5 Must-Watch Halloween Sequences in Cinema
The 31st of October is now behind us, but for all of you Halloween fans, do not fear! There is always the good old cinematic way to celebrate Halloween. So instead of sinking into nostalgia, watch and re-watch those classic Halloween films until the 31st of October 2015!
We have prepared a unique concoction for you, some Halloween pearls and late treats! A spoonful of darkness, a drop of fear, a hint of absurdity, a dash of comedy and a good amount of fun. Put ’em together and what have you got? Five of the most memorable Halloween scenes in cinema!
1. Meet me in St Louis (Minnelli, 1944): An Unconventional Classic
Meet me in St Louis is considered a classic and is often regarded as a typical Christmas film to watch with the whole family. With its musical numbers, cheesy tones and romantic plot, the film appears to be perfectly safe to watch with children. The audience is presented with the kind-hearted image of a nice respectable American household which embodies all the national, social and family values praised at the time. Yet, the famous Halloween sequence gives a tone of strangeness and unease totally different from the rest of the film. Ten minutes of escape in another world, a different set where children celebrate violence in grotesque costumes while burning furniture in the middle of the street and where parents are non-existent. A powerful scene where Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) learns to overcome her deepest fear in order to be accepted within the children’s cruel community.
Minnelli claimed this sequence was the main reason he made the entire film and this can be reflected through the style of the scene. Its detailed composition from the wind blowing on Tootie’s face up to the famous crane shot that precipitates the spectator in the child’s mind as he lives the experience through her perspective makes the whole moment unforgettable and has helped forged its eminent reputation. Tootie is set on a quest -- she needs to slay the evil neighbour in order to own the title of ‘the most terrible’ and be integrated within the group. As we follow her steps, we juggle through different emotions and moods- creepiness, tension, relief, humour, excitement and danger. This is what makes the scene so unique, so extraordinarily bizarre from the rest of the film and in consequence, so memorable. A Halloween classic!
2. The Nightmare before Christmas (Burton, 1993): A Scary and Poetic Universe
‘This is Halloween, This is Halloween!’ This haunting obsessive song has become emblematic of the Halloween spirit. In fact, the whole sequence is an ode to Halloween and encompasses all the typical images associated with that night. Skeletons, witches, scary clowns, monsters under beds, pumpkins and bats -- they all dance in unison to the rhythm of Danny Elfman’s tune to embody children’s and grown-ups’ scariest nightmares. In Halloween town, it is Halloween every day. Burton’s unique visual style conveys a world of fantasy where the poetic meets the creepy and where monsters become sympathetic and moving. Burton’s unusual drawings come to life in front of the camera and stop-motion creatures rise from the darkness to celebrate Halloween with dignity.
The colours are significant in creating a ‘Halloweenesque’ atmosphere. Dark purple walls reflecting a cat’s shadow, grey graveyards where ghosts fly around to haunt the living, black and white tiled staircase where monsters wait for a potential victim… the audience receives a puff of ‘Burtony’ Halloween. The music heightens as the monsters praise their master, Jack the Skeleton. Terrifying, funny and appealing, Burton’s Halloween unites children and grown-ups in celebrating the 31st of October and praising its atrocious monsters in a light-hearted way.
3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s stone (Columbus, 2001): A Touch of Magic
The Harry Potter universe could not be more adequate for Halloween’s spirit. Walking ghosts, flying brooms, dangerous forces and wizards are all part of the Halloween universe. Usually associated with fear and villainy, those elements find new connotations in the Harry Potter series and instantly become friendly and captivating. Who hasn’t dreamed of receiving a letter from Hogwarts and learning all about witchcraft while having an owl as a best friend? The 31st of October is a big celebration for Hogwarts’ sorcerers and this can be seen in the first film when students are gathered in the main room filled with flying pumpkins, burning candles and tables full of impressive plates of candies, carrot cakes and toffee apples.
Under the stormy sky inside the common room, the students gather around delicious food, unaware of the dangerous troll wandering inside the school. The lighting gives the scene an orange golden feel, Halloween’s main colour, which contrasts with the greyness of the Gothic architecture of the room. Halloween here looks appealing, magical and pleasant, a world where children are king and where they celebrate like a family around impressive dinners. Halloween for them is different from what the Muggles imagine -- it has a more Christmassy/ Thanksgiving feel to it and is not associated to dark worlds where fear and morbidity reign. Yet the scene is spoiled by the presence of the troll and students panic in the face of real danger because in Harry Potter, the real world is darker than Halloween myths.
4. Ed Wood (Burton, 1994): An Off-the-Wall World
Burton, the king of Halloween, strikes again in this unbelievable scene from Ed Wood. The film focuses on the life of the director Edward Davis Wood Jr., also known as the worse director of all time and famous for his very bad small budget films themed around sex, horror and pulp. Burton’s film is very faithful to that whole universe. The final product is a masterpiece, an astonishing extravaganza amazingly funny, very well directed and excellently interpreted. It is one of Johnny Depp’s finest performance as he highlights Wood’s madness and ridiculousness but also conveys his passion for his art and his will to achieve something great. The whole film is shot in black and white which reminds us of the film noir genre. The characters are as eccentric as Ed Wood and seem to rise from a bad Halloween film which makes it perfect to watch at that time of the year.
In the Halloween sequence, Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau, wonderful) watch an old Dracula film starring the latter. The film is interrupted by Vampira, the hostess of The Vampira show, a ridiculously sexy vampire-like woman trying to arise the spectator’s interest with her good looks and her dating stories in the most absurd way. Bela tries to put her under his spell by replicating his Dracula mimics which fascinates Ed who tries to copy him. Through Burton’s admirable direction skills and comic sense, we get a fantastic scene where two foolish men believe they are vampires in front of the TV. The magic soon disappears at the moment where Bela says he needs his medicine as if time which had been frozen during a few seconds of escape had suddenly caught up with the characters. Back to reality and back to the film -- Bela’s simple ‘Oh shit!’ whilst dropping his pills in the kitchen breaks the spell. He is no longer a vampire. Children ring the door bell and instead of giving them treats in the usual fashion, Bela gets his vampire cape and scares them. All flee apart from one who reminds Bela of his old age and his true identity – he is not Dracula and he doesn’t have the same effect as he once had onscreen. But reality is as creepy or even more; Ed comes to the door and takes his teeth off, frightening the boy who runs off. He genuinely has lost his ‘pearlies’ in the war. Halloween here is completely absurd and reversed. The children are not scared and the grown-ups play, dressed up and trying to look scary. Ed and Bela are still children fascinated by Halloween, just like Tim Burton is.
5. We Need To Talk About Kevin (Ramsay, 2011): A Psychological Thriller
We Need To Talk About Kevin is a psychological drama which explores the difficult relationship between a mother and her turbulent son Kevin (Ezra Miller) who eventually commits a massive killing in his school. Although the film is not particularly related to the Halloween universe, its short Halloween sequence is surprising and unusual. The 31st of October is a particularly painful night for Eva (Tilda Swinton) who recalls her past mistakes with her son as a child. In her car, Eva sees monsters and ghosts appear in the middle of the road. She realizes they are children dressed up for Halloween but strangely, this does not reassure her at all. On the contrary, she remembers her difficulties with her son when he was a child and we get to see the moment when she told her 4-year-old boy that she was happy before he was born and now wished she was far away from home.
Strange, dense and quite frightening, the scene achieves to make the spectator feel very uncomfortable through the use of contrast between what we see and what we hear. The disturbing use of Buddy Holly’s merry and almost childish song Everyday contrasts with Eva’s apocalyptic vision, a succession of dark images where fake skeletons encircle her car. Her distress is captured and translated to the audience through the bouncing hand-held camera which suggests running away from danger. The car is a safe space and the music almost tries to reassure her but the outside world is scary and judgmental. It dismisses the beautiful illusion of the song which presents the world as a place of love and happiness. Back home, Eva tries to drown her sorrows with wine but she is still not safe. She does not have any candies for the children who bang on her door and windows. She turns the light off and covers her ears trying not to hear the children scream like an angry crowd about to swallow her alive. An intense Halloween sequence where the past comes to haunt the living.
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