We’ll be counting down to Halloween with a new post each day about our personal favorite Halloween inspired and horror movies. To read our past lead up to Halloween coverage, click here.
Halloween has to be my favorite holiday. Really, what’s not to like? Thanksgiving and Christmas can be fun, but along with all that festivity comes the kind of pressure that can reduce the most sane person to an crazed, babbling mess worthy of any slasher flick. Perhaps those depraved maniacs are really misunderstood souls who just couldn’t take living up to the insane expectations that only relatives can inflict?
Halloween also has the added benefit of not losing its magic. Kids? They get to go dress up and be as cute as can be going trick-or-treating and getting free candy. Adults? There’s plenty of stuff for them too. It’s the one night they can be anyone or anything they want, since it’s perfectly acceptable for them to dress up too, and perhaps head out to any number of events that celebrate the macabre. Don’t like the scary stuff? Then they can hand out candy, coo over the kids enjoying Halloween, and embrace the silly side of the holiday.
Yes, Halloween has lasted, but everything mentioned above is mere window dressing. What has kept this holiday going is one of the universal truths of humanity which unites us all, and that is our fascination with fear and the individual horrors that shake us to our core. Few movies understand this, but the Emmy-winning 1993 TV movie The Halloween Tree does.
I discovered this little gem as a kid because I had the childhood most writers have, the kind with a nose fully inserted in a book. And the author of many such books was one of the great masters of sci-fi himself, Ray Bradbury, the author of the novel of the same name, as well as other books such as The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and Fahrenheit 451.
For the film adaptation, Bradbury actually penned the screenplay and serves as narrator, which means much of his poetic prose is preserved. The movie takes place on Halloween Night, and follows four preteen kids, Jenny, Ralph, Tom, and Wally, all costumed up as a witch, a mummy, a skeleton, and a monster respectively, and eager to join their best friend Pip. As The Halloween Tree puts it, “Some say that on the day he was born, all the soda pop bottles in the world fizzed over. Pipkin, who could yell louder, sing better, and eat more popcorn. Pip, the greatest boy who ever lived.”
But Pip doesn’t show. When they head to his house to find him, they see him being taken away in an ambulance. On the way to visit him at the hospital, the kids encounter their friend, who looks a bit more…transparent than usual. When they follow Pip, he leads them to a menacing, towering mansion and the creepy, magical Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud (Leonard Nimoy, who sounds like he’s having a ball). The foursome also discover the mansion’s yard also possesses a spectacular Halloween Tree, complete with jack-o’-lanterns hanging from all its branches, as well as the ghostly Pip stealing one that looks exactly like him. After the theft, Pip is swept away, and soon the children and Mr. Moundshroud are in hot pursuit through many different lands and eras, all the while discovering the meaning of Halloween and their costumes.
For the most part, the journey is a delightful one that both kids and adults can enjoy, and Bradbury, unlike other authors, shows he is remarkably capable of adapting to the times. The 1972 novel featured a more extensive journey with eight boys, and had a bit more depth and commentary about how our fears were reflected in various religions and societies of the past and present, as well as our customs today. However, The Halloween Tree still retains the beating heart of Bradbury’s tale, which is our fascination with the ultimate inescapable horror, the one we know awaits us all: death.
Their friend Pip is described as the very embodiment of life and all its delights, but it may not save him from an early demise. Many of the places and times they travel to are about how people coped with this frightening truth, with Pip’s spirit in constant danger of being lost forever. Some things do get a little corny and repetitive, but for the most part, it’s a pretty fun ride through places and eras diverse as ancient Egypt, modern Mexico, and Europe during the Dark Ages. The animation is interesting, the journey is entertaining as we see Halloweens past and how they became the traditions we see today, and the kids are far better developed than in the book. It’s genuinely touching as they desperately try to save Pip, recalling past moments in their friendship and pleading with him to hang on rather than fade away. The result is a bittersweet tribute to Halloween and childhood camaraderie.
If you’re liking for a more frightening experience, it’s best to look elsewhere. The Halloween Tree doesn’t aim to scare, merely get to the essence of the holiday. It’s no accident that A Christmas Carol is mentioned early on; this movie could easily be titled A Halloween Carol. Much like Scrooge, the children undertake a journey through time during the course of a single night. But unlike Scrooge, they make a far darker sacrifice for their happy ending, the ramifications of which will only be fully understood later, when they too must inevitably face their own mortality.