Oct. 25--I still remember the first time I saw "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken." I was just a kid, maybe 6 or 7 years old. A neighbor with connections rented a reel-to-reel film of the old Don Knotts movie and charged a small admission fee to raise money for a charitable project.
Knotts played a wannabe reporter afraid of his own shadow, assigned to spend the night in a spooky house where there'd been a murder years before. I laughed at the funny parts, but was haunted by the creepy sound of the organ music, and the blood stains that wouldn't come off the keys -- even though they used Bon Ami.
Years later, I bought the show on VHS tape and then DVD, and watching it became a family Halloween tradition. Last year, I used cardboard to recreate the organ on my truck's tailgate for the neighborhood Trunk-or-Treat. It didn't look like much in daylight, but at night -- covered with cobwebs and accessorized with a flickering candelabra, the original creepy music playing on a stereo hidden underneath, and a can of Bon Ami -- it took first prize in the trunk-decorating contest.
I guess I could be Miss Chicken, because this movie is about as scary as I want to get. I have no desire to watch movies about demonic possession, brain-eating zombies, or to see blood flying as psychotic killers hack people to bits with chain saws. I prefer a happy Halloween, and most of my family feels the same. Over the years, we've developed a collection of favorite films and TV episodes for celebrating Halloween the Wright way.
Fun for all
"The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" (1966, rated G). The editor of the Rachel Courier newspaper decides to send his most timid employee to spend the night in an abandoned mansion where murder was committed 20 years earlier. He hopes for a story to grab readers' attention, but gets more than he bargained for when a shaken Luther Heggs (Don Knotts) returns with tales of a blood-stained organ apparently played by a ghost, and a painting of the murder victim stabbed by gardening shears. Did he really see those things? Or did fear take over his wild imagination?
"The Dick Van Dyke Show" (1961-66, TV G). Dick Van Dyke plays television comedy show writer Rob Petrie in this series that won multiple Emmy awards. There are a few episodes perfect for Halloween viewing, but the two best are "It May Look Like a Walnut" and "The Ghost of A. Chantz."
"It May Look Like a Walnut" (season 2, episode 20) is a sci-fi thriller featuring Danny Thomas as a space alien with plans to take over the planet, and turn earthlings into thumbless and humorless minions.
"The Ghost of A. Chantz" (season 4, episode 2) finds Petrie, his wife (Mary Tyler Moore), and co-workers checking into a fishing lodge. There's been a mix-up with the reservations, and the only place to stay is a haunted cabin. Petrie doesn't believe in ghosts -- until fires light themselves, mysterious faces appear in mirrors, and people start disappearing.
"Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" (2005, rated G). Wallace and his genius dog, Gromit, start a pest-control business. The two meet their match when they're hired to capture a huge beast eating all of the vegetables in local gardens -- including entries in a giant vegetable competition. Nick Park's claymation characters are reason enough to love this Halloween film, but there's actually a fun plot, too.
"Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!" (1969-1972, rated TV G). "Scooby-Doo" episodes are great as cartoons leading up to the main movie of the night, or for viewing with youngsters who have shorter attention spans. In each half-hour show, Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and their dog Scooby-Doo learn about paranormal activity and use their sleuthing skills to get to the truth.
We prefer the early episodes because later Scooby-Doo cartoons added annoying characters and dropped key members of the team. Also better about the originals: Ghosts and ghouls were never real, but covers for criminal activity. The smart detectives followed clues to catch the perpetrator, who would say, "And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!"
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1949, rated G). Walt Disney's version of the old Washington Irving tale features the vocal talent of Bing Crosby. The cartoon follows the original story written in 1820 and has a very slow build to Ichabod Crane's encounter with the Headless Horseman.
"The Andy Griffith Show" (1963, season 4, episode 2). In "The Haunted House," Deputy Fife (Knotts) is sent to get a baseball that landed in a spooky old house -- yeah, it's a bit like Mr. Chicken in a police uniform, but it's still good old-fashioned fun.
The Wright age
There are a few movies and TV shows in the Wright family Halloween collection that are better for an older audience, because of the humor or the murders, but still don't qualify as gruesome.
"Clue" (1985, PG). This movie is based on the classic murder-mystery board game, and stars Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Martin Mull, Michael McKean, and Lesley Ann Warren. Need I say more? OK, the DVD comes with three different endings.
Psych, "100 Clues" (season 7, episode 5, TV PG). The USA Network's series about hyper-observant "psychic" detective Shawn Spencer, and his sidekick Burton Guster, celebrated its 100th episode with a tribute to the movie "Clue." Guest stars include Christopher Lloyd, Martin Mull, and Lesley Ann Warren, and there are multiple endings.
Monk, "Mr. Monk Goes Home Again" (season 4, episode 2, TV PG). "Monk" is a USA Network series about an obsessive-compulsive and phobic homicide detective. In this Halloween episode, Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) winds up trick-or-treating with kids to catch a costumed candy stealer who may have done something even more sinister.
I don't like bloody or creepy shows, but I do watch a few that make me squirm and occasionally cover my eyes. These are not for little kids, but they're not rated-R slashers, either.
"The Haunted Mansion" (2003, PG). Sure, it's a family film, but this Disney show is almost too scary for me. It involves a suicide, ghosts, skeletons and a floating head in a crystal ball -- just like the ride at Disneyland. I don't really enjoy the ride either, but I go on it because I admire the cleverness and attention to detail employed by the imagineers. The movie is also visually rich, and Eddie Murphy's character is funny while learning a lesson about family.
"Wait Until Dark" (1967, not rated). Audrey Hepburn plays a woman blinded in an accident and just learning to regain her independence. She also learns why you should never accept anything from a stranger at the airport, when she gets visited by criminals looking for a doll filled with heroin. It's not really a Halloween movie, but Alan Arkin is frightening. There is a little blood in this film, and a violent scene involving a car, but it's more intelligent and less bloody than many of today's shows.
Psych (2006-2013, TV PG). I'm a Psych-O -- a fan of the USA Network series "Psych." Many episodes have been produced over the years that are a perfect match for Halloween; just check plot summaries online to find the Psych team investigating crimes apparently committed by ghosts, mummies, werewolves and vampires. Some of these are a bit scary, but there's enough silliness to make the minimally bloody murders worth watching. Among the most Halloweeny are:
"Scary Sherry: Bianca's Toast" (season 1, episode 15). Shawn and Gus investigate a murder in a mental institution -- and at a sorority house.
"Tuesday the 17th" (season 3, episode 15). Sean and Gus go back to camp, and wind up in an homage to "Friday the 13th."
"In Plain Fright" (season 5, episode 11). While riding in a haunted house at an amusement park, Shawn witnesses a murder.
Contact reporter Becky Wright at 801-625-4274 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @ReporterBWright.
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