What makes a horror movie a Halloween Movie? Some may just say that any horror movie will do, but I don’t agree. Alien, The Thing, The Trollenberg Terror, and many others are good horror movies, but they aren’t what I don’t consider ideal picks for setting a Halloween tone.
I will now present a list of nine boxes that a movie can check. The more of these statements are true about the movie, the more PDR Halloween Approved the movie is.
- The film is “spooky”. It’s about the atmosphere. The film is going for a gothic feel or trying to instill dread in some way. I feel like this is the easiest check on the list and honestly you probably wouldn’t be analyzing a movie to these criteria if it didn’t have this one for sure.
- The film is set somewhere that Halloween happens. This means that the movie takes place in a country or time period where and when the characters would celebrate Halloween, even if they do not within the movie. If the setting is a big city, we’re at least focused on an apartment or residences of some kind. If the setting is the wilderness, there are some vestiges of civilization such as a campground. We’re not too far in the future or too far in the past that the period nature of the thing overtakes the Halloweenness.
- The film is Autumnal. If Halloween is depicted within the film, this box is an automatic check, but even if it is not, the signifiers of the Fall are good too. Pumpkins. Colourful/falling leaves. Crisp evenings with the sun setting earlier.
- The film features children or teenagers in prominent roles. They don’t need to be protagonists, but they need to be there. They need to be actual characters who can affect the plot and potentially be affected by the threat.
- The film prominently features darkness. There are large sections of the film set after sunset or in dark attics and shadowy basements. It doesn’t have to be darkness that makes it hard for the viewer to see what’s going on in the movie. The effect of the darkness on the characters is what is important. The events of the movie are occurring in the dark, even if the movie is not itself dark.
- The film does not heavily feature elements from other holidays. Pretty self explanatory, but I feel like there will be pushback to this one. There’s a strong tradition of horror movies and slashers that are about other holidays, but if you’re trying to create a Halloween mood, you don’t want some Easter Bunny-themed murderer or whatever drawing attention to other times of year.
- Someone in the film wears some kind of costume or mask. Dressing up is one of the key things about Halloween, so its inclusion here basically gives a bonus point to any movie that actually depicts the holiday in action. And it nicely also gives a point to most slashers as well.
- Someone in the film is dead. It can be someone who is killed by a monster or slasher within the film, but it is also acceptable to have the dead person be a ghost or skeleton or something that appears.
- There are supernatural elements to the film that fit into “Halloween” archetypes of monsters. This is easily the most subjective item on the list, to the point where I could see it being argued as much as my main point. But it’s only a single item of the nine, so that’s fine. Ghosts, werewolves, Draculas, demons. Basically anything you’d find in a Monster Mash is a good fit for a Halloween movie. Robots and aliens can work, but when they do it’s moreso because of the spooky atmosphere than inherent in the monsters themselves, and that atmosphere was a whole different item on this list.. Similarly, things like minotaurs or dragons aren’t quite right. You know it when you see it and really only people being wilfully contrarian would fight too hard.
A movie doesn’t need to rate a full nine points to be good for Halloween. Four or five points seems like enough, really, and I bet anything six or higher would be more than adequate for the job.
I can only reiterate that this isn’t about the quality of the movie. I can say with authority that a lot of movies that check every box on this list will be crap. But they’re crap that can get one into the Halloween spirit. So now someone please go rank all horror movies by these criteria so that I may know in advance what to pick to get the Halloween feeling I crave.
But I do have to ask why I even bother? I mentioned years ago that caution tape is not a good Halloween decoration and I still see people using it as such. You’re all heathens ruining this, they Hallowest of Eens.