(First, one ground rule: This blog isn’t about, nor is it the forum for, either the debate on the origins of Halloween and whether or not Christians should celebrate it, or for the magic vs. no magic issue. Okay, on with the blog…)
I used to love Halloween. Loved helping my mom decorate the house and make popcorn balls, the treat she always gave out to costumed munchkins at the door. Which was always, back then, unlocked. Of course, my two brothers and I donned our costumes and went trick or treating too. Oh, and the fact that my older brother was born on Halloween made it even more of a celebration. (Though when people ask me if he was a trick or a treat, I usually say both. <grin>)
Halloween was so different back then. (Oh good grief! I’ve fallen into the “Back when I was young” attitude I always swore I’d never have. Face it folks, it’s inevitable.) Decorations, costumes, treats, movies, TV shows–they were all about fun. As was Halloween itself. We never imagined the things Halloween seems to mean today: gore, profanity, depravity, and protecting the kids from crazies. Nowadays when October arrives I almost always catch myself muttering, “I hate October.” Because I know what will take over TV and movies: gory, horrific, even sick shows. Things so awful that I change the channel the second a commercial for any of them comes on. It grieves me how the innocent fun of my childhood has morphed into something disgusting. Even evil.
All of which put me in mind of a discussion writers have been having for as long as I’ve been in publishing: Is graphic material necessary, in books and movies, to give a realistic depiction of temptation and darkness and sin and and evil? As I considered Halloween and what it’s become, my answer even more than ever before is a resounding NO. Because here’s the thing: graphic depictions of the darker side of humanity don’t enrich or change us, enlighten or teach us, or even make us more aware. Graphic material just pulls us into the muck and makes us numb.
So as Halloween approaches, I thought it was a good time to check out some movies (you all know how much I think writers can learn from movies) that do a great job of showing, not telling, in these areas. Of creating the sense of tension and anxiety and even flat-out fear, all without graphic material. I asked some writer friends to recommend such movies for you all, so a big shout-out to: Tracey Bateman, James Scott Bell, Melody Carlson, Jim Denney, DeAnna Dodson, Nancy Farrier, Cathy Gohlke, Linda Hall, Anita Higman, Marta Perry, Deborah Raney, Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Jill Stengl, and Sarah Sundin. Lovely, generous people, all. And, of course, I added a few as well.
As you watch these movies, look for what’s implied and see if it isn’t more effective in eliciting an emotional response than what’s explicit. Because it’s not seeing the monster in all it’s gory glory that makes us scream the loudest and longest, it’s believing with all our trembling hearts that the monster is under the bed and about to get us.
Good Old-Fashioned Creepy
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Hallowe’en Party
Arsenic and Old Lace
The House on Haunted Hill, House of Wax, The Pit and the Pendulum (Vincent Price…’nuff said)
The Watcher in the Woods (Disney and Bette Davis? Oh yeah!)
Romance with a Chill
Bell, Book, and Candle
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
Meet Me in St. Louis (remember the Halloween scene?)
Definite Creep Factor
The Crawling Eye
The Mothman Prophecies
Psycho (the original, not the remake)
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Fun with a Touch of Yikes
Ghost and Mr. Chicken
The Color of Magic
The Dog Who Saved Halloween
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
The Wizard of Oz
So what about you? Any movie recommendations that depict tension and thrills without being graphic?