Halloween scenes without the screams

It doesn't have to be all frights and scares when movies tackle the ghostly holiday.

October 07, 2004|By Teddy Durgin | Teddy Durgin,Special to Baltimoresun.com

Some people just don't crave scary movies come Halloween. Have no fear, there is a wide variety of films out there that will still set the mood for the spooky holiday, but won't leave viewers trembling under the covers into the wee hours of Nov. 1.

"A Cinderella Story" (2004) -- After wooing Hilary Duff via e-mail, you finally decide to meet her face-to-face. The best place to do that? A high school dance on Halloween, of course. Heads up, parents. If you don't want your early-teen daughter to go carousing on Oct. 31, you may one day be able to convince her to rent this movie (it's not in stores just yet). Teen idol Duff stars as the resident "dorky" girl who ultimately turns into the school's "Cinderella" and wins her Prince Charming, a.k.a. the captain of the football team.

"E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982) -- One of the classic sequences from Steven Spielberg's fantasy blockbuster was when Elliott and his big brother took their new friend from outer space trick-or-treating. Of course, the real reason for hiding E.T. under a white ghost sheet was to safely get him into the nearby woods to build a transmitter to "phone home."

The best moment comes when Elliott leads E.T. through a rush of neighborhood kids in costumes. E.T. takes one look at a boy in a Yoda costume and immediately starts following him, chanting, "Home! Home!"

"Hocus Pocus" (1993) -- With Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as witches, this flick (set around the Halloween holiday) is more laughs than frights. Sure, the Midler close-ups may give some of you nightmares, but the movie is played mostly as a harmless kiddie farce centering around three pre-teens saving the new children of Salem, Mass., from a trio of resurrected spell-casters.

"Ironweed" (1987) -- This down-and-out tale of two drifters (played by Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep) starts out on Halloween in Albany, N.Y., circa 1938. The setting is an appropriate one, as the film follows the two losers as they are haunted by memories of past success and loved ones long lost. As the audience comes to know them, we learn the odd code of loyalty and empathy the two have toward one another. Not a scary movie, but definitely one that may "get to you" in a different way.

"In America" (2002) -- This wonderful drama about Irish immigrants coming to America in the 1980s features a scene in which the father takes his kids trick-or-treating through their New York City apartment building, but no one responds to their knocks and rings. No one, that is, except Mateo (Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou), the angry and often screaming neighbor next door. The meeting is a pivotal one to the story, as the family goes on to befriend the African immigrant whose interactions with the children provide some of the film's most touching exchanges.

"The Karate Kid" (1984) -- No one was in need of a Halloween costume more than poor Daniel LaRusso, constantly picked on by a cabal of karate-mad bullies. Dressed as a shower (yes, a shower), Daniel's tormenters chase him from the local high school's Halloween dance and proceed to kick the living plumbing out of him. Just in the nick of time, Oscar nominee Pat Morita shows up and lays a geriatric beat-down on the aggressive teens abusing his ward.

"The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993) -- One of the most imaginative films of the 1990s, this Tim Burton-directed dark fantasy centers around the efforts of Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of the fantastical Halloween Town, to kidnap Santa Claus and turn Christmas into another spooky Halloween holiday. Jack goes a little crazy when he tries to deliver some inappropriate gifts to the world's children, who are expecting treats, not tricks, under their collective trees. Warped, but not scary, this film is a pure delight and makes amazing use of stop-motion animation.

The best line comes during a musical number when Skellington croons, "There's children throwing snowballs, instead of throwing heads. They're busy building toys, and absolutely no one's dead!"

"Spaced Invaders" (1990) -- Aliens, what is the surest way for an invasion of Earth to go wrong? Mount your landing on Halloween. No one will take you seriously! That's what happens in this sci-fi comedy when midget-like Martians intercept Orson Welles' original live broadcast of "War of the Worlds" and think that their cohorts are attacking the planet. They land in a sleepy, backwater town somewhere in the Midwest and everyone thinks they are trick-or-treaters.

"Twin Falls, Idaho" (1999) -- This twisted, little independent film from Mark and Michael Polish answers the age-old question: If you're dating one-half of a Siamese-twin pair, where is the safest place to go on a date? Answer: A Halloween party! Such a bash is one of this flick's major sequences.

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