Happy Weekend – Halloween is just around the corner! In the spirit of the upcoming All Hallows Eve celebrations, I thought I’d blog my top three Halloween movies. In case you don’t have plans for this wet and chilly Atlanta weekend, these festive films will provide plenty of entertainment. And since I prefer sweet to scary, my top three are all pretty family friendly. So make some popcorn, break into that Halloween candy (if you haven’t already), fix a pitcher of margaritas, and get cozy with these three charmers.
Starring: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Thora Birch, and Sean Murray
Released: July 16, 1993
Running Time: 96 minutes
Favourite Quote: “No, no! He’s a good zombie!”
When I first saw Hocus Pocus I was 9 years old. It had just come out in theatres and I was beyond pumped to go and see it. Ever since we learned about Salem, Massachusetts and the history of the witch trials that took place there in the 1600s, I was fascinated with all things bewitching. So, I dragged my Mom and cousin, Ashley, to go and see it. It still stands as one of my Mom’s favourite movies. Ashley, on the other hand, got so scared she ran out of the theatre. Let me be clear, though. Hocus Pocus is not a scary movie. It is a Disney movie. And Ashley is a chicken. Eighteen years later she still hasn’t seen it all the way through and needless to say, it has become a bit of a family joke. On All Hallows Eve in 1663 Salem, three local witches lure a young girl out of the village to their cottage in the woods. Sisters Mary, Sarah, and Winifred Sanderson (played by Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Bette Milder), keep themselves eternally young by sucking the lives out of children. (I’m making it sound scary again. I swear it’s not.) But on this Halloween night, their luck runs out and they are captured by the torch-wielding townspeople and sentenced to hang for their crimes. As they stand at the gallows, Winifred places a curse on the city of Salem. On Halloween night, the one night in which spirits can return from the grave. A virgin will light the magical black flame candle, giving them until dawn to regain their powers. Amazingly, it takes 300 years for such a virgin to do just that. And for what reason you might ask? Oh, you know, to look tough and impress a girl (cause that’s how we roll in 1993). Max Dennison (Omri Katz), his sister Dani (Thora Birch), and Max’s high school crush Alison (Vinessa Shaw) must keep the children of Salem safe from the witches until dawn’s light can turn the three back into dust. And since no Halloween movie is complete without a black cat, they are aided by the help of Thackery Binx (NCIS’s Sean Murray), a 17th century Salem boy cursed to live as an adorable talking feline for the rest of eternity. Although I probably didn’t fully appreciate it at the time (what with being so busy checking out the cute boys), the true star of Hocus Pocus is undeniably Bette Midler. She sings; she dances; she cracks the best one liners. Is there anything the woman can’t do? She is the leader of the terrible coven, the brains behind the operation, allowing Parker and Najimy, in their roles as truly idiotic sidekicks, to provide additional comic relief, which they do well. Parker, as the boy-crazy youngest sister, also brings a little bit of much needed sex appeal to the group (possibly a good practice round for her role in Sex and the City). However, as brilliantly funny as Hocus Pocus is, what sticks with me as an adult is the love Max has for his sister and how he is willing to do whatever it takes to protect her. The great balance seems to strike so well between heart and funny bone is rarely shown better than with Hocus Pocus.
Starring: Christina Ricci and Bill Pullman
Released: May 26, 1995
Running Time: 100 minutes
Favourite Quote: “Cinderella wasn’t 12 years old.”
Although I can’t claim to have been a fan of the Casper comic books, or even the cartoons, the 1995 film became an instant classic in my house. I must have watched it every day for two months the summer before 8th grade – and not just because I had a massive crush on Devon Sawa, who makes a surprise appearance at the end of the movie. After all these years, Casper is still one of those movies I can watch again and again. The recently widowed Dr. James Harvey (Bill Pullman) and his teenage daughter Kat (Christina Ricci) travel across the country, moving from city to city where Dr. Harvey works as a psychiatrist for the “living impaired,” hoping one day to discover the ghost of his deceased wife. After their latest stint in Santé Fe, Dr. Harvey is called to Friendship, Maine where Carrigan Crittenden (Cathy Moriarty), your typical Cruella de Vil style villain, is trying to rid the supremely cool and supremely creepy Whipstaff Manor of its ghostly inhabitants. Crittenden and her ridiculous assistant Dibbs (played by Monty Python’s own Eric Idle, are desperate to gain entrance to the haunted mansion to search for the treasure supposedly hidden inside. As resident troublemakers, ghosts Stretch, Stinkie, and Fatso, make it just a little bit difficult for them. Casper haunts Whipstaff along with his offensive ghostly uncles and, true to form, just wants to make some friends. Christina Ricci, who performed most of her scenes alone on set, plays the part of Kat wonderfully. In 1995, when Casper was released, she was undeniably the it-girl of the moment for young adult movies. I’ve always loved her movies; from the coming of age Now and Then to the lesser known Gold Diggers (don’t worry, it’s not about what it sounds like). What I think is most remarkable about this modern update is the level of depth the writers, directors, and producers gave to what could have been a mindlessly entertaining storyline. Casper’s score, composed by James Horner, perfectly reflects the film’s light and dark moments, and we’re surprisingly drawn in by its hauntingly poignancy. We get more out of the film than just “Casper the friendly ghost.” We get a sense of what it feels like for him to exist as both a boy and a ghost, long after the death of his parents. What in the cartoons was his comic search for friends is now a true yearning to be a real boy, able to play and dance and be young. We also get a realistic view into the loss of a parent and an, albeit lighthearted, understanding of the complexities of death and loss.
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing, and Dianne Wiest
Released: October 16, 1998
Running Time: 103 minutes
Favourite Quote: “Since when is being a slut a crime in this family?”
Over ten years after its release, Practical Magic still holds its dear place as my favourite movie about witches. Based on the acclaimed novel by Alice Hoffman, it portrays witches just as I believe they exist in real life – as beautiful and self-reliant women who find strength and power in their inherent femininity. These witches work in their gardens, eat pancakes and brownies, nurture their loved ones, make homemade lotions, and aren’t afraid of laugh lines. The intuitive magic they possess is the kind I believe can be found in all women. Following the death of their parents, sisters Sally and Gillian Owens, played by Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, are sent to live a strange yet cozy life with their two eccentric Aunts. In the Aunt’s small seaside Massachusetts town the four live as outcasts, rejected by the townspeople, who for generations have gossiped about the mysterious powers of the Owens women and the tendency of their husbands to meet untimely ends. It seems that in the throes of heartbreak, Sally and Gilly’s ancestor made a vow never to love again. Her vow soon turned into a curse that any man loved by an Owen’s woman would die. The elder Sally (Bullock) lives her life in fear of the curse, afraid to love, and rejects her own powers in an attempt to somehow fit in as normal. Gillian lusts deeply and passionate, but saves her men by never allowing herself to truly fall. Although the movie is a romance, the real story is of the unbreakable bond between the sisters and, in a way, between all women. Aunt Frances, played by the still-spicy Stockard Channing, and Aunt Bridget, played by the always sweet and charming Dianne Wiest, bring much needed humour and light to the story. Where the Sisters make it complicated, the Aunts make it fun. I always find myself wishing I could be invited to live with the Aunts, planting herbs and mixing potions (and having midnight margaritas!). Many of the scenes for Practical Magic were filmed in a breathtaking 1850s style Victorian mansion. Custom built for the movie’s use, it is a spectacular piece of movie architecture and claims a spot on my (large) list of dream homes (right behind every house ever shown in a Nancy Meyers movie). Sprinkle in great music by the fittingly bewitching Stevie Nicks and Practical Magic absolutely transforms from special into magical.