Once again, my boys (12 and 8) and I have decided to make a list of Halloween movies to watch together in October. We have a bunch of old stand-bys like “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” and some that I’ve been waiting for them to be old enough to watch without getting nightmares later on. Here’s my list of the best age-appropriate* Halloween fare to watch with your kids.
10. Plan 9 From Outer Space
I told the boys we were going to watch one of the worst movies ever made, and man-oh-man, this one did not disappoint. From the over-the-top intro by Criswell to the wooden acting… all tied together in a knot by a meandering script with absolutely indecipherable dialogue.
This movie is so bad it’s good, and that’s why it’s perfect for a list like this. Now, being huge Dracula fans, it was worth pointing out that this was Bela Lugosi’s last film appearance. He died while it was still being filmed.
If there’s still time, we may even grab the Tim Burton epic, Ed Wood, and enjoy the backstory in all its campy goodness.
9. Hotel Transylvania
This movie was a consistent charmer that kept both me and the boys entertained throughout. For me, it was listening to Adam Sandler ham it up with a forced Dracula impression. For the kids, it was the steady gags and fast-paced script. You could do worse — especially if your kids are younger.
8. Young Frankenstein
The boys were introduced to Mel Brooks a while ago when we watched Spaceballs together. So I was pretty confident in putting “Young Frankenstein” on. But I have to tell you, this wasn’t their favorite Brooks flick. Although there are flashes of screwball comedy (“FRAHNKensteen” and, of course “Abby Normal”)… there’s a lot about Young Frankenstein that was either too cerebral — or too mature — for my kids to grasp.
To be fair, you almost have to watch the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein to truly appreciate Brooks’ parody chops, and we hadn’t yet. Nevertheless, this was a decent Halloween choice with several standout moments.
The recent announcement of a new Ghostbusters movie featuring an all-female cast has brought the spotlight back on this 80s classic. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis are at their hilarious peaks. The ghosts are scary, but not overwhelmingly so. And, hey, who doesn’t love that theme song?
6. Bride of Frankenstein
If you watch one movie on this list that you haven’t seen before, it should be this unsung classic of Universal Studios horror. It’s got comedy, tragedy, message, romance and chills.
And it’s a good chance to tell your kids the story about this woman named Mary Shelley. She, her future husband (and famous poet) Percy Shelley, Lord Byron (considered to be one of Britain’s greatest poets) and John Polidori (who is considered by some to be the creator of the vampire genre of fiction) decided to have a competition to see who could write the best horror novel.
And, um, it’s pretty clear that Mary kicked their butts. (Although, I never have found out what the others put up against it.)
“Bride” starts with a fictional social gathering among the Shelleys and Byron in which they recount the wager. And the story is introduced as they convince Mary to tell them more of her stories.
The theme of the Frankenstein monster wandering the countryside searching for acceptance — and finding only revulsion and contempt — is a powerful one. The bizarre sequence in which Dr. Pretorius shows Baron Frankenstein the lilliputian people he’s created (and keeps in glass jars) will mesmerize you. And the sequence in which the Bride is brought to life has some of the most striking and beautiful photography I’ve ever seen in black-and-white movies. This movie absolutely clips along from scene to scene. And it leaves you a little spellbound at the end.
5. Monster Squad
You can have your Goonies. Give me the Monster Squad any day.
See… here’s the thing. We all love the Universal Studios monsters. They’re classics of American pop culture. And this movie is an absolutely wonderful tribute to those characters. Count Dracula assembles a team of the Earth’s most powerful evil monsters (including the Wolf Man, the Frankenstein monster, the Mummy and the Creature from the Black Lagoon called Gill-Man). We’re a comic-book family and that, my friends, is a comic-book premise. A group of misfit kids find the diary of Dr. VanHelsing that details how to defeat the monsters, but they’ll have to rely on their wits — and each other — if they’re going to succeed.
Now, if you do watch this movie with your kids, do me a favor and take a little bit of an active roll. Times have changed a lot. Evidently, it was OK to throw words like “faggot” around back then(?) If that ever was the case, it certainly isn’t now. And a couple other themes (like the ol’ making-fun-of-the-fat-kid trope) show the age of this flick.
Make sure you take a second to point out that that stuff isn’t OK, OK?
4. Nightmare Before Christmas
Tim Burton’s stop-motion masterwork has been the highlight of my October ever since it was first released on VHS. When I had kids, I realized that the characters and the creepy music was a little overwhelming for my little guys. But this year, they were both eager to give it a shot. And I’m happy to report that I can look forward to resuming my annual tradition of watching this flick ever October once again.
There is nothing not to like about this movie. It has a great story, excellent pacing, absolutely mesmerizing music, and captivating characters.
Here’s a tip. At one point, the denizens of Halloweentown sing “it’s our job, but we’re not mean, in this town of Halloween.” At that point, I paused the movie and pointed it out, explaining that these guys weren’t malicious… it was just their duty to come out and give everybody a good scare on Halloween. I’m telling you, that went a long way to taking out the creep factor for my younger son.
It was also a good opportunity to answer his comment, “what’s with all the singing?!” with a little discussion of the tradition of American musical theater.
3. Dracula – Dead and Loving It
I know, I know… the cool thing would have been to put Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein higher on this list — and probably to ignore this one completely.
But you wanna know what? This is an underrated, under-appreciated gem of a movie.
Like I said, The boys were already big fans of Mr. Brooks’ sense of humor from watching Spaceballs, so they were primed for this spoof of Bram Stoker’s classic tale. And even though I knew they’d dig the humor, I wasn’t quite prepared for how much they’d love Leslie Nielson.
But from the moment when Nielson’s “Count” smacks his lips over Renfield’s ridiculously spurting papercut (right around 11:00), they were enthralled by Neilson’s comic brilliance.
OK, it got a little inappropriate once or twice, but mostly this is a Brooks movie you can watch with your kids. (We’re still waiting for them to be old enough to see “Blazing Saddles.”) And, like “Spaceballs,” this is a Brooks film your kids are going to want to watch repeatedly.
And that’s fine with me.
2. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
“I got a rock.”
1. (The best Halloween Movie ever): Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
This is the all-time best Halloween movie for kids, and I’ll tell you why.
First: It’s Abbott and Costello. You will not find funnier people on screen before or after these guys. They’re comedy gods among men. And you get tons of classic Bud ‘n’ Lou bits like the sliding candlestick.
Second, you get a true gathering of Universal Studios monsters by some of their most famous actors. Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr as the Wolf Man. Karloff declined playing the monster because he thought the slapstick comedy would demean horror flicks. His loss. Glen Strange did a fantastic monster.
Third, this is the only time (other than the original Dracula) that Bela reprised his famous role. I remember reading somewhere that the character that shows up in American pop culture more than any other isn’t Santa Claus or Superman. It’s Dracula. And, more often than not, it’s a characterization based on Lugosi’s Count. That makes this movie appearance an important event.
Fourth, you have a last-minute cameo (of sorts) by one of the creepiest voices of them all as the unbeatable Vincent Price voices the Invisible Man.
* Mostly. Everyone draws the line a little differently.