I mostly spent October celebrating the spooky and settling into a nostalgic pattern of Halloween-themed comfort movie binges: Frankenweenie (1984), Hocus Pocus (1993), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Halloweentown (1998)—you get the idea. I think I've even added a new one to the rotation: Muppets Haunted Mansion! I also started binge-watching one of my go-to college-era guilty pleasures, Ghost Hunters (though I had no idea there were so many seasons!). I rounded out the month with Denis Villeneuve's adaptation of the sci-fi masterpiece Dune and was, thankfully, pleasantly surprised.
What were some of your favorite films, television shows, web series, books, or podcasts from October? Let me know what you're looking forward to or would recommend seeing in November!
Hocus Pocus (1993)
Director: Kenny Ortega
Cast: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Omri Katz, Thora Birch, Vinessa Shaw, Doug Jones & Jason Marsden
You’re in for a devil of a time when three outlandishly wild witches—Midler, Parker, and Najimy—return from 17th-century Salem after they’re accidentally conjured up by some unsuspecting pranksters. It’s a night full of zany fun and comic chaos once the tricky 300-year-old trio set out to cast a spell on the town and reclaim their youth...but first, they must get their act together and outwit three kids and a talking cat.
When I was little, my mom would let us pick a movie to rent on Fridays if we'd been good. We usually rented our VHS tapes from the local pharmacy, but we got to pick one from Blockbuster every now and then. Ironically, the Blockbuster was in the same shopping center as our pharmacy. Still, it was a special treat to go into a store that only sold movies and candy. And if it was my turn to pick a movie, I almost always chose either The Nightmare Before Christmas or Hocus Pocus. So often, in fact, that a few times, my mom told me that Blockbuster didn't have those movies in stock just so she wouldn't have to watch them yet again. However, I had to choose Hocus Pocus over The Nightmare Before Christmas for this list because Hocus Pocus is distinctly a Halloween movie. In contrast, Nightmare can be binged from now until Christmas (and you can bet that I will watch that movie up until Christmas).
One of my favorite October traditions is re-watching Hocus Pocus under a cozy blanket with a mug of hot chocolate (or witch's brew, if you prefer). Do I know most of the movie's dialogue? Yes. Can I recreate the choreography for the "I Put a Spell on You" number from memory? Also yes.
Have I researched how to make a Hocus Pocus-themed charcuterie board? One hundred percent, yes. Hocus Pocus is my ultimate Halloween comfort movie, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I watched this movie more than once this past month.
In a world full of Michaels, Freddies, and Leatherfaces, sometimes it's nice to just enjoy the wicked antics of a trio of witches trying to suck the lives out of little children while navigating 1990s lingo. It's campy but self-aware and just the right amount of spoopy-friendly frights that doesn't take itself too seriously. And with the official announcement of a Hocus Pocus 2 in production, I'm interested in seeing how the story continues next Halloween.
DYK? During a 20th anniversary screening of Hocus Pocus, Doug Jones, who plays Billy Butcherson, revealed that the moths that come out of his mouth towards the end of the film are real, not CGI.
Ghost Hunters (2004—)
Creators: John Hoffman & Steve Martin
Featuring: Jason Hawes, Grant Wilson, Steve Gonsalves, Dave Tango, Shari DeBenedetti, Amy Bruni, Britt Griffith, Kris Williams, K.J. McCormick, Adam Berry & Dustin Pari
This one-hour weekly docu-soap from the creator/executive producer of "American Chopper" follows a group of real-life paranormal researchers as they investigate haunted houses throughout the country, encountering every type of imaginable haunting. Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, plumbers by trade, head up TAPS—The Atlantic Paranormal Society—a group of ordinary, everyday people interested in getting to the bottom of your otherworldly disturbances.
When I was in college, my friends and I would turn the lights off and watch the original Ghost Hunters. Half of us were "believers," while the other half could explain away all of TAPS' evidence. It was a fun way to spend an evening away from readings and essays. Nevertheless, I will freely admit that I was terrified watching these episodes.
Whether or not I believe in the afterlife, I honestly couldn't say. Still, Ghost Hunters almost desensitized me from being afraid of the paranormal. Though not terribly or verifiably scientific, their method tried to disprove hauntings rather than "prove" that every creaking floorboard was actually an angry entity pacing around an attic. I've tried watching other shows that followed in Ghost Hunters' wake, but I couldn't take it seriously. TAPS' was a more practical approach to ghost hunting than assuming everything is a demon trying to suck out your soul.
Re-watching the series several years later, I don't get the same chill up my spine from their evidence. Still, it's a fun and enjoyable Halloween-appropriate binge-fest if you're looking for something unscripted. I'm interested to see how the new season on Discovery+ measures up.
DYK? Ghost Hunters helped popularize paranormal television and ghost hunting during its original run on Syfy. For much of its initial airing on Syfy, it was the top-rated paranormal reality show on television. John Blake of CNN opined in 2013 that Ghost Hunters "is to the paranormal field what Sugarhill's 'Rapper's Delight' is to hip-hop..."
Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021)
Director: Kirk R. Thatcher
Cast: Bill Barretta, Dave Goelz, Brian Henson, Eric Jacobson, Peter Linz, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, Will Arnett, Ed Asner, Yvette Nicole Brown, Darren Criss, Taraji P. Henson, Kim Irvine, Jeannie Mai, Chrissy Metz, Alfonso Ribeiro, John Stamos, Danny Trejo & Sasheer Zamata
Where to Watch: Disney+
Having survived every one of his daredevil performances, Gonzo takes on his biggest challenge yet. Accompanied by Pepe the King Prawn, Gonzo is challenged to spend one night in The Haunted Mansion on Halloween night.
Unironically, Muppets Treasure Island (1996) is one of my favorite movies of all time. We didn't watch a lot of Muppets content growing up, but we did watch Muppets movies on repeat at a relative's house. Got dropped off for a couple of hours? Let's pop in some old Muppet Show episodes on VHS. Is it Christmastime? No problem, we can watch The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992) over and over again. I have fond memories of the Muppets gang, with Gonzo being one of my favorites.
So I was excited to see Gonzo and Pepe the King Prawn starring in their own Muppet special all about Halloween—a first for the studio! And it's Haunted Mansion-themed, arguably one of Disneyland's top-tier attractions? I figured that I'd probably check it out and assumed that I would have, at the very least, thought that Muppets Haunted Mansion was cute. I didn't expect to enjoy this holiday special as much as I did; watching was like catching up with old friends.
Muppets Haunted Mansion is just plain F U N and offers everything you need for a grim, grinning, and ghostly good time:
Plenty of great cameos (including a bittersweet cameo with the recently departed Ed Asner)
Great callbacks to the Disneyland attraction
Silly music and familiar Muppet antics
Excellent production value
The greatest of Gonzos and the most handsome King Prawn to ever prawn
To tie up loose ends, filmmaker Kirk R. Thatcher includes a heartwarming message—children are the Muppets' target audience, after all—but it's sweet without being too saccharine. I hope that I never get too old for Muppets, and if you happen to get a chance to see this film between now and next Halloween, I hope you do.
DYK? Imagineer Kim Irvine, who plays Kim the Haunted Mansion Maid in the Séance Circle scene with Madame Pigota, has a special connection to the Haunted Mansion attraction. Her mother, Imagineer Leota Toombs Thomas, is the face of Madame Leota (with Eleanor Audley doing her voice) in the Séance Circle, as well as the face and voice of Little Leota at the end of the ride. Irvine is featured as Madame Leota for The Nightmare Before Christmas overlay of the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland during the holiday season.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, David Dastmalchian, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa & Javier Bardem
Paul Atreides (Chalamet), a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet's exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence, only those who can conquer their own fear will survive.
When I was in school, a friend of mine loved Frank Herbert's 1965 novel Dune; they recommended it to anyone who would listen. Finally, I relented, but instead of reading the novel, I went the lazy route and watched a bootleg copy of the 1984 film adaptation on YouTube in my dorm room. Big mistake.
Please don't judge me too harshly; this was before the streaming era. However, as a general rule of thumb, don't watch bootlegged versions of movies online: You'll be disappointed, and it's disrespectful to filmmakers.
You know it's bad when even the director hates his own film and asks the studio to remove his name from the credits.
The 1984 version is terrible, and it had nothing to do with the poor video quality on YouTube. Like, unequivocally David Lynch's worst film. It wasn't until years later that I finally mustered up the courage to give Herbert's novel a chance and was pleasantly surprised. Sci-fi isn't usually my go-to genre, but Dune's characters and plot are dynamic and engaging, and Herbert's world-building is beautifully rich and complex. It's not just a good sci-fi story; it's a good story—period.
Fast-forward 37 years, and now we have Denis Villeneuve's adaptation. I was hopeful that special effects would have finally caught up enough to at least give Dune justice. However, I was still apprehensive about Villeneuve's version. Herbert's novel is over 900 pages long—how can you possibly fit that much storytelling into two and a half hours? Thankfully, Villeneuve doesn't try; his adaptation of the book will be split across two or three films.
Similar to how Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings (2001) established the novel's world and characters in the film, Villeneuve takes the time to develop Paul Atreides' world and raise the stakes for the audience in an authentic way. Visually, Dune is stunning and more in line with what I envisioned reading the novel for the first time. There are strong performances from Timothée Chalamet and the supporting cast. Overall, I was pleased with this adaptation. However, it will be interesting to see how the second part of this franchise plays out. If you're a fan of the Dune series or are interested in Villeneuve's work, I'd recommend giving this film a shot.
DYK? Director David Lynch, who helmed the 1984 film adaptation, has stated that he has "zero interest" in Villeneuve's adaptation of Dune. Lynch cited that his issues with the new movie have nothing to do with Villeneuve but with his own painful memories of making his version: "Because it was a heartache for me. It was a failure, and I didn't have [the] final cut. I've told this story a billion times. It's not the film I wanted to make. I like certain parts of it very much—but it was a total failure for me."