If you're anything like me, the critical mass of horror film viewing accelerates exponentially for you as Halloween grows near. There's an absolute event horizon which signals that all bets are off and all films are fair game. Every year I hoard the creme de la creme of seasonal films for a ten day binge of epic proportions. Fasting off of these films during the remaining three hundred and fifty five days sweetens the nectar of nostalgia, and establishes yearly watch traditions which I feel have evaporated in our on demand world. I plan to share some of these films as we approach Halloween, beginning with the best animated fair.
Dig deep, sift through the haze of teenage hormones, and recall the dial bound television of childhood. Despite lacking the overwhelming popularity of Christmas, Halloween had its own collection of holiday specials which the network affiliates would dust off to parade across the cathode ray tube-scape. With a dog eared TV Guide perched dutifully on the arm of the couch, we would traverse the vivid landscape of a mostly animated landscape of imagination. Dual methods of corn consumption vied for mouth space as candy corn and popcorn duked it out for stomach supremacy. It's a wonder children of the 60's, 70's, and 80's survived with their teeth intact. It was a wondrous feeling, and one which could not come around again soon enough. But what made those times so special were the uniquely pumpkin flavored programs which could only be seen once a year.
1966's It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is the second holiday special featuring Charles Shultz's Peanuts gang in all of their animated glory. There's a breathless air of self discovery dangling as a thread throughout the quick twenty-five minute run time here. Ostensibly Linus is out to validate his belief in the Great Pumpkin, a Halloween flavored Santa Claus figure. Peeling back the layers reveals an Arthurian challenge of faith which Linus passes, though without reward. On an even deeper level, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is about learning to live with disappointment without letting it get you down, a message that's very difficult to instill in children. Still it's a fun and whimsical tale which manages to hit all the right soft spots while still managing to resonate with deeper meaning.
The 60's must have been the year for creating immortal Halloween specials because barely a season passed before Rankin/Bass released Mad Monster Party. If the studio sounds familiar but you're having difficulty placing it, perhaps these titles should serve to clarify: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, The Little Drummer Boy, and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Each of these (and a great many more) were created using Rankin/Bass' wonderful stop motion method termed "Animagic". Wonder must certainly have been in the air at the studio as each of these films manages to cast an enchantment upon the viewer, age be damned.
Mad Monster Party brings together the denizens of Universal's monster stable, then rounds out the group with a few more favorites. Frankenstein, his monster, Count Dracula, the Invisible Man, the Mummy, the Wolfman, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and Quasimodo are all given loving stop motion treatment, the kind of warm retro style that assures it shall never be forgotten. This is a fully camp creation, fun for the whole family, and absolutely required viewing each year as the leaves turn and pumpkins face a gorey end.
There are so many more entries if we begin counting Halloween themed episodes of normal television shows, but we all know there's only one which actually counts: The Tree House of Horror. Open the window and toss out the idea that The Simpsons hasn't been relevant for over a decade; it is for one day a year. And since this year's "couch gag" has been assembled by none other than Guillermo Del Toro it should come as no surprise that it's positively jam packed with references to horror films both mainstream and niche, luminary creators, and his own films as well. Thankfully this year's TTHoH is actually being broadcast in October. While that seemingly a no brainer, this is Fox we're talking about, and they've been known to bump it into November to make way for playoff baseball (just chalk it up on their lengthy sin sheet).
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.
Mania is the premiere online destination for fans of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and anime entertainment. It is the largest community offering profiles, video, science fiction movies, sci fi TV, art, sci fi comics, photos, cheats, blogs, science fiction books, forums and feedback. Mania offers insider entertainment industry info and original content for science fiction, fantasy, and horror entertainment genres including: video games, comics, gadgets, movies, television, toys, music, books, DVDs and more.