This post was originally published in 2016 and we’re sharing again for our newer readers.
Halloween is less than a week away! While most of us can appreciate the fun stuff like costumes and candy, the overall “horror” theme isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And that’s okay. I’m here to remind you that there are enjoyable ways to make it through Halloween scary-movie-free. Maybe you’re a parent wanting to introduce your kid to the Halloween scene without scarring them for life too soon. Or your significant other just “does not do scary” and you’d like to still be dating them in November. Or perhaps you’re just very protective of your own innocence. No matter your reason for steering clear of the horror this Halloween season, appropriately-themed fun is still in the cards. Here are nine flicks to get you started.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
A family classic for this season if there ever was one. It did terribly at the box office when first-released in 1993, so if it was part of your childhood you can thank your parents for raising you on cult films. Adults who missed out on this experience will still appreciate the weird and quirky comedy of Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy — not to mention that intense 90s aesthetic we all know and
tolerate love. If you’re having trouble convincing any true horror fans to sit down with you for this one, tell them that actor Doug Jones coughed REAL MOTHS in that one scene, so Hocus Pocus really is horrific after all.
Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
Recently I went to hang out with my girlfriend while she was babysitting for family friends. We sat on the couch eating popcorn and watching the animated movie Home with five sleepy kids sprawled on air mattresses at our feet. About halfway through the youngest kid got up and whispered to my girlfriend that the movie was too scary and could he please watch Fireman Sam in the next room. While she went to set it up for him I stayed to see the end of Home, trying to figure out what was so scary about it — so far it’d mostly been Sheldon Cooper in animated alien form annoying the crap out of a girl just trying to find her mom. But soon I realized this kid was right to skip out and watch Fireman Sam — his empathetic heart would have been destroyed by the almost-lost-each-other-but-then-they-found-each-other end of the movie. His fear was less about scary of the horror kind and more about what he could relate to real life. Is there a solution for that on Halloween? Enter Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. With its delightful British humour and endearing clay animation, Curse of the Were-Rabbit is surely one of the safest bets for a Halloween-themed movie that won’t trigger an existential crisis in your six-year-old. At least, I hope not. With any luck the movie should keep everyone laughing long enough to stop contemplating their existence for at least the 81-minute runtime.
On the other end of the stop-motion-animation scale we have ParaNorman, which is a whole other kind of odd. It’s a little haunting, a little twisted, even a little eerie, but not frightening. It’s probably the movie-equivalent of the dark joy you get from going on The Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. It manages to capture the aesthetic and sense of adventure akin to teen horror movies of the 90s and 2000s without adding in all the blood and gore and screaming. Instead we get funny-looking ghosts and zombies and plenty of bizarre jokes. However like its predecessor Coraline it probably does posses the right ingredients to trigger an existential crisis in practically anyone so the ideal audience here is probably your younger cousins who are starting to resent the kids’ table but will cry foul if you suggest they give up trick-or-treating for a seat by the adults’ cheese platter.
Look, this movie is just fun. And that’s all we want on Halloween, right? This makes for a great pre-trick-or-treating flick to get you in the mood for heading out into the night with your
ghost-catcher candy-catcher at the ready. Who you gonna call? All your friends, to watch this movie.
Ed Wood (1994)
This list wouldn’t be complete without an appearance by Tim Burton. One of his older and lesser-known films, Ed Wood is all the odd and awkward you could ever want on Halloween without a hint of creepy (except for the vague creepiness that always exudes from any Burton performance by Johnny Depp). This is also a great one for any film snobs out there who were trying to get you to watch Donnie Darko or Evil Dead. It’s about an ambitious movie director who makes a hopelessly terrible film, the process of which is funny but also kind of like, sad. Best of all, it’s based on a true story! So you can follow it up by watching the equally appropriately-themed cult film Bride of the Monster starring Bela Lugosi.
The Mummy (1999)
The best thing about movies from the 90s (and they have featured a lot on this list so far) is just how horrendously bad the CGI becomes down the line. The Mummy did not age well, and that’s what makes it so brilliant now. Watching it in the cinemas in 1999 might have been a bit spooky, but you can safely pop this in your DVD player now and just enjoying getting to act scared, while really laughing at all the corny dialogue that comes out of Brendan Fraser’s mouth.
The Birds (1963)
I’m a film nerd. I can’t make a movie list ever without including something by Alfred Hitchcock, who is simultaneously the master of suspense and also the master of making gripping movies without resorting to cheap shocks and gimmicks. Part of that was due to censorship during his time, but you still have to hand it to him since he is, after all, one of the greatest technical filmmakers of all time. You’ve probably already been forced to watch Psycho one Halloween past, so instead why not try The Birds. What’s great about Hitchcock films is that they never actually show anything horrific, and leave everything to your imagination with the magic of editing. It’s why they make good films for people who wish they were good with watching scary movies but aren’t. How much scare you get out of Hitchcock all depends on how much you let your own mind run wild. It’ll make for a good couples movie night, especially if one of you is a die-hard film nerd and the other has an overactive imagination.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Again, I may slightly be pushing the boundaries of not-scary with this title, but Night of the Living Dead is the zombie film to see if your definition of scary is all about blood and gore. This film is in black and white and made on a very low budget so the intensity of its zombie-gore is minimal. Like Hitchcock’s material George A. Romero’s film is an iconic film that set the bar for an absolute tonne of horror and Halloween films to come in the 70s and 80s, so if you know you’re not going to get through gore-fests like Evil Dead, Scream and the later Dawn of the Dead, you can at least learn some fascinating stuff about the genre by sitting down for this one. It’s definitely dark and a little disturbing, but possesses nowhere near the level of horror of its contemporary counterparts. A good happy medium if some of your Halloween company is dying for a true classic but you can’t muster the courage to watch Saw.
E.T: the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
The one we’ve all been waiting for, right? Nothing quite captures the quiet magic of Halloween quite so well as Spielberg’s iconic little alien wandering the streets of suburbia under a bed sheet. Halloween is all about the atmosphere, and E.T delivers a near-perfect mood that’s guaranteed to get you in the seasonal spirit. A good all-ages compromise, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone at your Halloween party who will turn down this film. The nostalgia trip will get everyone emotionally reminiscing over the days of trick-or-treating and costume-wearing. And let’s be real, that nostalgia is why you threw a Halloween party in the first place.
Horror fan or not, what will you be watching this Halloween?
Images courtesy of Disney, Dreamworks, Focus Features, Columbia Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, Universal Pictures, and The Walter Reade Organization