13 Flicks for a Halloween-ish Movie Marathon

Happy Halloween! Hope your holiday is festive and cheerful (or creepy and scary, if that’s more your style). The tradition at my house is to enjoy the cool night air, listen to children scurry and giggle on the streets, curl up on the couch with popcorn and candy, and watch a movie. And since I’m not a big fan of zombies or give-you-nightmares type of movies, I steer towards not-too-spooky selections. So (if you’re a scary-movie-wimp like me), here are some suggestions for your family’s Halloween-ish Movie Marathon.

1. It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (1966). How can you get into the Halloween spirit without watching this?! It’s a definite classic for young and old. Linus is waiting for the Great Pumpkin while those around him trick or treat. Will he be rewarded for his vigilance or left out in the cold once? Starring the Peanuts gang – Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy and Snoopy.

2. Hocus Pocus (1993). “I’m gonna put a spell on you…!” A Halloween tale in the bewitching town of Salem, Massachusetts. Three sisters who happen to be witches return to Salem after 300 years to wreak havoc on the town that hanged them. Starring: Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker; Director: Kenny Ortega.

3. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Make sure to have some Reese’s Pieces candy on-hand for this Oscar-winning family-friendly classic. A group of aliens visit earth and one of them is lost and left behind, and then found by a 10 year old boy, Elliot. Soon the two begin to communicate and start a different kind of friendship. Starring: Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Drew Barrymore; Director: Steven Spielberg.

4. King Kong (1933). Classic thriller about a very large, monstrous ape running amok after being brought to New York City. Its groundbreaking effects and still-powerful, beauty-and-the-beast drama are considered required viewing for horror genre fans and cinema buffs alike. Starring: Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot. While you’re at it, watch the modern remake by Director Peter Jackson, King Kong (2005).

5. Edward Scissorhands (1990). This romance-fantasy movie directed by Tim Burton features an enchanting original film score by composer Danny Elfman. This is a Frankenstein meets Beauty and the Beast fairy tale about a man created by an inventor. But the inventor dies of a heart attack, leaving Edward unfinished with scissors for hands, living in solitude in a Gothic castle – until he’s discovered by an unsuspecting, friendly neighbor. It all starts with two words: “Avon calling!” Starring: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder and Dianne Wiest.

6. The Sixth Sense (1999). Academy Award-nominated psychological thriller written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan tells the story of Cole, a troubled, isolated boy who claims to be able to see and talk to the dead. The famed line “I see dead people.” Starring: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment and Toni Collette; Director: M. Night Shyamalan. For a good mind-bending thriller, watch some of Shyamalan‘s other films – including Signs (2002), The Village (2004), Lady in the Water (2006) and The Happening (2008).

7. Frankenstein (1931). Timeless tragedy about mad scientist creating murderous-yet-childlike creature. This founding example of the monster movie still fascinates horror fans and film history buffs with its still-chilling suspense and sterling performances. Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive; Director: James Whale.

8. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004). Break out the pumpkin juice! Wands at the ready! Any Harry Potter film could suit your Halloween holiday film fix – or perhaps a Potter marathon, starting with the first movie in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001). But if you just want to watch one, choose Prisoner of Azkaban because it features the Halloween feast in Hogwarts’ Great Hall.

9. Casper (1995). This comedy-fantasy film, starring Bill Pullman and Christina Ricci, is based on the “Casper the Friendly Ghost” animated cartoons and comic books. At the time of its release, the computer-generated graphics rendering of America’s favorite ghost were considered cutting-edge technology.

10. Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). This Walt Disney musical, starring Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson, combines live action and animation. The story is based on the books The Magic Bed Knob; or How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons (1943) and Bonfires and Broomsticks (1945) by Mary Norton.

11. Coraline (2009). This stop-motion fantasy film, based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman, taught us all to be careful what we wish for. Voiceover talent includes Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher. Now you can watch this spooky flick at home on Blu-Ray, DVD and even 3D.

12. Monsters, Inc. (2001). What’s not to love about this Pixar movie?! This animated film tells the previously-untold story about the monsters who’ve been scaring children for centuries, popping out of closets and roaring with all their might. Loveable voiceover talent includes John Goodman, Billy Crystal and Mary Gibbs (as Boo). Two words for you: “Mike Wazowski!”

13. Practical Magic (1998). Chocolate cake for breakfast, margaritas at midnight, and chanting spells in the kitchen – there are a lot of unconventional rituals in this house. Sally and Gillian, raised by their aunts, learn first-hand about the curse of Owens women. Based on the novel of the same name by Alice Hoffman. Starring: Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest.

Magic. Witches. Monsters. Aliens. Ghosts. Goblins. There’s something spooky for everyone. Want more thrilling movie recommendations? Check out my round-up of The Best of Alfred Hitchcock, Jim’s Halloween Movie Favorites from the 80s and 90s and Top Five Horror Movies.

What is your favorite Halloween-ish flick?

Meredith is Associate Creative Director at Half Price Books Corporate.
You can follow her on Twitter at @msquare21.

New Fiction Review: The Night Strangers

Get ready for a spooky ride with The Night Strangers, by Chris Bohjalian.

After Chip, a seasoned pilot, crashes a plane into Lake Champlain and loses the vast majority of his passengers to the water, he and his family move to an old Victorian mansion in New Hampshire’s mountains. Chip and his wife, Emily, have two twin daughters, Hallie and Garnet, who are ten years old. They all have a very bumpy start to their new lives. The mansion is very old and has several secret passages and locked doors. Chip is haunted by the plane crash and some of the passengers. Their neighbors appear to be nice in the beginning, but soon after Chip and Emily start to discover that the women are in a coven and are deeply involved in witchcraft. The ending has one giant twist that I never saw coming, which left goosebumps on my arms–  even after I laid the book down and covered it with a blanket so I didn’t have to look at it anymore. At first glance, the cover of the advanced reader copy is intriguing – two girls (obviously Hallie and Garnet) in a meadow. But after you’ve finished the book, you’ll never look at the cover the same way again. I have seen that the actual cover of the book is different, which is slightly disappointing to me.

This story is written from the point of view of several of the characters, including Chip, Emily, Garnet, Hallie, and a neighbor. Most of the story is written in third person, except for a sprinkling of Chip’s second-person point of view. Through this second person perspective, we are able to see inside Chip’s mind. The reader is walked through the plane crash and through Chip’s nightmares about what else could have gone wrong.

This novel had the potential to be cheesy, but Bohjalian did a great job of staying in the realm of creepy and eerie. I must confess that several times I was reading late into the night and decided to put the book down so I wouldn’t have nightmares. This book is definitely not for the faint of heart, or anyone who will be getting on a plane in the next few weeks. Bohjalian does such a fantastic job of describing the plane crash and the passengers’ drowning that it’s easy to imagine the experience for yourself. 

I think that Justin Cronin said it best in his review for Amazon: “It’s a psychological thriller. It’s a domestic drama, the story of a family coping with the aftermath of dislocation and disaster. It’s a book about a specifically American locale, in this case a small town in a remote corner of New Hampshire. It’s a classic New England ghost story, and a hell of a good one.”

So, if you’re looking for a fantastically spooky novel to leave you unsettled on Halloween night, pick up The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian.

What are some other awesome ghost stories you’d recommend?

— Kristen B.