The OTHER Classic Halloween Movies

It’s hard to make a more iconic Halloween movie than Halloween, but that’s not to say that there aren’t legions of other films where Halloween plays a critical role. Much like Christmas, Halloween is such a big holiday in the American imagination that it appears in a number of films that aren’t directly about Halloween, or even horror. Last year, the Post took a look at “The OTHER Classic Christmas Movies,” so it’s only fair that we do the same for Halloween.

10. Batman Forever (1995)

Batman Forever on YouTube Movies

For some reason, the first three modern Batman films all rotated around some kind of holiday celebration. 1989’s Batman featured the Gotham City bicentennial, 1992’s Batman Returns took place at Christmas, and 1995’s Batman Forever landed on Halloween. The holiday doesn’t have a huge impact on the overall plot, but it shows up significantly later in the film. Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and The Riddler (Jim Carrey), having discovered Batman’s secret identity and fool an unusually dim Alfred (Michael Gough) using Halloween costumes. With Alfred’s guard down, the villains and their henchmen invade Wayne Manor, destroying much of the mansion and Batcave while kidnapping Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) and setting up a final showdown between the villains, Batman (Val Kilmer), and his new partner, Robin (Chris O’Donnell).

9. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Esther discovers the truth about the street car prank (Uploaded to YouTube by WarnerArchive)

EVERYBODY knows that Meet Me in St. Louis is where we got “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” But not everyone quite recalls that the movie basically takes place over most of a year from 1903 until the World’s Fair opens in 1904. The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Sally Benson, which was originally presented as a string of short stories in The New Yorker. The Halloween sequence represents a pivotal moment in the plot’s central relationship. Esther (Judy Garland) has been in love with John (Tom Drake) from a distance for a while. However, her sister Tootie alleges that John hurt her while Tootie was out for trick-or-treat. Esther attacks John in a rage, but Tootie admits that John actually protected her and sister Agnes from the police after a bungled prank. Esther’s apology to John leads to their first kiss.

8. Mean Girls (2004)

Halloween from Mean Girls (Uploaded to YouTube by The Paramount Vault)

Tina Fey took on a terrifying subject when she adapted Mean Girls from Rosalind Wiseman’s book, Queen Bees and Wannabees, and that was the teenage trauma associated with high school cliques. Mean Girls covers a lot of ground when it comes to how young women interact, including social expectations versus reality, the spitefulness that can arise in a compressed setting like a high school, and how kids are often unaware of the damage that words can do. One key scene takes place at a Halloween party; the lead-in starts off light, playing off of the ongoing trend of hyper-sexualized costumes, but it takes a turn when Cady (Lindsay Lohan) is betrayed at the party, setting her on a course that affects the rest of the film.

7. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

The trailer for We Need to Talk About Kevin (Uploaded to Movieclips Trailers)

A soul-crushing novel made into a soul-crushing movie, We Need to Talk About Kevin deals with one of the worst possible nightmares for a parent: what do you do when your child is the one who conducts a school massacre? The epistolary novel by Lionel Shriver was made into a haunting film starring Tilda Swinton as Kevin’s mother, Eva. As Eva drives home one night, the demons plaguing her and her family seem to come to life, moving in and out of the shadows as she sees them out her car window. It is, however, only Halloween, but the frightening vista underscores Eva’s own inner turmoil and the tragedy that has played out over the course of Kevin’s life.

6. The Harry Potter Series (2001-2011)

The Mountain Troll scene (Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips)

Take a hugely successful book series. Recruit appealing newcomers for the young leads. Add some of the most accomplished adult actors in England. Never stray too far from the books. Spend ten years becoming of the one best loved movie series of all time. We all watched that work for the Harry Potter series. Obviously, the magic-based series lends itself to Halloween. Moreover, since every book roughly covers one school year, it’s easy to slot those scenes in the plot. Each book at least references Halloween. Not all of the films touch on it, although there are recurring references. A running concern is the fact that Voldemort was originally defeated on Halloween Night. Rowling also tied important events to the holiday in the first four books. Easily one of the most memorable Halloween scenes is in the first book and first film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. When a Mountain Troll gets into the school, the student body panics. Only Harry and Ron keep their cool to try to find Hermione. Making their way to the girls’ restroom, they find Hermione under attack by the creature. Encouraged by Hermione, Ron performs a spell that uses the troll’s own club to knock him out. Not everyone is pleased (Quirrell is a double-agent, Snape is annoyed), but Professor McGonagall gives the lads points for saving their friend.

5. The Crow (1994)

The Crow trailer (Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers)

The supernatural revenge thriller based on the comic book series by James O’Barr found tragedy in the on-set death of leading man Brandon Lee and triumph in the critical and financial success of the film and its soundtrack. The plot turns around October 30th, once known as Devil’s Night in Detroit for a phenomenon of arsons taking place on that date over several decades; on one Devil’s Night, Eric Draven and his fiancée, Shelly, are murdered on the day before their wedding (which would have been Halloween). Draven returns one year later to deal out harsh vengeance on those responsible. The city, already portrayed in a dark and gothic manner by director Alex Proyas, also has the trappings of Halloween, including trick-or-treating children that pass Draven in costume.

4. Watchmen (2009)

Watchmen trailer (Uploaded to YouTube by Legendary)

Based on the medium-changing comic book series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (seriously; it’s on Time’s list of 100 Best Novels from 1923 onward), Zach Snyder’s Watchmen takes great pains to present an adaptation that’s as close to the page and panel as possible. The story takes place in an alternative 1985 where Nixon is still president and America won the Vietnam War thanks to the intervention of the super-powered Dr. Manhattan. Though the story constantly jumps in time, the main narrative is set in 1985 on the verge of Halloween . . . and nuclear holocaust. Halloween imagery sneaks in at the edges, and several critical plot developments (many of which are horrifying in their own right) occur across October 31 and November 1.

3. The Karate Kid (1984)

The trailer for The Karate Kid (Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers)

One of the more memorable Halloween scenes from any high school-related film happens in The Karate Kid. At a Halloween dance, Daniel (Ralph Macchio) wants to be with Ali (Elisabeth Shue), but he’s been trying avoid the bullying of Johnny and his Cobra Kai buddies. Daniel cleverly dresses in a shower costume to conceal his identity. But when Johnny breaks off from the other Cobra Kais (who are all dressed in matching skeleton costumes and facepaint) to smoke weed in the bathroom, Daniel takes the opportunity to rig up a hose and douse Johnny. The Cobra Kais chase Daniel down and deal him a violent beating until Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) intervenes. Miyagi dismantles the bullies by himself and helps treat Daniel’s injuries. Soon after, Miyagi begins to train Daniel so that he can confront the Kais at the All-Valley Tournament.

2. E.T. (1982)

The Halloween scene from E.T. (Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips)

Is there anyone who doesn’t know E.T.? What you might not recall is that Halloween actually plays a crucial role in advancing the plot. E.T. wants to “phone home” so that his people can come back for him. However, Elliott and his brother Michael need to sneak E.T. and the communication array he’s built to the nearby woods where they’ll have a better chance of making contact. That’s where Halloween comes in. The boys use that most reliable of disguises (from a kid’s point of view): a white sheet ghost costume. They first have to convince their mother that they’re actually taking their little sister, Gertie, out, which works. Although a chance encounter with a kid dressed as Yoda distracts the alien, they are still able to get him to the forest to make his call.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

The Halloween attack from To Kill a Mockingbird (Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips)

Speaking of important scenes occurring at Halloween . . . the climactic action of To Kill a Mockingbird happens on Halloween night after a pageant where Scout is dressed as a giant ham. As Scout and her brother Jem walk through the woods toward home, they are attacked. Scout can’t see much because of her costume, but she realizes that someone else stopped their attacker. It soon becomes clear that they were attacked by Bob Ewell, whom Atticus had shamed in court. The man who saved them was their reclusive neighbor, Arthur “Boo” Radley. As Atticus and Sheriff Tate piece together events, they realize that Boo stabbed Ewell, killing him. However, Tate decides to list it as an accident, sparing Boo the attention and circus of a trial.

Featured image: leolintang / Shutterstock

It Can’t Rain All the Time: How The Crow Captured the Angst of a Generation

The cover to the crow's first comic issue
The cover to the first issue of The Crow from 1989. (©James O’Barr)

Arriving in theaters before the decline of the first Batman film franchise and weeks after the death of Kurt Cobain, Alex Proyas’s The Crow, based on the independent comic by James O’Barr, managed to have a lasting impact on film, comics, music, and the soul of a generation. Steeped in a sense of loss that was magnified when leading man Brandon Lee was killed during filming, The Crow emerged as a cultural touchstone due to all of the forces contained in its 102-minute runtime. Now, 25 years later, we look back at why so many pieces of the work still resonate.

1. It’s Personal

A central theme of The Crow is loss, and that comes from a very honest place. O’Barr started working on the story after losing his fiancée to a drunk driver. That tragedy, along with a local news story about a young couple murdered for an inexpensive engagement ring, provided the fuel to O’Barr’s tale of Eric Draven, a man who comes back from the dead to avenge the loss of his own fiancée; the title comes from the supernatural guide that accompanies Draven on his quest.

2. Brandon Lee’s Unfortunate Passing Added a Deeper Layer

Brandon Lee had been a working actor with a cult following for several years when he took on The Crow. The son of film and martial arts legend Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee grew up learning Kung Fu and had expressed an interest in acting before his father’s death in 1973. The younger Lee made his acting debut in the television sequel to the Kung Fu TV series in 1986, and soon after moved to major studio action films. His casting in The Crow was considered big entertainment news at the time.

On March 31, 1993, with three days left to film, Lee was killed in an on-set accident. Ironically, this occurred during the scene in which his character is killed prior to his supernatural resurrection. Lee died after being shot with an improperly prepared prop gun; the revolver still had a dummy bullet lodged in the chamber, and the discharge of the loaded blank provided enough force to fire as if it were a live round. Lee was struck in the stomach and died after six hours of surgery.

In another unfortunate coincidence, Lee had been engaged to be married to Eliza Hutton, who also worked in the film industry, the week after completing the film. Hutton, along with Lee’s mother, Linda Lee Cadwell, supported director Proyas in his effort to complete the movie. Using a combination of stand-ins and nascent digital effects, Proyas completed scenes and edited the film in way to make the process seamless.

Lee’s tragic death drew wider attention to the film and propelled interest in it. The studio Dimension Films, which at the time was the genre label within Miramax, marketed it aggressively. The movie would open at #1 at the box office in the United States while receiving solid reviews. While the atmosphere, action, and music were widely praised, a number of critics offered raves about Lee himself. In particular, Roger Ebert wrote, “It is a sad irony that this film is not only the best thing he accomplished, but is actually more of a screen achievement than any of the films of his father, Bruce Lee.”

3. Alex Proyas Brought the Style

The recently resurrected Eric’s memories of Shelly drive him to revenge; the music is “Burn” by The Cure. (Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips)

The pages of O’Barr’s comic are steeped in Gothic style. The black and white book relies heavily on the shadows and sharp angles of German horror films and film noir. The striking look of the lead character’s make-up (which leads one film character to refer to him as “a mime from hell”) is amplified by lyrical passages from bands like Joy Division and The Cure that O’Barr quotes throughout. The visual achievement that director Alex Proyas essays is a very direct transposition of this atmosphere from the page to screen. The Crow was only the director’s second feature; his first film, Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds had been nominated for two AFI Awards and took the Special Prize at Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival in Japan.

In The Crow, Proyas not only echoed the look of the comic, but also employed other innovations. He occasionally used distorted lensing to capture scenes from the point of view of the titular bird. Proyas also used unusual lighting, such as one scene in a bathroom that’s illuminated only by the lights over the mirror; those choices play into the dark-and-shadow visual aesthetic of the original while doing something different with the scene. The action and music-performance scenes remain top-notch as well.

4. The Music Mattered

“Time Baby III” by Medicine (Uploaded to YouTube by Medicine / Atlantic Records)

The mid-90s saw seismic shifts in music. Among the most important movements was the ascent of alternative rock, fueled in part by the breakthrough of the Seattle bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam in 1991. The overall style played to alienated youth, which was exactly the kind of audience that had found the original comic. By 1994, dozens of these new acts (like Nine Inch Nails and Stone Temple Pilots) had made deep impressions, while pioneering older acts like The Cure and Joy Division were being rediscovered. O’Barr’s own taste in music lined up with this new soundscape, and Proyas recognized that. The soundtrack of the film brought in a number of of-the-moment acts and veterans, including The Cure themselves. Nine Inch Nails covered “Dead Souls” by Joy Division, which was referenced in the original comic. Other acts included Pantera, Stone Temple Pilots, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Rage Against the Machine, Violent Femmes, and Jane Siberry. Medicine and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult both appear in the film, performing their songs from the soundtrack.

The 14-song album hit #1 on the Billboard album chart, selling nearly four million copies. The Stone Temple Pilots song “Big Empty” was released off of the soundtrack as a single; it hit the top ten of both the Mainstream and Modern Rock charts. A second album, featuring the instrumental score written by celebrated composer Graeme Revell, was released; it includes “Inferno,” the rooftop guitar solo played by Lee’s character in the movie.

5. It Was Good

Trailer for The Crow  (Uploaded to YouTube by YouTube Movies

There’s a lot to be said for simply making a good movie. The Crow combined a solid roster of talent in terms of the cast (not just Lee, but veteran actors like Ernie Hudson, Michael Wincott, David Patrick Kelly, and Tony Todd, plus an affecting child-actor turn from Rochelle Davis). The director, the musicians behind the soundtrack, and a talented crew, notably in sound, lighting, and stunt work produced great material. The film arrived at precisely the right time, with the music fitting the times. Tim Burton’s darker comic-book work helped paved the way with two prior Batman features in 1989 and 1992. Lee’s death, as well as the then-recent death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain weeks before the film’s release, cast long shadows that played into the melancholy in the air and in the film. Dimension also showed savvy in the marketing of the movie, making large ad buys on MTV and prominently featuring the music in the ads. The film still carries an 81% positive critic score and 90% audience score at review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, with strong notices coming from outlets like The New YorkerVariety, and the L.A. Times. TV Guide offered rapturous praise, calling the film “A gorgeous black valentine that captures the essence of adolescent misery, coupled with a wildly romantic vision of the power of pure love to overcome all obstacles — even the grave.” Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers was wowed by Lee, writing “Draven is the rocker as avenging angel, prowling the streets cracking jokes and heads but also capable of expressing great feeling. Lee is sensational on all counts in a final performance that brims over with athleticism and ardor.”

Today, James O’Barr continues to create The Crow in comics, with the most recent series published last year. Three additional Crow films were made in 1996, 2000, and 2005, bracketing a 1998 television series. Director Colin Hardy and actor Jason Momoa were said to be involved in a new film, but both departed the project in 2018. There have also been novels, card games, and a video game. Still, the most iconic version of the character outside the written page continues to be the one brought to (after)life by Brandon Lee. The Crow remains a unique snapshot of its time, creating an effective parable about love and loss. The work deals in some serious darkness, but as Lee’s character himself says, “It can’t rain all the time.”