October 30, 2014 Groundwood Books

Glen Huser’s Top 5 Halloween Movies for Kids

The Elevator Ghost

My novel The Elevator Ghost is a story that begins and ends on Halloween, and, as I’ve grown older, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around just what it is about the day that enchanted me as a youngster and has continued to do so. The key I think is in that word ‘enchanted’. Halloween pulls itself away from its commonplace siblings by the very way it spurs us to view the world around us as a place of wonder and danger, where things — like nature itself — are not always what they seem. I would add another word to wrap around the appeal of Halloween for me: humour. The best Halloween moments are scary or awesome … or funny.

A tradition for me over many years has been to watch a movie after the calls of “Halloween apples” have faded away and my doorbell has quit ringing. I’m fond of the animated films of Tim Burton and Henry Selick and staples such as Joe Dante’s Gremlins, but more often than not I’m apt to slip one of these old favourites into my DVD player:

Meet Me in St. Louis

Vincente Minelli, 1944

In brilliant technicolor, we follow the Smith family in St. Louis over the year (1903) that Dad considers and then decides against a move to New York. A fall sequence features Totie (6-year-old Margaret O’Brien) in her tramp costume volunteering to visit the scariest house on the street to “kill” (throw flour in the face of) Mr. Braukoff. Among the other treats, of course, is Judy Garland — never more beautiful or in finer voice. (For viewers of all ages.)

E.T.

Steven Spielberg, 1982

This picture remains a spellbinding sci-fi/fantasy. No matter what age you are, it’s impossible not to identify with the lost and frightened extraterrestrial. I love that it applauds the empathy and powerful spirit of children. A key scene has them bicycling through the sky (shades of Peter Pan) on Halloween with E.T. garbed as a ghost. (For viewers 8 and up.)

To Kill a Mockingbird

Robert Mulligan, 1962

There’s a very scary house (complete with a bogeyman) on the street where 6-year-old Scout (Mary Badham) and her older brother Jem (Phillip Alford) live. We follow the two over a summer and fall in a sleepy southern town in the 1930s that is riled to life by the trial of an African-American man for rape. A knuckle-biting scene near the end has Scout, costumed as a Thanksgiving ham, being pursued through the woods by a madman. (For viewers 11 and up)

Night of the Hunter

Charles Laughton, 1955

After a bank robbery which leads to their father’s imprisonment and execution, two children — John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce) — are on the run from a murderous, demented preacher (chillingly portrayed by Robert Mitchum) intent on getting the money stashed in Pearl’s doll. Terrible circumstances lead them on a downriver journey to sanctuary in the hands of an old woman (Lillian Gish) who collects and protects abandoned children. (For viewers 11 and up.)

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Charles Barton, 1948

I’m not a huge fan of Abbott and Costello, but this one is a Halloween treat as the comedy team, baggage handlers for a house of horrors, meet not only Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) but Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.). An enjoyable introduction to some of Universal Studio’s pantheon of horror stars. (For viewers 8 and up.)

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