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Our essential Spooky Not Scary Halloween movies

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

A collage of Spooky Not Scary Halloween Movies

On Oct. 1 we opened the Halloween box. Inside it were two fuzzy blankets for the couch – one with spider webs and another with jack-o-lanterns – a few decorative pumpkins, ten black cat, mummy, or ghost coffee mugs, and a stack of Halloween DVDs. The kids have been angling for me to open this box for the past two weeks, but I have insisted we wait until Oct. 1 like we always do. I will not be holiday pushed by Target and I won’t be holiday pushed by my children.

I love Halloween movies and definitely had a youthful obsession with horror movies. What is interesting about Halloween movies is so little of the attraction to a story, character, or series has to do with the quality of the films. More about who you are with when you watched them, how surprised you were when the twists happened, or if you can bother to get past the willing suspension of disbelief.

We would pile down at someone’s house or dorm room and watch a stack of them – The Exorcist, Friday the 13th, Night Breed, Nightmare on Elm Street, Witchboard, The Craft, Halloween, – we would dim the lights and talk all the way through them.

Currently, my annual Halloween movies are of the spooky not scary variety. My kids don’t enjoy really scary things. I question this every year when they refuse to watch the most tame of scary films like Poltergeist, Gremlins, or Paranorman. Nope. Not into it. But they have posters on their wall for a video game franchise called Five Nights At Freddie’s with the most disturbing decaying and possessed animatronics. They can go to sleep every night with that scene staring them down, but somehow anything else is too terrifying.

To be fair, this saves me from sitting through yet another iteration of The Exorcist or seeing Pennywise puppets all over my house.

Beyond my nostalgic feelings toward Freddy Kruger movies, I usually like ghost stories or haunted house stories. Stories like The Haunting of Hill House, The Others, or The Shining.

First, I feel the need to state an unpopular opinion. Hocus Pocus is not my favorite Halloween movie. I know, as a middle-aged woman who also loves every actress in the movie, you would think it would be top of my list. I like it. I liked the sequel, especially seeing Hannah Waddingham as the Witch Mother who gave the book to Winnie. I would never begrudge anyone for loving it, but I felt like I needed to get that out of the way. This way, if this statement is too egregious, you’d hopefully react to it early and read on. If this is the end of our friendship, I guess I’ll have to accept that as well.

Here is our house’s list of essential Spooky not Scary Halloween viewing:

Beetlejuice – I absolutely watch this movie every year. I watch it for three reasons. First – because Winona Ryder’s super-goth look was an inspiration to many 90s girls, but also because when asked if she’d like a photographer’s dark room in their new haunted home, she tells her father, “My whole life is a dark room. One. Big. Dark. Room”. The angst is palpable. Second – Everything Catherine O’Hara says and does in this movie is perfect. The calypso dance scene gets most of the cred, but I think she has the best lines. Often I will quote to Hubs, “If you don’t let me gut this house and make it my own, I will go insane and take you with me.” And third, Michael Keaton. After completing a spectacular haunting stunt, he leaps into the scene in the classic striped suit and proclaims, “That’s why I won’t do two shows a night anymore. I won’t. I won’t do it.” It’s exactly how I feel after teaching three classes in a row on Mondays.

Toy Story of Terror – It’s a fantastic tribute to classic horror movie conventions mixed with Toy Story's new cast. Creepy motels, slimy monsters, personal phobias, and so much more. It’s short and it’s perfect to watch with kids. This is one everyone in the house can agree to watch.

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown – We save this one for Halloween night. It’s a classic for a reason, whether it’s seeing Lucy slice through a pumpkin for carving only to have Linus cry, “I didn’t know you were going to kill it!” or to again see Charlie Brown get serves rocks instead of candy. We purchased it on DVD because the sub-services have a tendency to move it around where either it’s impossible to locate or not accessible. I think right now it’s on Apple TV.

Stranger Things - I’ll start it around mid-October and watch season one again. Behr gave up on this series early on, not because he was scared but because he was so sad for the kids when Will was in the quarry. It didn’t help that Peter Gabriel’s version of “Heroes” is playing over everyone’s strong feelings in that scene. He excused himself to the bathroom and never returned. Luckily W. will watch it with me.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show – The Tim Curry one. I want to be clear about that because I have watched the other versions and nothing else is even close. It’s Tim Curry or it’s nothing. Usually, I’m not watching it completely alone. I always text Slone if it’s on and she’ll watch it with me, even at a great distance.

I would also point out that my kids make me watch The Haunted Mansion with Eddie Murphey. While it’s not great, I feel like Eddie Murphey is bringing an old Screwball comedy take to the role, in the vein of Cary Grant. We are looking forward to adding the new release to our rotation soon. We also love the Muppet Haunted Mansion Special on Disney+.

I will be fielding comments about why Hocus Pocus is not on my list, and any others I may have overlooked in the comments below.

Read Books. Wear Boots.




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