Halloween movies for the scared

October 31, 2007

Not the kids – but rather those (like myself…) who prefer to have the lights only, um, partially dimmed.

Now, I don’t want to say that I’m petrified at the site of a movie monster or anything; it’s more that I’m petrified at the thought of a horror movie at all. Don’t laugh, but even Scream can send me into nightmares for at least a week. I know, I know, it’s supposed to be a “humorous” film, but watching it for the first time in the empty, open suburbs of the Midwest, with lots of big windows, easily accessible garages, and, you know, telephones, and anyone could get scared. Or so I tell myself (and others, muffled from behind the pillow that’s covering my face).

In any case, as someone who has suffered (and I mean suffered) through many Halloween horror fests with friends, I have found it quite necessary to come up with some movies that I feel free to safely recommend to some horror-happy friends without gaining yet another reason to turn on all the lights at any hint at all of sunset. Think about it this way – watch these films, save the environment! I feel better already…

From ghoulies and ghosties

And long-leggedy beasties

And things that go bump in the night,

Good Lord, deliver us!

– Scottish prayer

“Do you know why I can stay in your spooky old room Mr. Olin? Because I know that ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties don’t exist. And even if they did, there’s no god to protect us from them is there?”

-1408 (not one of the movies in my list, I just like the quote – sorry Stephen King, but this one’s a little much for me)
(from imdb.com)

Shaun of the Dead – Without a doubt, one of my favorite movies ever. Perhaps surprisingly, considering the fact that some of my friends do think this a bit scary. Nevertheless, I find it the perfect antidote to being scared out of my wits by an actual zombie movie – I just think of disposable cameras and a “girl in the garden” and all the anxious jitters go away.

A spoof on classic zombie flicks (think Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Office meets George Romero), with a hero who at first thinks the walking dead are simply people who have had a bit too much to drink (an honest mistake), the film’s certainly got its must-have horror moments – bloody zombies attack, screams are screamed, people batter zombies with pool cues – but the humor is priceless. What other movie would have a victory against the zombies moment set to music by Queen?

Young Frankenstein – Also containing one of my favorite movie quotes, this classic comedy from Mel Brooks delivers all of the typical horror fare, including a dark and stormy castle, mysteriously creepy castle denizens, and Frankenstein’s monster him/itself, without any of the fright. And of course, look for a great performance from the late Peter Boyle as the monster (he sings!). Bonus (positive or negative still to be decided): it’s now a Broadway musical. It was inevitable.

Beetlejuice – The thrice-called ghoul played by Michael Keaton in this Tim Burton film (who went on to make Batman with Keaton as well – I personally would have immediately thought of Keaton as the Dark Knight after seeing this movie) wreaks cooky havoc on the Deetz home with fellow ghosts Adam and Barbara (Alec Baldwin, looking very young, and Geena Davis). Winona Ryder also stars as the black clad girl who befriends the couple. It’s odd and totally crazy and definitely a Burton film – with some clear disturbing/spooky moments, especially towards the end. Might not want to watch alone.

Ghostbusters – Because nothing heralds winter like a giant marshmallow terrorizing the streets of Manhattan. Extremely minimal horrors, but with plenty of otherworldly monsters and goings on (not forgetting Slimer, of course), it’s got the added bonus of being an almost universally loved comedy. With Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis as the paranormal avengers, as well as Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis, and Annie Potts.

The Nightmare before Christmas – I know, this is probably a bit standard and boring, but how can you have a list like this without it? After all, don’t be fooled by the name – the whole movie actually revolves around a place called “Halloween Town” and starts off with a bunch of sinister-looking animated characters chanting “This is Halloween!” Now that’s a Halloween movie. This stop-motion holiday film (now in 3D!), another one from Halloween maestro Tim Burton, is spooky and Halloween gloomy without being really scary. And with the additional inclusion of Christmas Town in the movie, you get two holidays in one!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Before it was a critically-acclaimed hip show, and way before it was touring as a sing-along, Buffy was a completely campy early ’90s flick from cult god Joss Whedon starring Kristy Swanson (Buffy), Donald Sutherland as “the Watcher” and Luke Perry as the boy toy. Not to mention Hilary Swank, David Arquette and, believe it or not, Paul Reubens (yes, Pee Wee Herman himself) in other roles. Now, I’m not saying it’s good, and in my mind, it’s definitely got its scary vampire moments, but it’s a lot of camp fun.

Other favorites with descriptions in other posts:

The Mummy – The mummy itself may be scary to some (although I don’t think anyone can argue that the beetles are pretty darn icky), but it’s light monster fun for the action set. Just turn away whenever the mummy or beetles attack anyone and it’s no problem.

Spirited Away – A beautiful and ethereal fairy tale for the indie lover, with an actual long-legged beastie, from Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki. You’ll never see another haunted house quite like this.

Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit – Just pure guilt-free fun.

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Wallace and Gromit cheat sheet

October 8, 2007

With the recent announcement of a new Wallace & Gromit movie in the works (and how can you not get excited just hearing that?), I figured it was time for a look at the wonder that is British humor + painstaking claymation + cheese. And so, here is a hopefully somewhat helpful guide to the classic adventures of the infamous dairy-products-obsessed inventor and his long suffering dog.

Who or what are Wallace and Gromit?

Wallace

(voiced by Peter Sallis)

Wallace of Wallace and Gromit

A single white British male in search of cheese and chachkes for his elaborate, and, well, almost successful, inventions, Wallace can usually be seen sporting a classy red tie, or bowtie, and knitted sweater over a white shirt. He likes tea, reading the newspaper and dogs – most of the time, anyway – and is easily identifiable by his rather large ears and nose and perennially optimistic disposition.

Gromit

Gromit of Wallace and Gromit

A dog – and if you’re wondering what kind, he wasn’t designed to look like one in particular but does seem to resemble a Snoopy-esque beagle. Perhaps a bit too sensible for his own good, especially in this particular household, he lives with kindly, and slightly mad, inventor Wallace. A fan of the newspaper like his housemate, he also enjoys reading books and can often be found knitting something, anything, in a futile attempt at a calm, normal lifestyle. Forced to suffer the results of Wallace’s failed inventions in silence (he is a dog, after all – hence, no speech), he takes comfort in copious eye rolling, his own superior skills at electronics, and the sounds of classical composer Bach.

According to an interview with Nick Park in indieWire:

Gromit is a word my brother, an electrician uses. It’s a piece of electrical wiring insulation, called a Gromit. I just liked the word. I gave it to the character, which was a cat, at the time. Later, in college, it became a dog. Wallace was just a name I liked.

Nick who?

Wallace and Gromit are the clay creations of filmmaker Nick Park, a British animator and director at the animation studio of Aardman Animations in the UK. He won his first Oscar for the incredibly cute claymation short film, and later TV series, Creature Comforts. A one-man claymation machine (with, ok, the help of his fellow Aardmanites), he also co-directed Chicken Run – that chickens – can – do – crazy – things – just – like – humans flick with Mel Gibson voicing the rooster.

Wallace and Gromit are arguably Park’s most enduring, and recognizable, creation. According to the official website, they have appeared in a full length feature film, three short films, and a series of even shorter animations broadcast on the web and on BBC One – not to mention the video games, graphic novels, a children’s TV show, etc.

Here are all of the film installments of W & G, in chronological order:

A Grand Day Out (1989) – In a catastrophic turn of events, Wallace runs out of cheese. Always the logical one, Wallace decides to go the moon to get some, since naturally the moon itself is made of cheese and thus could provide an essentially inexhaustible supply of the crucial snack. And thus, a rocket is built in a basement, moon cheese is eaten and adventures with a lunar robot ensue.

About 23 minutes long. Debuted at the British Short Film Festival. Nominated for an Academy Award (for short film), but lost – to Creature Comforts. Yep, that’s right, it’s Nick Park’s world, we only live in it.

The Wrong Trousers (1993) – With the bills piling up, Wallace decides to take in a lodger – a suspicious penguin with potentially evil plans (perhaps the original crazy penguin with a nefarious plot – I’m looking at you Madagascar penguins). Disgruntled about the penguin’s relationship with Wallace, Gromit moves out and the penguin starts working on converting one of Wallace’s inventions, mechanical trousers, into a criminal and (I just have to say it) evil machine. Meanwhile, on the outside, Gromit uncovers the penguin’s sinister past.

A lengthier 30 minutes. Oscar winner for Best Animated Short Film.

A Close Shave (1995) – In another inevitably doomed money-making venture, Wallace and Gromit run Wash ‘N Go, a window cleaning service. At the same time, Wallace is very taken with the lovely Wendolene, who owns a wool shop and, unfortunately, an evil dog as well (you knew it was coming). The notorious canine is involved in malevolent sheep stealing plots and sets up Gromit to take the fall.

Another 30 minute installment. First aired on Christmas Eve on the BBC and, in a not so surprising turn of events, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. One of the sheep from the film later went on to a budding TV career in Shaun the Sheep.

Cracking Contraptions (2002) – Not one film, but rather a series of 10 1-3 minute short films featuring some of Wallace’s most inventive inventions. Having debuted on the internet and then aired on the BBC, it can currently be found as an extra on the DVD release of Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Speaking of which…

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) – The only feature length W & G film so far (it clocks in at about an hour and 25 minutes), this Wallace and Gromit adventure from Aardman and Dreamworks deals with the historic Giant Vegetable Competition. To capitalize on this very important event, Wallace and Gromit run a pest control business to help keep those pesky wabbits away from their neighbors’ prize vegetables. Unfortunately, the captured rabbits begin to pile up and, in what becomes yet another harebrained scheme (pun, of course, intended), Wallace decides to invent something that will brainwash the rabbits into not wanting to eat the veggies at all, thus enabling him to just release them into the wild. Surprisingly (or not), something goes terribly wrong and soon a, well, evil were-rabbit is rampaging through the town, eating everything in sight. The beautiful Lady Tottington (voiced by Helena Bonham-Carter), who is hosting the competition, asks Wallace and Gromit to capture the dangerous beast.

SPOILER ALERT (If you don’t want to know how it ends, scroll down quickly. No spoilers past the picture.)

A hunter who wants the wealthy Lady Tottington for himself, Lord Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes) hates Wallace, his pest control business, and especially the fact that Lady Tottington seems to be interested in Wallace (quite the ladies’ man, isn’t he?) not him. Sadly, Victor discovers that the were-rabbit is actually Wallace, whose mind was warped by his brainwashing device. Victor acquires golden carrot bullets (the, ahem, were-rabbits’ “silver bullet” if you will) to kill Wallace the Were-Rabbit. There is a final action-packed showdown at the vegetable contest, and ultimately Victor is chased away, Wallace and Gromit (well, basically just Gromit) win the day, and the curse is broken. Gromit gets the Golden Carrot Award, the contest’s trophy, for being so brave and Lady Tottington turns her estate into a rabbit sanctuary. For more on the full story, go here.

Gromit in Curse of the Were-Rabbit

And coming soon…

Trouble at Mill – A new 30 minute W & G film coming in late 2008 to the BBC.

According to Reuters UK:

“In this film Wallace and Gromit have got a new business, they’re into baking and they’ve built a windmill on the top of their house to grind the corn, to bake the bread and with a dough-to-door delivery service,” [Nick Park] said. The film… also sees cheese-fan Wallace develop a new love interest in the guise of a woman called Piella…

Ah yes, a windmill on top of their house. I can’t imagine how things could possibly go wrong – and of course I hope they do, as much as possible. Lots of reserved British mayhem on its way!

IMPORTANT NOTE: The official website is very unstingy with its free W & G online clips. Go here to check them out.