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The Netflix Files Presents: Halloween Horror Week - A Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Despite the title, this series is, at its core, just a list of great and not so great movies I feel like talking about. And despite Halloween being a night to hang out with friends and watching slasher flicks, ghost stories, zombies and creatures & things that go bump in the night (at least for me sometimes), not all movies are like that. Sometimes the best movies to watch on Halloween are the ones that you remember as a kid growing up. Films like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Hocus Pocus and the Halloweentown series are probably some of the most fun flicks I remember seeing during this time of year, before I found Ju-On: The Grudge, The Ring and other creepy movies from Japan - both the original and American counterparts. Today's installment has to do with the man who probably loves the twisted side of life - Tim Burton.

To me, Mr. Burton really doesn't need much of an introduction: if you're a child of the 80's or the 90's (like yours truly), then you've come across his dark, Gothic movies, like Beetlejuice, Edward Sissorhands, the comic book adaptation of Batman & the Stephen Sodenheim Broadway musical Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, among many others. His luck outside of the realm of macabre, Gothic humor and drama has greatly varied, from the brilliant and poignant Big Fish and effective remake on Roald Dahl's classic children's lit Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the dismal reboot of Planet of the Apes and the obnoxious 3D adventure Alice in Wonderland. Today, I'm talking about one of Burton's best in the form of the stop-motion animation fantasy-comedy Corpse Bride.

Our lad Victor Van Dort (voiced by Burton regular Johnny Depp) is having a bit of a crisis: his family has planned for him to be wed to Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson), her parents are snobbish and rude and he's not entirely sure he can go through with a forced marriage for the sake raising the family's social status. Oh, and he's been kidnapped by a beautiful woman named Emily (Helena Bonham Carter, another Burton regular) who just happens to be dead. But just because she's a corpse, her feelings toward Victor are real, and the afterlife is one fun place to be. Victor has a choice to make: does he stay in the underworld with the lovely corpse bride, or will he return to the land of the living and take a chance on Victoria?

Okay, so the plot sounds like a prelude to Twilight, but Corpse Bride is anything but a soulless romance. There's real feeling between Victor and Emily, despite the fact his heart still beats and she's cold as death. In another world, you can see these two could be a great pairing as husband and wife, especially since the reception in the Afterlife both looks and sounds like it would be a hell of a party, compared to the Land of the Living, which, to quote Gimli from The Lord of the Rings movies, "You'd find more cheer in a graveyard," ironically enough. Speaking of: Burton has the flare for the dark and Gothic, and this animated movie is no exception. The quaint town (which feels like an 18th century Victorian-era setting) takes on the personality of...well, a graveyard, full of muted colors, dashed hopes and people who are either barely alive or almost dead. Contrast that to the Afterlife, which is vibrant and alive with skeletons acting as a house band, worms and spiders who can make for decent conversation and animals that still contain spunk without a flesh-and-blood body. The contrast between these two worlds are like night and day, and you can easily get lost in how both worlds act as opposites to one another.

Another Burton regular, the great composer Danny Elfman, helps this tango between realms feel both fun and chilling. Here he also writes the musical numbers for the film and again, it's a study in opposites: the opening number, "According To Plan" is very Gothic in it's undertones and downbeat in how both the Van Dort's and the Everglots' are using their children for their own selfish ends. Once Victor is sucked into the Afterlife, the citizens go into their number, "Remains of the Day", and it's a fast, jazzy melody about how Emily fell madly in love with a mysterious suitor, only to end up murdered before she could say "I do". "Tears to Shed" is the standout for me, because it's Bonham Carter singing (yes, she sings in this movie) about how, despite being a corpse, still feels heartbroken that Victor could never fully love her as she is. It's quietly heartbreaking and you feel her her character as she laments about how she can be cut open with a knife and feel nothing, but still feel sorrow for an unrequited love.

Probably the best thing I love about Corpse Bride is how Burton works with appealing to kids and adults. It's a dark movie, yes, but the director trusts that his audience can handle themes such as death, murder and the double-edged sword that love can be. He doesn't patronize to the young ones, and he doesn't resort to using pop culture references and sexual innuendo to keep the parents awake. Burton simply allows us to get swept up into these world of the living and the dead, and after 77 minutes, we wish it were longer. It does make one wonder what would a live-action film might look like, and would it be anything like the wold Tim created. In tomorrow's installment, we get an answer of sorts, but not by Burton, but by another visionary director: Guillermeo del Toro.

*** 1/2 stars out of ****


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