Another genre of films exists within the Fall season that is not horror. It’s one that encompasses the time of year when the temperature drops, when leaves scatter across the streets, the time of year when people buy mutant-shaped gourds and decorate them on their porch, across the vanity, along the kitchen table, anywhere imaginable. These are the kinds of films that do not revolve around mindless violence or aim to fright, but rather embody the season of change and closely anoint themselves to a different kind of sensation. It’s not horror, but something else entirely unsettling.
Horror is defined as the kind of genre that elicits a reaction from the audience—a sense of dread, fright, and terror. It’s a genre of variation, and while it is obvious when a film is horror, it may be less obvious when a film perfectly represents the season of Fall, a time in which many are thrust into some sort of transition they may never have wanted.
Fall is a time of change. The happiness of summer dissipates and we are forced to endure the transition that approaches all of us faster than we ever thought possible. It’s not just the weather, or the leaves, or those fucking ridiculous gourds appearing at every front door that represents these changes. For many, it’s personal, and it doesn’t seem to get easier as the season slowly drifts closer to winter.
And yet somehow, there’s a list of films I believe perfectly represent this transitory time of the year. They all represent the fear that coincides with change in some aspect, whether it be physical or psychological, literal or figurative. Perhaps they’re more horrifying than horror: a startling representation of what challenges we all face during periods of transition.
This list is neither ordered based upon rank or aligned with what order they should be viewed in. In its current state, it moves chronologically, perfectly representing the shifts many experience during this time of the year and how quickly they may escalate. They’re here to remind you that while life may seem like a constant struggle, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. And yet, in regards to this list, some of this may be too real, so real that in fact these movies traverse horror and establish a new genre that is more fear-inducing, one that correlates perfectly to the time of year in which so many things seem to divert from the normalcy of your everyday life and you are left clutching the remains of what you once knew.
Not the modern remake with Shia Labeouf but the 1955 Hitchcock classic. A stagnant film that perfectly reveals the persistence we all often have to resist alteration to our life while in the midst of a period of immense change.
Is it a classic? It clearly carries a lot of the issues with gender roles of its era into the plot, especially with James Stewart’s L.B. Jefferies’ treatment of Grace Kelly’s Lisa and Thelma Ritter’s Stella. There’s also quite an age difference between L.B. and Lisa that left me questioning many decisions made by the character and whether or not he is a selfish and stubborn, overtly masculine for someone in his late-fifties, man that finds himself in the personal hell he has been sequestered to. Rear Window is a must-watch, but ultimately makes it onto this list for all the wrong reasons. Kind of like what to not do at a stoplight. When the changes begin to occur it’s often best to not be stubborn in our ways. This inability to adapt and obsession with looking outwards, at the lives of others, versus inwards, will cause more problems than you want it to. Don’t be like James Stewart here. Digging into everyone else’s lives while yours changes will only lead to more struggles during the fall season.
I too, often believe I am losing my mind. Obviously Donnie Darko represents mental illness and the alienation of an entire generation of millennials who struggled to voice their dissatisfaction with a wide-range of issues throughout the country, ultimately reacting in ways that we still see ripples of to this very day. But it’s also immensely edgy. Edgy to the point where I am no longer aware if I share the same level of angst as Donnie does. Perhaps this is just a certain degree of numbness to topics nearly twenty-years-old. There are more pressing issues than time travel, but then again, when you’re in high school, every little issue boils into something that seems world-ending, a sense of overwhelming dread.
The amount of despair and dread in Donnie Darko correlates to the Fall season. The sense of ending, a looming threat burbling high in the constant gray clouds. Is it existentialism? Is it the threat of our inability to control the world around us, further enabling the instability within ourselves? Sometimes when the changes begin, good or bad, we think the sky is falling. Yet, it could be helpful to remind yourself the world will eventually end, and the little mishaps in life won’t be anything of note. Jake Gyllenhall being obnoxiously morose for two hours is a great way to figure this out.
Addams Family Values
See? This list is the furthest thing from scary.
We don’t want the first live-action Addams Family. We want the sequel. We want a hastily formed plot about the newest member of the Addams clan wreaking havoc on Wednesday and Pugsley’s lives, along with Uncle Fester being seduced by a temptress who plans to marry and kill him solely for his money. What’s frightening here—and perfectly akin with the time of year—is how exactly change can uproot our status quo. How the arrival of something new can disrupt what you thought was perfect. As terrifying as Wednesday is, Pubert (her newest brother’s actual name), along with Joan Cusack’s Debbie create a perfect storm of cataclysmic change, one that she feels she must stop in order to preserve her old way of life.
Fighting for what you have is great, especially if external threats are trying to take what is yours, but resisting the normal changes in life is part of the problem, and a major aspect of this time of year is realizing that the change is going to happen. It’s inevitable. Distinguishing the good change from the bad is a part of the process. Resisting will only prolong the discomfort, but maybe Wednesday Addams secretly liked this discomfort.
Everyone remembers this film. It goes inexplicably hard. Scooby-Doo still holds up incredibly well for one of the many live-action adaptations running rampant during the early 2000s. There’s something about watching a cartoon come to life and not attempt to modernize or divert from the original source material that’s joyful to see. It’s dumb, of course. Yet, Scooby-Doo at its core is about the group: Shaggy, Fred, Velma, Daphne, and Scooby, and more specifically their shifting identity as the Mystery Inc. and as individuals. I don’t think I had watched Scooby-Doo since I was in middle-school, but returning to this film and witnessing the insightful plot which conveys the damage individualistic ideals can have upon a group of friends, one that could either grow together or go their separate ways during a time in their lives when many choose to go their own ways, all masked behind the antics of an anthropomorphic dog, really speaks to the level of insight something as simple as Scooby-Doo can offer. There’s a reason it was made for kids. It’s supposed to be easy to understand and summarizes the struggles that come with this time of the year, a time when you can either give up because of the changes happening or be as resilient as Shaggy and Scooby and find the joys while solving whatever mystery may lie ahead.
Exclusively a Halloween movie? Maybe. The word halloween isn’t mentioned once, just saying. What bigger change can be made in life, than death? It’s the farthest change that can possibly happen to any of us. The culmination of transitioning from one stage of life to the next and leaving the past behind. Except in Beetlejuice, the ghosts can’t leave the past behind. They’re planted firmly in the same reality they once inhabited except now share their space with a family consisting of a negligent husband, an artist with horrible interior design choices, and an overzealous goth teenager. When changes really start to happen, it’s perfectly fine to accept them, to roll with the punches of everyday life. But at a certain point, like the Maitland ghosts, you have to push back against it all. Play the game. Say Beetlejuice three times and get someone involved who plays dirty. This change in outlook could help establish some common ground, or at the very least give yourself a break from the monotonous onslaught that seems to be targeting you during fall. It’s not resilience again, but a shift in perspective. Sure, they’re ghosts, sure there’s no returning to the land of the living, so they might as well stand up for what their world consists of now.
The finished form of this list was not what it was first intended to be. These were supposed to be films off the beaten path, ones matching a specific set of criteria to be labeled as Fall Films. And yet just like the season itself, the list changed. It became less idiosyncratic to fall and more cathartic to the experience of the season and to change itself. It isn’t what anyone asked for, but maybe it’s what the people need: a reminder that life is often difficult, yet often filled with positives. Change is inevitable, but happens with a purpose.
You can learn a lot from Scooby-Doo.