I don’t usually read books that resemble movies I watch, but at Halloween time, the best time of the year, my Gothic heart is at no end of media to consume that spooky, eerie, strange, and uncanny. At this time of year, I like my movies how I like my books — monstrous, dark, and full of fiery females. I’ve compiled a list of my favorite Halloween films and paired them with books that I love which deal with the same elements or themes. Read on… if you dare!
Hocus Pocus (1993)
I’m not going to beat around the bush here, so let me get to what you came for straight out of the gate. It’s everyone’s favorite Halloween film, which is why Freeform (formerly ABC Family) has vowed to air the film no less than 30 times this October as part of their 31 Nights of Halloween.
The film is based on three witches who were awakened from a 300 year slumber by our kid heroes Max, Dani, and Allison. Hell bent on restoring their youth with the souls of children on Halloween night, the Sanderson Sisters wreak havoc on a picturesque New England town, raising the dead, turning boys into cats, and casting spells on parents to prevent them from hampering their evil schemes. The film is funny, touching, and immediately became a classic for Disney and the Halloween film genre upon its release in 1993.
Obviously witchcraft is the big ticket item when it comes to my recommendations for books like Hocus Pocus, but I’m also pulling titles that reflect the bond of sisterhood prevalent in this film.
The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw
I devoured this novel. Not only is it spooky, haunting, romantic, atmospheric, and entertaining, it’s also the perfect bite sized book. You can get through it pretty quickly and never feel like you were short-changed — in fact, you may wish it was longer. Like Hocus Pocus, we have a small sleepy town with stories about three witchy sisters who were up to no good in centuries prior, but unlike the legend in Hocus Pocus, the Swan Sisters haven’t let mob execution stop them from taking their revenge on the town. I don’t want to say anything else for fear of giving anything away, but trust me: don’t skip this one. My sister, who doesn’t read heavily, read it in a weekend this summer and is STILL talking about it.
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
We can’t avoid this one here. The Sanderson Sisters were part of the mass hysteria in New England that led to witch hunts, and none more famous than the Salem Witch Trials. Miller’s drama is a quick read, but don’t expect it to be easy. I didn’t read anything else the weekend I read it because I was so mired in the fog of fear, hysteria, and betrayal that Miller so poignantly paints in this American classic. It’s going to sit with you and heavily. You’re going to have to let it. But also, you don’t have to ask for more weight (sorry Giles!)
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Ah, a children’s recommendation! I vividly remember reading and loving this one as a kid. It proves that I was interested in magic and witches and monsters even then, and I might be able to credit it for sparking that fire. Though the prologue scenes of Hocus Pocus which focus on the legend of the Sanderson Sisters in earlier days are short, they always strike me as some of the most interesting bits of the story. They’re eerie, fearful, and deeply meaningful things. The Witch of Blackbird Pond catches a lot of that essence as we follow Kit through life in a Puritan New England village. There’s moodiness, fear, suspicion — everything that Hocus Pocus was able to elaborate on in the short introduction to the legend, but drawn out and made deeply profound and emotional in Speare’s novel. A classic!
Practical Magic (1998)
This is my favorite — there I said it! And the only on the list after The Covenant that I will watch at any time during the year. I grew up on the film Practical Magic, dreaming of my future life in a rambling Victorian manse with myself taking the part of Sally (played by the queen of my soul, Sandra Bullock) and my sister taking a more in control version of Gillian (played by the ethereal Nicole Kidman). The film follows magical sisters Sally and Gillian as they wander through life burdened and bouyed by their unpractical upbringing and unpredictable magic. When they get into a little trouble with Gilly’s boyfriend, they’ll have to come to terms with who they are, spots and all, in order to find happiness for themselves and each other. Perhaps you can imagine my surprise when I read the novel and found that not only did the perfect aunts Frances and Jet take a back seat, but the story didn’t even take place in the mansion! Hello! I’ve been robbed! I don’t want to talk about how disappointed I was with the novel (it takes place in a random suburban neighborhood! The horror!), so instead, I’ll give you some recommendations for books that deliver what the movie was selling.
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
Ah, magic siblings. These are my favorite, perhaps, save the Weasleys. Alice Hoffman’s long awaited return to the Owens clan did not disappoint. We have a moody and vintage New York background, we have magic and mayhem, we have disappointed love and soaring reunions, but most of all we have the enduring power of siblinghood. This one reflects not only the witchy sisterhood of Sally and Gilly with Jet and Frances, but also adds some nuance with the relationship between Jet and Frances with their Vincent, as we have a formerly unrecognized brother to add into the magical mix. For me, Practical Magic was a big let down after the film, but The Rules of Magic delivers for me so big that I’m going to let Hoffman off the hook for it.
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Hoffman made up to me for Practical Magic with The Rules of Magic, so I’m willing to forget the whole thing ever happened and focus on the fact that Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen delivers the same sisterhood and magic of both Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic in spades. Magic cooking, magic gardens, sisterhood, motherhood, romance, and a spunky apple tree with a mean curveball — it’s all there. I want to live inside this book almost as badly as I want live inside that Practical Magic mansion.
The Little Vampire (2000)
The book that made me a reader was Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. I fully believe Meyer never would have been able to cast her spell on me if I hadn’t grown up counting the days until Disney aired The Little Vampire. I was completely obsessed with this film. I bought it on DVD in college so I never had to worry about it being taken off the seasonal run on Disney Channel. It’s mine forever now. Every time I watch it, I think, “So this is why I am this way.”
Another Disney Channel original, this film follows Tony (played by Jonathan Lipnicki, the star of all our childhood faves) as he and his parents move to Scotland (Hello! My favorite place in the universe!). Tony struggles to adjust, and is bullied in school for his fascination with vampires, until he discovers a kid vampire in his chimney. Tony and his new friend Rudolph must break the vampire curse in order to free the Sackville-Bagg (Tolkien anyone?) family, all the while avoiding the nefarious vampire hunter Rookery (played by Carson from Downton Abbey — the range!). We have sick leather medieval vampire costumes, vampire cows, Scottish accents, Anna Poppelwell, and most importantly, friendship. Aw.
A grown up recommendation for an only slightly scary but still definitely juvenile movie recommendation — color me curious. Listen, there aren’t a lot of vampire books out there that don’t play at least a little dirty (Twilight has its own issues). I’m picking something that obviously deals with the same themes, but mostly drags up my favorite elements of the film and gives them a grown up horror twist and guess who wrote it?
‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
When I read this novel recently, it gave me a grown up feeling for what I’d experienced as a child with The Little Vampire. It was obviously a lot scarier than the film; I literally ran across the parking lot from my work building to my car in broad daylight and locked myself inside because I had given myself the heebie jeebies reading it alone. There are a few kiddie vampires, but they are distinctly less cute and more horrifying, and a couple of vampire families, which again, less cute and more scary. The vampire hunters here are actually the good guys, and we don’t get a sweet reunion between our vampire kids and human kids, but like Tony, Mark’s knowledge of vampires saves him from several close calls, and basically proves that if anything, an obsession with monsters will ALWAYS save you in the end.
Corpse Bride (2005)
When I rewatched this film after taking a college course about Gothic fiction, which spent a lot of time in Victorian fiction, I couldn’t help but love it even more. It really pegs the Victorian atmosphere, albeit with a lot of caricatures. The visual magic is my favorite part, though the story is magnificent as well. I love the contrast between the world of the living and the world of the dead with color, all the little surprises and twists that make death seem less scary, if not straight up like a blast. I love how macabre it is, how emotional, how fun. It’s always an early Halloween watch for me, and I look forward to it every year.
I could pick overblown Victorian Gothic novels galore to recommend to you based on the themes in the Corpse Bride, but instead, I’m going to pick something more relevant and more fun, that was created in the same Spirit as the film itself.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman himself called the novel “The Jungle Book set in a graveyard” and man, oh, man does it deliver. The story follows Nobody Owens, an orphaned toddler who is looked after by a host of ghosts and monsters in the local graveyard. The chapters flip through wonderful, funny, and a little bit unnerving stories of Nobody’s adventures in the graveyard, all the while piling up to solve the mystery of Nobody’s parents’ murders. Like Corpse Bride, we have a menagerie of characters that bring color and intrigue to the story, and like Corpse Bride, we have a satisfying, if not a little sad, resolution.