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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

ARSENEAU: First time seeing iconic Halloween flicks

Photo by via DeviantArt
The Nightmare Before Christmas is regarded by many as a Halloween staple.

Included in many people’s annual Halloween traditions are watching movies they have appreciated since childhood. For whatever reason, I never watched many of the classic Halloween movies that people report get them in the spooky spirit each October.

So are these movies actually any good? Or do people enjoy them merely because of nostalgia? I decided to finally sit down and watch three classic Disney Halloween films and share my thoughts.

Warning: The information ahead contains spoilers (you know, if you’re like me and have managed to go your whole life not knowing these storylines).


Hocus Pocus (1993)

This investigation of classic seasonal movies began when my friend insisted we watch “Hocus Pocus.” The movie was her favorite as a child and she was shocked that I had never seen it. Every year I encounter references that go over my head, so I was honestly excited to finally sit down and watch the classic.

I thought the movie was hilarious. I loved it. It inspired me to write this article.

The story of “Hocus Pocus” opens on Oct. 31, 1693. Thackery Binx finds his sister Emily kidnapped by three witches: Winifred, Sarah and Mary Sanderson. He is unable to save Emily as the three witches suck out her youth to become younger themselves. Emily dies and the witches turn Thackery into an immortal black cat. Before they are hanged (a little dark for Disney, but I appreciate it), the witches cast a spell that will bring them back from the dead when a virgin lights the black flame candle during a full moon on Halloween.

Of course, those very specific circumstances occur exactly 300 years in the future. The movie cuts to Halloween 1993. Protagonist Max Dennison is full of young teenage angst. His family recently moved across the country from Los Angeles, California, to Salem, Massachusetts, and he struggles with the adjustment. Everyone in Salem is really into Halloween and they all know of the legendary tale of the Sanderson sisters. Newcomer Max is skeptical and ends up adventuring with his sister Dani and crush Allison to the Sanderson sisters’ cottage, which is now an old museum. Max — a virgin — lights the candle and, surprise, brings back the Sanderson sisters.

The three kids then have to try to stop the witches, who have until sunrise to brew a potion and suck the lives out of children to become immortal.

I have to say, there were quite a few jokes aimed toward an older audience, including the many references to Max being a virgin and the intoxicated parents at a Halloween party dismissing the fact that their children are in mortal danger. Also, the dynamic of the three witches is actually genuinely funny. Bette Midler’s rendition of “I Put A Spell On You” has definitely been stuck in my head since.

There were also parts that most definitely were not intended to be funny that had me laughing out loud. The awkward animation of talking immortal black cat Thackery Binx was very difficult to take seriously.

There were also some absolutely absurd parts. I would like to point out the fact that three children attempted murder in their school’s pottery kiln. Aside from the fact that they were trying to get rid of evil reincarnated witches, these kids still fully believed that they successfully burned three women alive. And they celebrated without a shred of hesitation.

Yet the movie’s plot holes and absurdities somehow added to its endearing charm.

The ending was action-packed and heartfelt, after the characters defeat the witches and Thackery the cat’s soul is finally freed. There is also one final virgin joke, because why not?


Halloweentown (1998)

While the laughable aspects of “Hocus Pocus” gave the movie its charm, the ridiculous features of “Halloweentown” made it more terrible.

I can appreciate a good cheesy movie, but cringe-worthy writing and uncomfortable overacting made this movie slightly painful to finish.

Thirteen-year-old Marnie is upset that she and her siblings Dylan and Sophie are never allowed to celebrate Halloween. Their mom does not give them a good explanation, and gets upset when their witch grandmother comes to visit and encourages them to celebrate.

Marnie is intrigued by her grandmother’s Halloween stuff. Like, overly intrigued. Grandma shows them a children’s illustrated storybook that Marnie is very excited about, despite the fact that it is just a Halloween-themed children’s picture book. (“Oh, Grandma, this book is so neat, it has, like, all the stuff I’m interested in”). One page features an extremely generic picture of a witch on a broom that Marnie is convinced is her.

Marnie’s mother stops her grandma from revealing the family secret and the two have an argument after the kids are in bed about how it is Marnie’s 13th Halloween and since she has not been trained to be a witch, she is about to lose her powers. Grandma leaves, Marnie realizes what’s going on and she sneaks out to follow.

Before she leaves, she grabs a weird orange coat from her closet. Is it a Halloween costume? Is she guessing that’s what a witch would wear? Is this just what she wears on a daily basis? I have a few questions about Marnie’s fashion choices.

Dylan and Sophie end up sneaking out as well, and the three siblings end up riding a magical bus that flies through the air to take them to Halloweentown, a place entirely separate from the mortal world, where witches and warlocks and lots of different creatures in rubbery masks live.

The movie was excessively predictable. As soon as the mayor was introduced it was pretty clear he was going to be the villain.

After the evil guy freezes the mother and grandmother (with a final “Marnie! We’ll be alright! It’s just an evil spell that freezes us!” from the grandma), the three siblings set out to put together a potion and save the town from evil.

One unique aspect of the story was that 7-year-old Sophie had powers much more powerful than Marnie. Somehow this plot point was massively forgotten about and never addressed.

Of course there is a happy ending as the family joins together to defeat the evil mayor. Grandma is invited to live with the family in the mortal world, and the family becomes heroes of Halloweentown. Apparently there are three sequels. I don’t have much desire to watch any of them.


The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

I would not call myself a Tim Burton fan. I watched “Coraline” when I was younger and definitely did not sleep well afterwards. But I knew enough songs from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and heard enough about people’s appreciation of the movie that I decided to give it a chance.

The premise was very abstract. Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king, rules a world entirely based around Halloween. After one Halloween, he is tired of constantly doing the same old thing and wanders alone into the woods where he finds portals leading to different holidays. He accidentally stumbles into one, ending up in a Christmas world. Intrigued, Jack returns to his own world and decides to switch holidays to Christmas.

Jack tries to explain Christmas to the citizens of Halloween Town while not fully understanding it himself, and the result is disastrous for Christmas. Despite the warnings of  Frankenstein-like creation Sally, who is in love with Jack and has visions of his attempts to take over Christmas going poorly, Jack and the townspeople hijack Christmas.

It’s all very melodramatic. After crashing and burning (literally and figuratively) while delivering gifts as Santa Claus Christmas Eve, Jack whisper-sings while sprawled across the statue of an angel in the middle of a cemetery. This one song is all it takes for Jack to realize that his true purpose is to be the pumpkin king. He tried something new and gave it his best shot, and while it did not work out, he now has a renewed sense of purpose. But because Jack is at heart a good guy with good intentions, he still has to save Christmas. Jack saves Santa and Sally from Oogie Boogie the boogeyman, reaffirms his title as the pumpkin king and falls in love with Sally.

There are a lot of songs. I did not realize it was a musical. I could have done with less solos from Jack, and Sally could have had a better singing voice, but I was a big fan of the boogeyman’s song.

Burton’s stop-motion puppet animation is extremely unsettling, but I know that is the intention. The creatures were very bizarre. The mayor looks like a two-faced metal candy corn. The creepy doctor looks like a robotic duck with really bad teeth. Jack gets called “Bone Daddy” by a sad saxophone-playing muppet. And scariest of all is Santa Claus. I never wanted to imagine Santa Claus like that.

I have a lot of appreciation for the art of the movie and its clever humor. It also feels like it has a lot of symbolic depth that could be further investigated.

“The Nightmare Before Christmas” is really like the ultimate crossover episode. It may not have been my favorite movie, but it is very intriguing and extremely well done. I can understand why it has become an annual classic for many.


This investigation opened my eyes to the appeal of Halloween movies. I think I’ll definitely pay more attention next October. Now, I need to prepare for the arrival of Hallmark original Christmas films.

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