Six Movies for Scaredy-Cats to Watch This Halloween.
Back in 2009, I started Halloween Movie Fest as a way push my movie watching boundaries. It was a fun excuse to force myself to watch films that scared me, hoping I’d find a new appreciation for horror, and discover a new frontier of things to love. And it worked! I now watch and love movies year-round that I never would have watched if not for HMF. Ever since, that has continued to be a big part of why I still do this.
But, hey, scaredy-cats are people, too! Hell, I used to be one (and still am sometimes). Everyone should be able to enjoy some Halloween movie joy of their own, even if they have no desire to face their cinematic fears.
Not to mention that things are scary enough as it is right now, and while I’d argue there are many things horror fiction has to offer us in the midst of scary times, it’s still understandable if you’ve had your fill of fear.
In that spirit, here are a few movies for scaredy-cats to watch this Halloween.
As an extra precaution for those of you out there who avoid scares at all costs, I’m including a scare-meter. It goes from 1–10, with one skull being not scary at all, and ten being… well, there won’t be any tens. I know horror fans out there might scoff at how many skulls I gave some of these films, but I‘ll have you know that when I made the ratings, I consulted my wife — a noted scholar and scaredy-cat — because I know I’ve been too desensitized to make a fair judgment without some help.
I mean, it’s Ghostbusters. I’m not sure what I could possibly say if you aren’t familiar with one of the most famous ghost-related movies in the history of film.
It’s perfect for Halloween. It’s not scary. Bill Murray. The end.
Of all the films from Mel Brooks’s legendary career, this is hands down my favorite. There isn’t a single performance in this comedic masterpiece that isn’t perfect, with folks like Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, and Marty Feldman at their absolute best. It’s not just a great Halloween-appropriate comedy, but a primer for the style and sensibilities of an entire generation of comedy’s inner-circle.
To be honest, the scariest thing about this movie is it’s a reminder that we live in a world without Gene Wilder.
Having already made a list featuring particularly kid-friendly films, I tried to veer away from those here. And yet, I just couldn’t leave off Labyrinth. It’s an all time classic, featuring music from David Bowie, and of a cast of characters created in the Jim Henson Creature Shop. Read that sentence again, because it’s one of the greatest descriptions in the history of film.
As it is with Gene Wilder, the scariest thing about this movie is it’s a reminder that we live in a world without David Bowie.
Night of the Living Dead
Okay, bear with me on this one. I know that by the standards of a scaredy-cat, this one might be a bit of a stretch, but I’m including it because if you’re willing to push your boundaries a little, this movie isn’t as scary as the name suggests. There are no big scares or jump scenes, just a general sense of dis-ease, along with the horror of the concept itself.
With Night of the Living Dead, and its sequel, Dawn of the Dead, Romero gave birth to a socially critical horror subgenre that still has relevance today. Giving this one a try would be an opportunity to see one of the most culturally significant horror films of all time, without losing sleep for the next three weeks.
Plan 9 From Outer Space
Scare-meter: 💀 (insert hackneyed joke about how it’s scary how horrible it is.)
Some movies aren’t scary because their creators never intended them to be. Plan 9 From Outer Space isn’t scary because it’s creator, Ed Wood, failed so brilliantly in his attempt to create a chilling sci-fi-horror masterpiece.
It’s a truly, truly terrible film. Its undisputed claim to the title of ‘worst film of all time’ has been challenged by movies like Troll 2, The Room, and Birdemic: Shock and Terror, but even a cursory Google search reveals that Plan 9 is still on any self-respecting shortlist of the worst movies ever made.
Why am I including it here if it’s so bad, you ask? Because I can assure you it sits safely in “so bad it’s good” territory. It’s really bad, and totally worth watching.
However, as bad as this movie is, I need to give credit where credit is due. Nine years after the release of Plan 9 From Outer Space, Night of the Living Dead featured the same sort of undead ghouls* as Plan 9, just swap out alien ray guns for radiation from a space probe returning from Venus.
Bonus: If you want to make it a Plan 9 double feature, Tim Burton’s Ed Wood is an intentionally campy black-and-white comedy about Wood, including the production of his most infamous film. Starring Johnny Depp in the eponymous role (back when he was still the entertaining version of Johnny Depp), it’s ostensibly a biopic, but it has a tenuous connection to the facts at best. In reality, it’s Burton’s attempt to capture the spirit of this odd, oblivious, baselessly confident and optimistic filmmaker. And on a refreshing note — especially by today’s standards — Burton’s depiction of Wood is never mean-spirited. (💀)
What We Do in the Shadows
Scare-meter: 💀💀💀 (Not exactly scary, but a few moments are a bit bloody for some people’s tastes.)
What We Do in the Shadows, cowritten and co-directed with Jemaine Clement, is the film that made the world take notice of Taika Waititi’s unique voice and immense talent. It’s the primary reason he got to write and direct Thor: Ragnarok for the MCU, and somehow got FOX to greenlight a movie about a little German boy whose imaginary friend is Adolph Hitler.
Not only is this a great film for the horror-averse to watch this Halloween, but all of Taika Waititi’s films are the perfect balm for our wounded psyches as we try to navigate the horrifying place the real world has become. His films are all stories about outcasts and weirdos finding a family, and each film is equal parts silly and smart, with a sweet, empathetic heart beating at its core — even this story, about undead monsters who murder people on the reg.
Bonus: In addition to these, you could also go with anything on my previous list of films to watch with the kids you love. Most of them, including the honorable mentions, are great for adults, even if there isn’t a kid in sight.
* Yes, ‘ghouls.’ Neither filmmaker called their monsters ‘zombies.’ Romero in particular would’ve had no intention to create an analogue to any of the wildly racist appropriations of Haitian folklore popular in Hollywood in the 1940s and 50s. The term ‘zombies’ was added later by critics and fans, not by Romero or Wood.