When October rolls around, it’s spooky SZN, baby! Break out the red wine and caramel apples because it’s time for blood, guts, ghosts, and monsters!
While many people use Halloween as an excuse to watch scary movies, I do not enjoy being scared. To be even more specific, I am a baby who is afraid of the dark, so watching movies where people creep around murdering other people in the dark wigs me out.
Once the Dark Prince of Hollywood, Tim Burton’s spooky, misfit, big-hearted cache has recently depleted among critics and fans alike. My favorite podcast, Blank Check with Griffin and David (which examines the filmographies of directors who are offered a blank check to make whatever crazy passion projects they want after a splashy success) explored Burton’s films. Each episode focuses on one film, and I followed along while watching some Burtons I had missed, like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Dark Shadows. The former was an absolute delight; the latter was an almost unwatchable trainwreck. In this one example of Past Burton vs. Present Burton, I understood what the now non-believers meant about Timmy losing his charm.
The first time I remember feeling Burton’s loss of vision was when I went to see 2014’s Big Eyes. It wasn’t great, and I was disappointed. Griffin has a theory that Burton’s life “got happy,” so the films that he is known for making, filled with misfits and tragic outcasts, no longer ring true for him. It’s an interesting theory. Maybe it’s true, and maybe my hopes will always be unreasonably high for movies billed: “From the Imagination of Tim Burton.”
He’s much more hit-or-miss when using computer animation. Sometimes he produces what I would call tricks, like the crazed Alice in Wonderland, and other times, he produces something more charming like in more recent films like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and even Dumbo.
No matter how he wades forward, the magic Burton created in his early career can never be erased for me, and I’ll continue to approach any Burton film as a treat. But it always feels great to reflect on the favorites in an already incredible career. And now, in honor of Halloween, here are my 5 favorites.
Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice! Winona Ryder is iconic as Lydia, and Michael Keaton is only in this movie for about 20 minutes, but he absolutely kills it.
Let’s just talk about this plot for a second though… a young, attractive couple dies. They discover that they are living a nightmare—trapped in their house with nowhere to go and new housemates who redecorate and can’t see them despite their attempts to haunt them. Then, they go to the underworld and get another rude awakening—it’s bureaucratic AF! And then they hire Beetlejuice who tries to turn their only friend into a child bride. Talk about a horror show! And let us not forget the “Day-o” dinner.
Have you seen this movie? It is absolutely amazing in all it’s B movie glory. I rented it on a whim from my college library and have rewatched it about 25 times since. Just picture crazed, murderous Martians with brains in their helmets, coming for Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jeff Goldbloom, a very young Natalie Portman, and two Jack Nicholsons. That’s right, I said TWO Jack Nicholsons! It’s extremely fun and has an unexpectedly heartwarming, outcast hero.
This movie is a masterpiece. Tim Burton’s claymation is stellar—the characters are so expressive and have incredible period costumes. In this one, on the rehearsal day for his wedding, timid Victor runs away to find peace to grapple with his arranged marriage and learn his vows. When he finally gets them, he finishes by putting the ring on what he thinks is a branch, but turns out to be the finger of the titular Corpse Bride.
And back to the underworld we go! This one is more magical than bureaucratic. The story is bittersweet and heartbreaking and also features dynamic musical numbers.
Speaking of dynamic musical numbers… if Burton was ever going to tackle a full-fledged musical, this would be it! Disgraced Sweeney Todd returns to London seeking revenge on those who wronged him and his family. He returns to what he’s good at—barbering—only this time, hair ain’t the only thing he’s cutting!
I truly love how dark and gritty this film is. And I love that the make up makes everyone look like Burton’s figures in Corpse Bride. Sure, it features the now-cancelled Johnny Depp, but it also has Helena Bonham Carter going hard in “By the Sea,” and breaking hearts in “Nothing’s Gonna Harm You.”
My dog, Spuds, IS Frankenweenie, so this has a huge place in my heart. But the movie itself is heartwarming even for those who do not have their own Spuds. It’s a Frankenstein story that you never knew you needed. Again, the claymation in this is amazing and features another protagonist named Victor. If you see Frankenweenie scurry onto the screen and don’t immediately want to rub his big old belly, then you’re deranged. It’s also in black-and-white, and that rules!
Though there are several other Burton films that I love, like Batman and Ed Wood, these are the films that I rewatch the most, especially around Halloween. Nothing says spooky season like the dead mingling with the living, murderous martians, and barbers who turn their enemies into meat pies, am I right?!