Ask anyone that accompanied me to “Terror Behind The Walls” at Eastern State Penitentiary this year and you’ll learn: I’m not a big fan of being scared. Thrilled? Sure. Disturbed? Sometimes. But straight up jump scares or gore porn are just not my bag.
That said, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. The spirit (pun not intended) is celebratory, you get to dress up in fun costumes, and you have an excuse to eat candy bars. So what is a cinephile to do if they want to indulge in the holiday without all the horror? Fear not (not a pun and still not intended), as here are 5 flicks you can catch on Netflix right now that embody Halloween without all the nail-biting.
Some could argue that this is actually a Christmas movie, and they’d be right. That’s the brilliance of this surprisingly dark-for-a-Disney-movie: it effortlessly straddles the fall and winter holidays so that the tale of Jack Skellington can be enjoyed many times over. Those that have seen Burton’s Corpse Bride will note the origins of his interest in stop animation, which is on superb display here. Add to the top-notch animation some rousing Halloween-themed songs and Danny Elfman’s singing voice, a rarity considering he’s typically “just” Burton’s composer, and you have a phenomenal Halloween classic for kids and adults alike.
A Halloween staple for me for years has been Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic, The Shining. But what I didn’t know about the film is just as disturbing and fascinating: its cult following and endless conspiracy theories extend well beyond the intentions of the movie and are still debated to this day. Room 237 is a documentary about this very subject. While some of the theories are ludicrous, others hold more weight than you’d expect, and I can promise you that by the end of the flick, you’ll never look at The Shining the same way again.
David Fincher’s masterpiece is more of a meditation on serial killer culture and obsession with unsolved mysteries than it is a slasher flick, but it still has a few well-crafted scenes to scare the senses. I am amazed to learn that when choosing a Halloween movie, many skip this 3-hour saga for Fincher’s more directly related Se7en, simply because Zodiac is equally as disturbing and infinitely more nuanced. There’s too much to unpack for a fun-sized commentary on the film, so I’ll say this: Robert Downey Jr., Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, David Fincher. WATCH IT.
Another hidden gem that seems to get lost among all the options on Netflix, this is Peter Jackson’s last movie before embarking on The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. The 1996 comedy stars Michael J. Fox as a “detective” who uses his ability to communicate with ghosts to con people into paying him to exorcise the spirits from their houses. It just so happens that the dead are his friends and we’re in on it the whole time. But when a new demon arrives and isn’t playing around, the flick becomes a great supernatural thriller that still holds up today. Think scarier, R-rated Ghostbusters.
The Addams Family
This may be a no-brainer for some, but if you were born later than 1991, you may have missed out on Barry Sonnenfeld’s film adaptation of the popular cartoon turned TV show satirizing the nuclear American family. They’re just a normal, loving family that happens to specialize in the macabre, and the results are nothing short of fantastic. The late Raul Julia is unforgettable as Gomez Addams, Angelica Houston solidifies his zaniness as matriarch Morticia Addams, and Christopher Lloyd’s Uncle Fester is just plain awesome. Turn off the lights and your brains and get ready to laugh.
What is your favorite non-scary Halloween fare? Let me know in the comments!