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 Minnelli, 1944
Meet me in St Louis, Minnelli, 1944 – Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) and Agnes (Joan Carroll) getting ready for Trick or Treat!

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

The Nightmare before Christmas, Tim Burton (1993)
The Nightmare before Christmas, Tim Burton (1993): Stop-motion skeletons and puppet monsters celebrate Halloween in the darkest cemetery

‘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

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Columbus, 2001)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Columbus, 2001): Halloween dinner at Hogwarts

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.

Hallowe'en at Hogwarts

4. Ed Wood (Burton, 1994): An Off-the-Wall World

Ed Wood, Burton (1994)
Ed Wood, Burton (1994): How to be a vampire

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.

Halloween Scene - Ed Wood

5. We Need To Talk About Kevin (Ramsay, 2011): A Psychological Thriller

We need to talk about Kevin (Ramsay, 2011)
We need to talk about Kevin (Ramsay, 2011): when children dressed up for Halloween becomes one of the scariest experience in a lifetime

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.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Halloween)

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  1. Thanks! Your suggestions will certainly come in handy for next Halloween! 😉

  2. See Lujan

    The final scene in Rosemary’s Baby should be here.

  3. Usually every year I go to a friend’s house and watch horror flicks to uphold tradition. This year with the addition of blu-rays, I checked out Halloween original, The Frighteners, The Cabin in the Woods, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing’s Carpenter version and ending the night with The Shining newly released cut in the cinema. Great times!

  4. Liz Kellam

    Nice to see! There are always Christmas moments in non-Christmas films, so it’s great to see there are some Halloween ones as well.

  5. Two Hallowe’en films if you just feel like being depressed rather than scared:

    IRONWEED with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep follows the sad lives of a group of homeless men and women on Hallowe’en night during the Great Depression.

    UNDER THE VOLCANO – Albert Finney copes with the loss of his wife to a younger suitor, alcoholism, impotence, and the rise of Nazisim in Mexico on El Dia de los Muertos on the eve of WWII.

  6. Nice! I would love a tv episode list! Their are some great one off Halloween episodes in Buffy, Freaks and geeks and Sabrina the teenage witch.

  7. polanco

    What about E.T.? That’s got a proper trick or treat scene!

  8. S.A. Takacs

    Interesting list! I like The Nightmare Before Christmas because it’s appropriate to watch for both Halloween and Chrismas.

  9. Shanie Fish

    So glad you included The Nightmare before Christmas! It really is a classic now. It came out when I was little and i remember everyone in school was watching it.

  10. Personally, I think the classic 80-90’s horror movies were the scariest!!

  11. Nice read! Can never go wrong with Harry Potter!

  12. Agreeing with the guy above me, there’s a lot of nostalgia there with the Harry Potter sequence. I’m curious about The Nightmare Before Christmas; I’ve never seen it so I’ve always wondered whether it’s a Christmas film with a Halloween twist or a Halloween film with a Christmas twist. It’ll be fun to see no matter what.

  13. Fun article. It’s interesting how movie Halloweens can be taken so many different tonal directions and still make complete sense in context.

    On another note, I’ve always thought the ABC Family Christmastime Harry Potter marathon was kind of funny. What’s especially Christmasy about Harry Potter?

  14. Nice article! There are a couple of movies on here that I haven’t heard of. I’ll be sure to check them out!

  15. Have you seen 1408 with John Cusack? Look up the scene Man in the Window.

  16. Michael Clancy

    Meet Me in St Louis is a great addition. I remember being completely freaked out about how weird and wild that scene was.

  17. I love these movies and I usually watch a few of them between Halloween and Thanksgiving when I’m not ready to start watching Christmas movies yet. Another movie I like to watch in that time is Rocky Horror Picture Show. However I absolutely love Meet Me in St. Louis and the Nightmare Before Christmas those two are probably my favorites out of the list.

  18. Interesting take on Halloween’s film influence!

  19. This list is perfect as I’m still struggling to deal with the fact that Halloween is over. For me, Donnie Darko is one of the most perfect not-strictly Halloween films and I would totally add it to this list. The onesie that Donnie wears during the Halloween scene has become iconic for me, as always with Frank’s hideous bunny suit. That movie speaks to such a specific generation and has an awesome mix of sci-fi and psychological elements, while still being a unique almost coming-of-age story.

  20. I’ve seen some but not all of these movies. I like the combination of it not only being “creepy, scary” typical Halloween movies.

  21. Larry Kleitches

    Very interesting choices. You passed on the obvious John Carpenter’s Halloween) to focus on the “10 minutes of escape” and not the unending nightmare that was Michael Myers. Each in their own method deals with parents who were not around as participants or preventers.

  22. Fidelio

    As a Halloween aficionado, I am truly in love with all things dark and light-hearted. I found this list truly admirable. I often ask my Film students to make a list of their top 5 favorite Horror movie sequences. The opening sequences for “Jaws” and “Scream” are my favorite. I love the list that you have compiled and I look forward to reading your upcoming articles! Keep in touch!


  23. Brett Fletcher

    Oh my, I’ve never seen Meet Me in St. Louis. That clip now made it mandatory viewing for this weekend! Great choices!

  24. The interesting holiday of Halloween by its very nature provides a heyday for filmmakers in search of a moment – or scene – of darkness. Historians struggle to adequately explain the origins of Halloween as a holidayas if it – with a life of its own – mysteriously arose among us and perhaps that’s true. Halloween is the darkness with us and our fear of it.
    Does Halloween rule us or we it? We’re locked in battle and while that would be the bad news, the good news is isetting Halloween into any film gives an easy way to darken a film just for a minute or even the length of it. Would any other holiday serve as setting and title for Jason or Freddy’s frantic slashings? Would we have Easter I, II, III etc.? It wouldn’t work for either the film or the viewer. Even for those those who enjoy (?) slasher films, the slashing seems to be most enjoyable (?) or most comfortingly allowable on Halloween.
    That Minnelli inserts a Halloween scene into Meet Me In St. Louis – and more remarkably says he made that film for that moment – or that moment made the film for him- either way is stunning news and leads to a bigger question? Was he assigned this film to make? Or did he choose to make it?
    Either way again – what statement is he making and so happily that he deems it the most defining moment of the film? There is no Halloween in the book – either the holiday or the horror of it. It’s a heartwarming book of innocence and innocents coming of age in a bygone time.

    But the film in 1944 was made in the time of World War II and the horrors that accompany war. Was that what was on Minelli’s mind as he makes little Tootie confront the darkness within and without?
    Or in this film set in the late 19th century and the Midwest at that, was he saying it wasn’t all lighthearted fun of French knots tied on pretty prom dresses by even prettier girls?

    What if he didn’t have Halloween at hand for a handy plot device? Tootie is easily taken from cute tootsie to terrible on October 31. What might a filmmaker use in its stead?

    Shakespeare had his magic potions upon which he could rely to twist and turn his plots and filmmakers have Halloween. If Shakespeare needed to concoct a convenient potion for his plot line, filmmakers are certainly free to conveniently use Halloween as a magic potion to turn their film to the darker side. Shakespeare isnt bad company to keep.

  25. I thought I was the only one who associated Harry Potter with Halloween! Thank you so much for the wonderful article, nothing really is better than Halloween movies!

  26. I never heard of Meet Me in St. Louis before. Thanks for letting me know about the movie.

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