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Winner Takes All: Which classic Halloween films will make viewers scream with joy?

(Ashley Ko/Illustrations director)

By Victoria Munck, Talia Sajor, Sanjana Chadive, and Leydi Cris Cobo Cordon

Oct. 27, 2023 1:25 a.m.

This Halloween, classic films are the spoo-key to a smile.

With an array of treats ranging from haunting horror to family-friendly fun, the holiday has inspired some of Hollywood’s most spellbinding releases. Each year, viewers return to beloved traditions and find new reasons to fall for their seasonal favorites.

Read on as the Daily Bruin Arts editors debate which classic Halloween movie is the ultimate pick of the patch.

[Related: Film preview: Fall’s forthcoming films include historical adaptations, franchise favorites]

(Courtesy of Orion Pictures)
Jodie Foster (left) and Anthony Hopkins (right) star as Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs." The psychological horror film premiered in 1991. (Courtesy of Orion Pictures)

“The Silence of the Lambs”

Sanjana Chadive, Lifestyle editor

32 years after its release, this psychological horror film continues to speak volumes.

Adapted from Thomas Harris’ acclaimed 1988 novel of the same name, “The Silence of the Lambs” is one of three films to win “The Big Five” Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. The story revolves around Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), a young FBI trainee who interviews the cannibalistic murderer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to help catch another serial killer known as Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). Starling and Lecter engage in a psychological game of cat and mouse that will send more spine-tingling shudders than the goriest slasher.

From the film’s hauntingly beautiful score to its thought-provoking commentary on the dark side of humanity, “The Silence of the Lambs” truly distinguishes itself among the bloodbath of horror flicks. However, the memorable performances are what make the movie stand the test of time. Foster’s nuanced portrayal of Starling immortalized the character alongside cinematic heroines like Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor. Moreover, Hopkins makes the most of his 16 minutes of screen time through his chillingly charismatic depiction of Hannibal Lecter, which will resonate with viewers long after the credits end.

Like a moth to a flame, cinephiles will gravitate toward “The Silence of the Lambs” for decades to come.

(Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures)
Catherine O'Hara and Danny Elfman voice Sally (left) and Jack (right) in "The Nightmare Before Christmas." The stop-motion fantasy debuted in 1993. (Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures)

“The Nightmare Before Christmas”

Victoria Munck, Theater | film | television editor

Don’t be tricked by the title – “This Is Halloween.”

Directed by stop-motion maestro Henry Selick, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” remains the most imaginative and nuanced depiction of the season to date. The 1993 musical fantasy follows Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween Town, as he discovers the joys of Christmas and plots to take it over with the help of his sinister citizens. From the mind of genre-defining filmmaker Tim Burton, the Disney production beautifully blends the Halloween’s darkness with a magical charm, resulting in an autumnal masterpiece with universal appeal.

The film’s eccentric animation quite literally screams “Halloween,” bewitching viewers with expertly designed characters and chilling fluidity. In addition to providing a haunting vocal performance in the role of Skellington, composer Danny Elfman brings the tale to life with an elegant, spirited soundtrack consisting of classic songs such as the poignant “Jack’s Lament.” Layered with notes of playful hilarity, touching romance and climatic suspense, the film combines its well-crafted elements to fashion an unforgettable treat.

With all things considered, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is much more of a dream.

(Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
Sam, the demon star of "Trick 'r Treat," is shown. The classic Halloween horror film was released in 2007. (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Trick ‘r Treat”

Talia Sajor, Arts editor

Perhaps there are more treats than tricks in store after audiences watch this film.

Written and directed by Michael Dougherty, “Trick ‘r Treat” has been cementing its legacy as a Halloween cult classic since its 2007 premiere. The plot interweaves four different storylines, all connected by a burlap-and-orange footie-pajama-wearing demon named Sam. As an anthology film that seamlessly connects stories including werewolves, homicidal principals and haunting urban legends, “Trick ‘r Treat” hands out something sweet for Halloween enthusiasts and adversaries alike.

Setting the tone of the movie, Sam begins his murderous streak with Emma, a woman who violates the Halloween rule of blowing out a jack-o’-lantern before midnight, establishing his sinister yet festive goal of enforcing the laws of the holiday. With the perfect balance of campy flair and humor, the four plotlines feature a series of unexpected twists and turns, alongside a fittingly creepy production design that leaves all viewers on the edge of their seats. Even with its nonlinear structure, “Trick ‘r Treat” pieces together some of the season’s most eerie tropes, proving it to be the epitomic watch of All Hallows’ Eve.

It’s only a matter of time before Sam gets anyone who goes against watching this Halloween classic.

(Courtesy of Disney Channel)
Kerris Dorsey, Olivia Holt and Brendan Meyer (left to right) are pictured. The actors star in "Girl vs. Monster," a 2012 Disney Channel Original Movie. (Courtesy of Disney Channel)

“Girl vs. Monster”

Leydi Cris Cobo Cordon, Music | fine arts editor

With a catchy soundtrack and nostalgic quality, “Girl vs. Monster” is back from the dead.

Starring Olivia Holt as the titular “Girl,” the film’s upbeat tunes have been making their way onto playlists since 2012. Establishing an autumnal spooky atmosphere from the get-go with its orange opening credits, “Girl vs. Monster” tells the story of the teenage Skylar, who is unable to feel fear. Unbeknownst to her, she comes from a lineage of monster hunters who capture apparitions of one’s fear. With hits such as “Had Me @ Hello” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me,” this feel-good tale of courage and confidence is bound to resonate with the heart and eardrums.

Within the stellar soundtrack’s showdown, “Fearless” has the upper hand. Encapsulating the film’s central message of being brave in the face of fear, the song’s bold lyrics are underscored by a punchy electro-infused beat. If music is the exchange of emotions, Holt’s empowered vocal performance is well worth the time investment. Accentuated by comically antiquated CGI and steampunk-esque scientific instruments, “Girl vs. Monster” is far from cutting edge, but it’s that very makeshift quality that proves incredibly endearing. As the October chill sets in and the horrors begin to swirl, “Girl vs. Monster” provides a comforting childhood blanket with a powerful impact on self-esteem.

After all, while decadent chocolate may be finer, Halloween is for the classics.

[Related: Film review: ‘Scream VI’ plays it safe with familiar settings, scare tactics]

(Courtesy of Dimension Films)
Ghostface, the masked murderer of the "Scream" franchise, is pictured. The six-film series was launched in 1996. (Courtesy of Dimension Films)

“Scream”

Editors’ consensus

“What’s your favorite scary movie?” The correct answer is “Scream.”

Horror pioneer Wes Craven’s 1996 slasher film prevails as an eternal classic, transcending its genre with sharpness and surprise that remain unparalleled. The first of a six-movie franchise, “Scream” investigates the masked murderer known as Ghostface as he wreaks havoc on the small-town teenagers of Woodsboro with a fatal phone game. Kevin Williamson’s impeccably paced screenplay teems with self-reflexive nods to horror cinema while skillfully balancing humor and criticism, promising a fun-filled thrill that truly embodies the Halloween season.

The film opens with an unforgettable fright as young Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) answers a call from Ghostface. The sequence culminates in her gruesome death after a compelling buildup of suspense helmed by the killer’s dark voice and chilling dialogue. Barrymore’s exceptional performance proves to be the first of many captivating portrayals in the movie, including those of standouts Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard. As the mystery behind Ghostface unravels, the stellar cast adapts to the film’s many twists to deliver a gripping, game-changing adventure.

Clearly, when tasked with leading the autumn film season, only one production can answer the call.

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Victoria Munck | Theater | film | television editor
Munck is the 2023-2024 theater | film | television editor. She was previously an Arts contributor from 2022-2023. She is a second-year communication student from Granada Hills, California.
Munck is the 2023-2024 theater | film | television editor. She was previously an Arts contributor from 2022-2023. She is a second-year communication student from Granada Hills, California.
Talia Sajor | Arts editor
Sajor is the 2023-2024 Arts editor. She previously served as the 2022-2023 Theater | film | television editor and a Photo, Opinion and PRIME contributor. She is also a third-year communication student from Oxnard, California.
Sajor is the 2023-2024 Arts editor. She previously served as the 2022-2023 Theater | film | television editor and a Photo, Opinion and PRIME contributor. She is also a third-year communication student from Oxnard, California.
Sanjana Chadive | Lifestyle editor
Chadive is the 2023-2024 lifestyle editor. She was previously an Arts staff writer from 2022-2023. She is a third-year comparative literature student from Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania.
Chadive is the 2023-2024 lifestyle editor. She was previously an Arts staff writer from 2022-2023. She is a third-year comparative literature student from Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania.
Cobo Cordon is the 2023-2024 music | fine arts editor. She was previously an Arts reporter. She is also a second-year student from northern Virginia.
Cobo Cordon is the 2023-2024 music | fine arts editor. She was previously an Arts reporter. She is also a second-year student from northern Virginia.
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