Jump to content

soliciting Halloween movie recommendations for the pious


Recommended Posts

For those who haven't seen my previous solicitations, I write a weekly print recommended-video column for a readership that tends to be pious and conservative in matters of taste as well as in theology and church polity (and to a certain extent politics, although more mixed there).

Coming up with three videos a week I can unequivocally recommend to this audience is no mean feat -- especially since most of the obvious ones were already covered by my predecessor and I'm trying to avoid duplicating his work. The films do not have to be "family" fare (e.g., Schindler's List and Dead Man Walking are fair game), but they have to be films that I can sell to this audience, and there's only so far that one can push the envelope in these situations.

Anyway, one of the things I'm doing to make it more fun is going for special "theme" columns. For example, the week that Pirates of the Caribbean opened, I did a pirate-themed Video/DVD Picks column, and the week that Bob Hope died I profiled three of his better movies. Some "theme" columns I'm planning for the future include a trio of Robin Hood movies in honor of this week's DVD release of the Errol Flynn classic (the other two are the Disney version and the silent Douglas Fairbanks Sr. version), a trio of sci-fi films the week that "Alien" opens, the three BBC live-action Narnia DVDs in November in honor of the 40th anniversary of C.S. Lewis's death, and the three variously-produced Tolkien cartoons in December as a kid-friendly alternative to Peter Jackson's trilogy.

I'd like to spend some time in the next couple of weeks preparing a special trio of Halloween films (i.e., films with some kind of spooky-scary component). The catch, of course, is that I have to watch out for potentially objectionable spiritual motifs (ghost stories are probably okay, but I want to watch out for occult elements) and of course excessive gore and stuff like that. OTOH, I'd like to have at least one or two somewhat "edgy" and genuinely scary films, not just a trio of tame pseudo-spooky movies like The Ghost Breakers (although that is actually a possibility).

To give you an example of where my thinking is, two films that to my mind are pretty much in the middle of the dicey grey area are The Sixth Sense and The Nightmare Before Christmas -- and, to tell the truth, I may be leaning more toward Sixth Sense than Nightmare (though I'm not entirely comfortable with either). Sixth Sense has flashes of gore and a real-world ghost story, but I'm guessing that some people may be more put off by Nightmare's subversively macabre humor.

Additionally complexifying the issue is the time spread I'm meant to cover each week: Of the three videos, one should be a "recent release" (i.e., 2000s), one an "older" film (i.e., 70s-90s), and one a "classic" (50s and before). I can sometimes get away with bending this rule, especially for special theme editions, but in this case I'd like to honor the time-spread requirement if I possibly can.

So, what are your favorite spooky-scary movies available on VHS (or preferentially DVD) that you wouldn't mind showing if you were having over some friends from church who were rather conservative and were bringing their visiting parents from Macon, GA? smile.gif (Not a perfect analogy, but you get my point.) BTW, if your church doesn't have any conservative members, or if you aren't friends with any of them, then you're off the hook. wink.gif

Pseudo-spooky comedies are OK (especially if they're really funny). If possible, say a few words about the film, why you like it, and how confident you would be recommending it for my purposes.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Link to post
Share on other sites

The first film that came to my mind was the original version of The Haunting. I liked it because it's genuinely spooky--haunted houses scare me 8O I also don't recall any occultic elements.

Another horror classic that I like is The Exorcist. I liked the fact that the heroes were men of God and that they had to fight incredibly hard, and their victory was still a Pyhrric victory. That just made it seem real to me--to echo the real struggle between good and evil. I don't know how comfortble I would be recommending it for your purposes. It has plenty of occultic elements, but they're presented as something very, very bad, so that aspect of it wouldn't bother me. The language is quite strong, though, and I might be leery of that. It is, however, a horror classic and the source of so many pop culture references that I imagine many people would overlook the language.

A more recent option would be Frailty, which I liked because it never quite confirms or denies the presence of the supernatural. So many questions lingered afterwards. Some have criticized it as being anti-Christian, but I think it's more complex than that. If the visions the father has are real, then how wrong was he? It's definitely disturbing--and it gets more disturbing the more I think about it. But I like being disturbed sometimes. I don't recall how gory it is.

I don't think The Others has any gore at all. As far as the story goes, I thought it was only ok. There were plenty of creepy moments, but it seemed too much like a Sixth Sense rip-off. If you decide that The Sixth Sense is too gory, this might be a good alternative.

Another thought is to consider a classic monster movie like Dracula with Bela Lugosi or James Whale's Frankenstein. Dracula is the only film of this genre that I've seen. It's pretty hard for me to say how well I liked it because Lugosi's Dracula has become such a cliche. But I do think it's worthwhile to go back to the source and see where the cliche comes from.

Hope this helps!

--Teresa

There are stories of coincidence and chance, of intersections and strange things told, and which is which nobody knows; and we generally say, "Well, if that was in a movie, I wouldn't believe it." --from Magnolia
Link to post
Share on other sites

Teresa,

Many thanks! I've had the original Haunting on my Netflix queue for awhile and am looking forward to it, so I'll move it up. I liked The Uninvited also, although I'd have to watch it again and reevaluate the seance sequence.

The Exorcist has provoked strongly mixed reactions among conservative Catholics, and I'm going to steer clear of that one. Frailty is an interesting concept; I've still never seen it but I do have a screener copy at home that I may check out.

The Others is an effective ghost story with no gore and I would like to pick it as an alternative to The Sixth Sense, but I have to disqualify it over how it deals with its Catholic motifs (cf. my review).

The classic old Dracula and Frankenstein movies are both good calls (I understand that Horror of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula are also worth checking out).

My wife just had an idea: Arachnophobia. No supernatural component, but a genuinely creepy thriller/horror film with a surprisingly sweet side.

Any other ideas, anyone?

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Link to post
Share on other sites

How about Something Wicked This Way Comes. Pretty classic. Or Beetlejuice for a good comedy perhaps.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think the best horror film of all time is Murnau's Nosferatu, which will be out on a new 35 mm print in selected theaters this Halloween season. In Chicago it will be playing at the prestigious Music Box Theatre, one of the coolest places on the north side to catch a great film. I'm actually working on a DVD review to have up at the Film Forum in time to create a buzz before the big event.

A fantastic double bill that i did a few years ago on DVD was Shadow of the Vampire followed by Nosferatu. The two compliment each other in ways double features rarely do, and if you watch them in that order, Murnau's silent from 1922 is brought to life in a sickening, terrifying way. Like, what if vampires are real. Like, what if Schreck really was eating the cast. Like, freak me out.

Good stuff to chew on for Halloween! :spidereekA:

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Have you seen The Innocents (1961) with Deborah Kerr? It's been years since I've seen it, but I found it truly creepy. It's based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Not sure if it would be considered too occultish

Link to post
Share on other sites

Have you considered "Ed Wood"? Not a horror film, per se, but a real good camp film about a guy who makes bad horror films? Or why not "Plan 9 From Outer Space" itself, or "It Came From Hollywood"?

Didn't "Terror In the Aisles" have all the scares but little story? (Altho editing that in that matter didn't make it remotely scary).

Psycho, Jaws, or Jurassic Park work for scares with minimal negative content. And of course, the classics, the CLASSICS: Bride of Frankenstein, the Mummy... etc.

And, yes, I think "Sixth Sense" should be covered.

Nick

Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

Link to post
Share on other sites

My thanks to all who've responded so far. FWIW, here are my thoughts on recent suggestions:

Something Wicked This Way Comes: Interesting possibility.

Beetlejuice: Did anyone actually find this funny? I regret to say that I found the big musical number hilarious and the rest of it dead wood. Of course that was more than ten years ago....

Nosferatu: In principle, this one's a no-brainer -- especially since it made the Vatican film list -- except that it was already covered by my predecessor at the Register, and there's been no significant new DVD release since I took over in late March of this year (which is my usual excuse for covering a film he already did).

Ordinarily, that would be enough to put me off doing a film... though in this case I MIGHT be inclined to make an exception for my Halloween edition -- IF I could find the right angle for reviewing this particular film. The whole vampire mythos is profoundly intriguing and troubling to me, and I've watched my Nosferatu DVD numerous times and have yet to feel up to the challenge of writing it up. Perhaps I'll take another crack at it...

Shadow of the Vampire: No. The scene of the bare-breasted actress writhing on the bed alone is a deal-breaker in this context. (As for the double-bill, I would NOT want to watch Shadow BEFORE Nosteratu, since it seems to me that would take me right out of the narrative of Nosteratu into the moviemaking process.)

The Innocents: Will definitely look into this (The Others, which I regretfully had to disqualify, had definite echoes of Turn of the Screw, so this may be an interesting alternative). Thank you, DRose.

Ed Wood: No. The film's indulgent attitude toward its protagonist's transvestitism makes this not a good match. Plan 9 and It Came From Hollywood are -- interesting suggestions. I'll look into them.

Terror in the Aisles: Don't know this one, but the U.S. Catholic bishops Office of Film and Broadcasting's rating of A-IV ("for adults, with reservations") and content advisory of "gory violence, sexual situations, fleeting nudity and occasional rough language" are enough to put me off this one for my present purposes.

Psycho, Jaws, and Jurassic Park, though scary movies, somehow strike me as not as Halloween-ish as, say, Arachnophobia.

My thanks again to all who've responded so far.

The search continues......

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Link to post
Share on other sites

My thanks to all who've responded so far. FWIW, here are my thoughts on recent suggestions:

Something Wicked This Way Comes: Interesting possibility.

.

I'd like to throw some more wood on the fire of this one. It's long been a fav of mine.

There's also a Vincent Price film I've always liked entitled "The House of the Long Shadows". I liked in adolescence, its a twisty ending kind of film, like I've always loved, but it may not hold up now that I know what makes a great film.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm with Dan and Michael - SOMETHING WICKED is a nice call. Eerie-scary in a Ray Bradbury sort of way rather than full-out horrific like, say, PSYCHO or TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (now why has everyone overlooked TCM?), but eminently Halloweenie. And such a great performance by Jonathan Pryce as Mr Dark. Maybe your best recommendation for the "let's watch a scary movie with Grandpa" category - which sounds condescending, but I don't mean it that way. Nice good vs evil theme.

THE OTHERS is also a great call - eerie-chilling-troubling without being gory or gratuitous. I love the way the story is rooted in the reality - an emotionally troubled woman being left alone in an isolated place to raise two children, a task which she finds utterly overwhelming. People who went expecting a fright-fest were disappointed to the point of hostility, but I loved it - a very troubling real-life story with haunting overtones. (That's why Kubrick's THE SHINING worked so very well - its foundation was that essential human horror at a parent who is a threat to his own family.) Nice write-up, SDG - are you sure you couldn't recommend the movie for its strengths but suggest that it would make a wonderful take-off point for a conversation about what Catholics really believe about the child martyrs, limbo and scriptural reliability? Give them a link to your online review? Encourage your readers to read against the grain?

THE EXORCIST! Yeah, Teresa, truly horrifying. I don't think it would pass for SDG's purposes, given the use to which crucifixes are put and so on. But speaking of reading across the grain, when that book and film came out, I was a brand new, off-the-wall Christian, and that book - with its powerful evocation of evil, its sense that believing Christians could meet evil on its own turf and possibly have victory, my own conviction that "greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world," and the motif of substitutionary sacrifice - was deeply inspiring to me. (What do you expect from somebody who got converted by JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR?). In my new-born naivete I told a Jesus People friend of mine about the book, and she was completely rattled - at their church they were organizing protests against the whole thing, and the pastor had declaimed it as evil. Not the last time I had such an experience. But I still enjoyed walking her home after school - she was real pretty.

THE SIXTH SENSE - definitely. Like THE OTHERS and THE SHINING, that sense that we're watching real people caught up in inexplicable things, rather than the standard-issue horror thing which is patently unreal from the get-go.

PLAN 9 - yes! I'm with Nick. Not one of your main listings, but a kind of "P.S." to the column. Nothing even mildly offensive - doesn't veer into GLEN OR GLENDA territory - and such fun! No spiritual content, of course, but what a hoot. Another off-the-wall nominee for the "not actually scary but kind of Halloweenie and you might enjoy" category is GHOSTBUSTERS. Genuinely funny, only occasionally ribald ("Is that true?" "Yes sir, it is. This man has no dick."), and gives surprising cred to things Christian - though you'd have a judgement call about the Catholic angle, which actually does come up. Here's a brief write-up I did about the flick;

GHOSTBUSTERS (1984, USA)

Nobody steps on a church in my town!

Bill Murray serves up a helping of Soul Food? You've got to be kidding. Well, truly, this one's pretty much just for laughs

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

Link to post
Share on other sites

This goes in a different direction than the aforementioned films, but I just saw Hell House, which is not really scary, but takes a look at a phenomenon of Halloween. I seem to remember this documentary being spoken of favorably on this board, and I thought it was a fair and balanced treatment of an interesting topic that raises plenty of good discussion about Christian's relation to the world and the presentation of the gospel in it.

All great art is pared down to the essential.
--Henri Langlois

 

Movies are not barium enemas, you're not supposed to get them over with as quickly as possible.

--James Gray

Link to post
Share on other sites

Monster's Inc. is a decent Halloween alternative.

And there's always Where's God when I'm Scared, from VeggieTales. :wink:

Tim

"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks again for all the great suggestions everybody!

Monsters Inc. Terrific film that deserves a spot on my Halloween movies for kids list, but it's been covered too recently in the Vid Picks column to do again already.

Where is God When I'm S-scared? Probably a fine suggestion... but I'm not the critic to write it up. I feel bad, but I just don't "get" VeggieTales. I admit that they're clever and I appreciate many things about them, but in the end I'm still left shaking my head and wondering "Why vegetables?" Okay, maybe they're something wrong with ME, but there it is.

Hell House. Ooo. Hmmm.

Jacob's Ladder. Can't rule it out but the OFB writeup doesn't sound like a shoo-in.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Russell Lucas

Bride of Frankenstein (better than the original, I think)

Poltergeist (there's that part with the medium, and a little gore, but it's generally unobjectionable)

Sleepy Hollow isn't very good, but neither is it offensive from an objectionable-content point of view

What of The Lost Boys? It has been several years since I've seen it, so I can't tell you how it appears through Macon eyes.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Sleepy Hollow isn't very good, but neither is it offensive from an objectionable-content point of view

Pshaw! Says you. I find it highly objectionable, meself.

What about Rebecca or Gaslight? Or M (one of the most unsettling films of all time), Dr. Cyclops or Mad Love (enjoyably campy sci-fi/horror flicks if you ask me)? Or some other classic Hitchcock stuff (Vertigo, The Birds, Rope)?

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Russell Lucas

Sleepy Hollow isn't very good, but neither is it offensive from an objectionable-content point of view

Pshaw! Says you. I find it highly objectionable, meself.

Huh. Y'know, I've seen the film two or three times and couldn't remember any such objectionability, but screenit.com confirms you're probably right.

Burton delivered an R-rated Ichabod Crane film? I guess there are limits to the amount of beheadings you can show and pull off a PG-13, but no wonder the film wasn't a success.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I ranted a bit about Sleepy Hollow in another thread ... I would guess that the explicit witchcraft stuff would be enough to cross this film off the list even if it weren't for all the graphic violence.

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Mad Love

Perhaps I should add that I meant the 1935 film by that name, with Peter Lorre and Colin Clive. Not the 1995 one with Drew Barrymore and Chris O'Donnell. No doubt any film featuring Chris O'Donnell is scary, but for entirely different reasons...

Svengali and Jane Eyre definitely have their spooky moments, too. I wasn't that impressed with James Whale's Frankenstein, because Colin Clive's performance stinks (Frederick Kerr is much, much better). But how about a Frankenstein/Young Frankenstein double feature?

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Where is God When I'm S-scared?

Let me jump in here to say that this episode of VT is one of the weakest, maybe THE weakest. Their brilliance was only at the level of cleverness by this piunt, but the humor, characters, and animation improve vastly in subsequent installments.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Just thought of another that slipped my mind. THE OTHER. Early seventies creep-fest from a Thomas Tryon novel about two brothers, one of them truly evil.

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

Link to post
Share on other sites

My favorite horror film is probably Them! Man vs. mutant ants! I mean, it just doesn't get any better than that... And it's well acted with surprisingly good dialog. Lots of great themes explored too.

I suppose Freaks wouldn't be appropriate?

How about The Hunchback of Notre Dame?

The special effects are pretty bad, but the original The Fly I always found somehow compelling. Plus Vincent Price is always a treat to watch.

Of course, while we're talking about horror films and Vincent Price I have to mention Roger Corman's The Raven. Also featuring Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson! Fun, fun, fun!

"It's a dangerous business going out your front door." -- J.R.R. Tolkien
"I want to believe in art-induced epiphanies." -- Josie
"I would never be dismissive of pop entertainment; it's much too serious a matter for that." -- NBooth

"If apologetics could prove God, I would lose all faith in Him." -- Josie

"What if--just what if--the very act of storytelling is itself redemptive? What if gathering up the scraps and fragments of a disordered life and binding them between the pages of a book in all of their fragmentary disorder is itself a gambit against that disorder?" -- NBooth

Link to post
Share on other sites

Darryl A. Armstrong wrote:

: My favorite horror film is probably Them! Man vs. mutant ants! I mean, it

: just doesn't get any better than that...

It's also a very obvious influence on James Cameron's Aliens. I first saw this film on a double-bill with Matinee -- the Joe Dante flick set during the Cuban Missile Crisis in which John Goodman plays a shlocky B-movie producer -- and it was amusing to see that William Schallert plays a doctor in both films, 39 years apart! smile.gif

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to post
Share on other sites

SDG, I think you meant The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) rather than Horror of Frankenstein, which was a later parody/remake released by the same studio with a lot of toilet humour thrown in.

Horror of Dracula (1958) is definitely worth a look, as are most of the horror films Terence Fisher made for Hammer studios. The mythological framework of his films was very clearly Christian, as Presbyterian pastor Paul Leggett discusses in his book Terence Fisher: Horror, Myth and Religion.

Drop by The Grace Pages, a rest-stop for fellow pilgrims.

-- Dave aka Alvy

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 4 weeks later...

My thanks to everyone who participated in this thread. Since I only needed three, the recommendations above will come in handy for Halloweens to come.

In conjunction with my Halloween coverage, I wrote an essay called Horror, the Grotesque, and the Macabre: A Christian Appraisal, which I hope will be of interest to some here.

Here are the three films I chose:

Something Wicked This Way Comes: This was a really good call, and I'm especially grateful to those who mentioned this one. I don't usually wax so theological in nonreligious reviews, but somehow this one seemed to invite it.

Nosferatu (1922): A no-brainer, except that I've been struggling for years with how to understand the film, and have never felt up to the challenge of writing it up. This year I finally settled on a tack I found reasonably satisfying.

Here's the surprise: The Others. Despite my previously expressed religious objections, the suggestion someone made above about recommending it with due qualifications appealed to me, and I rewatched the film and decided I could go with it. The link above is to my full review; here's the qualified capsule I wrote for my paper:

A creepy ghost tale awash in Catholic belief and imagery,

The Others

requires suspension of disbelief regarding elements that -- like the undead in

Nosferatu

or the figure of Death in

The Seventh Seal

-- aren't literally reconcilable with Catholic eschatology. To the film's credit, it's aware of this incompatibility: When one character voices the ghost-story premise that the worlds of the dead and the living sometimes get mixed up, another denies that God would allow such a thing to occur. Instead of entailing an denial of Christian teaching, though, the movie's final word on the subject is simply that "there isn't always an answer to everything" -- a fair enough rationale in imaginative fiction.

Relying on suspense rather than frightening or gory images, the unsettling Turn of the Screw

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...