There are lots of great Halloween movies out there, but this year, there’s only one at our house: “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” the 1993 stop motion animation classic from Tim Burton and Henry Selick. With a toddler’s passionate fidelity to a single film, our 3-year-old son has, mercifully, bestowed his devotion upon the head of Jack, the Pumpkin King, and in my approximately 25 viewings of this film in the last 10 days, I have been possibly brainwashed into crowning this the best Halloween movie, beating out my former favorite, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”
Some people consider this a Christmas movie, which is defensible but technically inaccurate. I realize that the title focuses on Christmas, but the tone focuses on Halloween. True, one of the film’s most memorable scenes concerns the lanky Jack Skellington wheeling around Christmas Town, singing, “What’s this?” (Enjoy singing this song in your head for the rest of the day,) but, just as he ultimately decides that Halloween is his true calling, so is it the season for this movie.
This is also true of Burton himself, who embodies my favorite flavor of Halloween: whimsical goth. In fact, all of the best non-horror Halloween movies are from Tim Burton, which proves he should stick to his roots and avoid candy factories and planets of apes. He gave us “Beetlejuice” and “Sleepy Hollow,” which is a perfectly lovely version of the ultimate cozy Halloween tale, making marvelous use of Johnny Depp’s cheekbones, a beautifully subdued color palette, and a whole lot of fog.
He made the magnificent “The Corpse Bride” and of course the recent, splendid, “Frankenweenie,” with its clever tributes to black and white horror films and Vincent Price. Even his fairly crappy “Dark Shadows” is serviceable to the theme, and the gory musical “Sweeney Todd” will do in a pinch.
But if you want to watch a great Halloween musical, obviously “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is the film to watch. You get to dress up to watch it year long, it’s sexy and freaky and participatory and it’s Tim Curry’s second best Halloween movie (the first is “The Worst Witch” obviously). It’s playing (“Rocky Horror,” not “Worst Witch”) Oct. 30 through Nov. 1 at the Crescent Theater, and it would be crazy not to go see it.
I guess I don’t watch a lot of horror films, primarily because I’m what doctors refer to as a scaredy-cat. This is why my Halloween favorites tend towards the PG-13. But I’ve seen a few, so I can attest that it is an indisputable fact that “The Exorcist” is the scariest movie you can watch. Or at least, it’s the scariest movie I can watch.
It boasts, not bloody, gory, jump out and say “Boo!” kinds of moments, but freaky, skin crawling moments of dread, which is why the beginning of the film is more terrifying than the pea-soup spewing climax. The movies that I find most frightening recreate our own real fears in an uncanny way, often in dreams, like when the young priest keeps dreaming of his dead mother.
David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” however, hit me the hardest in this way. You might remember it for the, um, lady-time “sensuality” but it is also absolutely horrifying in a deep, dark way. There’s such a dark undercurrent in its sunny California setting, and it gradually goes from weird to scary in many scenes. What about when Betty finds the decaying bodies in that apartment? Or those little tiny old people come running out?
But the scariest moment, in this or any film, is when those two guys are eating in the diner, and one describes a nightmare, and then exactly what he describes starts to take place, just a seemingly normal conversation between two guys. Then the one guy goes to pay, and turns around, just like he did in the other guys’ dream. This captures a moment of dread I have had in a recurring dream myself, right before something unspeakably terrifying happens, so exactly, that when I first watched “Mulholland Drive” my hair absolutely stood on end and I’m pretty sure I cried, and I’m scaring the crap out of myself just writing this. I have to go watch “The Nightmare Before Christmas” now so the hair on my arms will go back down.