Kidvid: Scary treats for after the sweets
October 16, 1997
Web posted at: 7:20 p.m. EDT (2320 GMT)
By Scott Blakey
Halloween has its roots in ancient tradition, but now the holiday is given over to dressing up in costumes, bobbing for apples, carving pumpkins, lighting bonfires and, of course, trick-or-treating.
To get into the spirit of the season, you might want a video treat for when your tricksters come home with their haul of sweets. Assembled here are some videos that celebrate Halloween, or All Hallows' Eve, if you prefer. They cover all age ranges.
One of the classics of the genre is "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" (Paramount Home Video, 1966, animated, color, 25 minutes, closed captioned, $14.95), which has been around, seemingly, almost as long as Halloween itself. Originally marketed under the Hi-Tops logo, it's aimed at viewers 4 and older.
As "Peanuts" fans are well aware, Linus has spent a generation of Halloweens waiting in the patch for the Great Pumpkin to appear. In this video, he has induced Sally to wait with him. The rest of the gang -- sister Lucy, Charlie Brown, Pigpen and the others -- go off trick-or-treating.
The Great Pumpkin is a no-show, and the furious, shivering Sally finally gives Linus a piece of her mind. Sighs Linus: "Never discuss religion, politics or the Great Pumpkin."
The Disney studio has re-released its remastered version of another classic, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (Walt Disney Home Video, 1952, animation, color, 33 minutes, closed captioned, $14.99), which I recommend for kids 8 and older; there are a couple of scenes that may set younger kids to shivering.
The story is based on Washington Irving's wry tale of a hapless schoolteacher named Ichabod Crane who falls big time for local lovely Katerina Van Tassel.
Unfortunately for Ichabod, Katerina is also favored by Brom Bones, local bully and savage prankster. Things never did bode well for Ichabod, and folks in Sleepy Hollow say that on Halloween night you can still see his ghost pursued by the terrifying headless horseman.
Among the more compelling modern videos are the "Goosebumps" series based on the books of R.L. Stine. Among these, "Goosebumps: The Haunted Mask" (Scholastic Productions, 1996, live action, color, 45 minutes, closed captioned, $14.98), is calculated for maximum, gut-wrenching, visual impact.
On a more subtle level, however, it reveals, as few contemporary kids' videos have, the dark side of childhood cruelty toward those who find themselves out of step with their peers or the in-group.
Properly presented, "The Haunted Mask" is a cautionary tale that will thrill viewers 10 and older. But it does have the power to spook younger children, and may distress others who find themselves in the position of the film's young protagonist, Carly Beth. Carly Beth is 11, and a scaredy-cat. Even her best friend, Sabrina, is not above terrifying her for pleasure.
The night before Halloween, Carly Beth and Sabrina are in a field picking out pumpkins for jack-o'-lanterns. Carly Beth gets spooked when, out from under a pile of straw, two specters appear. She screams in terror, only to be both chagrined and relieved to discover that the ghosts are two boy schoolmates.
Carly Beth decides to get revenge, and goes to a creepy-costume store to buy a mask. When the store owner refuses to sell her the one she wants, she throws some money on the floor and makes off with it. But when she dons her prize, she discovers that she can't get it off, and it gradually takes over her persona, transforming her into a frightening, bullying ugly creature. Her sweet voice has become a rasping, guttural snarl. Racing through the night, she exacts terrible revenge on the boys who scared her.
There is no greater gem of harum-scarum than the granddaddy of them all, "Frankenstein" (MCA Home Video, 1931, black-and-white, 72 minutes, $14.95). Despite an occasional arthritic creak and the lack of a musical score, the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his insane fixation to create life using the body parts of corpses gets better with each viewing. Children 12 and older will get the pleasurable creeps from this one; pre-screen for younger viewers.
Boris Karloff's performance as Frankenstein's creature made him a star. Virtually unable to speak, the monster still wins sympathy as a victim even as he accidentally drowns a woodcutter's daughter and terrorizes the countryside -- and Frankenstein's long-suffering fiancee, Elizabeth. The mob scenes, as villagers chase and trap the monster in the mountains, are brilliant cinematography.
A warning to parents: Many censored scenes were restored to "Frankenstein" in 1987, including the murder of the child, Maria, which is not so much gruesome as shocking.
Finally, there is "The Haunting" (MGM/UA, 1963, black-and-white, 112 minutes, $19.98), Robert Wise's sometimes truly scary look at the supernatural, which stars Julie Harris and Claire Bloom.
Based on Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House," it tells the story of a psychic researcher and his two assistants as they seek answers to questions surrounding the deaths of several residents of a 90-year-old house in rural New England.
"Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House," the tale begins, "and whatever walked there, walked alone."
This video, occasionally talky, and sophisticated in the tensions and motives existing between its characters, is strictly for teen-agers and their parents.
© 1997, Scott Blakey. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate