Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. It all goes back to when I was a little girl. My dad loves to dress up and would create elaborate costumes for my sisters and I. The best costume he ever made was Mac Tonight for my sister. 80’s babies remember him as the the crooning crescent moon McDonald’s mascot. My sisters and I weren’t the only ones to be outfitted for trick-or-treating. Our house was also lavishly decorated. DIY-style, of course. My father isn’t one who buys but builds his costumes and decor. I remember stuffing scarecrows with him that would sit on our front lawn. The heads were made of a trash bag and the flannel shirts and jeans were acquired from Goodwill or may have been ones that no longer fit. But there is one thing about Halloween that I’m not too good with and that’s scary movies. I’m a fraidy cat. While I love Hitchcock thrillers and psychological suspense films, I run the other way when it comes to gore. I’ve never seen Friday the 13th, Halloween, or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I saw Scream with one eye closed and I can’t even think about those sequels.
During Halloween week, I watch Halloween-themed movies but they’re not the films you expect. I lean towards Hocus Pocus, Casper, and Ghostbusters. So, for my fellow fraidy cats out there, I’ve compiled a list of some of my go-to favorites from the classic era that I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I do.
5. Scared Stiff
Scared Stiff is one of the few Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis pictures I can actually stand. (Sorry folks, Jerry just doesn’t do it for me) It’s a remake of Ghostbreakers starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. Lewis is a bus boy and Martin is, you guessed it, a nightclub performer. The two get mistakenly caught up in a murder and escape to an island in the caribbean. Hijinks ensue with Lizabeth Scott, Carmen Miranda, and even a zombie along for the ride. I didn’t know Lizabeth Scott was a film noir femme fatale before I saw this film as this was the first film I ever saw of hers. She’s good with the comedic timing and her husky voice is still there. This is sadly Carmen Miranda’s final film. She died of a heart attack two years later.
4. Arsenic and Old Lace
This morbid comedy takes place on Halloween with Cary Grant and his offbeat family. This is one of my absolute favorite Cary Grant performances. He lets loose in this screwball comedy that features Priscilla Lane, Josephine Hull, and Peter Lorre. Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, a writer who is about to be married. When he visits his aunts to give them the news and introduce them to his bride to be, he learns they’ve been poisoning lonely men in the area. This comedy is different from Capra’s other notable works like Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and It’s a Wonderful Life, it’s a much more fast paced tone with endless gags. You’ll be laughing out loud watching this one.
3. Young Frankenstein
Young Frankenstein is as much a horror movie spoof as it is a love letter to Classic Hollywood in the 1940’s and the Universal monster films. Shot in black and white, it gives you a feel of that glamorous era. Not only does the film make fun of the genre, it makes fun of itself with its quick wit and hijinks. Gene Wilder plays the grandson of Victor Frankenstein who goes back to Transylvania to inherit the family estate. While there, he uncovers his grandfather’s private journals detailing his experiment. Inspired by his grandfather, he sets out to finish what he started. Wilder is at the top of his game and joining him are Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn, and Terri Garr along for the ride. It’s one of Mel Brooks’ masterpieces worthy of the hype.
2. I Married a Witch
Veronica Lake shows a knack for comedy as a 17th century witch in this delightful film from Paramount. After she and her father were burned at the stake during the Salem witch trials, the 300-year-old witch Jennifer gets revenge by cursing the Puritan who denounced them. When lightning strikes a tree, the witches return. Jennifer tries to torment politician Wallace Wooley (Frederic March) who is related to the man who sent the witches to be burned. Along the way, she ends up falling in love. Lakes turns in a charming performance and the old school effects make this a perfect Halloween night in.
1. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
When it comes to horror spoofs, this is one of the greatest. In a genius move by Universal, they created a crossover of their popular monster properties with the Abbott and Costello universe. In this film, the Wolfman, Dracula, and Frankenstein all make appearances. Coffins containing the bodies of Dracula and Frankenstein are sent to a museum by the Wolfman (in human form) but when the full moon arises he turns into his monster self and Dracula and Frankenstein come alive. What unravels next is a hilarious tale as the monsters run amuck. This was the first of three monster parodies for Abbott and Costello. In the others, they would meet the Mummy and the Invisible Man. The others are quite fun but don’t quite match the charm of meeting the OG’s: Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr. and Glen Strange.