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Halloween magick: 12 movies the whole family can enjoy without being scared (too) silly

Yes, it’s ‘magickal’ with a ‘k’. One little letter makes all the difference between Ella Enchanted and The Witches of Eastwick. We’re venturing down the cobbled path of family-friendly(ish) films rather than all-out horror for our Halloween countdown 

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Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker starred in the 1993 film Hocus Pocus

Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker starred in the 1993 film Hocus Pocus

Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint

Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint

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Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker starred in the 1993 film Hocus Pocus

12 Practical Magic Witches, since time immemorial, have been portrayed by the powers that be as ugly, craven, bitter crones, not the beguiling natural goddesses featured in this 1998 film. Starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as two sisters raised by their aunts (played by the equally compelling Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest), this movie has just the right amount of death, moxie, and Aidan Quinn. Visually, it’s a treat, so there’s little need to use the volume — in fact, do so at your peril! Let’s just say, it’s more of an indulgent duvet-day movie; definitely not one to enjoy alongside any chin-stroking film buffs.

11 The Blair Witch Project
True, I did claim there would be no horror movies, however, this 1999 cinematic experiment “based on true events” is probably the most subjective of the genre. For example, is it actually scary? That all depends on the viewer. Those with active imaginations will venture to the darkest recesses, while anyone who has ever subjected themselves to a Saw movie will undoubtedly be wondering what all the fuss is about. When I watched this back in the day, I was perturbed (but admittedly more confused) by the chaotic ending, whereas my 14-year-old niece (while mildly creeped out) remained largely nonplussed. In other words; perhaps don’t suggest this for those under 10, largely because not a lot happens.

10 The Corpse Bride
This is the first of several stop-animation entries into this here witch list. Less obvious than Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, and far funnier than his Frankenweenie, this wonderfully colourful film questions just who is living and who is dead. Yes, there are the usual tired tropes involving women fighting for a man’s attention — however, it’s nicely balanced with cute skeletal dogs, Emily’s eyeball gate-keeper Maggot, and general positive joie de vivre for the afterlife.

9 Beetlejuice
Anything that can be conjured by repeating its name by the power of three is always shrouded in a healthy level of fear. Add the weirdness of Tim Burton — before Johnny Depp consumed every role he cast — and you have some proper 1980s hijinks on display. Michael Keaton’s portrayal of devious poltergeist ‘Betelgeuse’ is the visual interpretation of pandemonium; between the voice, his ability to manifest, the unnerving attraction to teenage girls and the garish stripy suit, it’s a lot for a viewer to take in. That’s before you consider the spectres of Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin; demon summoning; seances and exorcisms; the absolute horror that is Kathrine O’Hara’s Delia; or a witch-doctor defiling Keaton’s head for all eternity. Your 12-year-old will either appreciate the pre-CGI efforts that are employed, or they will be so freaked they won’t be able to look at Keaton in anything else ever again.

8 Coco
Music. Loss. Longing... pretty big themes for a kids’ movie. Boasting Pixar’s patented mix of peril, hilarity, and poignancy, this highly emotive and beautifully scribed 2017 offering won’t leave a dry eye in the house. In short, it’s everything 2014’s Book of Life wanted to be.

7 The Witches of Eastwick
If you’re looking to disturb the 15-plus-year-old in your life, look no further than this cherry vom-bomb, which has just the right amount of innuendo to keep them uncomfortable while sitting beside their parents. Expect f-bombs, truly horrifying projectiling scenes, consistent references to ménage à trois, and just a spot of Voodoo.

6 Death Becomes Her
Back in 1992, Robert Zemeckis worked his patented kitsch, B-movie magick on an all-star cast that included Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn and Bruce Willis. The premise was this: what lengths would women (specifically) go to in order to maintain their youthful visage — while getting one up on a lifelong frenemy? When her union with plastic surgeon-turned-reconstructive mortician no longer bears fruit (since he is also in a relationship with Hawn’s character), Streep’s Maddie lands herself on the doorstep of Isabella Rossellini, a high-society sort who dabbles in the dark arts on the side. The result is a cult classic, infinitely before its time.

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Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint

Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint

Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint

5 Harry Potter
You’re either 100pc enthralled by JK Rowling’s creations — committed to watching all eight movies on repeat — or, you will attest until your dying day that the “kids can’t act” while mumbling that “it’s just a poor rip-off of JRR Tolkien, anyway”. Either way, there is no denying how popular these movies are; a fact compounded by their ongoing annual presence in the Christmas TV schedule.

4 Hocus Pocus
Before film-makers embraced the more naturally alluring, subtle side of witches in the late 1990s, we had to make do with the usual guise of scary teeth, unruly red wigs, and general ‘ageing hag’ demeanour. Still, who doesn’t appreciate a good song-and-dance number mid-movie?

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3 Coraline
Directed by Henry Selick and based on Neil Gaiman’s 2002 novella, this ‘kids’ movie’ centres around a girl who is possibly on the psychotic-dissociative spectrum, yet left to slope around her new, not-at-all-creepy neighbourhood by her deadline-obsessed parents. Another stop-animation masterpiece that has rigorously stood the test of time, despite the concept of an alternate reality being accessed through a secret door in a spooky house being a well-worn one. It’s the button eyes that do it, every time. A firm favourite of my eight- and five-year-olds, who are clearly far braver than their parents. I haven’t been able to look at Teri Hatcher in the same way since I went, slightly hung-over, to see it in the cinema back in 2009.

2 The Witches
The combined magick of Jim Henson and Roald Dahl, what could be better? Certainly not Robert Zemeckis’s 2020 reimagining of the story. With its high-camp and super-polished finish, it bore little resemblance to the horror of Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 version; look no further than little Erica, who never got to leave that painting... While Octavia Spencer is a saving grace in the subsequent Zemeckis offering, the original, starring Angelica Huston, has left many an adult scarred for life — and not necessarily in a bad way.

1 Paranorman
In case it wasn’t already apparent; stop-animation is king when it comes to spooky movies. If this 2012 offering came in any other format, would it be sitting in our top spot? Well, the jury’s out on that one... Luckily for us, this is a cinematic gift for all generations. Yes, it’s scary, and rudimentary at times, but it’s also fiercely sophisticated and riddled with fantastically dark humour, especially when it comes to dealing with a recently deceased body. All that aside, this Chris Butler beauty is about a thundering “witch” who has the potential to wreak havoc if she isn’t given a yearly placating by way of an incantation. In actuality, it’s an allegory about a little soul who just needs to be heard.

 


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