Welcome once again to Ian and Blake’s annual Halloween series about a genre that does what few others can. This month, keep your eyes peeled for weekly top-five horror lists–with blistering #hottakes below. Be sure not to miss last week’s installment of the series with October’s Creepiest Urban Legends, too!
5. Dead Man’s Bones’ debut album
I am constantly keeping my ears open for music that places me within the ambience of Halloween whether it be merely how the musical atmosphere hits me or if the lyrics explicitly find their inspiration in the season. However, finding music of this variety that I would feel secure in having my niece and nephew listen to is another story. Queens of the Stone Age and The Veils are not necessarily “kid-friendly,” so I have to seek out the stuff that is musically mature, but still avoiding the more adult themes that can pervade the music I like.
As is often the case, Ryan Gosling is here to save the day. His friend, Zach Shields, and he decided to create a band because of their shared love for classic and cult horror films. In October 6, 2009, they released their first (and, so far, only) album with the help of the Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir. Finding their sound deep within the realms of folk music, what they end up creating is music that captures the suffocation and joy of Halloween. They sing songs that allude to classic horror films and the children’s choir–featured on every song–gives ample eeriness to the recording. There is darkness but it never revels in it and yet it doesn’t succumb to novelty or cheesiness. It can be enjoyed for the music, for the lyrics and at any point in the year.
4. The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illus. by Jon Klassen
During my year working full time for Barnes & Noble, I found myself in charge of the children’s section of the store so I know more about children’s lit than any 32-year-old man probably should. I could give you a list of picture book illustrators that I love, and at the top of that list is Jon Klassen. There is something about the way his drawings reflect reality and hyper-reality at the same time. He is one of those illustrators that can be recognized at the first glance. It’s not surprising then that my favorite picture book of his is the one he illustrated for Lemony Snicket, who I adore as well for his stories about the Baudelaire children.
In this story we see a young boy, Lazlo, coming to terms with the nature of his fear of the dark and how the dark really isn’t all its mythology is cracked up to be. It’s a brilliant little story that has tons of touch points for talking to kids about fear, darkness and light, and how goodness often shines brighter in the midst of darkness. It’s beautifully drawn and the story is full of Halloween-tinged imagery and fun.
3. The Simpsons‘ “Treehouse of Horror” episodes
While I would recommend this more for slightly older children, I don’t particularly find these episodes to be that problematic for any age. Nonetheless, no matter your thoughts on whether The Simpsons are still good after all these years, their Halloween episodes always bring the humor and they are simultaneously nostalgic, referential and capture much of the fun of what makes Halloween great as a holiday. Whether they are spoofing Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, or the decades of horror film and TV fodder, their sense of commentary and playfulness always make these episodes worth watching. Sometimes it takes animation to bring out the heart of a season that is often negatively reflected on by Christians in America.
2. Vincent (1982), dir. by Tim Burton
This stop-motion animated short film has three things that I love going for it. First, there is something awe-inspiring about stop-motion animation and claymation. The movements have an otherworldly element to them and when one looks out how this animation is done, it truly is a testament to the care and creativity of humanity.
Second, I have not been a fan of Tim Burton for quite a while, but this comes during a time when Burton was more interested in exploring dark worlds without his more recently quirky signature. Vincent doesn’t shy from dark hues and themes in its 6 minute runtime. Plus it is just a ton of fun to watch. However, the main reason I love Vincent is because it has narration from Vincent Price who may be the singular icon of horror. It provides a nice meta touch considering Vincent is a kid who wants to be just like Vincent Price. It’s short, appropriately dark and lovingly created. Well worth the time.
1. Ghostbusters (1984 OR 2016)
After all of the controversy over an all female cast for this year’s remake, it once again brought the 1984 classic back into the spotlight–not that it ever really left. I, for one, truly enjoyed the new incarnation of the film, but I grew up with the original so I have a slight nostalgic bias towards the original. That being said, I think both versions of the film are perfect for introducing kids to darker themes in film because even the “scary” stuff is offset by humor, never allowing the films to take themselves too seriously. Whether your son looks up to Ray, Egon, Peter or Winston or your daughter looks up to Abby, Erin, Jillian or Patty or any combination of those, what really matters is that your kids enjoy their time watching these imperfect, comedic characters take on all the things that go bump in the night. It is for this reason that these are perhaps the best example of how film can engender the season for a younger audience.
Ian Olson’s #Hottakes
5. I was first introduced to Dead Man’s Bones by none other than Blake and was immediately taken in by Ryan Gosling. Wait! I meant the haunting baritone vocals and rootsy minimalism pumping these songs full of undead life. Okay…and Ryan Gosling. Come on.
4. Lemony Snicket evokes the alien side of Burton’s whimsical infatuation with the macabre and does so in a way that doesn’t open an avalanche of existential dread in the youngling. Well… Maybe it does. I didn’t experience the grim cheekiness of Lemony Snicket until I was in my twenties, so I may be totally out of element and oblivious to the gaping psychic wounds endured by diminutive humans the world over. In which case, sorry y’all!
3. There’s a reason Treehouse of Horror became an annual staple: the scathing irreverence that once characterized the show’s demurral of, well, pretty much everything was focused once a year on all the Halloween tropes we love (and love to loathe) so much. Only in Treehouse of Horror will you hear a character groan, “Oh no, it’s the fog that turns people inside out,” do absolutely nothing to evade it, disgustingly flip inside out and then start a Broadway-style chorus line number. Also up for grabs: Homer’s head turning into a doughnut (which he continues to eat regardless), aliens invading after the residents of Springfield recover from a panicked hearing of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast, and Homer warning a vampiric Bart not to bite his sister. I’ve always appreciated animated.
2. Vincent is one of those works that encapsulates the themes and the visual style of its creator in such an anticipatory fashion you can imagine the long line of subsequent works spiraling out from it like vine on a trellis. Every Burton conceit is here in nuce and his aesthetic is already firmly in place, fully formed it seems. When I was a lad I used to celebrate Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday (complete with cake custom baked by Grandma) each year, so Vincent resonates all the more with me. I didn’t conduct any experiments on my dog, I’m pleased to report, but there’s enough there for me to recognize my reflection at least a little at the bottom of this early Burton well.
1. Ghostbusters is untouchable. Period. You will not find a tighter, more focused crew than Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, and Hudson. Yeah, you heard me: Ernie Hudson delivers in Ghostbusters. “That’s a big twinkie” slays everytime with its eyes closed! The wedding of campy horror with fleet-footed barbs and deadpan deliveries (“Do you like to read?” “Print is dead.”) renders Ghostbusters supremely re-watchable. I remember being five years old, anticipating Halloween’s arrival and wanting to put the Ghostbusters soundtrack on the turntable, then hiding behind the drapes once the theme came on because I was bashful over how incredibly pleased I was. Sure, you’ll want to strategically cough at a couple of points if you watch this with little boils and ghouls (and maybe just redirect conversation when they don’t understand Stan’s dream…) but all things considered, Ghostbusters is the ideal gateway in!