Despite having lived in the midwest over the last few years, I am by birth a New Englander. That means Halloween lives in my blood. Halloween (like the rest of the country) was born on the salty shores of New England and this is where it continues to reside for me. Yes, yes, we all celebrate Halloween and I’m sure everyone feels their quaint little town, once the leaves start turning and the pumpkins come out, embodies that spirit better than any other place. But Halloween is something altogether different, more palpable in New England.
So suffice it to say I will save you the suspense and deliver spoilers for my own list, which is set in the Puritanical belly of New England: Salem. My number one favorite Halloween movie (musical or otherwise) is Hocus Pocus. That in mind, I present you with my definitive list of the greatest Halloween Movie Musicals.
7. Nightmare Before Christmas
Ahh, my first love. You never forget your first. In elementary school, I’d skip class to hide out in the woods behind the school and declare at the top of my lungs that I was the Pumpkin King. Sadly, it would be another decade or so before I discovered psychedelics and this would be considered acceptable. Still sets the standard for the perfect mix of the cute and the macabre and inspired a lifelong appreciation for Oingo Boingo. Generally good for a repeat performance around Christmas too, so that’s a plus.
6. Repo: The Genetic Opera
A young upstart contender! How did he make it into this shaky, hastily tossed-together bracket? By being FUCKING CRAZY, that’s how! By having Giles from Buffy play an organ repossession lunatic, that’s how! By having rock legend Joan Jett show up to play rhythm guitar in the background of a scene for no reason, unexplained, apropos of nothing, THAT’S HOW! By having goddamned BILL MOSELEY IN IT, THAT’S HOW!
I know, and I haven’t even gotten to Paris Hilton mincing around alongside Sarah Brightman, or how this actually functions pretty well as an opera, in spite of its diminished expectations. Just watch the clip, OK?
5. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Hard to call this one a real quintessential Halloween pick since it’s a little too scatterbrained, a little too winking to be considered properly “horror.” Still, I’ve always loved it: the charmingly low-budget effects, the campy performances, the gleeful reveling in kink, and Richard O’Brien’s faithfully rendered tribute to the protorock bubblegum and rockabilly of the 1950s (back when it wasn’t just encouraged, but downright obligatory to have a sweet sax solo). It all works for me.
4. Trick or Treat (1986)
This is a real perfect storm of a movie. Debuting in the era when people were actually concerned with backmasked lyrics and albums called “Fuck Like A Beast,” it feels like the strange combination of the hysteria felt by both anti-metal crusaders and the adolescent wish fulfillment of a pimply Ratt fan. Great appearance by Ozzy (still able to convincingly “act” without needing subtitles), Gene Simmons (greasy as ever), and pretty gnarly 80s hair metal tunes though.
3. Young Frankenstein
Look, I know it barely counts as a musical. But Young Frankenstein is probably quantifiably the greatest comedy of all time (its only real competition is The Jerk) and its loving homage to the Universal horror aesthetic put it high on my list. Besides, one of the most enduring goofs of the movie is music based, so that’s a thing.
2. Phantom of the Paradise
Now THIS is a hidden gem. Barely coherent, it coasts on this twisted glam vibe that sounds like a Martian had to dictate what he thought thought Faust was about into the IAmT-Pain app. Still, it has a some truly impressively campy dance numbers, and a really excellent soundtrack filled with bizarro pastiche (sensing a theme here?) by Paul Williams (think Randy Newman on a budget and LSD).
1. Hocus Pocus
This, I realize, is a controversial choice. It beats out a legion of highly qualified other contenders (including movies titled after the holiday itself), is made by Disney for children, and features Bette Midler.
On the other hand, I posit there is no movie better at capturing the dry, cold wind and ubiquitous menace and thrill of being a kid on Halloween in New England. And yes, I am aware of the irony that the film having been (quite obviously at times) filmed on a LA studio set. Still, to see Billy Bones stalking Max, Dani, and Allison (three of the 90sest names to ever have been assembled) and that fucking cat Thackery Binx through the red, dry leaves of Salem… It warms the heart of a homesick ghoul to this day.
Some of my strongest memories related to the film are its musical moments. Now, obviously, if you’ve got a diva like the Divine Miss M, ya gotta have a big showcase number, kid! That in mind, they whip up a pretty respectable version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “I Put A Spell on You” (it was actually my first exposure to the song. Just because I have a degree in Media Studies doesn’t mean I was born having seen Stranger than Paradise). It’s downright mean in that Vegas way.
The other musical moment is, perhaps, more of a product of the time in my development that coincided with the film. My, uh, manly development.
Sarah Jessica Parker singing “Come Little Children” gave me weird feelings. And not just your run-of-the-mill puerile excitements (THAT type of thing can be squarely placed on her delivery of the line “Hang him on a hook and let me play with him!” That kind of thing puts hair on your chest). It was legitimately seductive. The melody had that haunting lullaby quality, and her delivery was the perfect mix of sexual and naive. It was the first time I felt a certain tug on my senses by an exotic, mysterious lady (with a killer rack. Seriously, sexiest SJP has ever looked. You know Matthew Broderick has had her dig that corset out of the closet a few times to help counteract the wilting repulsion at her present leathery state).
While on the subject, it was also the movie to introduce me to the word “virgin.” I had never even HEARD the word before (I’m Jewish, so the Virgin Mary wasn’t a thing). The movie is vague on its precise meaning, but suffice it to say, the embarrassment on Max’s face when he has to admit it to the girl he likes paints a pretty compelling picture. Being a virgin was lame. Being a virgin means that if you light the black flame candle, a bunch of witches are gonna be summoned from the grave and fuck your shit up. Being a virgin means your little sister makes fun of your dumb 90s haircut. That shit is weaksauce.
Pretty heavy stuff for a kids’ movie.
Sanderson Sisters ain’t nothing to fuck with. ‘Nuff said.
Tags: Hocus Pocus