Top 5 Halloween Movies for the non Horror Fan

I’m not a big horror movie fan, though I am married to one. Here’s our top 5 favorite Halloween themed films that provide him with enough spook and me with enough laughs.

5) Beetlejuice- While I grew up with a more family friendly Beetlejuice via the Saturday morning cartoon, Keaton is hilarious as the ghost with the most. Burton perfectly blends the right amount of quirk and goth to make this one of his strongest films. Those unfamiliar with the film will be surprised to see Geena Davis and a crazy young Alec Baldwin as the main protagonists as the newly dead having to figure out the afterlife. I approve of any ghosts that use Harry Belafonte in their haunting.

4) Young Frankenstein- Mel Brooks’ spoof on the Universal Frankenstein films of 30s is one of his strongest works. With Brooks regulars like Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn the cast had such a fun time Brooks kept writing new scenes so they wouldn’t have to stop filming.

3) Evil Dead 2- Definitely the most gruesome entry on the list, this campy classic has a strong sense of humor as well. Bruce Campbell pays tribute to the Three Stooges with lots of physical comedy as he fights his own evil hand. Maybe not for those with a weak stomach (there’s so much blood Raimi had to start changing the color to avoid an X rating) but it’s one of the best combinations of horror and comedy in film history.

2) The Addams Family & Addams Family Value- The all together ookey family is the perfect fit for modern times, allowed to be as creepy as they want. With strong plots and endless quotable dialogue, these films stand out from the many classic television show movie adaptations that flooded theaters in the 90s. Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd, and a very young Christina Ricci all deliver memorable performances and the special effects help bring the whole kooky gang to life.

1) Shaun of the Dead- this zombie spoof has one of the cleverest scripts of the past decade. Just as much about growing up as it is about the zombocalypse, Shaun of The Dead should what real people would do when faced with the undead. Filled with plenty of references to classic zombie films, and peppered with callbacks to itself, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.


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Also, plan on livetweeting Hubby’s Romero movie marathon @tuxedopengin

There are few little engines that could type stories in film history like the making of the Evil Dead series. After making countless Super 8 shorts in high school, longtime friends Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and crew decided to self-produce their first feature length, the now classic (and soon to be remade) Evil Dead. They started out hitting up dentists for funds and having to teach themselves about international distribution and today Sam Raimi directed a major superhero trilogy and Bruce Campbell is the most beloved “B-movie” actor of his generation, hell, even their assistant editor (Joel Coen) found greatness with a string of Oscar winning films. It goes to show that to succeed in show business all you need is a dream and a lot a fake blood.
While Hubby and I have a lot in common, one thing we don’t see eye to eye on is horror movies, as he loves them (the crappier the better in some cases), while I find them mostly boring. The Evil Dead trilogy is a good compromise for us. Like with sci-fi, I appreciate horror films that have a sense of humor to them and it’s clear that Raimi and crew realized early on how ridiculous their concept and limited means were and decided to just have fun with it, with each installment being more ridiculous than the last. They thumb their nose at continuity and always have Ash in a different predicament than the one we last saw him in.
In Evil Dead we follow a group of friends who are vacationing in a cabin in the woods when they unleash an uncontrollable evil when playing a translation of the Naturan Demanto, aka the Book of the Dead. One by one they are possessed until only Ash (Bruce Campbell) is left mortal. He must fight off his sister, his best friend and his girlfriend but safely leaves the cabin, or does he? This is the most straight horror film in the series with some gruesome scenes including the chick who gets raped by a bunch of trees and milk spewing demons (Raimi’s way of getting around an X rating for too much blood). However, the film’s leading man provides a hint of heart missing from many horror films, as Ash struggles with destroying the woman he loves’ body even though doing so will determine his safety.
In Evil Dead II Raimi and crew obviously saw what a comedy goldmine they had on their hands. We find a very different Ash who had been spending a romantic weekend in the woods with his girlfriend, gone are the friends and his sister, when he discovers a taped translation of the Book of the Dead, now called Necronomicon Ex-Mortis. When Linda is possessed, Ash must kill her and bury her but he discovers evil has taken control of HIS HAND. This one has a lot of Bruce Campbell on his own and he’s really a joy to watch. From his epic battle against his own hand, to losing it as he realizes the entire room is laughing at him, Campbell is phenomenal. I always felt he could have been a much bigger deal if he went legit, but he would have had a lot less fun along the way. Ash interacting with the lamp always cracks me up. Eventually he teams up with real owner of the cabin’s daughter and she recites a spell to remove the spirits and ends up sending Ash to the Middle Ages where he is herald as a hero, much to his dismay, opps!
In Army of Darkness we find Ash not a hero in the Middle Ages but a slave who is later seen as a god when he demonstrates his mighty boomstick. Despite all the pampering, he wants to return to his own time and his job at S-Mart. To do so he must retrieve the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis and speak a specific phrase, which he of course forgets causing an army of the dead to rise. This one is the most comical of the three, with many Stooge inspired moments. You also get to see a lot more of Ash the man in this film as he fights various versions of himself. We gets to see Ash as kind of a blowhard, but a blowhard with great one-liners. I saw Evil Dead The Musical (2nd row splatterzone!) when in was in New York and was pleased to see them work in all of Ash’s great zingers from this one into the script even though the plot was a combination of Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2.
A remake is coming our way and while Raimi and Campbell are on board with it, I can’t help but be a little wary. A lot of the appeal that has led to its diehard fanbase is due to its campiness and tongue in cheek sense of humor. They got away with a lot because they weren’t Hollywood films so it will be interesting to see what translates.

The Shining

The summer of 97 my brother and I became obsessed with the AFI Top 100 list this led to a full on obsession with Jack Nicholson, and my because my mother totally forgot everything that happened in The Shining, she saw no problem with a thirteen year old me and my eleven year old brother watching. Halfway through, she sighed, “Oh, this was a bad idea”. This happened a lot during that summer. My mom apparently blacked out a lot of the disturbing shit 70s cinema had to offer. She let us watch Taxi Driver because she forgot it was so violent and sexual. What was my mom doing during the 70s?

Eager to break a spell of writer’s block, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) agrees to be the off-season caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. He is told that there was once a murder-suicide at the hotel, when a former caretaker snapped one winter but he is undeterred. However, Jack’s son Danny has a special power and has had a disturbing premonition about the hotel. He is a strange boy who occasionally speaks through his imaginary friend Tony. His wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) is cautiously optimistic about this next step in their lives, as Jack recently quit drinking after hurting Danny in a drunken rage.
When the family arrives at the hotel they are given a tour by the chef Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), who discovers that Danny shares with him a special power he calls “the shinning”. The family settles in and a heavy snow leaves them cut off from the outside world. Danny begins to have horrifying visions and Jack begins to change.
King and Kubrick had very different interpretations of the core of the story. King disapproved of Kubrick casting Jack Nicholson as Jack , due to Nicholson being known for playing disturbed individuals, most notably his Academy Award winning performance as a mental patient in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He would have preferred a more everyman choice like Jon Voight to show the power the hotel had over its inhabitants’. Many of Kubrick’s changes make Jack’s transformation more about Jack’s own demons and less about the hotel’s supernatural energy. This includes Kubrick removing from the climax, Jack having a moment of sanity, allowing Danny to escape before succumbing to evil again, making it clear the hotel was using Jack as an instrument of destruction.
Filming was grueling due to Kubrick’s insistence on doing dozens of takes of every shot and frequent script changes. Nicholson refused to read the script until minutes before they were ready to shoot, claiming they would be changed by the time he memorized them anyway and Kubrick’s methods stressed Duvall out so much she started losing hair.
When released the film was not initially a hit, but eventually earned a profit during its theatrical release. While it received mixed reviews at first and was even nominated for a couple of Razzie awards (Kubrick for worst director and Duvall for worst actress), it has since been deemed a classic. If you haven’t seen it, check it out this Halloween, but make sure to make a movie watching buddy, as this one could be pretty creepy to watch alone.

Indiana Jones

While vacationing in Maui, old film school chums George Lucas and Steven Spielberg discussed what projects they wanted to work on next after their respective smashes Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg confessed he wanted to make a James Bond film but Lucas told him he had an even better film in mind. His love of serials of the 30s and 40s lead to the creation of archeologist Indiana Jones. Spielberg loved the idea. They originally cast Tom Selleck as their lead but he had to back out to star in the television series Magnum P.I. They went back to Spielberg’s first choice, Harrison Ford. However, Lucas was at first reluctant to cast Ford, not wanting him to become his “Bobby De Niro” after working with him on two other films all ready, but he proved to be the perfect fit for Nazi fighting, whip cracking adventurer.
Indiana Jones stands out among movie heroes because he is not superhuman. His strengths are his extensive knowledge of ancient civilizations and his bravery and dedication when seeking out great archeological discoveries. However, he is far from perfect. He’s gruff, has trouble maintaining relationships with family members and romantic partners, he’s not always the best judge of character, he’s terrified of snakes and he frequently gets serious injured. Our introduction to the character is him losing. An important artifact ends up in the hands of a rival but Indy remains a hero because he’s quick with the one-liner and has Harrison Ford’s charming grin. Hell, the Nazis even obtain ark of the covenant and are defeated by an act of God, not Indy. However, it is Indy’s knowledge of the ark’s power that saves him and Marion and allows for the ark to stay out of the wrong hands for good. Nowadays flawed heroes are a dime a dozen, but every House or Iron Man owes a lot to Indy.
Keeping with the James Bond influence, Indy is given a new leading lady to romance for every adventure (at least for the original trilogy). However, they screwed up by partnering Indy with his soul mate in the first film. Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) is tough, brave, and shares Indy’s passion for archeology through her father, Indy’s mentor. Temple of Doom is a prequel so Marion’s absence can be excused but it is a little uncomfortable to watch enter a physical relationship with Elsa. While it’s quickly revealed Elsa is a Nazi spy and their relationship never gets very deep, you still know he belongs with Marion. The one saving grace of Crystal Skull is seeing Indy and Marion reunited and finally making it work. Ford and Allen really have amazing chemistry and it’s always fun to watch them bicker.
For the second film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Spielberg wanted a darker feel, as he and Lucas were ending relationships. However, the change in tone isn’t the best fit for Indy and especially when he saddled with cartoonish sidekicks like Short Round and romantic interest Willie (Kate Capshaw). Willie is spoiled and helpless, the opposite of Marion but Indy and Willie fall for each other because they are the male and female leads in a blockbuster film. While it has some famous scenes (like the scene where a man’s heart is ripped out of his chest), the film is mostly inconsequential and can probably be skipped if one is short on time. Even Spielberg wasn’t too fond of Temple of Doom, saying the film’s saving grace was that it introduced him to future wife Capshaw.
For Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy is back at what he does best, keeping biblical artifacts from the Nazis. Ford is teamed with Sean Connery who plays Indy’s estranged father, a fellow archeologist. The two are a great together as they butt head as only father and son can.
Lucas originally intended to have five films in the series. When he originally convinced Spielberg to direct, he told his old friend he had three adventures plotted for Indiana Jones. However, Lucas is a lying liar who lies a lot (see the prequels that he claimed to have written decades in advance) he only had the first one complete. After Last Crusade, Lucas struggled to come up with a new story. After nineteen years and countless rewrites , they unleashed Indiana Jones and the Crystal Kingdom.
Aliens!!! Shia LaBeouf monkey boy!!! Surviving a nuke by hiding in a fridge!!! Asking if I was disappointed is like asking if Indy hates snakes. While I was anticipating it being hard to watch a slowed down, aging Ford trying to keep up with a kid like LaBeouf, I didn’t expect the writers to stray so much from Indy’s core. My husband and I have debated whether aliens were that much more unbelievable than, say, the Holy Grail and I think they are. Regardless of religious belief, most of us can agree that Jesus and Moses lived and certain events happened and can be studied for historical content. Whether objects they possessed have supernatural powers are up to debate, but these object most likely existed and would be certainly sought after by archeologists. To have a Mayan(?) temple really be an alien spaceship and then have the spaceship take off… grrr Lucas, Spielberg!!! This continues the duo’s trend of desecrating their their former masterpieces. We can’t let them play together any more. I’m clearly not the only one who feels this was, as South Park released an episode where they accused the two directors of raping Indiana Jones.
There are whispers of future adventures for Indy and crew, or simply allowing LaBeouf take over the series. I hope they can obtain the self-control to leave well enough alone. If you’ve never seen Indiana Jones, schedule a double feature of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade. If you have time, squeeze Temple of Doom in there too. And if you must watch Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, make sure there’s liquor handy.

Young Frankenstein

Every so often an actor and a director build a partnership that allows both of them to perform at their peak as if the two were made to work together. Obvious pairings like De Niro and Scorcese or Bill Murray and Wes Anderson, but there is a more underrated duo that I want to discuss today, Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks. The two worked on three films together and while Wilder is beloved for playing Willy Wonka, their collaborations are Brooks’ best loved features. Wilder adds a hint of dignity to Brooks’ juvenile humor. After working together on The Producers, Wilder only agreed to join the cast of Blazing Saddles if Brooks’ next film was based on an idea Wilder had about a spoof of the old Universal Frankenstein. The result, Young Frankenstein, became both artists’ favorite film of their own.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), embarrassed by his grandfather’s notorious experiments, has spent his entire career trying to distance himself from his famous family, going as far as to change to pronunciation of his last name. He learns he has inherited his family’s castle in Transylvania and travels to inspect the property. When arriving in Transylvania he meets his grandfather’s servants: his lab assistant Igor (Marty Feldman), the housekeep Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman), and the beautiful Inga (Teri Garr). Being in his granfather’s house inspires a change in Frederick, particularly after discovering his grandfather’s secret lab and his journal which detail his experiments. Frederick decides to continue his grandfather’s work and quickly set out to reanimate the dead. His first experiment is a success but his creator (Peter Boyle) quickly escapes and inadvertently terrorizes the townspeople.
While Brooks is not known for strong female characters, his casting of Garr, Leachman, and Madeline Kahn (who plays Frankenstein’s uptight fiancé) allows for their characters to transcend Brooks’ usual eyecandy and old hag archetypes. After working with Kahn on Blazing Saddles, she was Brooks’ first choice for Inga. However, after reading the script, Kahn asked if she could play Elizabeth instead. When Garr auditioned, Brooks told her to come back the next day with a German accent. She surprised him by immediately responding with the desired accent. By casting women who had wit as well as beauty, the characters are more fully developed, making a more enjoyable movie for all.
The cast and crew had such a good time on set that they didn’t want filming to end, leading to Brooks added additional scenes. However, the cast probably had too much fun, as the original cut was twice as long as what the eventually final cut would be. Brooks and Wilder reviewed the original cut and decided that for every joke that worked, there would be three that didn’t. The cut the lines that fell flat and the result was the much improved classic we know today.
The film’s legacy includes being list on the AFI’s list of the greatest comedies of all-time, along with Wilder and Brooks’ two other collaborations The Producers and Blazing Saddles. In 2007, Brooks tried to repeat the success of The Producers musical adaptations, by taking Young Frankenstein. Unfortunately, this was not the smash hit The Producers was and closed after a little over a year. However, the film inspired a more surprising musical success, as the line “Walk this way”, inspired Steven Tyler, who was struggling to come up lyrics for the future hit.

The Princess and the Frog

In 2009, Disney made a bold move with their latest film The Princess and the Frog, returning to previously successful practices while introducing their first African American princess. This was their first hand-drawn feature in five years and a return to the musical format. During production the project faced multiple bumps in the road. Based on the book The Frog Princess, filmmakers were forced to change the title when it was suggested that, given that the story was set in New Orleans, Frog as an adjective could be offensive to French audiences. Having an African American protagonist also forced the project under the microscope. In original drafts, Tiana was named Maddy and was a chambermaid, not a waitress, but that drew to many comparisons to the stereotypical Mammy character. The changes were made and Oprah was brought in as a technical consultant.
Tiana is a hardworking waitress in 1920s New Orleans working ever shift he can in order to save up to start her own restaurant, a dream she shared with her late father. When a prince comes to town for Mardi Gras, her rich best friend Charlotte is set on making a love connection but a voodoo spell has turned the prince into a frog and his servant is masquerading in his place. Tiana kisses the frog, hoping to break the spell, and turns into a frog herself. The two band together to try to break the spell and, despite being total opposites at first, fall in love.
This was the first new Disney princess since Jasmine from Aladdin, and the first Disney film with the princess as the main character since Beauty and the Beast. The film did not perform at the box office as well as Disney would have liked, but this was not due to a lack of quality on the film’s part. Over time, Disney has featured increasingly complex characters. Tiana has dreams and experiences growth of the course of the film, which is a far cry from previous princesses like Snow White and Cinderella, who are primarily defined as being nice and kind to animals. The Prince also has a personality (gasp!) and shows growth as a character. The film is jammed packed with lovable characters and has some genuine big laughs. I would say the film did poorly in theaters due to bad advertising. Being a modern fairytale, it was hard to describe the film in a time a tv spot allows. It is not a straight telling of the classic tale, with the characters being familiar with the fairytale they are playing out, using it to figure out the real world rules of the spell.
If I had to name one weakness in this film, it would be the music. Written by Randy Newman and influenced by jazz, some of the songs aren’t bad but they are very much of the plot and do not translate outside of the film. Disney films are known for their music and there is no Be Our Guest or Under the Sea in Princess and the Frog.
The Princess and the Frog is filled with great characters and a lot of smart choices were made in shaping them. I love that Charlotte, while clearly a spoiled brat, is not mean-spirited . She cares deeply for Tiana and tries her best to help her friend. The way the two romantic leads learn from each other to become more well-rounded people is something many love stories miss. Tiana teaches Prince Naveen how rewarding it is to be good at something, while Naveen shows Tiana how to have fun once in a while. It’s probably pretty unrealistic that in a matter of hours they can both make such major changes and fall in love, it’s still a big step for the fairytale genre.
If you haven’t seen The Princess and the Frog, check it out. While it doesn’t pack the punch of The Little Mermaid or The Lion King, it’s a strong modernization of a familiar story.

Dr Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog

During the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike, Joss Whedon collaborated with his brothers (Jed and Zach) and writer/actress Maurissa Tancharoen to create something of quality on a limited budget that would not conflict with the issues at the heart of the strike. The series three episodes were released through Hulu for free and was later available through iTunes, Amazon Video on Demand, and Netflix as well as being released on DVD with a variety of extras including Commentary the Musicals, where cast and crew sang songs related to the DVD commentary. Starring Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, and Felicia Day the series was a hit with fans and critics and won multiple awards including a Creative Arts Emmy Outstanding Special Class – Short-format Live-Action Entertainment Programs, a first for Whedon despite his many years in television.
Through his video blog Dr. Horrible (as known as Billy) updates followers on his quest to become a member of the Evil League of Evil, his rivalry with local hero Captain Hammer, and his crush on Penny, a girl he often sees at the laundromat but is too shy to talk to. While enacting a plan to steal a case of wonderflonium for his freeze ray, he runs into Penny who is trying to get enough signatures to convert a condemned building into a homeless shelter. Distracted by the heist, Dr. Horrible appears uninterested in Penny’s cause. Suddenly Captain Hammer appears to stop the heist and save the day. He destroys Dr. Horrible’s remote which controls the getaway car, causing it to veer out of control and almost hitting Penny. Captain Hammer saves her by pushing her into a pile of garbage and she is completely enamored. Hammer continues to foil Dr. Horrible’s plans and gloats about his budding romance with Penny. Disappointed by Horrible’s performance as a villain so far, the Evil League of Evil says he must assassinate someone in order to join their ranks. Hammer is of course his target. During their showdown, Dr. Horrible succeeds in humiliating Captain Hammer, but, unfortunately, his Death Ray accidentally kills Penny. While, he has achieved his goal of entering the Evil League of Evil, he lost the only thing he cared about and the whole thing ends on a bit of a downer, damn you, Whedon!!!
Bummer ending aside, Dr. Horrible is a lot of fun. The music is great, makes one wonder if Whedon would ever want to stage a full-on Broadway musical one day. Neil Patrick Harris shines as the leading man. Fillion is a lot of fun as the obnoxious Captain Hammer. While Felicia Day is great in other roles, her character is under developed. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in terms of who is a good guy and who is a bad guy. We’re supposed to root for Dr. Horrible despite his quest of destruction, and the traditional hero figure is a shallow jerk. We want Billy to get the girl, but his alter-ego was doomed to spoil things with sweet, innocent Penny. A really great take on the sometimes predictable world of superheros.


In case you were wondering what my childhood was like (I know you totally were), let’s just say that growing up my mom used to giggle whenever she saw a wood chipper and would ask “Who are we going to put in there?” a la Fargo, one of her favorite films of all-time. While she’s a very mommyish-mom most of the time, always trying to get you to “Eat something!”, worrying if you’re even a minute late, knitting baby blankets “Just in case!”, you put on Fargo and she has a decidedly non-Mom reaction and immediately begins giggling, totally undisturbed by the film’s graphic violence and vulgar language.
Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) needs cash. He knows his father-in-law has it, but also knows he won’t give it to him so he concocts a plan to have two hired goons (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) kidnap his wife so they can split the ransom money paid by his father-in-law. However, a criminal mastermind Jerry is not, and the plan quickly goes awry, with the body count climbing, and it takes one cop (Frances McDormand) to piece it all together. The film was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won for Best Original Screenplay and Best Lead Actress (McDormand).
This film is a great study in how people aren’t always what they seem. At first glance, Jerry appears to be the average family man, the last guy you would expect to put his wife in such a dangerous situation only to scam some money out of her father. Marge Gunderson, with her thick accent and pregnant belly, doesn’t look like someone who could solve a multiple homicide case. Marge’s former classmate Mike seems nice at first but is revealed to be a total nutjob. The Midwest itself is a character, and with their pleasant people and small town values, doesn’t seem like the kind of place where such brutal actions could take place.
Another major theme is how greed destroys all who succumb to it. Jerry clearly has a comfortable life financially but is constantly trying to come up with schemes to get a little more and a little more. While he never dreamed that his kidnapping plot would end the way it did, he still was willing to terrify his wife and child, initially, for only $40,000, only to greedily up his part of the ransom to $960,000 when telling his father-in-law the kidnappers’ demands. When Jerry tries to comfort his son after his wife’s kidnapping, it is clear he thought of nothing but the money and seems surprised by his son’s distress. His delusions of grandeur are crystal clear as the whole situation slips out of his control on all fronts.
Buscemi and Stormare’s Carl and Gaear are also undone by greed. When Carl receives the ransom, he is surprised to see it is for a million dollars when he wasn’t even expecting 100 grand. He hides the extra money from his partner Gaear, only to lose his life when they bicker over who gets the car Jerry provided them, leaving all that money lost in the snow. The only characters that are unconcerned with money are Marge and Norm, who have a simple but sweet life. Marge’s speech to Gaear about how silly it was to bring all that pain for such a small pay-off is a great denouncement.
While the Coen Brothers are very well respected by the industry, they like to fuck with people. The beginning of Fargo proclaims the film is based on a true story, this is a lie. It’s that attitude that permeates their films They show people at their ugliest but they do it with a wink so you know they don’t think we’re all bad. Fargo is among their most respected films and is definately a must-see for all film buffs. However, be careful to avoid the TNT censored version, which replaces f bombs with words like “frozen” and “funny” making the dialogue laughable.


In the late 80s, early 90s Saturday morning cartoons were a big deal and one trend was shows based on hit movies, even though some of the film weren’t exactly family fare. One of my favorites growing up was Beetlejuice, which followed the adventures of “the ghost with the most” and his best friend, the gothy mortal Lydia. While Beetlejuice was gross and rude, he would do anything for Lydia. Imagine my surprise when I finally saw the film and watched Beetlejuice try to forcibly marry Lydia, and he’s a total creep, and then there’s these other people who aren’t in the show. I would really love to have seen the pitch for this one. Remember that decaying sleazebag Michael Keaton played? I have a feeling kids are going to love him!
Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) are happily married couple who love their home and their lives only to lose it all when they drive their car off their bridge in order to avoid hitting a dog. They return to their home but realize something isn’t right. They quickly piece together that they are dead and they are trapped in their house. Their house is sold to a family, The Deetz, from Manhattan. While dad Charles (Jeffery Jones) is looking forward to the rest and relaxation country living will bring, wife Delia (Catherine O’Hara) plans to make herself at home by redecorating the house to her aesthetic, much to the Maitlands horror. However, they are helpless because only the youngest and spookiest Deetz, Lydia (Wynonna Ryder) can see them when they attempt to scare them out of the house. In an act of desperation, they unleash Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) who promises to rid the house of the Deetz family but has his own agenda. Eventually the two families find a way to live together peacefully with Bettlejuice far, far away.
This is good example of how much fun Tim Burton can (could) be when he’s working with the right subject matter. I think what makes this work is that you have the normal Maitlands mixed with the bizarre Netherworld and the wacky Deetz family. That balance makes the whole film more special. The afterlife is given so much personality in Burton’s vision, with all the characters in the waiting room exhibiting the cause of their death. The cast is also perfect with Catherine O’Hara getting in touch with her inner villain as the vain Deila, Ryder is the moody girl next door as Lydia, and Michael Keaton named the vile Beetlejuice as his favorite role of all time. He gets to really “go there” with this character, looking as gross as possible, sounding as weird as possible, doing whatever he wants with his body. Keaton’s an actor I always get excited when he shows up in a film. He’s really fun to watch and I’d love to see him have a comeback.
While the cartoon will always have a special place in my heart, Burton’s less kid friendly feature is everything that was magical about the director. Definitely a much watch as we approach Halloween.

Sunset Blvd

Sunset Blvd is one of the greatest, most quotable films about the movie industry, but it’s no love letter. It’s a bitter look at what happens to fallen stars and those who never made it when the business turns their backs of them. Down on his luck screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden), stumbles upon a mansion who has clearly seen better days. He quickly becomes immersed in the world of former queen of the silent era, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) who initially hires him to help her with a new screenplay which will bring on her return to the screen but eventually turns him into her lover with gifts and guilt. As Norma continues to wound her web around Joe, the more he pulls away and tries to return to his life before Norma.
This is a film about pride and its dangers. Norma has shut out the entire world in order to spare a blow to her pride. We never learn exactly why Norma failed to make the transition to talkies. Maybe it’s important but it makes ones wonder. Many silent stars lost their careers when sound came to film due to the quality of their voices. Pola Negri was briefly considered for the role of Negri but was passed over for the same reason her career stalled, her accent made her incredibly hard to understand. However, while Swanson’s Desmond has an exaggerated way of speaking, one would think it would be a great fit for talkies. Perhaps Desmond’s pride was the reason her career abruptly ended. Perhaps it was a refusal to change her way, to embrace the new innovations to film, was what forced Norma into exile. She could have had it all, but denied herself everything in order to protect her pride.
Joe also has an issue with pride. He describes Norma with such pitying disgust, laughing at her script, looking down on her lifestyle, but it’s hard to figure out where his feeling of superiority comes from. When we meet him he has only had minor success as a screenwriter and has resigned to writing whatever tripe he thinks is most likely to sell. He tells himself the business is a joke and that’s the only way to shield his own ego. What he seems to respond to the most in Norma is her hope that her star will rise again. He can’t believe that can happen because in doing so he has the face his own failings as a writer.
This is one of the most authentic Hollywood films. Much effort was made to present a true Hollywood. Schwab’s Pharmacy was real life popular meeting spot for those in the industry. The film Norma watches was a real film starring a young Gloria Swanson directed by Erich von Stroheim who plays Max in the film. De Mille plays himself and calls Norma by the real nickname he used for Swanson when they worked together. Silent film stars like Buster Keaton play themselves as part of Norma’s bridge club which Joe calls “the wax figures”. This is an unflattering portrait of the film industry, showing how the business chews people up and spits them out. Allowing them to feel infallible then throwing them away. Watching Norma’s descent, I am reminded of the many celebrities who cracked due to the overwhelming disconnect with reality fame brings.
Really one of the best films about filmmaking and should be seen by anyone who appreciates iconic performances. Billy Wilder really is on of the greats as his exposes all of Hollywood’s warts.