Halloween might just be one of the best times of the entire calendar year — if not for the shared sense of creativity and mischievous energy, then for the movies and TV shows! There are tons of weird and wild movies to marathon while handing out sweets this year. The obvious choice would be for a horror movie marathon, but those typically come with a heavy dose of violence and gore that not everyone enjoys. Let’s say you’re looking for something more fun. In that case, it would be best to dust off an old spooky dark comedy or a creepy animated classic.
These are just a few films that, set around the holiday or not, fit the vibe of Halloween through their subject matter, style, and tone. Set out some candy corn and peanut butter cups: It’s time to look at some Halloween movies for those who don’t like horror.
There is never a bad time to watch the ’80s supernatural comedy "Ghostbusters." The film, helmed by Ivan Reitman and written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, is an all-time classic. We meet Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stanz (Aykroyd), and Egon Spengler (Ramis), a trio of recently unemployed parapsychology professors. After a close encounter with a legitimate specter, the three become paranormal investigators and eliminators known as the Ghostbusters. Meanwhile, Peter’s love interest, Dana (Sigourney Weaver), lives in an apartment building that turns out to be the ground zero of an impending cataclysm.
The legacy of "Ghostbusters" simply cannot be done justice in a short amount of time. Whether it be its immensely quotable dialogue to the unforgettable moments of comedy and legitimate horror, it hits every mark. Even today it’s impossible to not subconsciously quote lines from the movie when the moment calls for it ("Back off, man, I’m a scientist.") The film also unleashed a gang of memorably creepy creatures and specters on pop culture. There’s Slimer, a ghastly but comical tribute to John Belushi, the evil dog minions of Gozer, and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, the scariest dessert that ever lived. For its earnest silliness, top-tier performances, and unforgettable creature designs "Ghostbusters" is a perfect choice for the Halloween season. You can also enjoy a double feature with the all-female remake from 2016.
"Beetlejuice" is a quintessential Tim Burton film; it encapsulates all the best qualities of his work, perfectly balancing macabre and quirky with mind-bending visuals and memorably odd characters. We are introduced to a recently deceased married couple, Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam (Alec Baldwin), who are now ghosts haunting their home. When their house is sold to the repulsive Deetz family, who plan to gut-renovate it, Barbara and Adam are desperate to expel them. This leads to them recruiting the titular Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) to aid them in scaring off their pretentious new residents. Along for the ride is the Deetz’s daughter, Lydia (Winona Ryder), an eccentric girl with a penchant for the color black. The film oozes atmosphere, par for the course with Burton’s filmography, and keeps you completely immersed in its insanity until its surprisingly feel-good ending.
While the film is praiseworthy for its visuals and soundtrack alone, the main attraction is of course the zany Keaton as Beetlejuice. Often regarded as one of Keaton’s finest performances, there isn’t a single moment where he isn’t giving the role his all. From his unforgettable design to the quotable dialogue he spouts off, it’s no wonder he’s remembered so fondly. This is definitely a must-watch film for the spookiest season of the year.
What "The Witches" lacks in gore or explicit violence, it more than makes up for in rampant childhood trauma. Based on the eponymous children’s book by Roald Dahl, the film most definitely captures its entertaining yet undeniably disturbing tone. The plot concerns Luke and his grandmother Helga, who tells Luke about the secret existence of evil witches. After the death of Luke’s parents, he and Helga move to England for a fresh start. While spending a summer by the sea to aid Helga’s health, Luke discovers a sinister convention for witches. He discovers that the Grand High Witch (the incomparable Anjelica Huston) has concocted a scheme to transform all the world’s children into mice. After Luke is turned into a mouse himself, the race is on for him and Helga to stop the witches’ plans.
"The Witches" contains a healthy dose of nightmare fuel, most notably when a child is turned into a mouse. There is also the horrific makeup for the true form of the Grand High Witch. Despite the occasionally frightening visuals, the film is a charming adventure for kids and adults, possessing a mix of charm and creepiness that very few family films do anymore.
After moving to Salem, Massachusetts, teenager Max Dennison accidentally frees a trio of mischievous witches. Now, on Halloween night, Max, his friend Allison, and his little sister (a young Thora Birch) must steal the witches’ spellbook and thwart their plans. Very few films pack the nostalgic punch that "Hocus Pocus" does for millennials. The three witches, played with gusto by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy, are the main draw of the film. Whenever they’re on screen, it’s impossible to not be enthralled by their campy, over-the-top performances. The film was not a critical or financial hit upon its original release, but has since garnered a cult following.
The film’s legacy is so immense that a long-awaited follow-up is slated for a 2022 release on Disney+. Regardless of how the sequel turns out, we’ll always have the original for a healthy dose of fun on Halloween night.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
It’s rare to find a movie that’s appropriate for both Halloween and Christmas, but "The Nightmare Before Christmas" fits the bill. Few animated films have a following as rabid as "The Nightmare Before Christmas." Originally conceived as a poem by Tim Burton, he pushed for the idea to be adapted in some form. Disney eventually agreed to develop the film via Touchstone Pictures (it wasn’t directly involved as it considered the film "too dark and scary for kids").
In Halloween Town, Jack Skellington reigns as the Pumpkin King and is much adored by the town’s denizens. Despite his status, Jack has become bored of his yearly routine and is in desperate need of a change. This search for a change leads him to Christmas Town, where he is immediately enamored with and fascinated by the holiday. This obsession leads to the real Santa Claus being kidnapped and Jack hijacking Christmas, turning it into the titular nightmare. Where the film shines most is in its soundtrack by Danny Elfman and its unbelievable stop-motion animation. Every frame of the film oozes personality and perfectly represents the visual charms of both holidays.
Given the film’s legendary status, it’s unlikely many haven’t watched it, but if you haven’t, definitely do so.
Disney most definitely has the monopoly on nostalgic Halloween classics, both on the big and small screen (Cartoon Network’s "The Halloween Tree," narrated by Ray Bradbury and featuring the voice acting of Leonard Nimoy, is a notable exception). First broadcast in 1998, "Halloweentown" is still regarded as one of the Disney Channel’s finest. The Piper children have never been able to participate in Halloween thanks to their mother’s strict prohibition of the holiday. This changes, however, when the kids receive a Halloween visit from their grandmother, Aggie. Aggie is secretly a witch and wants to get Gwen’s oldest daughter, Marnie, started on her training in witchcraft. This coincides with a rash of disappearances in the fantastical realm of Halloweentown, which Aggie and the kids investigate. What results is a creepy, kooky, and charming adventure chock-full of memorable low-budget monster designs and cheesy humor.
The film is admittedly dated, but Debbie Reynolds still shines as Aggie, elevating the film through her presence. "Halloweentown" spawned countless sequels over the following years and is still regarded as a seasonal favorite.
Many writers understand the hidden darkness of childhood, but no one does it better than Neil Gaiman. Gaiman, writer of page and screen, has crafted some of literature’s finest and most imaginative works for children. Gaiman doesn’t believe in talking down to kids. This is most evident in his novel and subsequent animated adaptation, "Coraline."
Coraline Jones is tired of her life, her two overworked parents, and an unwanted move to a new home. Having recently relocated to the Pink Palace Apartments, Coraline is mostly bereft of company aside from the apartment’s quirky inhabitants. Things take a turn for the supernatural when she discovers a hidden door that transports her to a parallel world. She encounters her Other Mother and Family, a button-eyed doppelganger duo, who only seek to make Coraline’s dreams come true. However, the situation soon turns sinister as Coraline discovers this other world is not as it seems.
Henry Selick, best known for his previous hit "The Nightmare Before Christmas," also helmed this creepy claymation adaptation. The film, despite being for kids, boasts many legitimate animated frights. Much like its literary counterpart, it perfectly balances charm and whimsy with macabre darkness. If you want to show kids a challenging but still age-appropriate Halloween film, "Coraline" is a perfect choice.
Who would’ve thought that the zombie apocalypse could be so fun? "Zombieland" is a great example of a party movie: a movie to play at your Halloween party for a fun ambiance. The America we know is gone, and in its place has risen Zombieland, a nation where the undead have run amok. It’s here we meet Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), an anal-retentive nerd who has survived through his self-mandated rules. His trajectory changes when he encounters Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a grizzled, Twinkie-obsessed zombie slayer. The two then cross paths with Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin), sisters en route to a beloved amusement park.
The film revels in its own meat-headed absurdity, while also treating the concept of the undead with legitimate gravity. Along the way, there are comically absurd zombie kills, hilarious one-liners, and an epic celebrity cameo. Compared to other films of the genre, the violence is relatively mild, making it perfect for more general moviegoers. The film, simply put, is a lighthearted affair, aided by the actors’ shared chemistry and energy. You’ll come for the undead mayhem, but you’ll end up staying for the humor and characters.
A black-and-white stop-motion film about undead pets complete with offbeat humor and creepy visuals? Yup, it must be a Tim Burton film. "Frankenweenie" is based on his original live-action short from the ’80s, which infamously got Burton fired from Disney. Ironically, 28 years later, Disney and Burton reunited to reimagine the short as a full-length stop-motion feature. In the film, we meet a boy named Victor, an imaginative young man whose best friend is his dog Sparky. The pair are inseparable until a car accident tragically takes Sparky from Victor. Inspired by his quirky science teacher, Victor digs up Sparky and successfully reanimates him à la "Frankenstein." However, once Victor’s meddlesome classmates learn his secret methods, his town is soon overrun by undead pets.
"Frankenweenie" not only contains most of Burton’s signature visual hallmarks, but it is also a beautifully crafted homage to old horror movies. Many of Victor’s classmates are direct homages to horror classics like "The Mummy" and "The Bad Seed." Additionally, the lack of color gives the film a wonderfully vintage feel enhanced with slick modern animation techniques. "Frankenweenie" is another macabre, yet charming addition to your annual Halloween movie rotation.
Laika is responsible for many recent and inventive animated creations: "Coraline," "Kubo and the Two Strings," and "ParaNorman." Released in 2012, "ParaNorman" is a kid-friendly introduction to horror and the macabre. The film works best as a companion to "Coraline," only this time our protagonist is a young boy named Norman Babcock. Norman is the black sheep in his hometown and his own family due to his ability to speak to the dead. One day, however, Norman’s uncle gives him the duty of protecting his town from a witch’s curse. This results in the dead rising, the town descending into panic, and Norman needing to step up as the hero.
Laika is best known for the immense scale and memorable visuals of their films and "ParaNorman" is no exception. From memorable zombie designs to the intricate layout of the town to the incredible climax, the film is a feast for the eyes. It’s also a glorious tribute to the zombie genre. The opening sequence, for example, is a beautifully animated homage to ’70s-era grindhouse flicks. It also conveys a sincere message about the dangers of bullying, showing just what ill effects it can have.
If you were a child of the 1990s, then you were likely aware of the smash hit book series "Goosebumps.” Written by R.L. Stine, the series was a collection of children’s horror stories in various subgenres. Haunted masks, evil dummies, plant creatures, librarian bug men, sentient monster blood — the series had it all. The idea of a cinematic adaptation had been circulating since the ’90s, but didn’t reach fruition until 2015.
The film centers on Zachary (Dylan Minnette) who is suspicious of his new neighbor R.L. Stine (Jack Black). Zachary is also smitten with Stine’s daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush), which only adds to the awkwardness. After suspecting Stine of holding Hannah prisoner Zack and his friend Champ sneak into his home and accidentally unleash bedlam. By opening one of Stine’s "Goosebumps" manuscripts, they set off a domino effect that results in a monster army rampage. The film is loaded with references to various other "Goosebumps" titles, most notably series mascot Slappy the Evil Dummy. The film’s thrills and chills make it perfect for a family viewing after trick-or-treating.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
If you ever traveled the halls of your childhood library, there’s a good chance your eyeballs locked with one of the disturbing grayscale covers of "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark." The children’s series consisted of various disturbing and outlandish short horror stories paired with sickeningly sketched illustrations.
Considering the series’ rabid following and the growing nostalgia for old children’s franchises, a film adaptation was unavoidable. Development took a long time, at one point being aided by the likes of Guillermo del Toro. Finally, in 2019, the adaptation arrived courtesy of director and screenwriter André Øvredal, the man behind "The Autopsy of Jane Doe." We’re dropped into the story on Halloween Night 1968, when Stella, her two friends, and a mysterious drifter, Ramón, uncover a supernatural story notebook. By reading it, they accidentally unleash creatures and terrors ripped straight from the original three books. This includes real-life iterations of "The Big Toe" and "The Red Spot," mixed with creatures like Harold the murderous scarecrow. The PG-13–rated film relies more on its edgy atmosphere and creature designs than gore or excessive violence.
Despite various misfires and critically panned cinematic outings, Adam Sandler is still a beloved pop-culture presence. Films like "Funny People," "Punch-Drunk Love," and "Uncut Gems" have shown the man’s range as a performer and his legitimate verbal talent, but he’ll always be remembered for goofball comedies like "Happy Gilmore," "Billy Madison," and, most recently, "Hubie Halloween."
Quirky but devoted community volunteer Hubie Dubois is the butt of the joke in his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts. This changes one fateful Halloween night when Hubie becomes involved in an active murder investigation. Hubie takes it upon himself to solve the crime, rescue his town, and save All Hallow’s Eve. The film is an undoubtedly corny and sappy affair; whether you dig this film or not comes down to whether you like Sandler’s man-child routine. Even if it’s an act that has grown stale for you, there’s no denying that Sandler gives it his all. This proper piece of shlock is one worthy of a Halloween viewing.