Halloween is a peculiar holiday, centered around death and ghosts, yet it has evolved into a time for embracing all things cozy and autumnal. (As someone who grew up in a country where Halloween fell during the vibrant colors of spring, it seemed even more nonsensical.)
The night of Halloween has often been portrayed as a frightening setting in numerous horror movies – most notably in John Carpenter’s classic film Halloween, which captures a sense of eerie isolation amidst the seemingly mundane celebrations of American suburban neighborhoods. However, Halloween also frequently serves as a cheerful and romantic backdrop in movies, depicted with a cozy orange color palette.
Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me in St Louis is a renowned Halloween movie, known for its portrayal of a family through the four seasons. While it is often associated with Christmas, the scene of children dressing up and causing mischief around a Halloween bonfire is both beautiful and eerie. This depiction of a child’s fascination with the peculiar Halloween tradition is only rivaled by Steven Spielberg’s ET the Extra-Terrestrial. In this film, the familiar customs of disguises and trick-or-treating are merely a starting point for a thrilling and otherworldly adventure as a child and an alien, both in makeshift costumes, take flight.
In family-friendly movies, Halloween continues to evoke a sense of wonder, especially in the lavish and culturally Americanized Hogwarts Halloween feast in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Other examples include the day’s significance in Hocus Pocus for breaking witchy curses and Tim Curry’s memorable line “Anything can happen on Halloween” in the beloved but low-budget 80s TV adaptation of The Worst Witch (Internet Archive). One exception is the charming half-hour Peanuts cartoon It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Apple TV+), which explores the comedy and sadness of childhood dreams that don’t come true.
Adult Halloween events often have a touch of irony. In the heartfelt and personal film Beginners directed by Mike Mills, a trendy Halloween party sets the stage for a serendipitous meeting between Ewan McGregor’s grieving main character and Mélanie Laurent’s character, who is suffering from laryngitis. McGregor’s Sigmund Freud costume serves as a warning sign for his emotional baggage. The satirical side of Halloween costumes is cleverly explored in the influential teen comedy Mean Girls, where one character famously says, “Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” Lindsay Lohan’s character, a new student who doesn’t quite fit in, shows up dressed as a Gothic ghost bride and is unaware of the unspoken dress code.
However, Halloween has the potential to evoke fear and distress even outside of the horror genre. Mubi’s Mysterious Skin, a remarkable coming-of-age film by Gregg Araki, showcases one of the most unsettling Halloweens in cinema, as two teenage boys are influenced in different ways by the secretive and deceitful atmosphere of the night, ultimately reliving their own experiences of childhood sexual abuse. In Boys in the Trees, Australian director Nicholas Verso explores the strained friendship between two childhood friends as they navigate a tense Halloween evening filled with male aggression.
Throughout the entire month of October, Richard Kelly’s popular film Donnie Darko centers around Halloween as a day of judgment and tragic events, with its surreal and recurring visions ultimately stemming from a tattered bunny costume. In We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lynne Ramsay brilliantly portrays the street celebrations of trick-or-treating – accompanied by Buddy Holly’s upbeat song Everyday – as a cruel mockery of the nightmarish violence experienced by Tilda Swinton’s grieving mother of a deranged son. However, it is the surprisingly sharp and witty classic screwball film Arsenic and Old Lace (available on Internet Archive) – which takes place during a Halloween that disrupts a newlywed’s honeymoon plans due to the presence of two cheerful murderers in the family – that best balances the holiday’s potential for both lightheartedness and darkness.
Every title can be rented on various platforms unless otherwise stated.
What’s new to watch on streaming this week?
Ira Sachs has created a captivating and mature film about a love triangle, with Franz Rogowski delivering a dynamic performance as a bisexual filmmaker torn between his long-term partner, Ben Whishaw, and his new lover, Adèle Exarchopoulos, who is unexpectedly pregnant. The movie expertly navigates potential melodrama and instead focuses on contemporary relationship dynamics and the intense physical connection between its characters.
The 10th installment of this horror series, which will be available on streaming platforms on Monday just in time for Halloween, is one of its most energetic and imaginative. It excels at creating elaborately gruesome deaths. It heavily relies on established franchise history, making it primarily suitable for dedicated fans. However, at this stage, who else would be interested?
Talk to Me
The surprise success in the horror genre this year comes from a quick-paced and well-acted film from Australia. Despite having a premise that may seem cliché – a group of teenagers discover an object with supernatural abilities that allows them to communicate with the deceased – the movie manages to extract more tension and scares than anticipated. While the plot may become convoluted, it does not sacrifice the suspense and fear created throughout.
Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed
Stephen Kijak’s film about a well-known Hollywood actor who kept his personal life hidden provides a powerful and compassionate glimpse into Hudson’s struggles, but it doesn’t delve as deeply into his on-screen presence and talent as it could have.