Arts and Entertainment

A&E Talks About Which of Tim Burton’s Films is the Most Halloween Themed

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Issue 4, Volume 110

By The Arts & Entertainment Department 

Beetlejuice - Emma Linderman

Only the second of Burton’s feature-length films, “Beetlejuice” grossed 80 million dollars and was a favorite among critics when it was released in 1988. The plot follows a recently deceased couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) who, with the help of “bio-exorcist” Betelgeuse (you know how it’s pronounced) (Michael Keaton), set out to haunt their house after an eccentric new family moves in. Perfect for Halloween, “Beetlejuice” has just the right amount of snakes, bugs, and death-related humor—not to mention a soundtrack featuring the Calypso hits of Harry Belafonte, notably “Banana Boat (Day-O)” and “Jump in the Line.”

The film has no shortage of eye-popping effects and visuals and went on to claim the Academy Award for Best Makeup in its year of release. Likely contributors to the film’s success are its cast, which includes Catherine O’Hara as high-strung sculptor Delia Deetz, the late Sylvia Sidney as a caseworker for the dead, and Winona Ryder as the goth and self-described “strange and unusual” Lydia Deetz.

“Beetlejuice” established Burton as a notable director, Ryder as a young actress to watch, and itself as a cult classic; the film was later adapted into a children’s cartoon and most recently, a stage musical. In the 30 years since its release, “Beetlejuice” has aged well and remains a crowd-pleaser both on Halloween and year-round.

Frankenweenie - Ismath Maksura

Though it’s a bit of an obscure and strange entry in Burton’s long filmography, “Frankenweenie” was one of the first Tim Burton films I’ve watched and the one that sticks with me even today. “Frankenweenie” is a black and white stop-motion animation released in 2012 as an homage to “Frankenstein” (1931) and the first of its kind to appear in IMAX 3D. It follows a young boy named Victor Frankenstein (yes, like the original) who loses his dog Sparky after Sparky was struck by a car. Soon after, a depressed Victor becomes inspired after his science teacher shows him how electricity affects dead frogs, prompting him to bring Sparky’s corpse to his makeshift attic lab. He then successfully reanimates his dead dog using lightning. This action sets off a chain reaction within his town, resulting in many more dead animals coming back to life. This odd twist on a classic tale is definitely unique in its aesthetic choices, with the black and white imagery creating an unsettling atmosphere. However, the movie still manages to tell a heartwarming story about the bond between children and their pets. This movie is definitely worth a watch, especially if you’re like me and prefer Halloween aesthetics over spooks and gore.

The Nightmare Before Christmas - Jesse Hammer

Quite apart from being a great Halloween movie, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a great film in general. It demonstrates the all-too-human conditions of solitude and love, as Sally the ragdoll’s (mostly) unrequited love for Jack Skellington engenders fierce sympathy from the viewer. Danny Elfman’s often haunting, often amusingly zany score has the power to take the viewer through the whole range of human emotions, and the character design is brilliantly spooky. Deane Taylor’s all-too-often overlooked art direction leads to some iconic shots, such as Jack singing “Jack’s Lament” atop Spiral Hill and the entirety of my personal favorite song from the film, “This Is Halloween.”

Though Burton did not direct this film, he arguably had the greatest hand in its development, producing and co-writing it with director Henry Selick. Additionally, Burton’s imagination was said to have been piqued to write a poem that would become the seed for the concept of the film by seeing Halloween decorations being replaced by Christmas ones in a storefront window. Every aspect of Halloween is studied in detail; whatever the viewer’s favorite facet is—dressing up and trick-or-treating, the scary elements of the holiday, or the funnier and lighter side—“The Nightmare Before Christmas” covers it, and covers it admirably.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Morris Raskin

In Burton’s 2005 adaptation of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the audience is taken on a visually stunning joyride around Willy Wonka’s coveted candy plant. And truly, what is more quintessentially Halloween than a movie revolving around the very idea of candy? While the original “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971) movie will forever be a classic, Burton puts his own unique spin on the tale, adding new subplots, visual elements, and character arcs. While Johnny Depp’s performance as Willy Wonka might be a bit too bizarre for many viewers, he definitely makes the part his own. The rest of the characters do a great job whisking you into their world and making their strange characters into relatable personalities.

Burton’s influence is obvious in every scene. He takes a concept, like a broken down cabin or a room made of candy, and makes it completely surreal. It takes multiple viewings to fully understand all of the intricacies that the director places in the movie and even then, there’s so much to uncover. If you are looking for a fun, wacky Halloween experience, then “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is the movie to watch.

Dark Shadows - Julie Grandchamp-Desraux

As the first Burton movie I watched, “Dark Shadows” is, to me, Burton’s best movie for Halloween. The 2012 movie follows Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), who was turned into a vampire and buried alive after breaking a witch’s heart. After 200 years of being buried, he escapes and finds his manor and town to be a completely different place. In order to fit in, Barnabas stays with the extremely dysfunctional remainders of his family still living in his manor. This adaptation is a lot more humorous than the original show, though it maintains the same grimm and gothic undertones. If it’s not making people laugh, then it’s definitely scaring them, as Burton definitely didn’t hold back on jump scares and gruesome moments. As it’s both funny and scary and includes almost every traditional Halloween monster kids have been taught to fear, “Dark Shadows” is genuinely Burton’s best movie for this Halloween.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Christine Lin

One of Tim Burton’s more recent movie adaptations, “Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children,” is a must-watch for anyone trying to get into the Halloween spirit or even just looking for a costume idea. It features Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield), a young boy, who discovers clues left behind from his grandfather to a mystery spanning generations. It leads him to Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children, where he learns about the residents, their special powers (peculiarities), and eventually his own.

This film features characters with abilities like the power to manipulate fire or levitate. They never age and are trapped within a time loop that causes them to live the same day over and over again. Burton does a great job with conveying these peculiarities to the viewer—his film being a visual experience like no other while still containing some familiar tricks that long-time fans can trace back to his classics (i.e Edward Scissorhands).

With Burton’s air of beloved whimsicality layered atop a dark and grim fairytale, “Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children” is the perfect movie to watch during Halloween. Even if you aren’t a fan of fantasy-themed films, give it a shot. After all, nothing says Halloween more than a movie about people with preternatural powers.

Alice In Wonderland - Irene Hao

Yes, it’s not an official Halloween film, but Burton’s 2010 film “Alice in Wonderland” is a Disney fantastical adventure as visually impressive, if not more so than its successor, “Alice Through the Looking Glass” (2016). The storyline is based off of Lewis Carroll’s famous novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” It is one of the creepier children’s books with illustrations that enhance how strangely grotesque and sadistic the characters are.

Burton interpreted the books and shaped the movie’s plot for adult audiences. Instead of Alice visiting Wonderland for the first time, she revisits the land in her late teens to discover her first one had been remembered and her destiny was to defeat the Red Queen. Each character is so brilliantly unique and colorful that it’s as if Alice herself entered a Halloween party instead of a mad tea party. Though the last few scenes of the film are reduced to lackluster, action-packed sequences with no plot-driven substance, Burton did a brilliant job in his reinterpretation of a long-time classic tale into modern media.

Corpse Bride - Jacqueline Thom

When one thinks of Halloween, they think of death, skeletons, great jazz, and the crushing harshness of reality. These are exactly the themes that that “Corpse Bride” centers itself around. The 2005 animated film features the ever dynamic duo, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, as Victor Van Dort and the Corpse Bride. When Victor accidentally makes his wedding vows to the Bride, he is suddenly launched into the world of the dead, forcing him to reevaluate his engagement, albeit a forced one, to Victoria Everglot.

The film makes clear from the start that the world of the living is more dead than that of the dead. Victor’s home is dreary and muted, almost black and white, as opposed to the fiery purples, oranges, and greens of the land below. His parents and future in-laws are outrageous caricatures of people posing as the wealthy, compared to the fun-loving skeletons whom the Bride lives alongside. As if Burton didn’t already want to let you know that this is a Halloween movie, he brings out his best card: the antagonist of the film is a haughty, big-chinned, boisterous, narcissistic, gold-digging fellow, who (SPOILER ALERT) left his fiancee, the Bride, for dead and thus, is the premise for our movie.

For almost a good hour, “Corpse Bride” is a fun time. The obligatory Halloween-themed singing, dancing, and screaming is only interrupted by the actions of a very certain haughty, big-chinned, boisterous, narcissistic, gold-digging fellow who happens to be a living person.

Burton is clearly sending messages here. This is a Halloween movie. The best Halloween movie isn’t scary, but is instead very fun.