The scents of the season are definitely all around us: nutmeg and cinnamon, steaming apple cider, and pumpkin guts spilled over newspaper. As corny as it may sound, I feel most alive during this cycle in the calendar, and I regret that I was born in the springtime. Yuck. I always manage to develop a nasty cold during the summer months, too, which must mean that I’m simply allergic to sunshine and hot weather. Celebrating the transition from beaches and skimpy clothes to hot drinks and chunky scarves is just so much fun. Bring on the short days, hearty foods, and heavy clothes.
Why didn’t the skeleton cross the road? Because he didn’t have the guts!!! Why did the skeleton stop for BBQ? Because he needed some spare ribs!!!
It’s my favorite time of year again–and the first day of Fall, so I wanted to post about all things Halloween. These are the days we happily put another blanket on the bed, make a steaming cup of earl grey tea (also perfect when there’s snow on the ground), and take long walks in the crisp leaves. Admittedly, Autumn is the only time of year when I’m perfectly happy to be outside, enjoying the colors and the cool air that Fall always brings. Otherwise, I’d rather be inside with a book or a fun movie, along with some festive foods.
I’d like to try my hand at making an apple tart this year, but I doubt it will turn out as beautiful as this one. This simple recipe from The Comfort of Cooking only calls for puffy pastry, salted butter, granulated sugar, and some apples–they recommend Golden Delicious. Besides indulging in sweets and hearty desserts, cooler weather seems to encourage reading; this time of year makes us want to hibernate, so you’ll need a warm blankie and something fun to read!
I’m still trying to finish some Summer reading before I begin my favorite Autumn reading. I’ve read almost everything Ray Bradbury has written (he was a prolific writer, so there’s lots to tackle!), but some required cold-weather reads from him are Something Wicked This Way Comes, From the Dust Returned (my favorite novel from him), The Halloween Tree, and The October Country (a fantastic collection of short stories). Bradbury shared the same affinity for Halloween and Fall rituals, and I think about him the most during this time of year. I also plan on reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
For those days when you’d rather stay curled up in bed, I’ve put together a brief list of my all-time favorite Halloween movies. I feel like the best ones are those that are G-rated, not necessarily because they’re family- or kid-friendly, but because these films can sort of remind us of our own Halloween memories: trick-or-treating, decorating the house or the classroom, the warm aroma of pumpkin pie baking in the kitchen, or the warm glow of a harvest candle. Sentimental, I know, but this stuff makes me happy.
Hocus Pocus: An obvious favorite for all of us. There was a rumor that HP 2 was in the works, but it turns out that’s untrue. Sad face. This movie was actually filmed in Salem. I’ve visited Salem a lot, and I highly recommend it to any other Halloween nuts out there. During one visit, my mother took a photo of the house where “the devil” lives when the Sanderson sisters find themselves trick-or-treating, and her camera mysteriously broke. Weird.
Practical Magic: an essential for any Sandra Bullock or Nicole Kidman fan–I’m an adoring fan of both beautiful, talented ladies. Stockard Channing, Dianne Wiest, and Aidan Quinn are also in this movie, so you know it has to be good. Another Halloween film that takes place in Massachusetts, one of my favorite places. The witches live in a breathtaking house next to the ocean. Unlike some campier Halloween movies, this one is very much grounded in the film’s romantic subplots and seascape imagery.
Halloweentown: Yes, an oldie from the wonderful Disney Channel. I watched these silly movies as a teenager when they premiered on Disney, and I’m an even bigger fan of them now. Debbie Reynolds is in all four films, so there’s that going for the series that features some pretty horrid costumes and special effects.
Halloweentown 2: Kalabar’s Revenge: Kalabar, fueled by the bitterness of unrequited love, attempts to take over Halloweentown and all of its inhabitants.
Halloweentown High: Maybe my favorite of the bunch, Marney uses the portal to bring kids from Halloweentown into the human world so pixies, trolls, and the like can go to high school and mingle with humans. However, they’re instructed to blend in, which seems to contradict Marney’s goal of celebrating diversity and “reuniting the worlds.”
Return to Halloweentown: Sara Paxton takes over the role of Marney (where’d you go, Kimberly J. Brown?) and ventures off to college in Halloweentown at Witch University…very clever! She’s frustrated to learn that she’s not allowed to use her magic at Witch U, and those who seem to be her biggest allies are actually bent on destroying the young, naive witch.
I say four Halloweentown movies just isn’t enough. Keep going, Disney; I need to see more of those low-quality costumes and Debbie Reynolds dressed as a wise witch.
Ernest Scared Stupid: A childhood favorite, I can’t get enough of this movie. I have some very fond memories of going to the local video store when I was little and picking out my favorite movies on VHS, and Ernest movies were among my favorite, especially this one since it’s Halloween-themed. As a kid, the troll did scare me–pretty gnarly makeup and costuming for 1991.
Ernest is the village idiot we’re all rooting for. His skepticism of the Whorl Curse wakes the evil troll from his long slumber, and in typical troll fashion, captures the neighborhood children and turns them into little wooden dolls. After Kenny discovers that milk kills the trolls, Ernest destroys Trantor with love. After all, Ernest’s best quality is his willingness to befriend everyone he meets and to offer his help, even if he’s not completely competent.
Because Ernest is still very much a child himself, we overlook the obvious creepiness of a grown man taking a group of children deep into the woods to build a treehouse. Kenny’s mom hints at this darker aspect of the kooky film when she tells her son that he has “no business” spending time with Ernest. When I was a kid, I simply assumed the neighborhood parents didn’t want their children hanging around with someone so intellectually lagging, since they could get hurt or in some other type of trouble under his watch. Definitely a fun, family movie for the occasion; I even made a horror trailer for it!
I’d love to commit to Gremlins as a solid entry to this list, but isn’t it more of a Christmas movie? I mean, the juxtaposition of holiday merrymaking and the comical horror the queer little green creatures bring to the small town is what makes this film work. Not necessarily the bloodbath of Black Christmas, Gremlins can be fun for kid viewers. Another childhood favorite, I recall being amused and mildly horrified by the gremlins’ antics: perhaps a very minor precursor to my adult fascination with movies and how we watch them. I recently saw Gremlins amongst the Halloween movies at Target, so yes, let’s call it that: a Halloween movie.
Watching Halloween movies is one of the best indoor ways of celebrating the season and a holiday with such a rich history that translates to some really fun contemporary rituals, such as bobbing for apples or simply baking something that calls for pumpkin and cinnamon as key ingredients. Scary–or not-so-scary–Halloween movies allow us that thrill of being afraid on the spookiest night of the year, with the full knowledge that there’s really nothing to fear. For many of us, our lives are so comfortable that we actually find it fun to be scared, especially when the source of that fear is something illogical or non-human. For example, my mother lives in fear of sharks and serial killers, and the literature she pores over helps to fuel these fears. Watching Jaws or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not recommended, at least not if you allow your fear to dictate your life instead of allowing that fear to offer a fantastical departure from the mundane.
I must add that American Horror Story: Freak Show premieres on Wednesday, October 8, and I can’t contain my excitement. The premiere falls on the same night as the Full Moon for October (Hunter’s Moon)! You can read my review of the show and its treatment of rape scenes on Bitch Flicks, so I won’t get carried away and say too much here. The show is miraculous; check it out if you haven’t already. Also, season one, “Murder House,” has a really amazing two-part Halloween episode, where the doorbell just won’t stop ringing because so many pissed off ghosts are showing up. Trick or treat!
This is an electric time of year, and there’s a reason we’re supposed to remember the dead on Halloween–because that electricity in the air, the crisp leaves under our feet, and the cool wind on our cheek, remind us that we’re alive. It’s comforting to feel that we’re a part of the year’s wheel as everything around us begins to freeze and die away. So go fix a mug of hot cider, collapse into a good book, and take a long nap while nature does its thing. Happy Autumn, everyone!