10 Halloween Movies for the Family

As with all of my lists, I have organised the following films in order of release. Each of them are great in their own right, and pitting them against each other feels unfair to me. There are plenty of wonderful movies to watch during October, but 10 seems like a decent number to begin with. When concocting this list, I kept it as child friendly as possible, though the following movies are enjoyable at any age.

10. Ghostbusters (1984)

The only 12 rated film on this list, but nobody really pays close attention to age ratings these days anyway. Even if they did, Ghostbusters was rated PG until around a decade ago and it is important enough to the history of cinema that it should be shared as early as possible. One of the spookiest films there is, but also one of the funniest. Ghostbusters II or the 2016 reboot Ghostbusters are also acceptable.

9. Labyrinth (1986)

The late David Bowie, and the ever glamorous Jennifer Connelly frolic through sets brought to us by the one-of-a-kind Jim Henson. If that doesn’t sell you then perhaps the spectacular soundtrack will, or the message of familial love contained within. This is the 1980s at their best.

8. The Witches (1990)

Another from the world of Jim Henson; based on the classic tale by Roald Dahl. There is the possibility of the special effects being too grotesque for much younger viewers (particularly the unmasked witches themselves), but it’s rated PG. There’s a certain level of charm here and just a hint of terror.

7. The Addams Family (1991)

The pinnacle of spookiness from a family known for their kookiness. Based on the classic comics and the early 1960s TV show, it is perfectly cast and the set design is stunning. The sequel Addams Family Values is just as good, if not a little better – and if you can find any of the earlier material it is also worth doing so.

6. Hocus Pocus (1993)

A firm favourite of my best friend and his family, and for good reason. It’s endlessly entertaining with possibly the best cover of I Put a Spell on You that you’ll ever hear. Dripping in both halloween aesthetic and the 1990s with the acting and effects to boot. New to my yearly routine, I look forward to revisiting it.

5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The question of whether this is a Halloween or Christmas movie are irrelevant here, because it is simply saturated in the design of the former. As a part-time Christmas film, there is also a certain level of whimsy that you won’t find in other Halloween capers. A marvellous soundtrack and excellent use of stop motion animation, this is a true classic.

4. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

Aardman Animation Studios has been instrumental in the development of stop-motion and it’s at its best here. Faux fur for the Were-Rabbit and some peak British comedy (which is the best form there is). One of my personal favourites.

3. Monster House (2006)

An entire feature length motion picture made using motion captured CGI. The story itself is impressive and fresh enough on its own, but it’s the look that makes this film so unique. Also by far the closest to a ‘horror’ film on this list. Drastically underrated, and worth your time.

2. Hotel Transylvania (2008)

The first part of what has become a delightfully entertaining trilogy. Adam Sandler’s comedy matches the fast paced animation style beautifully, and the caricatures of classic Universal Monsters are one of a kind.

1. ParaNorman (2010)

Laika Studios have built upon Aardman’s groundbreaking work with their own techniques. Their hit film Coraline could just as easily have made it onto the list, but it may be a bit much for younger viewers. ParaNorman also comes with a refreshing message about judging people on more than just their appearance.

Monsters University

I have always had a fascination with stories. As I child I would read constantly, and as I grew older I became an avid viewer of movies, both of which rely on a good story despite being two different mediums. I think this fascination may be at the heart of why I aim to get as much out of a film as I can, be it about the characters or the production process. When it comes to the subject of character, sequels can be an excellent method of development, and the same can be said of prequels. By 2013, PIXAR Studios had provided us with 3 sequels, with 2 for Toy Story and 1 for Cars, on top of their 10 original projects, but there wasn’t a prequel to be seen. Their first, and to date only, prequel would be a spin-off of the highly popular 2001 film Monsters Inc entitled Monsters University, or Monsters Uni for short. There had been, and continue to be, many calls for a direct sequel to Monsters Inc so a prequel was certainly an unexpected move, but it may have been, at least in my opinion, the better choice.

We follow the previous film’s protagonists Mike Wasowski and James “Sully” Sullivan through university as they compete in the Scare Games and find a lifelong friendship along the way. Perhaps the greatest hurdle of any prequel is that it must inevitably end in a way that directs us into the original film. Because this precedes Monsters Inc, we know that Mike and Sully will become lifelong roommates working for the titular company, so we know that their rivalry in Monsters Uni will be short-lived. It just so happens that I am a firm believer that the journey is equally important, if not more so, than the final destination, and this is quite the journey. Mike is a bit of a loner and Sully is a local celebrity, being the son of a scarer, so putting them both in the Scare Programme provides enough friction to carry the entire film. But an incident leads to them both being expelled from the programme, and from here they join a lackluster group of monsters in the Oozma Kampa fraternity so that they can win the Scare Games and be re-instated, so the stakes are high. All PIXAR films have an overarching lesson to them and there is no attempt to hide that Monsters Uni is all about teamwork, in relation to each other as well as the fraternity. Each of the monsters in Oozma Kampa brings something different to the table, but, like Mike, they have been outcast for not being scary enough. Unlike Mike, they aren’t in in for personal gain and are just happy to finally be included, which makes rooting for them easy. They are hard not to care about.

There are only a handful of main characters, but since this is set on a college campus, the amount of background characters is innumerable. As I have made my way through the PIXAR library, I have noticed certain improvements due to the progress of time and of technology. We are now a long way from the clone children of Toy Story, with each background character being 100% unique. It had been this way for quite some time, in fact the main selling point of Cars 2 seemed to be how many unique, merchandise-able characters were in it, but Monsters Uni is where that progress really stands out to me. There are monsters with slime, scales, fur, shells, multiple heads and backpacks all in one frame which is a level of skill and computer processing power that I find it hard to comprehend, but here it is nonetheless. There is an in-universe trading card game which features different scarers from across the ages and I am gutted that they didn’t make it into a genuine set, because it would have been an astounding demonstration of the artwork present in this film. It also would have likely raked in more cash for Disney, so I feel like they may have dropped the ball on that one. A special shout-out goes to the people who designed and rendered the buildings because I can only imagine that real-life buildings are difficult enough. Building this reality in which the characters exist is truly commendable.

As always, the score is magnificent. While some sequels and prequels might rely on previously established musical motifs, Monsters Uni has a almost wholly original score. I say almost because a couple of those old motifs do still manage to sneak in there, most noticeably in the track Field Trip, but it is a rarity. Once again we are being treated to the compositions of Randy Newman in what is his 7th collaboration with PIXAR after the Toy Story trilogy, A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc, and Cars. His work is very distinct and if you dwell on that for too long, it can become rather distracting, but I still rather enjoy his music. The score here can be light and airy but also intense and urgent, perhaps more so than in any of his previous films, but I wouldn’t have been upset if they had brought in somebody else. That’s the thing about change- it can be for the better. Nobody expecting a prequel for Monsters Inc because they were, and some still are, more interested in a direct sequel, but this is what we got. It doesn’t rely on the original film in any aspect and introduces us to new, likeable characters and interesting settings. For those who have watched Monsters Inc there are one or two subtle nods and expectation subversions but nothing that are important to the story.

The way I see it, Monsters University is further background for a story that I already love. It has the added benefit of being a well-written and, at times, emotional piece. If you are of the opinion that all sequels, prequels and spin-offs are empty cash-grabs then I implore you to watch this film and reconsider.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer