(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?
It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown is about the only Halloween movie/show I’ll watch. I’ve got a big enough imagination, and I dream a lot, and I don’t need to watch scary stuff.
I love October though, and I’ve learned to enjoy football through the years. This year I’m going to record the Georgia/Florida game while I’m at work, and then I’ll watch it after tagging along with the girls for Trick or Treat.
Karen, you hit on some of my favorite movies, but the best is Topper. I watched the movie and then the TV show every time it cam on. I think it had a bit of influence in my short story, Way Down Upon a Suwanee Murder. Not a bit of gore in it. 🙂 Thanks for reminding me of those great old movies!
Couldn’t agree more! That is the very reason why I love classic lit so much. I find the modern generation of filmmakers and (some) writers are lazy, utilizing gore and profanity rather than mastering the English language to incite emotion. I love the original Dracula by Brahm Stoker (The novel) . What a difference from our current vampire stories! All the thrill without saturating ourselves in blood. This is the age old craft of writing and the wordsmith at his best!
I loved Hocus Pocus! Those three bumbling witches just made me laugh until my toes curled!! Another one that we seem to watch every year is the nightmare before Christmas. Not really sure if it qualifies as a Halloween movie, or Christmas….we always seem to have that debate. Love the animation, and unique twist….although I must say, when it first came out, I seriously wondered about the “fake” gore, and refused to allow my little ones to watch it. They weren’t very happy with me 🙂
Thanks for the great post, Karen! I was just thinking yesterday I needed some great movies to show my 13 year old because so much of the stuff out there is sooo gory.
Thought of some possible movies:
Monsters Inc (It’s less about scary and more about feelings, but fun!)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone
The Addams Family (maybe? It’s been years since I’ve seen it.)
Casper (?–I’ve not seen that one. Anyone else seen it?)
Goonies (that one does have some language)
I loved this post so much, Karen! I remember (and have watched) many of these movies. And I wish I could “like” this post a thousand times. I SO agree with your take on gory. It’s not necessary to include graphic muck and mire in books to depict sin.
And I agree, too, when we watch it on T.V. or read it novels, the imprint is left. Our brains often process things long after we’ve seen/read the material. That’s the same reason some of the political debates have left me cold. Oops. Bunny trail! 😉
Thanks for the movie selections and for being a light.
Watcher in the Woods is a favorite of the family! Thanks for the list!
Anything directed by Hitchcock, particularly Rear Window and Vertigo. Full of suspense, but it’s all implied, not shown.