I don’t know how it was with you when you were growing up, but when I was a kid, Halloween costumes did not get that fancy – either we went homemade or bought a relatively cheap one from the store. But in Hollywood movies, something decidedly different happens – regardless of the age group, on Halloween people get decked out in costumes worthy of a Broadway production. Where do they manage to get such elaborate ones on such short notice – rush order online perhaps? Anyway, regardless of costume, Halloween in the movies – the non-horror ones – is usually a chance to gather together key characters and advance the plot. Here are four ways the holiday coming up next Monday is used to do so.
1. As an escape hatch and done so by hiding in plain sight
In “E.T: The Extra Terrestrial,” young Elliott (Henry Thomas) manages to befriend an alien with a judicious use of patience and Reese’s Pieces, but then he’s faced with the problem of where to conceal E.T. Luckily, his closet proves just the place, but eventually, he figures out that the alien longs to return home. Thus, he, his little sister (Drew Barrymore) and older brother (Robert MacNaughton) decide to smuggle out E.T. during trick-or-treating on Halloween. This works like a charm in that no one suspects a thing, although it winds up taking much longer to return E.T. to his home.
2. As a catalyst for the protagonist to plan revenge
In “Mean Girls,” Lindsay Lohan plays a home-schooled teen who gets a crash course in clique dynamics and “Girl World,” when she begins high school and is “befriended” by a trio of A-listers. At first, things seem to be going well, but then comes a fateful Halloween party, which is yet another opportunity for Lindsay to grasp something important about the holiday. As she puts it via voiceover. “In the real world, Halloween is when kids dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In Girl World, Halloween is the one day a year when a girl can dress up like a total slut and no other girls can say anything else about it.” However, she goes as the Bride of Frankenstein, but has bigger problems when she realizes that one of her friends is hooking up with the guy (Jonathan Bennett) Lindsay has a crush on. Off to her other group of friends she goes to plan a three-tier process of getting revenge on the Queen Bee.
3. As a way for simmering tensions to come to a brew
In “The Karate Kid,” (the original) Ralph Macchio plays a new kid who is having major difficulty fitting in to his California home. This is mainly because he has done something no eighties movie teen wants to do – run afoul of a bully played by William Zabka. And it’s not just him, but his cadre of budding sociopaths, all of whom train under a truly scary karate master, that are out for blood. Making perhaps the biggest mistake of his life, Ralph decides to attend a Halloween dance – dressed as a shower, which provides excellent cover to hang out with the girl of his dreams (Elisabeth Shue), but far too cumbersome after he pranks the bullies – collectively known as the Cobra Kai -in the bathroom and is forced to flee – literally in this case – for his life.
Luckily, this turns out to work out okay in the end, as Ralph is rescued by a mysterious avenger who turns out to be his apartment’s handyman (Pat Morita), who confronts the Cobra Kai’s karate master, and promises to train Ralph for the upcoming competition, where hopefully, he will get a chance to face his tormentors fair and square. Alas, this doesn’t quite happen, but the whole thing is Hollywood movie inspiring anyway.
4. As a goad to make a major life decision
In “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Tim Burton decided to add a few things that weren’t in the original: mainly flashbacks and Oedipal issues for Mr. Wonka (Johnny Depp). In one, young Willy (Blair Dunlop) returns home from trick-or-treating only to have his dentist father (Christopher Lee) confiscate all his candy. But he rebels by creeping down late at night and retrieving a chocolate from the ashes – which immediately puts him on the path to his future career as a chocolatier. I’m not sure it enhances the book’s author, Roald Dahl’s plot to give a character obvious psychological baggage, but it does offer an easy explanation for why their factory host is so odd.
Happy early Halloween!