Media in Review: October 2020

Though, as of today, we have officially moved into the next “season,” Thanksgiving and (let’s be honest) Christmas, we put Halloween to bed until next year. Most of these reviews, however, are for Halloween-themed stuff because I really wallow in it in October. It’ll make a better reference in 2021, the year when the holidays go back to normal. Right? Right? Please?

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I’ve seen this movie several times because I like it, but it’s always years in between. It seemed like a fun, mildly-spooky movie to introduce to the teens this year, especially since it felt like Beetlejuice and Ghostbusters were having a sort of revival in 2020. We watched it for the first family movie night of October. One of our kids refused to watch it (sigh), but since he spent the time outside instead, we just let it go. The other one watched it with us and then found out it was the movie she was supposed to watch for Movie Club this month. (Check!) Let’s see. There are awkward moments in this Tim Burton classic, like when you feel you need an explanation for why you like it. But then you just remember that it’s a classic and was also very popular in its time. Considered a comedy, though not the LOL kind, it’s more of a satirical ghost story. It’s quite quirky, and has a moment or two when it’s more adult than kid-friendly, but it really is full of iconic moments, and has a story that pulls it all together and good performances all-round (though, against the opinions of others, it’s one of my least favorites of Michael Keaton). After watching, we decided to be Adam and Barbara for Halloween.

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This is one of those spooky, not-exactly-horror, animated movies that appeals to the whole family. When my kids were little, they claimed these types of movies made the “melancholy,” and would bow out. Now, it’s an easy pick off the DVD shelf. Based on a teen horror novel by Neil Gaiman, Coraline the movie has become a classic. Not by Tim Burton (thought so many people assume it is), it has gritty and sad undertones which don’t often come with the Claymation style. There are some really creepy moments, and the rest of it is just bizarre, but the story, animation, and quirk is memorable and it’s one of my personal favorites.

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And then I made the list of Halloween reads and watches, and found this—another classic—on it and thought I would try it. It always looked silly to me. Aaaand when something came up about three-quarters of the way through, I didn’t come back to finish it. It was just so predictable and stupid. I know stupid is not especially descriptive, but among other things I mean that the humor and scenarios were dumbed-down and the acting was schticky. There are plenty of people who like that and lots of people who consider this a Halloween must. There were moments of more subtle humor, attempted largely by Wednesday, that I liked, and with another director I might have liked to see this setting and this general situation. I’m wondering if the much-lauded Addams Family Values would be more to my liking? The new animated film, we didn’t even both. It has pretty rotten reviews.

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There are a half-dozen Halloween food shows, though only two big, annual ones that I know of: Halloween Wars and Halloween Baking Championship (the Halloween version of the other Baking Championships). I also watched a few one-offs, like Freakshow Cakes, Kids Baking Championship Halloween special and All-Star Halloween Spectacular. Halloween Gingerbread Bake-Off is another one that I watched, somewhere between a one-off and a regular series. A spin-off, I guess, of Gingerbread Bake-Off, which is obviously for the Christmas season. It’s had a few seasons, and I like it okay. It does feel a little strange to have gingerbread experts sculpting Freddy Kreuger, but I like to watch their processes and think about an epic house for Christmas. Someday. One of the seasons begins with like nine or twelve bakers, and three of them are from North Carolina (and all places I can point to on a map), two of whom made it to the finale. Otherwise, for the most part, the one-offs were produced in such a way that they felt way too one-offy, if that makes sense. They felt cheap and temporary. On the other hand, Halloween Wars and Halloween Baking Championship, after several years, have really found their flavor and feet. I love all the Baking Championships, partly because I love to learn about food and baking and I get to see techniques and baked goods that I wouldn’t elsewhere, more up-to-date and creative. The production is sleeker than some shows. I generally enjoy the contestants and the judges (especially Carla Hall, who is now the host—and queen—of the show). This year they must have filmed during the pandemic, but they managed a season anyways, with the contestants (with no explanation) standing in a large grid and the judges at their own, tiny tables, spaced apart. As for Halloween Wars, this is an October tradition that has become a mother-son thing (and it is, it seems, a huge draw for Food Network). Despite me not liking the gore or horror of the holiday, I love seeing what bakers, sugar artists, and pumpkin carvers can do with flour, sugar, and gourds. It’s pretty amazing and pretty enormous, at times. I do wish they would just give them more time and make it less about the scramble and more about what they can do, but I’ll keep coming back to this one, with my son, every fall.

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We waited for this Roald Dahl release and watched it on the day that it came out on streaming. Starring Anne Hathaway and Octavia Spencer, it is an interesting twist on The Witches: moved from an 80s publication that is set in Norway and England to a 1960s American South, involving references to being black at that time and place. I have to admit that part of the charm of Roald Dahl is the particular feel of his childhood from mid-century Britain, so I was sad to see that we had to Americanize it and also make it more obviously relevant, without letting old stories be relevant in their own way. I would say the movie is okay, and it could warrant another watch, but despite the great CG and acting, good cinematography, as well as the pretty direct following of the original story. The ending, which is also more true to Dahl’s vision than the earlier movie, feels unsatisfactory, despite claims that it is more appropriate to the modern child and our current pandemic/civil rest situation. I mean, Dahl has never been afraid to explore violence and the macabre in childhood, but the movie doesn’t feel like it matches the ending, at least for our family. Worth a watch.  

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My daughter, one day, got me on a Disney animated-to-live-action movie streak. It began with Cinderella, and then we continued with Beauty and the Beast and, on my own, I watched one I’d been meaning to see since it released years ago, Aladdin. (I still have yet to see The Lion King, or Mulan, which is still cost-prohibitive and looks like it might be my favorite.) There are some themes with the live-action remakes of the Disney “Princess” movies. For one, they go all out with the visuals, including the costumes, which I go gaga over in at least Cinderella and Beauty. For the remakes of the newer stuff, they stick really close to the original Disney films, sometimes repeating songs and even whole scenes, at times frame for frame, prompting my daughter to ask why they remake them at all. (Others, like Maleficent, a remake of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White’s Mirror Mirror explore different angles of the stories. Perhaps our tip-off is in the title, and I’ve heard tell they are going to do more direct remakes of those same films.) I grew up watching the movies that they have been revisiting in the last decade, so for me these are nostalgic remakes, and I’ll watch out of compulsion, just as I will The Little Mermaid. I liked all three that I watched, and would watch them again, happily, especially Beauty and the Beast, which is probably my favorite Disney movie, anyways.

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I finished the season with a whole Frankenstein theme (see review with the book) and then It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I had assumed I enjoyed this short movie because I grew up watching the TV special every single year. However, watching it this year (by myself, my kids think it’s too old-fashioned), I noticed some of the great things about it besides the softness, nostalgia, and message. The animation, even now, is of a style that I can appreciate, with the beautiful washes of watercolor in the background and the simplicity of the characters, facial expressions, movement, and foreground. I find it a little awkward the way all the Charlie Brown specials cut—a result of the original material having been comic strips, I think. Of all of it, my least favorite has also always been The Red Baron plotline with Snoopy, but still I love Charlie Brown, and no doubt my allegiance is one of tradition. I’ll continue watching this one and the other holiday specials year after year after year.

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And as a bonus for you, I made a list of Halloween music. I have been playing the songs in bold for years, but I realized I hadn’t changed this seasonal soundtrack in a while, so I dig some digging to explore more. I am sure I will be deleting some of these from the shuffle playlist I made on YouTube Music, but this is a place to start. I’ll star those that I recommend, so far.

  • “Thriller,” Michael Jackson *
  • “Monster Mash,” Bobby Pickett *
  • “I Want Candy,” Bow Wow Wow *
  • “Ghostbusters,” Ray Parker Junior *
  • “Rocky Horror Time Warp”
  • “Monster,” Lady Gaga
  • “Disturbia,” Rihanna
  • “Superstition,” Stevie Wonder *
  • “Bury a Friend,” Billy Eilish *
  • “The Addams Family Theme Song” *
  • “I Put a Spell On You,” Nina Simone *
  • “Haunted,” Beyonce
  • “Evil Woman,” ELO *
  • “Somebody’s Watching Me,” Rockwell *
  • “Zombie,” The Cranberries *
  • “She Wolf,” Shakira
  • “Killer Queen,” Queen
  • “Hungry Like the Wolf,” Duran Duran
  • “This is Halloween,” The Nightmare Before Christmas or Marilyn Manson *
  • “Calling All the Monsters,” China Anne McClain *
  • “One Good Scare” from Phineas and Ferb *
  • “Scooby-Doo Theme Song” from Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? *
  • “Monster,” Kanye West, etc.
  • “Shadows of the Night,” Pat Benatar
  • “Determinate” from Lemonademouth *
  • “Black Magic,” Little Mix
  • “Super Freak,” Rick James
  • “I’m Your Boogie Man,” KC and the Sunshine Band
  • “Candy,” Mandy Moore
  • “Witchcraft,” Frank Sinatra
  • “Spirit in the Sky,” Norman Greenbaum *
  • “Dead Man’s Party,” Oingo Boingo
  • “Black Magic Woman,” Santana
  • “Bad Moon Rising,” Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • “Sympathy for the Devil,” The Rolling Stones *
  • “A Nightmare on My Street,” Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff *
  • “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” The Charlie Daniels Band *
  • “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” Blue Oyster Cult
  • “Werewolves of London,” Warren Zevon
  • “The Monster,” Eninem and Rihanna
  • “Demons,” Imagine Dragons
  • “Halloween Sharks,” Pinkfong
  • “I Put a Spell on You,” Bette Midler
  • “Costume Party,” The Pop-Ups
  • “One-Eyed, One-Horned Flying Purple People-Eater,” Sheb Wooley *
  • “Grim, Grinning Ghosts,” from Disney’s The Haunted Mansion
  • “It’s Halloween,” Lucy Kalantari
  • “Witch Doctor,” Sean Bone *
  • “Moonlit Town,” Dan Zanes
  • “Halloween Night,” Like Father, Like Son
  • “She Writes Frankenstein,” Mr. Singer and the Sharp Cookies
  • “Halloween is Finally Here,” Bears and Lions
  • “Skeletone,” Caspar Babypants
  • Halloween Theme, John Carpenter *
  • “Magic Dance,” David Bowie
  • “Scary Monsters,” David Bowie
  • “Season of the Witch,” Donovan *
  • “Heads Will Roll,” The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  • “Ghost,” Ella Henderson
  • “Witchy Woman,” The Eagles
  • “Black Magic Woman,” Fleetwood Mac
  • “The Boogie Monster,” Gnarls Barkley
  • “True Blood,” Justin Timberlake
  • “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” Ella Fitzgerald *
  • The Phantom of the Opera “Overture,” Andrew Lloyd Webber
  • Stranger Things Theme (Extended) *
  • “Creep,” Radiohead *
  • “Haunted,” Taylor Swift
  • “Wolves,” Selena Gomez and Marshmello
  • “Dark Horse,” Katy Perry and Juicy J.
  • “I’m In Love with a Monster,” Fifth Harmony
  • “Get Ur Freak On,” Missy Elliot
  • “Freaks Come Out at Night,” Whodini
  • “Psycho Killer,” The Talking Heads
  • “Sally’s Song” from The Nightmare Before Christmas or Amy Lee *
  • “Black Widow,” Iggy Izalea
  • “Midnight City,” M83
  • “Spooky,” Dusty Springfield
  • “Haunted House,” Jumpin Gene Simmons
  • “Halloween Spooks,” Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross
  • “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah,” Tracy Jordan
  • “Dinner with Drac,” John Zacherle
  • “The Werewolf Watusi,” Boris Pickett
  • “The Headless Horseman,” Bing Crosby
  • “Punky Pumpkin,” Rosemary Clooney
  • “The Boogie Woogie Man,” Brian Sisters
  • “Skeleton in the Closet,” Louis Armstrong
  • “The Monster Hop,” Bert Convy
  • “My Body’s a Zombie for You,” Dead Man’s Bones
  • “The Wobblin’ Goblin,” Rosemary Clooney *
  • “Spooky Scary Skeletons,” Disney *
  • “Spiderwebs,” No Doubt *
  • “Season of the Witch,” Lana Del Rey *
  • “Magic Works,Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire *
  • “A Monster in Paris,” Sean Lennon *
  • “Do the Hippogriff,” Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire *


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