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13 Alternative Animated Films to Watch This Halloween

With the Covid-19 pandemic at large, many Halloween fans will find themselves shut in this weekend. Safety takes priority, but Spooky Season only comes once a year, and it is important that we make the most of these hard times. Some of us might play games with friends and family; others might gravitate to the screen. So, to best serve you, the AFA team has assembled a list of films to watch this Halloween. Our selection includes features that are ideal for the season and, due to their undersung or cult status, will expand your animation palette. Please note: mainstream blockbusters have been omitted from this list. We have also excluded series and shorts, which deserve separate lists altogether.

Without further ado, here are thirteen animated films to watch this Halloween:

 The Black Cauldron (1985)

The Black Cauldron is the only Disney film on this list and, arguably, the only child-appropriate title here, too. Released in 1985, the film follows Taran, a Welsh peasant and aspiring knight who must fight the Horned King, a demon hellbent on conquering the world with his army of the undead. Known for its dark imagery and sparse comic relief, The Black Cauldron is a true outlier in Disney lore. While most children can stomach the film, they will not walk away from it with warm, fuzzy feelings.

 Extraordinary Tales (2013)

Narrated by Christopher Lee and Guillermo del Toro, Extraordinary Tales is a treat to fans of Hollywood and literature alike. Rather than focus on one tale, the film consists of several shorts, each having its own visual style as it retells a different Edgar Allan Poe story. Featured titles include "The Tale Tell Heart," "The Masque of the Red Death," "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Fall of the House of Usher," and "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar." If you want something intelligent and bite-sized to watch, this is your go-to.

Fears of the Dark (2007)

Like Extraordinary Tales, Fears of the Dark is a horror anthology. It follows five different stories and was created using a mix of traditional and computer animation techniques. While Poe's writing connected the shorts in Extraordinary Tales, the shorts in Fears of the Dark are bound by their shared look: the whole film is in black-and-white. True to its genre, Fears of the Dark is grim from start to finish and reinforces the power of animated horror.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)

If you were a kid in 2000, your parents probably misjudged this film. Featuring multiple scenes of death, psychological abuse, and gun violence, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, was heavily censored to make it more child-friendly; even the edited version is a tough watch. Curt Geda’s tale of a bitter, resurrected Joker exacting his revenge on Gotham is not for the faint of heart, and the film’s premise may have inspired the second life of Slade in Teen Titans, which was directed by Geda’s then-screenwriter, Glen Murakami, a few years later. Not suitable for children under thirteen.

Alice (1988)

If you like the Quay Brothers, you will love Jan Svankmajer’s Alice: a retelling of Lewis Carroll’s beloved tale that is far, far removed from Disney. Viewers who thought the first adaptation was odd should brace themselves; Svankmajer blends live-action footage with stop-motion animation to create a surreal, nightmarish version of Wonderland. The end result is something more akin to a fever dream than anything a child could imagine. If you want to see something truly occult, this is the film for you. Prepare for subtitles, though. Alice is a Hungarian film and, to this date, has no English dub.

 Blood Tea and Red String (2006)

Like Alice, Blood Tea and Red String is a stop-motion film, known best for its strange plot and aesthetic. Apart from the twisted, otherworldly puppets the film features, Blood Tea's dialogue-free form and reduced score compound its eeriness. With no music or conversation to distract them, viewers must focus singly on the film’s characters. It is also worth noting that director Christiane Cegavske made the entire feature herself. Given Blood Tea’s 70-minute runtime, that is an impressive feat.

A Scanner Darkly (2006)

Waking Life fans will know what to expect from this film. Richard Linklater’s rotoscoped drama takes viewers on a dark, labyrinthine journey through the criminal underworld, exploring themes of sacrifice and betrayal in a drug-ridden, Huxleyesque dystopia. The film features several stars, including Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder, all of whom play their role well in a story that offers more questions than answers. If you want a film that makes you think, A Scanner Darkly should be your top pick.

 Seoul Station (2016)

Nothing beats a good zombie thriller. Created as a prequel to Train to Busan, Seoul Station follows the rapid outbreak of a zombie virus in Korea. There is not much art to the film, save for some brief commentary on sexism and abuse, and its predictable plot structure echoes that of many other films. Still, animation fans will enjoy this flick if they are in it strictly for thrills. Just be sure you are comfortable with blood--and lots of it.

 Felidae (1994)

Felidae is the most deceiving title on this list. Its unassuming visuals reflect the look of a Saturday morning cartoon, and those watching it for the first time could easily take it for a family film. Make no mistake, though: this thriller has plenty of gore, following feline Sherlock Francis as he tries to solve a string of cat murders on his block. A poignant commentary on Eugenics, Felidae is more accessible than A Scanner Darkly but not without its fair share of intellectual provocation. Sit back, relax, and see if you can crack the case before Francis does.

 Demon City Shinjuku (1988)

A controversial director, Yoshiaki Kawajiri has created some of the most violent films in anime. Wicked City (1987) and Ninja Scroll (1993) were lauded for their stunning visuals, but critics voiced concern for Kawijiri’s near-fetishization of blood and violence against women. By and far, Demon City Shinjuku is his most digestible work. While the '80s action cliches and poor English dub have not aged well, Kawijiri remains true to his stunning aesthetic, and the opening fight scene is worth watching several times. Be warned, however: the film does feature an attempted rape, but the assailant is stopped before he can do much harm.

Angel's Egg (1985)

Nothing in the world looks, sounds, or feels like Angel’s Egg. Many fans see it as a religious allegory, but director Mamoru Oshii concedes that the film has no definitive explanation; what it means is left for the viewer to decide. Oshii's 1985 oeuvre is an arthouse wonder, using little dialogue and featuring some of the same, stirring imagery present in the director's later film, Ghost in the Shell (1995); the scene of a woman merging with her reflected self, pictured above, is an example of that parallelism. Angel’s Egg has no direct terror, but it is a dark, probing drama with questions that will haunt your dreams.

 Vampire Hunter D (1985)

You have not seen classic anime until you watch Vampire Hunter D. The flat animation and unconvincing blood might disenchant viewers, but this timeless tale of a Dracula-human hybrid killing vampires has inspired several spinoffs, including Blood: The Last Vampire in 2001 and the infamously gory Blood-C in 2011. More importantly, the film takes a classic horror trope and redefines it with some good, old-fashioned Japanese flare. What more could anime fans want on Halloween?

 Perfect Blue (1997)

Last, but far from least, on our list is Satoshi Kon’s groundbreaking thriller, Perfect Blue. This intelligent, terrifying critique of sexism, social media, and Japanese star culture is as scary now as it was twenty years ago. Like Vampire Hunter D, Kon’s reality-bending tale has also inspired the work of later artists, including Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream in 2000 and The Black Swan in 2009. Perfect Blue is a must-watch for any serious horror fan. Viewers beware, though: once you enter Kon’s world, you never come back.

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