Of all the holidays that dot the calendar, Halloween is perhaps the most photogenic. (With Christmas running a close second.) There’s just something about the iconography of Halloween that draws the camera. The autumn leaves burning red, yellow and gold. The houses done up in their spooky best. The hordes of kids in costume whisking through the October twilight. The candles flickering orange inside carved pumpkins. It’s all so cinematic.
Therefore it should come as no surprise that many a movie has taken place on Halloween night. There’s Halloween, of course, and its endless sequels and remakes, not to mention Sleepy Hollow, Hocus Pocus, the absurdly fun and gory Trick ’R Treat and the recent thriller The Guest. Yet Halloween has also stretched its skeletal hands into films that really have nothing to do with the holiday. Think of the climactic fight in To Kill a Mockingbird. The humiliating costume parties of Mean Girls and Legally Blonde. Or the feature film version of Sex and the City, in which Miranda makes a potent feminist statement while costume shopping. (“The only two choices for women: witch and sexy kitten.”)
But my two favorite Halloween scenes in non-Halloween movies come from films that couldn’t be more different. The only things they have in common are, one, you’ve probably seen them, and, two, you’ve likely forgotten they contain a little bit of Halloween.
The first is Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Everyone remembers the Reese’s Pieces, “Phone home” and the bikes soaring across the moon. What most forget, however, is the journey to those bikes, which takes place on a sunset-drenched Southern California Halloween night.
What’s awesome about the scene is how Spielberg absolutely nails suburban Halloween, from the decorations to the setting sun to the kids marching through the streets. But then he kicks it up a notch by literally putting us inside E.T.’s ghost costume, forcing us to see the holiday from his perspective. Those fake head wounds and faux aliens (The Yoda cameo is a brilliant touch!) look positively otherworldly. No wonder E.T. was confused. Halloween has never looked so alien.
But my absolute favorite Halloween scene is the third act of Meet Me in St. Louis, that Vincente Minnelli love letter to turn-of-the-century America. While Judy Garland is the indisputable star of the film, the Halloween sequence belongs to young Margaret O’Brien playing Garland’s scamp of a sister, Tootie.
YouTube is woefully short on clips of the scene. In fact, I found only one online, which for some reason can’t be embedded into this post. If you want to watch it (and I strongly suggest you do), it can be viewed HERE.
The film revels in portraying a bygone Halloween that was more about tricks than treats. Children raid the house for chunks of furniture they can add to the bonfire in the street. The makeshift costumes are creepy and odd, which ups the eeriness. Then there’s Tootie’s mission to “kill” the sinister Mr. Braukoff, which in this case means throwing a handful of flour in his face and shouting that she hates him. It’s weird, sinister stuff, and Minnelli captures it all in creepy, Technicolor glory. Not bad for a movie best known for “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”