I never thought I’d be making a list of things that won’t scare you. But some people don’t want to spend their Halloween that way. Plus, the real world is scary enough without Leatherface chasing us. And many of this year’s usual festivities aren’t on the table any more for safety reasons.
So what can be done for those who are just looking for something fun to watch on Halloween without relegating to the kids’ section? Something to get you in the spooky season but still lets you sleep that night. My basic rule for this is: would I recommend this to my mom?
Here are 8 picks for a Halloween for the faint of heart:
Arsenic and Old Lace
Nothing says getting in the Halloween spirit like a couple of nice old aunties poisoning people, right? If that isn’t enough, this madcap Cary Grant comedy based on a play of the same title is literally set on Halloween! Automatically spooky! Some actually horror elements come to play with Raymond Massey as a criminal with facial reconstruction surgery that makes him look like Boris Karloff (Karloff actually played him in the stage production).
I know. I need to shut up about “The Guest.” And yet, I won’t. This is probably the closest thing to actual horror on the list, but the vibe is way more thriller/action. Think of “The Terminator” but with Dan Stevens. The reason I have to bring this up again is because it’s set around Halloween time and boy does it go for that aesthetic. The opening shot is a scarecrow in a field. The characters go to a neon-blazed, techno-beat Halloween party. The epic finale takes place in a high school completely decked out for a Halloween maze. There’s no better way to get into the spirit than popping this in.
This delightful documentary is a look into a Ma and Pa-run haunted attraction in New Zealand. The last people you would expect to make a business of something so terrifying and grotesque. There is such a purity of passion displayed by all the scare actors there. Many of them are outcasts and found their place in this haunt. Others find it as a safe way to express themselves while entertaining the masses. It’s a wonderful little encapsulation of the positive vibes a haunt can bring.
Vampires vs The Bronx
Netflix recently released this horror comedy that’s kind of like if “Fright Night” took place in the Bronx and used vampires as a very unsubtle metaphor for gentrification. It could serve as a fun gateway horror for older kids but still packs enough scares to keep adults interested.
Little Shop of Horrors
We can handle anything dark and macabre if it’s set to music, right? If you ever did high school theater, this may be a tale as old as time. But it’s celebrated to this day for a reason. Rick Moranis brings so much sympathy to flower clerk turned murderer that you can’t help but root for him even as he feeds his boss to a giant plant. The songs by Disney legends Alan Menken and Howard Ashman get to showcase their campier, darker side. You can even watch the alternate, original ending from the stage production if you want to stir some pots on Halloween night.
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark
In her big screen debut, late night horror host Elvira ends up in a small Massachusetts town to collect an inheritance from a long lost great aunt. But the townsfolk don’t all react kindly to her…let’s say aesthetic. I remember my dad loving Elvira because he would watch anything that had a lady with big breasts, so I was pleasantly surprised when I first watched this as an adult how clever and witty her jokes are. She also never lets people give her crap for her appearance. It’s like women have more than one dimension or something! (This is where Elvira would make a joke about having two huge dimensions idk)
It was difficult for me to gage if this one is too much of a given for this list. On one hand, it’s a stone cold classic that I just assume everyone has seen. On the other hand, I have tried to do the elbow touching gag multiple times since COVID ruled out handshakes as a thing, and every time I’m met with confused silence. So anyways! I think the Universal Monster movies this is paying homage to could also work for this list as I don’t think they’re actually scary. But this is honestly a better movie than most of them. It certainly nails the dynamic of sympathy for the monster/an actual sense of responsibility for the creator than any of them. It perfectly captures the vintage aesthetic of the classics, making it perfect for a safe spooky viewing. Plus, it’s just so darn funny! Mel Brooks is a legend for a reason.
Mad Monster Party
Another alternative if even the classics are a bit too much for you. It’s all the famous monsters by way of Rankin & Bass, most known for their iconic Christmas specials. There’s safety and fun in the stop-motion storytelling. This also counts as a kid-friendly entry that’s fun for all ages.
Here’s to all of you having a smart, safe, and fun Halloween. Stay spooky!