The Frida Cinema

Orange County's Year-Round Film Festival

THE WRITER’S ROOM: HALLOWEEN OR HORROR MOVIE?

The relationship between Halloween and Horror cinema is practically a straight line. As we transition into the holiday, we asked our Frida Blog Writers to weigh in on their favorite Halloween and Horror movies of the season. 

_______________________________

What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Logan Crow, Owner/Founder Frida Cinema: Well for me of course it involves what happens at The Frida. So I’d say my favorite Halloween traditions have been handing local kids candy here at the cinema when they swing by in their costumes trick-or-treating down 4th Street (which we sadly can’t do this year due to COVID-19), and screening a Halloween classic — generally, John Carpenter’s Halloween!

Anthony McKelroy: Watching movies, duh. And also getting to see what the trick-or-treaters dress up as every year. Usually it’s movie characters, but sometimes there’s a really clever one that you get to give the whole bowl to.

Austin Bittner: To me, Halloween is always an occasion for me to take in the atmosphere before anything else. That it just happens to be a day that falls on my favorite season feels especially rich. I don’t do it every year, but if I happen to get the chance to just walk around my neighborhood and just peek at the house decorations or the autumn trees, it’s usually all I need for the day to feel full. Hopefully here in Orange County it gets to actually feel like fall this year. I’ll stop before the inevitable climate change rant.

Isa Bulnes-Shaw: As a child, it was definitely decorating the house for Halloween with my dad, who’s the person I can do spooky-scary things with. I miss trick-or-treating so much — getting out with friends and seeing all the awesome houses and costumes was the best! When we got home, my brother and I would trade candy while watching the special episodes and annual movies they’d play on T.V., and old cartoons like Casper the Friendly Ghost and Silly Symphonies. When it was just me and my dad, we’d whip out the Vincent Price classics and B-movie schlock, à la “House on Haunted Hill” and “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die”.

Things have really changed since entering college, and although October 31st is usually just another homework-filled evening, I watch at least a couple of my staples on or around Halloween night. The past two years, events like Camp Frida have definitely been the highlight of the spooky season!

Kason Clark.: Listening to “Thriller.”

Nicole Ngyuen: Before everything spiraled out of control, it was handing out candy and seeing people’s costumes

What is your favorite horror movie cliche(s)?

Logan C.: Someone is hiding somewhere in the dark, and we get a close up of their terrified and trembling face, and then suddenly they hear a noise *right* behind them, and their face freezes for a moment (generally sound goes dead quiet), their eyes slowly turn to the side, followed by the slow turn of their face, then we cut to the loud reveal of whatever’s behind them and carnage ensues. / I’m also a sucker for effective, mood-building establishing shots — of the front of a house, of a quiet street, of a rainy hospital, of the quiet corridors of a spaceship, etc.

Anthony M.: Stupid, sexy teens getting into stupid, sexy teen shenanigans is an infinite well of horror movie inspiration that I will never get tired of. I love any time a character has to go down into a spooky basement. I also love a shaky handheld camera in found footage movies, I do. Especially if the camera falls over at some point and another character has to “pick” it up.

Austin B.: I get so excited when the call is coming from inside the house. It means the protagonist has a visitor! In this age of isolation, truly what’s a better scenario?

Isa Bulnes-S.: I like how animals always know what’s going on first in movies, and I love a good old-fashioned supernatural slow-burn. I’m a big fan of the long-overdue trend of women going absolutely feral AND surviving the film. I hope them having satisfying endings which may or may not involve taking down the men and society that hurt them is present enough to become a full-blown trope

Kason C.: One girl left

Nicole N.: Characters having no idea of the genre they’re in and walking toward certain death

Favorite halloween candy?

Logan C.: KRACKEL! Come to think of it, I think I only have Krackel on Halloween. Why is that!? I love Krackel!

Anthony M.: Right now, it’s the new cookies n cream Twix bars. I’m eating one as I write this. But candy corn is the true winner.

Austin B.:  Can’t go wrong with Sweet-Tarts, but here’s the catch – gotta go with the mini ones. Don’t even think about hitting me with the regular ones that are basically a nightmare to swallow whole. Am I willing to admit here that I often swallow regular Sweet-Tarts whole? Sure! In this age, why hide anything? Also Haribo gummis – in any form of animal.

Isa Bulnes-S.: Give me all the unwanted buckets of candy corn. I will appreciate it like they deserve.

Kason C.: Candy corn

Nicole N.: Gummy bears (or worms, I’m not choosy)

Biggest fear in life?

Logan C.: The fact that I have no clue what happens to my consciousness when I die. And, for that matter, what happens to the consciousness of the people that I love when they die.

Anthony M.: Spiders.

Austin B: Mitch McConnell. No, really. Have you seen him?

Isa Bulnes S: I started to type out a few of the many on the list, and realized I’m a complete downer. Oh, how I wish I were just scared of spiders or clowns or something– unfortunately, I love both.

Kason C.: Paranormal activity.

Nicole N.: Spiders, being outside alone at night, and giving presentations–among (many) other things

Biggest fear in the movies?

Logan C.: Jump scares. Especially after a long, steady sequence of quiet dread. Also, nothing scares me more than something rushing the camera, with its eyes set right into the camera. Like Bob in Twin Peaks, crawling over couches as he makes his way right towards the camera. Even when they’re coming slow, like the woman in the kitchen in It Follows, it gives me absolute chills.

Anthony M.: That monster from FEAST (2005)

Austin B.: I don’t think I can jot it down more specifically than the general atmosphere, so I’ll just write out two specific horror moments that still get me. The “sloth” in SE7EN, and that one shot in The Strangers where one of them is in the background while Liv Tyler’s just standing around. Hope those both sell my kind of spooky vibes.

Isa Bulnes-S.: Those foreboding, void-ish and abstract figures that people describe sleep paralysis being like? No thanks.

Kason C.: Ghosts, demons, paranormal activity

Nicole N.: Jump-scares, the implication of dangers unseen, and the possibility of secondhand embarrassment

What would you say are the main traits of a traditional “Halloween movie?”

Logan C.: Creepy shots of kids trick-or-treating idyllically. Pumpkins on lawns. Representations of the spirit of Halloween as seen through varying generations of townsfolk (little kids happily trick-or-treating; older kids pulling juvenile pranks; drunk teenagers having sex and getting in fights; parents who might be considered “too hold” to celebrate Halloween still finding time for a nostalgic acknowledgement of the holiday.)

Anthony M: Can you have a Christmas movie that doesn’t show a christmas tree? A Thanksgiving film without a meal? If there’s not a pumpkin in at least a single frame of the film, then I don’t believe it qualifies as a Halloween movie. No one says “trick or treat”? — not a Halloween movie. The reason we watch horror movies on Halloween is due to the staggering deficit of Halloween movies being produced. If we had enough movies that prodded at the tradition and ritual spirit of Halloween, we would be watching those instead of some serial killer film.

Isa Bulnes-S.: A strict definition would be that the actual holiday or idea of Halloween is present– so it either takes place on or around Halloween, with the typical iconography of trick-or-treating, Jack-o-Lanterns, etc.. While that’s super limiting and comes close to only including television specials and films centered around human kids, the point is often to create a world like our own reality, but wherein the spirit of Halloween indulge in every year still has the potential to be true behind all the smoke and mirrors. I think it’s more about the atmosphere– an overall feel of autumn or winter months, and adults’ ideas of what an “appropriate” type of scary is for kids– a more “innocent” version of scares and frights. Some sort of inherently spooky monster or witch, ghoul or zombie which the protagonist(s) (most likely kids) must defeat, and hijinks ensue. Usually the kids are on their own, either because of some threat to the parents or they’re just not in the picture. Also there’s usually a poppin’ soundtrack.

Nicole N.: Features monsters/ghosts/witches/etc., has a certain level of humor

What would you say are the main traits of a traditional horror film?

Logan C.: Scary music. Moments designed to make the audiences’ hearts skip a beat, whether that’s as simple as a jump scare, or as complex as an effectively chilling reveal or disturbing image — or both, such as in the case of Sleepaway Camp. Characters in danger of losing their lives to a homicidal and villainous foe.

Anthony M.: Someone’s gotta die before it’s over. Right? Is there a single horror movie where NO ONE dies? Could you call that horror? Would love to know.

Isa Bulnes-S: Horror is so broad and expansive, “traditional” doesn’t even begin to narrow it down! Do you mean Nosferatu-type classic? Universal Monsters? Or the slasher? Too many subgenres to say, honestly.

Nicole N: Grim, suspenseful, frightening

Where do you see the two genres overlap the most? And where do they diverge?

Logan C.: Mostly, they diverge in the cases of Halloween films intended more for children, and/or lighter and campier celebration of the Holiday (The Worst Witch, Hocus Pocus, It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown). Where they overlap is when the Halloween film is also a horror film, which isn’t always the case. The best example of this, of course, would have to be “Halloween.”

Isa Bulnes-S.: Movies for kids/youth are where the best of both worlds collide for me, especially because that’s where you can find the medium of animation being utilized most. The most effective and enduring are ones that don’t shy away from existential dread and some iteration of the very real horrors we experience every day, but also don’t dismiss the concerns of younger folks. Animation allows for an immediate suspension of disbelief, and automatically lets you experience that “Halloween” magic of another world, but with more stakes. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many explicitly Halloween movies involve kids being written-off by adults in the midst of a struggle that’s very real, but can’t be seen by others; it encapsulates kids’ fears and frustration of not being listened to in real life by adults, and talked down to. Prime examples of both of these are Over the Garden Wall and Coraline (2009), which embrace both greater fears of death, the unknown and unsaid, as well as some pretty terrifying body horror in addition to the typical spooky fun of pumpkins and black cats.

Nicole N: I’d say the two overlap the most in their dealing with macabre subject matter, but they have different ways of approaching and portraying it.

Complete the statement: “It’s not a halloween movie if…”

Logan C.: …there aren’t trick-or-treaters seen or referenced at some point in the movie.

Anthony M.: It’s not a Halloween movie if there are no pumpkins! No Halloween costumes! 

Austin B.:  There’s not somethin’ sinister in the suburbs!

Isa Bulnes-S: You ain’t got the spirit. Really, it’s just something you feel, at the end of the day. If it doesn’t have a single pumpkin in it and you watch it every year, it’s probably because it’s just generally “darker” or has to do with death and the macabre, or you simply first got exposed to the film in a Halloween context.

Kason C.: it doesn’t take place around Halloween.

Nicole N.: …”fun” isn’t one of the words you’d use to describe it.

Complete the statement: “It’s not a horror movie if…”

Logan C.: the audience isn’t unsettled. (Or at the very least, if the filmmaker didn’t set out to unsettle the audience.)

Anthony M.: It’s not a horror movie if no one dies, right? The drama comes from the constant threat of violence. I think I’m onto something.

Austin B.:  Somebody in the theatre deliberately overreacts to a jump scare by making their large popcorn bucket explode all over the floor.

Isa Bulnes-S.: It relies purely on jumpscares to manipulate you into thinking that basic biological response == good horror movie.

Kason C.: it does not at least attempt to be tense or scary

Nicole N.: …it doesn’t trigger a genuine fear reaction.

What is typically offered in a horror movie that can’t be found in a “Halloween” movie? And vice-versa.

Logan C.: Well for vice-versa, not all horror movies are Halloween movies, so they won’t all have trick-or-treaters, pumpkins, etc. As for the first question, not sure how to answer that. It depends on the Halloween movie, I suppose. And the sub-genre of horror movie, I suppose. For example, I can’t think of a Halloween movie set in space. But not all horror movies are set in space.

Isa Bulnes-S.: There’s a point, which is different for everyone, where the things that horrify you are informed by your experience in the world as you live through it, and what might have scared you before is comforting compared to current concerns, and vice versa. Gore, violence, and torture porn isn’t in itself Halloween-y, and definitely needs the suspense and as part of a larger thrill to be a piece of a larger, effective horror movie. The Babadook (2014) is one of my favorite movies, and while it’s horror I don’t see it as a Halloween movie at all because to me, the type of joy that comes with the scares isn’t present. I’ve experienced the repressed grief and anger it portrays, and that’s the context in which I encountered the film; if it had existed before I’d known such things personally, I might have watched it as another well-made and complex thriller most fitting for October.

I think for a Halloween movie, there’s an inherent sense of whimsy that isn’t always present in horror films, and a sense of closure that comes with the season, knowing all things come to an end and the seasons will change. Halloween always comes back year after year. But horror doesn’t offer solid answers, and often leaves you with more questions. The fear lives on in you, and will likely never leave, because it’s rooted in our fear of ourselves. Perhaps this is the root of my struggle to categorize certain spooky films as “horror” mentally, like the Vincent Price or Rocky Horror Picture Show type– they’re just too fun and irreverent!

Nicole N: As opposed to a Halloween movie, I think a horror movie has more room to be truly upsetting. In other words, I’m not expecting to have nightmares after a Halloween movie. And I think a Halloween movie has more freedom to be tongue-in-cheek or “cheesy.”

Rank, top 3 best horror movies (no order)

Logan C.: The Descent (2005), The Shining (1980), Get Out (2017)

Anthony M.: FEAST (2005), The Conjuring (2013), Jennifer’s Body (2010)

Austin B.: Cure (1997), The Blair Witch Project (1999) , The Thing (1982)

Isa Bulnes-S: Only three?? You’re killin’ me! Coraline (2009), The Lighthouse (2019), The Babadook (2014)…and I can’t not put The Witch (2015)

Kason C.: The Shining (1980), Alien (1979), The Thing (1982)

Nicole N.: The Witch (2015), Train to Busan (2016), Crimson Peak (2015)

Rank, top 3 best halloween movies (no order)

Logan C.: Halloween (1978), Trick ‘R Treat (2007), E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

Anthony M.: Halloweentown (1998), The Nightmare before Christmas (1993), The Addams Family (1991). The 90s were really killin’ it in terms of halloween cinema.

Austin B.: Halloween (1978), Trick r’ Treat (2007), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Sorry for being what the kids call basic.

Isa Bulnes S: Scary Godmother: Halloween Spooktakular (2003), Over the Garden Wall (2014), The Majority of Tim Burton Movies (Corpse Bride, Beetlejuice, Sweeney Todd)

Kason C.: Halloween (1978), Halloweentown (1998), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Nicole N.: Hocus Pocus (1993), Beetlejuice (1988), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Why do audiences enjoy seeing “scary” films year after year?

Logan C.: I think it’s because fear and anxiety cause the secretion of adrenaline, which in turn provides a rush. Beyond that, that rush of adrenaline actually has the ultimate effect of soothing the anxiety that caused it. There is, I believe, also something about facing one’s fears vicariously — in watching the terrors experienced by the characters on screens, your body’s nervous system goes through the same terrors, but with the knowledge that you’ll get to walk away unscathed. It’s the equivalent of being able to eat a giant chocolate cake — to taste it, to feel it go down — without having to take on the calories and put your body in actual danger.

Anthony M.: The spike in brain chemicals, right? It’s a bit like exposure therapy. Things become less scary the more you understand them.

Austin B.: I would go the extra mile and say that horror and comedy both go hand-in-hand in terms of the sensation. They are probably the easiest genres that audiences can rely on for the feeling that they provide, even without having to truly engage in the story. Surely it’s why stuff like Scream (1996) or Scary Movie (1999) gained the prominence they did upon release. A synergy of cheap sensation, if you will. But it doesn’t have to be cheap of course! Sometimes atmosphere is just enough for people. Point is, we love to get our kicks from discomfort and we’re all inherently weird.

Isa Bulnes-S: Escapist fun. It’s a fear that can be left behind once you leave the theater or turn off your screen. Chemicals in your brain love the relief of being in danger, then realizing “oh, not really”. It’s also a time to explore subjects society shies away from, the most prominent example in American culture being death.

Kason C.: They feel safe throughout the day so getting scared is an exciting and new emotion for them.

Nicole N.: I think it’s partially the satisfaction of sticking to a tradition, partially breaking up the monotony of the passage of time by heralding in fall.

 

Best halloween costume worn in a movie?

Logan C.: I’d say it’s a tie between Donnie Darko’s hooded skeleton, and Daniel’s shower costume in The Karate Kid.

Anthony M.: Ralph Macchio’s shower costume in The Karate Kid. Hilarious and functional. 

Austin B.: Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler’s matching Benjamin Franklins from They Came Together (2014).

Isa Bulnes-S: I know there are better out there I just can’t recall, but I’ve always been absolutely crazy about Dani’s autumnal witch look in Hocus Pocus (1993). Warm tones, sun-and-star-covered fabric, and tasseled, furry vest? Comfortable, subversive, AND iconic. Elevate it with a better hat, and you’ll be the new Supreme. Also, one of the main kids in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) dressed as a classic Pierrot, and I truly felt seen as a person.

Kason C.: The Michael Myers mask

Nicole N.: Scout’s ham costume in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) or Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)?

Logan C.: Nightmare on Elm Street.

Anthony M.: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Better songs.

Austin B.: I guess it’s really all about trade-offs. Nightmare on Elm Street doesn’t have gorgeous animation and Nightmare Before Christmas doesn’t have the gorgeous Robert Englund. Let’s leave it at a stalemate.

Isa Bulnes-S: The Nightmare Before Christmas is my go-to favorite movie, full stop. It hardly registers as a Halloween movie for me, that I forget it’s a seasonal thing for most people, and not year-round; also, it’s a Christmas movie at its core, but that’s discourse for another day.

Kason C.: Nightmare Before Christmas

Nicole N.: Nightmare Before Christmas

What will horror movies look like in 20 years?

Logan C.: I honestly think they’ll be better. We are seeing films like Hereditary actually embraced by the mainstream. Get Out, which I consider to be one of the greatest films ever, took in $255M at the box office and won an Academy Award. I believe horror films will simultaneously get even more cerebral and exploratory, as well as more unsettling in equal measure.

Anthony M.: The horror of…tangible consequences of climate change!

Austin B.: It feels too long a time to really predict it with practicality, but hopefully within those twenty years we’ll finally get a Wayans Bros. parody of all the postmodern slow-horror work from the last decade. Maybe we could land on something close to: “The Hereditary Babadook Who Comes At Night in A Quiet Place Conjuring The VVitch from Last Midsommar: Origins”.

Isa Bulnes-S: Real life is already becoming more of a horror movie than anyone could think up, so if we’re around in 20 years and people still need to watch things to be scared, that’s anyone’s guess.

Kason C.: More low-budget and artsy like recent A24 movies.

Nicole N.: There’s definitely more material to be mined from the progression of technology and its effects on society. Also, given the Current Situation, I think there’s another evolution of zombies imminent.

Which horror movie character is the perfect halloween costume?

Logan C.: Every year I tell myself I’m going to lose enough weight to dress up as a Baseball Furie from The Warriors. And every year I just don’t get there. Next year!!

Anthony M.: The monster from FEAST (2005).

Austin B.: Would love to see someone as the dad from Hereditary. Just acting annoyed and confused all the time and maybe bursting into flames. Could very easily work in the first two.

Isa Bulnes-S: The Babadook is a fun one! Could also double as a look for Pride– double the value.

Kason C.: Pennywise

Nicole N.: Michael Myers–menacing and instantly recognizable

What other holidays deserve more movies made about them? What would be the defining traits of that holiday genre?

Logan C.: Super Bowl Sunday. Someone needs to make a Get Out-like satire about a lot of the darker events that go down year after year on Super Bowl Sunday.

Anthony M.: I would like to see more holiday movies from the perspective of parking lots where none of the characters can ever find good parking because it’s such a busy holiday.

Kason C.: Easter. Intense easter egg hunts, the easter bunny as a real character,

Ideal horror monster movie crossover that you’d like to see?

Logan C.: Christine vs. The Car

Anthony M.: The paimon cult from Hereditary should team up with the swedish cult from Midsommar. They’d be unstoppable.

Austin B.: This took a while, but I would love to see Freddy vs. Jason! So strange how we haven’t seen that yet.

Isa Bulnes-S: Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) and The Wolf Man (1941) rom-com where they just kiss already.

Kason C.: It (2017) and The Babadook (2014)

If cost and materials were no issue, what horror movie costume would you love to pull off for Halloween?

Logan C.: I would love to get a huge group together and dress up as the seven powerful thieves/planets from “The Holy Mountain,” as well as some of their minions.

Anthony M.: The monster from FEAST (2005).

Isa Bulnes-S: The list is endless, but to fulfill all my childhood wishes once and for all, it’d have to be Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas (I’ve already been Jack). But it’d have to be all-out; dress sewn from actual different fabrics, prosthetic mouth stitches, contacts to make the eyes all white with just a small pupil– hey, even a detached arm spilling out leaf-stuffing. Similar dedication to be Emily from Corpse Bride (2005), fresh out of the ground. And okay, fine– a fluorescent Oogie Boogie Big-Bird type bodysuit/puppet hybrid would be all types of rad.

Nicole N.: I’m cheating because this isn’t a horror movie, but I’d love to dress up as Lavinia from Shakespeare’s play Titus Andronicus as long as the costume is disturbingly realistic.

Trick or treat?

Logan C.: Treat.

Anthony M.: Always treat. Always. 

Austin B.: Trick.

Isa Bulnes-S: Treat .

Kason C.: Treat.

Nicole N.: Treat.