From unassuming TV movie to town-wide celebration.
Halloweentown is a made-for-TV movie that aired on the Disney Channel in 1998. The network aired dozens of low-budget, kid-centered movies in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, but this one became a cult classic for Millennials. It’s about a 13-year-old girl named Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown) who loves Halloween but is forbidden from celebrating it by her Halloween-hating mother (Judith Hoag). Marnie finds out why—that she’s a powerful witch—when she secretly follows her grandmother (Debbie Reynolds) onto a magic bus that deposits them in a magical place called Halloweentown. The place is populated by all sorts of magical creatures and Halloween fixtures, including witches, werewolves, skeletons, ogres, vampires, and people with jack-o-lantern heads.
Unlike most Disney Channel movies, this one re-airs most every year and even spawned three sequels. One more claim to fame: Halloweentown is probably the only made-for-TV movie to ever inspire a real-life town’s annual transformation. That’s right: You can visit the “real” Halloweentown!
In 1998, Halloweentown was filmed in St. Helens, Oregon, a small town of 13,000 people with a classic small town look about 30 miles north of Portland, situated on the Columbia River. For the entire month of October, St. Helens turns back into Halloweentown for its “Spirit of Halloweentown” family festival. There are dozens of good-hearted, kid-friendly events that celebrate both the holiday and the town’s brush with made-for-TV history. Spooky carved jack-o-lanterns fill the plaza by city hall (and everywhere else). Bands play songs about monsters. Locals offer tours of movie filming locations. There’s also The Little Spooks Parade, an annual children’s costume parade, a costumed run called the Monster Dash, Haunted Tractor Hay Rides, and a parade where locals dress up their tractors to look like hearses.
St. Helens has such an old-fashioned—and Halloween-y—look that Halloweentown isn’t the only spooky film to film there. Nor is it the most famous one—parts of the vampire blockbuster Twilight were shot there.