As the crisp air and the crinkles of foliage orchestrate a symphony of fall, the season greets us with the most bewitching holiday of the year: Halloween. Some will adorn their homes with pumpkins and the palette of autumn, while festivities elicit feelings of childhood euphoria and pure magic.
Film and television have come to celebrate Halloween by hosting a masquerade for the paranormal. However, underneath all the enchantment is an eerie history with a focus on death, the afterlife, and resurrection. Halloween originates from Samhain, a Celtic holiday in which the souls of the deceased return to Earth. America has refurbished this day into something joyous for children.
In honor of this upcoming holiday, we compiled a list of the top three campy Halloween films that in hindsight have veiled some unsettling topics within the storyline.
Directed by Danny DeVito, Matilda is a young girl with telekinetic powers that faces great adversities both at home and school. Although the film is heartwarming as we accompany her journey to embracing her uniquely brilliant mind, the state of her childhood is alarming. Her parents are not only absent, but neglect her when she needs them the most. Moreover, her principal is a rumored murderer that governs the school with abuse and fear. She is placed in the worst possible environment for fostering youth.
Roald Dahl, who originally wrote Matilda, was a championed author known to brew illuminating stories for children. However, underneath his veil of benevolence were some immense flaws. After his death, his family shared that he was egotistical and disloyal, oftentimes neglecting his own children. Moreover, he sympathized with Hitler about anti-semitism, exhibiting hostility towards the Jewish community. Although many people praised his ability to create an idyllic childhood for many, he failed to translate that into his own personal life.
Directed by Henry Selick, Coraline is a horror film in disguise of a family-friendly animation. A neglected young girl moves into a new home in Southern Oregon to discover a mysterious door that leads her to an alternative world. The parallel universe is everything she has dreamed of: being seen by tending and loving parents.
The magic and fantasy within this film distract the audience from the inherently twisted nature of the alternative world. The picturesque realm houses the souls of other children, children just like Coraline—enticed by the opportunity of a better life. This film leads the audience to reflect on the gravity of parenthood and the effects that negligence can have on children at a young age.
Hocus Pocus, 1993
Directed by Kenny Ortega, this film is set in Salem, Massachusetts. A boy named Max and his friends stumble across a haunted house and resurrect three executed witches known as the Sanderson sisters. In order to thwart the witches’ plan of becoming immortal, the three must uncover their book of spells. A Halloween cult classic, this film is beloved by millennials because of the references dating back to the late 80’s, early 90’s. Hocus Pocus was released before the shift into a technological society and carries many of the antiquated aspects such as passing notes around to your crush instead of sliding into their DM’s.
The majority of this film is lighthearted, as the witches are more peculiar than terrifying, but there is an unusual fixation on the topic of teenage virginity. The myth yields that only a virgin can light the candles that resurrect the witches. Max is a 15-year-old virgin, which is seen as unfit for his age and ridiculed by many. His virginity is like a dark cloud that trails him throughout the film, with constant external pressure to lose it and become a “man.” A distasteful take on losing one’s virginity, because it should not be dictated by society’s timeline–the choice is entirely up to the individual. It is strange that Disney would release a film treading on a questionable moral compass, and target such a young audience.
As per usual, film and television have done what it does best—renovating controversial topics into appealing and digestible cinema. These films truly represent the spirit of Halloween, along with the belief that on this holiday we can be whoever we want to be. Now gather your friends and family, grab some cider and chai, and enjoy some of these campy Halloween films to kick off the fall season!