Happy Halloween everyone!
This year in my quest to give October 31st the due it deserves, I decided to self-educate by watching some Halloween cult-classics I had never seen before in the lead up to the day.
One issue is this - I AM A WUSS. Therefore the following list probably isn’t for you hardcore horror/slasher enthusiasts out there. If however, you missed out on a few cultural moments, want to expand your movie trivia or simply feel like engaging with a little more spooky on your screen this time of year, this list may be for you.
So after 10 days here is my recap to potentially assist with your streaming choices next Hallow’s Eve (or anytime of year really).
The Crow (1994)
It’s Day 1! The cult classic countdown begins. And what better way to begin than with a gritty superhero fantasy noir that has been on my to-watch list forever.
The best way for me to describe The Crow is a 90’s goth action-drama on steroids. Based on a comic book, The Crow is about Eric Draven and Shelly Webster, a couple who are brutally murdered by thugs on Devil’s Night (October 30th). One year later, Eric is resurrected by a crow to avenge the murderers who beat and tortured his fiancé.
It is very camp but a lot of fun. The mood lighting is EXTREME. There is a lot of dramatic crying and throwing oneself at the floor. There is also a little skater girl roaming these streets who I am very concerned for. Seriously where is the school? Where is the sun?! This city (I later discovered is set in Detroit) is set up like a combination of Gotham and the messed-up Hill Valley from “Back To The Future 2”. The main villain looks like a cheap non-Italian version of the Twilight series’ Aro from the Volturi. There is a lot of grunge rock happening. Also did I mention explosions, explosions everywhere?
The Crow is a hardcore genre film but the visual style is sleek and highly stylised, with some truly stunning shots. The characters are all quite caricatured but that’s the point. Also, Eric has some epic one-liners (‘they’re all dead they just don’t know it yet’ - don’t ask me how but I will be incorporating this sentence into my future conversations).
I can’t discuss this film without mentioning Brandon Lee’s tragic death on set. At times I found this deeply difficult to watch knowing what occurred. There is a sadness from reality that permeates the film. *
Lee’s performance in this role is nothing short of stellar, and he really commits to creating the beloved and iconic figure of The Crow that many recognise today. He carries the costume, the make-up and dialogue with an admirable sense of confidence. And for a character with so many demons, there is an understated playfulness Lee maintains throughout that shines particularly in scenes where he confronts the killers.
All in all, The Crow deserves its moniker as a cult-classic and is a perfect viewing experience for Devil’s Night (or Halloween).
Image Source: IMDB
Overall Rating: 7/10
Most random moment: There is violence committed by an ACTUAL crow and as someone who fears birds I was NOT PREPARED
Movie MVP: Hot dog stand man. Also, the truly iconic 90’s club scenes, - Goth culture, what a time. Runner-up is Gabriel the cat (on that note, a man who loves his cat is a man I can respect).
*Just a content warning for gun violence in this film, as it may be triggering for some viewers. Given the recent tragedy involving cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on set of ‘Rust’, there has been a resurgence of discussion on ‘The Crow’ in mainstream media.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
Witches and Disney. A magical combination, no? I’m really intrigued to see whether this one will hold up for a first-time viewer with a lack of nostalgia to flatten the flaws. It’s directed by Kenny Ortega who blessed us with the High School Musicaltrilogy so I have faith in this. Despite initial mixed reviews, Hocus Pocus has become one of Disney’s staple films for Halloween with numerous cinema viewings and television re-runs showcasing it each October. The story follows Max, a teenager recently moved to Salem, as he accidentally resurrects the infamous Sanderson sisters Winifred, Mary and Sarah 300 years after their execution. Max, his friend Allison and sister Dani must stop the witches as they seek revenge on Halloween night.
I’ll just say it. I didn’t love this movie. I enjoyed certain elements of it but overall, it just didn’t captivate me. That being said, I know if I had seen it at age 9 and not 24 I probably would have had a different view - and a whole generation of people must feel more favourably, as a sequel is currently underway and due to be released on Disney Plus in 2022.
The highlight of Hocus Pocus is the witches. Bette Middler (need I say more), Kathy Najimy and (a pre-Carrie Bradshaw!) Sarah Jessica Parker are fabulously cast as the quibbling, diabolical Sanderson sisters. They carried this movie (yes, I went there). In fact, perhaps this is the film’s self-inflicted downfall - the sisters make such a fantastic comedic trio that as a result we care for them more than the actual protagonists. In fact, the only protagonist I cared for was side-character Thackery Binx, the boy-turned-immortal talking black cat cursed by the witches back in 1693. There are definitely great moments, and Bette Middler in particular is sublime - her cover of ‘I Put a Spell On You’ is the best sequence of the entire film and has become justifiably iconic.
To Hocus Pocus lovers but in particular to my goddess SJP, I’m so sorry but I’ll be giving this a miss next year.
Image source: Digital Spy
Overall rating: 5/10
Most random moment: Caricature on-screen bullies and their need to always steal other kid’s shoes? I don’t get it.
Movie MVP: Billy Butcherson, Winnie’s ex (played by the legendary Doug Jones, no less! Google him).
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
I’m taking it old school. 40 years old to be precise. Director John Landis created one of the most recognisable Halloween moments in pop culture history with Michael Jackson’s Thriller. A collaboration which was born after MJ saw and loved, you guessed it, An American Werewolf in London’. Ever since learning this information, I have been curious to see what inspired one of the most recognisable music videos of all time - so here we go!
An American Werewolf in London (AAWIL) begins with American tourists Jack and David being attacked by a werewolf in Northern England, which none of the locals will admit exist. As you can imagine, havoc ensues. There are a lot of bizarre occurrences and not everything about this film holds up. However, we all know that we are here for 2 main reasons - thatunderground scene (you’ll see what I mean) and the notorious transformation scene. Both are just as effective on audiences today. Even 40 years later, seeing that man turn into a goddamn werewolf is a sight to be seen. Sure, modern effects would be more seamless, but the use of prosthetics in AAWIL are so grisly - there is no reprieve from the grotesque that as a viewer it’s difficult to look away.
Image Source: Ancillary Review of Books
Landis thus cements himself in the top-tier for werewolf films, even inspiring a lacklustre sequel An American Werewolf in Paris(honestly why bother). There’s a lot to like about this film: a simple, outlandish premise, a lead who could pass as Al Pacino and RDJ’s love child, great action scenes and predominantly, monstrous prosthetics that elevate the story. I just have one bone to pick, WHAT was that ending??? Abrupt doesn’t even begin to cover it - I was stuck staring at the screen with my jaw hanging open.
Overall rating: 7.5/10
Most random moment: This movie had a LOT of random moments. Also normally I would appreciate the pun-filled ‘full moon’ centric playlist - however an awkward sex scene set to Van Morrison just ain’t it.
Movie MVP: PUNKS ON THE TUBE!!! Also Jack showing up in numerous forms of decomposition - that’s a loyal friend. His first scene with David in the London hospital was surprisingly touching, with great acting at play (props Griffin Dunne).
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
It is Day 4 and Tim Burton, the undisputed King of Halloween, has finally entered the chat. Although I’ve seen most of his classics numerous times, two of his Halloween-centric films that have escaped me so far will feature on this list. First up is Sleepy Hollow. This gothic fantasy horror based on the famous short story by Washington Irving has largely passed under the radar, despite being helmed by Johnny Depp (long time Burton creative collaborator) and Christina Ricci (Wednesday Addams and overall spooky queen herself).
Set at the turn of the 19th century, Depp plays protagonist Ichabod Crane, a scientifically minded New York police detective who is sent upstate to Sleepy Hollow. There he is to investigate the decapitations of three people, which the locals insist were committed by the legendary Headless Horseman.
Recently, Sleepy Hollow has been gaining a resurgence of hype online and I can see why. The talent in front and behind the camera together produce a story that is exquisite and unwavering in tone, aesthetically shot with a masterful manipulation of colour, but most of all - is genuinely entertaining. Even as a fan of the gothic style, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. There is a blending of genres at play - the overarching horror and violence, a Sherlock Holmes-esque leading man and murder mystery, gothic romance and an antagonist who would honestly fit alongside action villains like the Terminator (seriously, the Headless Horseman loves a dramatic entrance). It’s not Burton’s best film, but deserves a second look as a solid and well-crafted entry within his repertoire.
Image source: Mubi
Overall rating: 8/10 - my favourite entry so far!
Most random moment: There is a LOT of fainting in this film - I swear Johnny Depp alone passes out about 4 times (relatable)
Movie MVP: Young Masbath wins this title by a country mile, that kid has more courage than the rest of the Sleepy Hollow township put together.
Practical Magic (1998)
Day 5. I have started off pretty easy on myself and I’ll admit this is the easiest watch (in Halloween terms) so far.
Directed by Griffin Dunne and based on the bestselling book by Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic centres on the Owens’ sisters, witches who attempt to navigate life and love within the restraints of their ancient family curse. Unwittingly set by their ancestor Maria Owens, the curse deems that any man who loves an Owens woman will be sent to an early grave. The protagonists, Sally and Gillian Owens (Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) are sent as children to live with their Aunts Frances and Bridget following the death of their parents. As adults, Sally is resentful and dismissive of her magical gifts, and Gilly is a free-spirited renegade, travelling around the country. An ‘incident’ involving Gilly’s boyfriend Jimmy Angelov brings the women back together and forces them to reckon with their current outlook on their lives, family and their powers.
Despite being critically panned at the time of release, Practical Magic has also seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years. The film concocts a fairly seamless story using the boldest of genres - it is both light and dark in content and tone. For all the light-hearted discussion of true love and the bond of family through comedy, there are displays of domestic abuse, isolation, and emotional exhaustion. Modern audiences are no longer seeking this film out for its romantic comedy tropes, but to connect with the more prominent themes explored in the film dismissed at the time of its release - grief, sisterhood and vulnerability. It is through the consideration of these ideals that the film finds its greatest strength and grants both its characters and audience a sense of catharsis.
Image Source: Literary Hub
Overall rating: 6.5/10
Most random moment: An entire town hating on witches in the 90’s - honestly wyd? Harness that power for the good of your community ya bloody morons!
Movie MVP: I mean, it has to be the Aunts. Or more specifically their outfits. And their glorious kitchen. And garden. I also must appreciate the constant black cat running around the house (as a fellow black cat owner, I plead my case for witch powers please).
Special mention must be granted to Sandra Bullock’s recurring self-stirring coffee spoon.
Make sure to keep an eye out for PART TWO of our Halloween Countdown dropping Monday!