five not-too-scary films to watch this halloween

by rowena grant-frost

If you aren't from Australia, please take a seat, and let me tell you a story:

Halloween has never really been a thing here. Not even a tiny bit of a thing. We have always been aware of Halloween as a peculiar tradition in other places, much like competitive wife carrying (thanks, Finland), but it has never been something that we have bothered with ourselves. This has all changed in, maybe, the past five years or so, with a slow creep of Halloween-related sweeties and costumes into supermarkets and shopping centres. Some people have embraced this enthusiastically, as if they have been waiting for this moment their entire lives; while other people have rejected it outright, muttering things like, "HALLOWEEN IS AMERICAN!" even though it has its origins in centuries-old Celtic and European traditions, and Americans are pretty cool.

If you are from Australia (hello!), here is my story for you:

Halloween is upon us, whether you like it or not.

I'm somewhere in the middle: I will enthusiastically dress up, I will eat all the sweeties, I will worship the mighty pumpkin, but if you knock on my door and yell, "Trick or treat!" I will grouchily tell you to go away. These are MY sweeties. Go get your own. Trick or treating is American. Get off my lawn.

As you can tell, I'm a very fun person to be around.

Part of the reason why I like Halloween as well is because it provides me with an excellent reason to watch a scary movie or two. Not that you ever really need an excuse to watch a scary movie or two, if you feel like it, but having a solid reason always makes the whole experience a bit... juicier, scarier, sillier and lots more fun.

If you don't like scary movies, though, (and that's OK, you don't have to like everything), or if you don't feel like watching anything too scary, too violent, or too horrible, generally, then there's also some nicer Halloween-type movies you can watch. Here is a list with some of the best:

halloween-films

Young Frankenstein

The first time I ever saw Mel Brooks' best movie (take that, Blazing Saddles and The Producers!), I didn't properly appreciate just how clever it is, and how much love it has for the Universal horror movies it's parodying. That's because Young Frankenstein is so wonderfully, gloriously, spectacularly silly – and so funny and entertaining to boot – that these details were easy for me to miss. I was too busy laughing like an idiot.

But this is also one of the very best things about Young Frankenstein – it's the type of film that gets a little bit better every time you watch it, even though the jokes get a little bit older and the characters and plot become more than just a little bit familiar. Even when the jokes wear thin and you know the story off by heart, you're still left with a sincere and affectionate love letter to some of the most iconic and innovative horror movies ever made.



Little Shop of Horrors

There are few musicals that are quite as strange, quite as dark, quite as off-the-wall as Little Shop of Horrors. Over the course of its 94 minutes, it features murder, dismemberment, a sadistic dentist, entrenched poverty, domestic violence and a "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" – Audrey II, a plant that eats people. And that's not even half of it!

It has catchy songs! And doo-wop girls! It's also very funny, especially in its most raucous celebration of being very cruel: Steve Martin's amazing all-singing, all-dancing number called "Dentist!" As Orin Scrivello, Martin is so good – so charming, so funny, so fluent in every move – that it's very easy to forget that the song is actually about how being a psychopath is the key to his success. In this way – in the way Orin glosses over the meaning of what he is actually saying by keeping us amused and entertained – his white-coated dance as smiling evil is basically as Halloween as it gets.



Drag Me to Hell

The trailer for Drag Me to Hell doesn't do it justice – I can't think of another film from the past 10 years that's been a better combination of super duper fun and just the right amount of scary. When I went to see it at the movies, someone actually involuntarily yelled out, "OH NO, BEHIND YOU!" during a particularly tense moment and the whole cinema dissolved into giggles. IT WAS SO AMAZING.

The movie is your basic post-GFC, revenge-type plot: a gypsy woman, Mrs Ganush (Lorna Raver), curses a bank worker, Christine (Alison Lohman), who won't give her an extension on her mortgage. The curse takes the form of a scary demon called a Lamia, who follows Christine around, while she has to try and figure out how to get rid of it. Vanquishing curses is never easy, but at least director Sam Raimi makes it look like a whole lot of fun. Talking goats! Séances! A showdown in a cemetery! I can't recommend this enough.



Gremlins

First of all, let me just admit this: Gremlins is a Christmas movie. It's full of red and green lights and snow. It even has a clip from It's a Wonderful Life, and echoes its small-town, down-home Americana. But this is also where Gremlins becomes a Halloween movie.

In the movie, Billy (Zach Galligan) is given a strange Christmas gift: a sweet little creature called a Mogwai. It comes with three rules and, of course, Billy breaks them all and unleashes a darkly comic nightmare that violently upends every storybook corner of the town. The movie's best twisting of Christmas cheer with Halloween nightmare is a story Billy's love-interest Kate (Phoebe Cates) tells about Santa coming down the chimney, which has a permanently scarring and darkly comic end. It's the stuff of nightmares, or, you know, Halloween night.



Ghostbusters

Here are the basic things you need to about Ghostbusters: 1. Bill Murray is the best thing about it; 2. Sigourney Weaver – who is lusted after by a pre-Little Shop of Horrors Rick Moranis – becomes possessed by a demon called Zuul, which makes her aggressively sexual; 3. Towards the end, the main antagonist, a spirit called Gozer, takes the form of a giant marshmallow man dressed like a sailor and tries to destroy New York City. THE END.

Ghostbusters' journey into the supernatural is basically an excuse for an never-ending stream of 1980s-style special effects: miniatures, life-size models, composited photography and hand-drawn cel animation, with plenty of old-fashioned gags involving stuff flying around on wires, and smeared-on goo. These effects still have their charms and look pretty darn amazing, but 30 years later they don't hold up anywhere near as well as the timeless wisecracking of Bill Murray and his band of merry ghost hunters. Being an unemployed academic never looked so much fun.




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