun of the Dead parodies the genre but manages to suck you into the story, YF creates a story that you actually care about, and want to see resolved – a trait that most film parodies (ie. Scary Movie) fail to recognize. This film revels in its old-fashioned-ness, in its cheesy one-liners, and in Marty Feldman’s wild-eyed double takes. Timeless. The perfect background film for Halloween night.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Some people may want to watch this at Christmas, but I prefer it Halloween. Many people don’t realize that this wasn’t directed by Tim Burton, but was helmed by Henry Selick, who also did James and the Giant Peach. The animation is glorious, and the music, by Danny Elfman is superb. Though I’ve never quite understood why Patrick Stewart does the voice-over on the soundtrack, while someone else does it on the actual movie. I suspect this is something that only I would spend any brainpower thinking about.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah P permalink
    Monday, October 29, 2007 4:22 pm

    Re: The Whole Patrick Stewart Voice-Over Thing

    Burton orignially asked Stewart to narrate, but later decided he didn’t like it. But Elfman did, so he kept it for the soundtrack release.

  2. Monday, October 29, 2007 4:24 pm

    Ah, mystery solved. At last!

  3. Monday, October 29, 2007 6:58 pm

    What the hell else are you gonna do with teenagers but chop them up?

    And I’ve got a bit of a response to your opinions on gorefests coming up, probably tomorrow.

  4. James17930 permalink
    Monday, October 29, 2007 10:11 pm

    My favourite Hallowe’en movie is . . . Hallowe’en. It’s just the right amount of scare for me without being needlessly grotesque.

  5. Monday, October 29, 2007 10:46 pm

    Grotesque is never “needless.” And I don’t believe they’ve ever used the apostrophe in the title of that movie.

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