Well, friends, it’s already the 22nd of Halloween October: leaves are changing and pumpkins are everywhere, so if the urge to watch Halloween movies has not kicked in yet, you may want to see a doctor. The classic Halloween entertainment lexicon for adults is comprised largely of slasher films like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. The genre is comprised mostly of sexually promiscuous teenagers or young adults—especially women—being pursued and violently killed by a humanoid horror of some kind. While there are a few good eggs amongst slasher films, the shrieking blood-and-guts aspect is not really my cup of tea, and for anyone of like mind who still wants to live Halloween entertainment to the fullest, I propose digging up some spooky children’s movies from the late 80’s and early 90’s, because they have aged better than you think.
I shudder to imagine what sort of person I would be if I had not seen Hocus Pocus several hundred times throughout my formative years. To this day I dress in layers upon layers of slightly shabby, earthy-colored clothing and get side-eyed by good Christians. Though its theatrical release was in the summer of 1993, every aspect of the film positively bleeds Halloween. It follows Max, his sister Dani, and their friend Allison as they try to destroy a trio of evil witches that Max has accidentally resurrected on Halloween night in Salem, Massachusetts. Although Max is the main character, the film has a majority female cast, and sort of subverts the “ritual virgin” trope by having him be the required virgin who resurrects the witches, even though two presumably virginal women are with him at the time. While the three antagonists are as over-the-top as one would expect for a children’s movie about child-stealing witches, they are also dynamic and funny and all-around great entertainment.
If you must watch any movie besides Hocus Pocus (which you don’t really need to, let’s be honest) your other best bet would be Addams Family Values, the 1993 sequel to The Addams Family. The movies are based on a 1964 television show by the same name, and the characters are a strangely gothic, macabre family living in an otherwise normal modern world. While the 1991 Addams family movie is decent, the story is a little muddy. The sequel, Addams Family Values, is a standalone film with a better story overall, and does an excellent job of juxtaposing the Addams family’s strange lifestyle with the outside world, to comedic effect. There is no actual reference to Halloween in the film—it actually takes place sometime around Thanksgiving—but the family lives in a massive Victorian mansion in a graveyard, has a disembodied hand as a pet and what appears to be an animated corpse as a butler, gives their children knives to play with, and dresses almost entirely in 100-year-old mourning attire. It’s hard not to make the thematic connection.
After starring as Wednesday Addams in the Addams family movies, Christina Ricci seems to have become fairly devoted to spooky movies, starring in several throughout her life, including Sleepy Hollow and a series about Lizzie Borden. In 1995 she starred in Casper, a lighthearted movie about a girl who meets the ghost of a teenage boy while accompanying her father on a lifelong paranormal investigation mission. Though it has a strong Halloween theme, Casper barely counts as scary. All the ghosts are cartoonish and fundamentally harmless, and the resolution of the story focuses on thwarting an evil businesswoman and coming to terms with the idea of death. Though the story does rely on the “dead mom”/”dead wife” trope for a large portion of the main characters’ motivations, it’s still a fun and entertaining film with a capable female lead.
Another stellar spooky film about a teenaged girl meeting ghosts is Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. Though not officially aimed at children, it strikes the right balance of scary and silly to appeal to young audiences. While The Nightmare Before Christmas is Tim Burton’s quintessential holiday work and definitely another Halloween movie worth watching, I actually prefer Beetlejuice from both a narrative and character perspective. Though it has some serious themes about death and ostracism, it’s less melancholy than The Nightmare Before Christmas, and—perhaps due to it being live action rather than stop-motion—the characters are more emotive and relatable. Lydia Deetz, the sulky goth with distant parents who can see ghosts, is a character many teenagers can identify with, and though the film has some distinctly Burton-esque scary moments, the happy ending is very refreshing.
Besides being necessarily less violent and less sexual on the whole, children’s Halloween movies have the added bonus of not disproportionately killing female characters as punishment for sexual behavior. Most of them are not exactly feminist masterpieces, but they tend to have a good male-female character balance, and in all the examples here, female characters have interesting stories and personalities, which is an important element for young audiences of all genders to be exposed to.