HomeCommentaryOffbeat October, Vol. 3

Offbeat October, Vol. 3

The Film Yap offers more picks for October; this time, lighthearted, family-friendly fare!

This article was originally published on Film Yap and features writings
by authors not affiliated with Odd Trilogies.

October, a.k.a. “Spooktober” or “#SpookySzn,” is among the Internet’s favorite times of year to recommend movies. “31 Days of Horror!” “A Fright for Every Night!” We’ve all seen these “Ultimate October Watchlists.” Many offer up a good mix of horror classics, cult hits, and streaming gems. But often, we see the same titles over and over again.

The Film Yap presents its alternative: an eclectic collection of unconventional October movie recs. Some are horror, some are not! Many are critically underrated, and most go criminally overlooked this time of year. But on some wavelength or another, they all hit the season’s vibe. With “Offbeat October,” we state our case that these picks deserve to be added to your October viewing.

In this volume, we set our sights on more lighthearted options that you can watch with the family.

Into the Woods (2014)

If you enjoy musicals and are looking for something slightly more on the lighthearted and fun side of the spooky season, Into the Woods is a great place to start. By putting a slightly darker twist on some classic fairytale favorites, this Broadway adaptation brings to life many familiar characters as they converge in the forest on a dreadfully fated night. The music and lyrics, written by Stephen Sondheim, show us these classic characters in a new light while also presenting the darkness to be found in their motivations. It poses the question, “What would happen if there were no happy endings?”  

The film also brings with it a star-studded cast, including Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, and James Corden. Though it isn’t as dark as the likes of Sweeny Todd, it still manages to create a feeling of mystery and evoke the uncertainty of wandering into the forest long after sundown.  Throughout this twisted fairytale, we run into Jack, of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Red Riding Hood as they make their way into the woods and slightly spooky shenanigans ensue.

What makes this story most intriguing (and a little disturbing) is its exploration of what would become of these characters if forced to confront the motives and consequences behind their choices. Into the Woods does an admiral job putting them into compromising positions by allowing various aspects of their stories to become intertwined, allowing us to see that, most of the time, what we fear even more than facing darkness, is facing the truth.

While there are more frightening options to explore this spooky season, I would recommend starting off here to set the tone. Though it may not have you cowering under a cozy blanket, the darker color palette and macabre undertones can serve as a gateway into the realm of more spine-chilling adventures. Into the Woods can be found on Disney+, intermingled with their collection of Halloween favorites, and it’s certainly on the darker side of their relatively tame selection.

by Adia Chaney

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Whenever I’m at a spooky gathering and the conversation inevitably turns to everyone’s favorite Halloween movies, I always feel awkward. No, it’s not because I’m not good at large social gatherings (OK, that’s kind of true), but because when people start to rattle off their favorite Halloween movies, I find my choice odd.

When it comes to my turn and I simply say, “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” I watch as faces slowly descend into confusion. Then, I see the gears start working as the revelation that E.T. actually is a Halloween movie hits them. It’s certainly as much a Halloween movie as Die Hard and Jaws: The Revenge are Christmas movies.

Sure, I have a few that’ll want to argue, but I quickly point out that the film was shot in October 1981 and takes place around the holiday itself. Plus, who can think of a movie and not remember E.T. cruising the neighborhood, rocking a ghost costume, and talking to fellow space traveler Yoda while trick-or-treating?

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is in my yearly queue of Halloween films to enjoy during October, and I would recommend it being in yours as well.

E.T. is available to stream on Peacock or rented on any popular video-on-demand service.

by Caine Gardner

Over the Garden Wall (2014)

October traditions come in all sizes, with varying degrees of scariness, from carving pumpkins to visiting haunted houses. The same scale can be applied to one’s fall watchlist, ranging from Frankenweenie to Nightmare on Elm Street. If you are like me, and don’t really prefer jump scares, I recommend streaming Over The Garden Wall:  an animated miniseries about two brothers exploring a Grimm-inspired purgatory. This show is the lighthearted media equivalent of carving pumpkins with the family. 

I was introduced to this show a few years ago, when my college roommate sat me down and had me experience its magic for the first time. I quickly fell in love, watching it annually, at the beginning of autumn, ever since. Elijah Wood as a poetry-loving, clarinet-playing, lost soul named Wirt is, surprisingly, my favorite performance of his. The list of big names on this project doesn’t stop there. Alongside Wood, we’re also treated to performances from Christopher Lloyd, John Cleese, and Tim Curry.

The way each episode begins in the middle of a previous adventure gives it a special slice of life feeling. It’s warm and cozy and doesn’t demand a lot of audiences to keep up with the story. The original soundtrack by The Blasting Company is phenomenal too; I pride myself on owning the very-hard-to-find vinyl and listen to it all year long.

I think what makes this piece of art so great is all of the intricately planned details that showcase all the love and care put into the project. One really fun detail that people have discovered is that episodes 2-10 are loosely based on the nine circles of hell from Dante’s Inferno. For example, the episode that is based off of Limbo follows the brothers exploring a town full of pumpkin-wearing-skeletons celebrating their harvest, and the second to last episode is based off of the circle of Fraud, where [SPOILERS, skip to next paragraph to avoid] the audience learns that the boys are actually from modern times, and only stumble into the mystical world of the Unknown after falling into an icy river. These fun details and theories discovered by the devoted fan base makes rewatching all the more rewarding. 

Over the Garden Wall has gone under the radar for too long. This small-time cult classic deserves more mainstream recognition. If this seems like the show for you, I can’t stress enough how much I recommend checking it out. The miniseries is incredibly easy to knock out on a fall evening, being only ten episodes long and eleven minutes each. It’s available to stream on HBO Max and Hulu. Go gather around the television with your close friends and family and make a new autumn tradition of getting lost in the Unknown.

by Jackson Mahuron

Return to Halloweentown (2006)

The fourth and final installment of the Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM) series Halloweentown, Return is an obscure classic. In this farewell to the series, we once again meet up with Marnie Piper (Sara Paxton), as she embarks on her most challenging  journey yet: going to college at Witch University, located in the titular realm. Though this is the last (and, in my own unpopular opinion, best) addition to the beloved series, there’s no need to catch up on the preceding three in order to get a nostalgia-fueled kick out of this one. In true series fashion, the film does a decent job of bringing new audience members up to speed by establishing the rules and relationships of this world early on. 

Released in 2006, this romp is overflowing with puns and downright silly CGI, and is a testament to the true horrors of early 2000s fashion. Despite being an obvious product of its time, Return is worth a revisit for those who grew up following Marnie on her adventures, or possibly even sharing it with the younger generation. Those looking for a milder Halloween flick to watch with the kids would do well with this one.

Return seeks to expand the world of Halloweentown by introducing new creatures and characters while also providing more context to the history of the Cromwell family. We also have the pleasure of seeing old favorites like Benny the Cab Driver, Grandma Aggie, and the mustache-twirling villain Kalabar. We are also introduced to a new threat in the form of the aptly named Sinister family, who is concocting a scheme to wreak havoc on the town and its unsuspecting citizens. Marnie, with the help of her family and friends, must learn to properly wield her powers in a fight between the forces of good and evil.

Like most DCOMs, Return to Halloweentown does some light retreading of previously covered ground, which shows in its relatively predictable plot. But it’s nevertheless filled with childlike wonder and manages to make this adventure just as fun and exciting as those that came before it. During my most recent rewatch, I found myself immersed in a sea of nostalgia that reminded me of when I first discovered the joys of the Halloween season.

by Adia Chaney

ParaNorman (2012)

The nineties had The Nightmare Before Christmas. The aughts had Coraline. In 2012, Portland’s own LAIKA Studios gave the teens ParaNorman: an underappreciated horror-comedy that showed, yet again, the strengths of stop-motion, especially in the horror genre. This delightful family film does an incredible job of taking classic horror tropes and turning them on their head, resulting in a film about zombies and witches that’s really about being yourself, not letting history repeat itself, and the importance of empathy. 

With a wonderful cast and cheeky humor with a dark edge, this is no doubt one of my easy recommendations for any fan of the Halloween season who’s been looking for something off the beaten path. Just by the character designs and color palette alone, it’s clear that the team loved horror, from top to bottom. There’s an undeniable heart to this film that’ll no doubt put a grin on anyone’s face, especially those familiar with LAIKA’s work (which also includes Coraline). While the film’s lackluster box office was no surprise in 2012, ParaNorman is the love letter to horror fans that definitely deserves more appreciation in 2022.

Plus, it’s got John Goodman as the local crazy man. What’s not to love? 

ParaNorman can be streamed on The Roku Channel or rented on any popular video-on-demand service.

by Logan Sowash
 | Website

Freelance writer out of Indianapolis. Co-host of Odd Trilogies podcast. Whether it's films or television, I'm always down to watch!

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