Halloween Films: Tricks or Treats?

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By Ella Wignell, First Year, Film and English

It’s a futile question really. Surely nobody would willingly enter into the contract of a trick? And yet, as leaves develop to that rustic orange flavour and pumpkins begin to line our porches, as a society we gravitate towards choosing ‘tricks’ again and again as we settle down to watch all things abominable and frightening in the film world.

Masked killers? The Living Dead? Souls being ensnared by the devil? Bring it on. The more heart-attack inducing jump scares the better. It is the one time of year that we can freely indulge that strange, inherent fascination humanity has with the macabre. There is something playful about Halloween, contrasting to other holidays.

It is a holiday for naughty children, for the devil on your shoulder and for the throwing away of savoury snacks in return for candied apples that rot your teeth. It is a time when dark magic obscures the safety of the fairy-tales we’re so used to into twisted fables with adult contexts and a surprising amount of metaphorical verisimilitude.

Scream tapped into a lot of visceral, spine-chilling inherent fears | IMDb / Dimension Films

Film and television takes blissful advantage of this and provides us with that seductive allusion of danger we crave, but safely from the other side of the screen as we cower back into our sofas or cinema seats. In case you’re now hankering for a fright, here are my top 3 watch recommendations for the mysterious month ahead…

Sleepy Hollow brings you forth into a dream-like reality plagued with mystery and a gripping story that is – literally – to die for

Scream (1996)

It is such a classic that certain moments in it have become clichés that we could all recite in our sleep. But what is a cliché if not something successful that is copied so vigorously that it leads to extinction?

This cult classic for the ‘90s fanatic gave birth to 3 sequels and a Netflix TV reboot; but in a tale as old as time they never quite lived up to the stylistically ironic and self-aware originality of the first, which manages to both mock horror films and be a great one at the same time.

Drew Barrymore in Scream | IMDb / Dimension Films

Adam Smith for Empire encapsulated its charm by describing its ability to 'leap with balletic deftness from exuberant in-jokery […] to ball- retracting moments of terror'. Wes Craven tactically balances an intelligent ‘whodunnit’ plot – giving us an egotistical compulsion to solve the mystery – while interrupting us with terrifying stalk and hunt sequences, dramatic irony shots and jump scares.

Halloween is a time when dark magic obscures the safety of the fairy-tales we’re so used to into twisted fables with adult contexts and a surprising amount of metaphorical verisimilitude

It’s jam packed with stars who give superb performances, all seeming a little deranged in their own way, as characters who have grown up in a horror-movie permeated society where everybody is a suspect. The only regret I have regarding this feature is watching it for the first time alone and in the dark.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018 –)

A prime feature of this show which makes it an ideal binge for Halloween is the gorgeous aesthetics and cinematography. From lofty country houses adorned with candles and jars of miscellaneous preserved beings to botanical life thriving around tall trunked forests in the dead of night.

Earthy colours rain supreme and contrast against the stark monochrome-with-red motif of the preppy witches who channel that flawless, confident comic book style that is very striking on screen.

Chilling Adventures balances tenderly the mystical and reality | IMDb / Diyah Pera

A far cry from Sabrina The Teenage Witch (1996 - 2003), this Netflix return from the makers of Riverdale (2017-) sees a dark-humoured, sexy drama with a twist of whimsical nature – usually credited to the great subtle humour of Lucy Davis, known for the The Office (2001 - 2003).

It depicts Sabrina (Keirnan Shipka) struggling as a half-witch to own both her mortal and immortal life after signing her soul over to the Dark Lord of their religion (aka, the devil). We align ourselves with the perceivably moral Sabrina as she simultaneously wields and fights against evil through her adventures and trials.

But do not be afeard! There is still an unholy amount of teenage angst to be delved into; particularly the sweet yet turbulent relationship between Sabrina and her human sweetheart Harvey.

However, the show deserves equal credit for its casting of fine post-pubescent actors such as Michele Gomez, Miranda Otto and Richard Coyle who really sink their teeth into their theatrically dark characters with fantastic charisma.

We align ourselves with the perceivably moral Sabrina as she simultaneously wields and fights against evil through her adventures and trials

In similarity to American Horror Story’s ‘Coven’ (2013 - 2014) the show has a strong feminist alignment which is refreshing and empowering to see within such a male dominated genre where for decades females were reduced to the damsel in distress. In fact, a central theme throughout the show is the depiction of Sabrina challenging of the patriarchal hierarchy within her Church.

The show discards the withered ‘hag’ Witch you see in storybooks and gives us vivacious females of all ages, sexualities and race presented on the same par as the men surrounding them and effortlessly taking control of both the heroic and villainous storylines.

Johnny Depp plays the haemophobic homocide detective Ichobod Crane in Sleepy Hollow | IMDb / Sunset Boulevard

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Based on Washington Irving’s tale The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820), Tim Burton’s fantastical strangeness is epitomised in this truly spooky Halloween favourite which in my opinion encompasses all the elements that formulate the holiday.

Its eerie, terrorising, romantic steampunk style brings you forth into a dream-like reality plagued with mystery and a gripping story that is – literally – to die for. Homicide detective Ichobod Crane (Johnny Depp) – who is afraid of blood, I might add – has his sceptical beliefs challenged when he is sent to the uncanny village of Sleepy Hollow, where the spirit of a headless horseman has risen to claim the heads of the community one by one.

With an impressive budget for Georgian costume and set design, the grey and the gruesome is materialised before your eyes and let’s just say this feature is not short on graphic gore. The special effects are impressive and certainly make you thankful for your neck’s attachment.

However, it owns more than a visually grand reputation; it has a well thought out plot with a momentum that keeps you hooked without going over the top. Imagine Scooby Doo, Where Are You! (1969-1970), aired way past the watershed: this is my top pick this Halloween.

Featured: IMDb / Diyah Pera


This Halloween will you be indulging in the movies that go bump in the dark?

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