The new “Halloween” movie put me in an existential crisis, and for a while, I felt like I couldn’t justify liking scary movies anymore.
Even if they don’t finish with a happy ending, the best scary movies always end with at least some kind of moral takeaway. Even slasher movies were supposed to be a kind of warning against sexual immorality, but anyone who sees the latest “Halloween” won’t get any sense of moral justice from Michael Myers’ nihilistic killing spree.
It gets tricky calling yourself a horror fan when the umbrella takes in everything from serial killer stab-fests to Eli Roth torture-porn. AMC’s annual “Fear Fest” lineup alone is enough to make you second-guess a lifelong love for a holiday steeped in creepy costumes, carved pumpkins and complimentary candy.
But just when I thought I couldn’t justify my love of October 31st any longer, I remembered an old friend.
For most people, Ray Bradbury is a science fiction author; specifically, he’s the guy who wrote “Fahrenheit 451,” that book-burning book we all had to read in high school. But dig a little deeper into his resume, and you’ll find a guy who really understands All Hallows’ Eve.
My sister and I were raised on Bradbury titles like “The Halloween Tree” and “Dandelion Wine,” macabre tomes saturated in loving, poetic description and supernatural wonder. He did such a job on us that we drove to San Diego to see him at Comic-Con in 2007, and he was probably the sweetest celebrity I’ve ever met.
Bradbury’s books were notoriously hard to translate onto the big screen, but with all due respect to those who prefer the Francois Truffaut-directed “Fahrenheit 451” — there it is again! — the best Bradbury movie, the adaptation that comes the closest to capturing the spirit of his work, has to be 1983’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”
Set in the early 20th-century Illinois of Bradbury’s childhood, “Something Wicked” pits a small-town librarian and his young son against a supernatural carnival that comes to town in search of vulnerable souls. It captures everything that is great and romantic about Halloween, autumn and October, and though it doesn’t have much use for bloody entrails or hockey masks, it’s plenty scary.
“Something Wicked” is awash in autumn colors, packed with witches and spiders and a magic merry-go-round that turns you into a little kid if you ride it backwards. Jason Robards plays the town librarian, Jonathan Pryce plays the evil carnival king, and their clashing forces of small-town America vs. darkness puts the new “Goosebumps” movie to shame. Beneath the surface, the whole premise is built around poignant themes of family and fatherhood and a story that suggests getting what you wish for isn’t always the best move.
The effects may not compare to today’s CGI, and the scares are a far cry from what those raised on the “Saw” movies might be used to, but the story is strong enough to withstand any dated weaknesses.
The truth is, the new “Halloween” is probably pretty tame compared to some of the other horror options out there — and that alone is a demoralizing thought. But if I’m looking for a fun and frightening option for Halloween night, something thoughtful that reminds me why I love this season so much? I’ll take Team Ray over Mr. Myers every time.