Halloween, we don’t deserve you! You let us dress up however we please. You empower us to celebrate the macabre, the goofy, the absurd. And you’ve inspired countless campy cinematic classics. In honor of the most delightfully horrific holiday, let’s look at three of the best movies cornier than a bucket of candy corn. These are all treats you should absolutely consume this Halloween!
Van Helsing (2004)
Van Helsing begins innocently enough. The opening scene, shot in black and white, is a striking homage to the monster movies Universal Pictures produced in the 1930s and ’40s, and it sets a convincingly dramatic tone as Frankenstein’s monster carries his dead creator away from a mob and toward a burning windmill. The story picks up one year later with an introduction to the titular character, played by Hugh Jackman. Van Helsing brawls with Mr. Hyde in Notre-Dame de Paris in a fantastic action sequence, lovingly shot and fitting for the genre movie that this is (and in contrast to its boring contemporary counterparts that masquerade as arthouse cinema). It’s pulpy, and it’s great.
But suddenly, the movie starts to fall apart. In wonderfully amusing ways. Where to begin? Kate Beckinsale as Anna Valerious delivers a performance that makes her work in Underworld seem subtle; her scenery chewing is elevated to unforetold levels thanks to her atrociously inauthentic Romanian accent. But that’s nothing compared to Richard Roxburgh’s Count Dracula. His every decision, from the way he turns his body to his ecstatic line delivery, was the wrong (and therefore, the right) one, and we’re so here for it. And where Mr. Hyde’s special effects were impressive for its time, Dracula’s brides are terrifying only when you worry you’ll injure your innards from laughing too vigorously.
After a while, you start noticing Van Helsing’s smaller, but no less satisfying, delights. Take for example Hugh Jackman’s wig and Hugh Jackman’s eyebrows – which are ostensibly the film’s breakout stars. And, if you hadn’t already noticed, the movie really tries to cram every classic monster ever created into this overlong gothic nightmare. All this is crowned by the maudlin soap opera ending. We won’t spoil it, but just remember to look to the clouds!
Also, has anybody played the video game? The Game Boy Advance version? Anyone? Moving on.
Practical Magic (1998)
Practical Magic is the epitome of a cult classic. Stars Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman play sisters Sally and Gillian Owens, who were born into a magical family of witches. But magic comes at a cost: The men they fall in love with are cursed to meet a premature death. Bathed in dreamy lighting, the film’s artificial sets are fantastical – and fantastic. They really don’t make movies like this anymore. And there’s probably a reason for that.
At the time of its release, critics failed to appreciate this misunderstood masterpiece, which rocks a tremendous 22% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Bullock and Kidman have genuine chemistry, but the slapdash, whiplash narrative is what really lifts this movie from dull schlock to filmic euphoria. Calling it camp doesn’t cut it. Practical Magic is wildly all over the place, never sure if it wants to be a children’s fantasy, comedy, romance, or horror film. The genre flips from scene to scene, cut to cut. One minute, Sally’s husband is run over by a truck; later, their children, perched in a tree aglow in dramatic lighting, lovingly watch as Sally pursues another love interest. Witches have little time for heartbreak, dahling.
But that’s why this movie is so beloved by its fans. It’s a confounding rollercoaster ride with incredible art design, queer undertones, and a cast that at the very least seems to be having the time of their lives. And what could be more Halloween than that?
Let it be known that 1998 was the year of camptastic Halloween cinema! If you’re looking for something more suitable for all ages, your search begins and ends with the Disney Channel Original Movie Halloweentown. Look, the endlessly charming, magnetic, and fabulous Debbie Reynolds is in this movie, and if that alone isn’t enough to sell you on Halloweentown, you don’t deserve any candy this year. None whatsoever! We’re sorry. Those are the rules.
We’ll leave you with her best lines:
“Magic is really very simple. All you have to do is want something, and then let yourself have it!”
“Being normal is vastly overrated.”
Sound advice, really.
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