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What Makes a Halloween Film?

What is the true essence of a Halloween film? What makes a film so intrinsically linked to this time of year? Whilst Halloween is a season to bask in the joy of fear, the tingling anticipation that arises in the moments just as you know you are about to be scared, the most notable Halloween films are often not that frightening. In my analysis of what makes a good Halloween film I intentionally disregard scary films, the likes of Scream and The Conjuring, as they exist within the cross-section of both horror and Halloween. Instead, I turn my attention to those films which warm the soul. The ones that highlight the nostalgia of Halloween, a holiday in which we are once again allowed to be our childlike selves, to believe in mystical fantasies and otherworldly possibilities. 

The success of non-horror Halloween films reflects our innate human desire to seek comfort in the unknown, to befriend the monsters under our beds. Unlike the traditional horror genre, these films do not seek solely to incite fear, but rather, to use fear as a means of generating a sense of peace, a warm familiarity and overall wonder. Some of the greatest Halloween films include Hocus Pocus, Casper, Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie, Coraline and Coco. Although their target audience is mainly intended to be children, they are undoubtedly classics that will be watched long past the boundaries of childhood. 

On a cold autumn night, the sun having set and the wind beating at the windows, the comfort of a Halloween film calls. The perfect Halloween film must do 3 things: incite a childlike nostalgia, be visually appealing and, importantly, create the right level of fear. 

Although nostalgia is often considered to arise from memories of childhood, I argue that nostalgia can be inherent even if you are watching a film for the first time. Nostalgia is created in the lighting of a scene, the tone of its colours, the soundtrack or the score. Hocus Pocus and Casper are movies that spark a joyful astonishment and an innate sense of familiarity, no matter what age you are when you first watch them. 

Furthermore, the visual imagery of a movie is crucial to its consideration as a Halloween film. Regardless of whether the film captures the sober grayscale tones of traditional horror, such as Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie, or if it highlights the bright oranges and reds associated with festive celebrations, as in Coco, it must invoke a sense of Halloween and the supernatural. True Halloween films portray their emotion through consistently appealing visual imagery and a large part of their lure is that they draw you in with their appeasing aesthetics. 

However, the greatest marker of a Halloween film is how well the concept of fear is incorporated into its storytelling. There needs to be just the right amount of terror, a sustained level of unease, but most importantly, a sense of wonder and magic that captivates the viewers despite the fear. The audience of a Halloween film needs to be unsettled but ultimately soothed and comforted by a familiar story with a heart-warming ending. Coraline is a great example of a film which is simultaneously nostalgic, visually appealing and frighteningly magical. 

Officially, the era of horror Halloween films is over. Family-friendly, nostalgia-filled movies are the ones which capture our hearts the most. It is the intrinsic knowledge that these films belong to this holiday, that they are not a horror film, a comedy or an animation, but instead a Halloween film, which makes their viewing experience so enchanting. The best tributes to Halloween films are the ones which are, themselves, fully dedicated to the genre. Ultimately, these films capture our true fantastical joy and allow us to experience the magic of childhood again, even if just for an hour or two.

Corpse Bride” by NicestGuyEver is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.