Halloween is a wonderful time of year. With the weather cooling down, the leaves changing and, of course, people are watching scary movies in anticipation of the holiday where we all dress up, venture into haunted houses and scare people. With so many horror films out there, it’s tough to decide what to watch. Whether it’s a ghost or apparition, a masked killer on the loose or perhaps those creature features; horror films are undeniable fun and for some, the more gore the better. Here are our picks of our favorite horror movies to watch for the Halloween Holiday. No matter what you fancy, you better grab your blanket, turn off the lights and prepare yourself for wicked good fun!
Night of the Living Dead
George A. Romero defined the zombie genre with this iconic 1968 horror classic. Shot in black and white and featuring a well-told story, fine performances and the zombie ghouls (who are never called zombies in fact) themselves, this is the film that made us fearful of the night. Not scary by today’s standards, but this horror film has lived in infamy and, despite the countless other zombie films, nothing holds a candle to Night of the Living Dead. It features one of the best horror quotes, “They’re coming to get you Barbara” and set a template for all other films to follow.
If you weren’t scared of caves, then this film surely will make you think twice about venturing into one. An all-female cast is trapped inside a cave system and encounter a group of cave dwellers looking to feast on the unlucky ladies. Claustrophobic, intense from start to finish and showing us the underlying theme of trust, The Descent is a horror film that’s effective as it is scary. You’ll never walk into a cave the same way after watching this movie and, if you hear a sound from deep inside, run!
You just can’t go through Halloween without watching Halloween, the horror masterpiece that birthed a thousand masked copycats. John Carpenter’s low-budget story of a killer who returns to his old childhood home to murder “innocent” teenagers was simple yet effective. Masterful camera shots like the opening POV sequence, Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance’s performances, that iconic eerie theme and of course the boogeyman of the hour: Michael Meyers. Proof that the scariest thing out there is a man in a white William Shatner mask. He’s a force of nature who might be evil incarnate, and Meyers’ reign on the silver screen laid the groundwork for the modern Slasher film
Even if Stephen King’s adaptation critiques of The Shining are valid, it doesn’t change the fact that Stanley Kubrick created one of the most unsettling horror films ever. Focusing on the Torrence family’s winter stay at the Overlook Hotel, we watch Jack Torrance slowly slip into madness as his role as the caretaker exceeds his duties as a father. From the hotel’s uncanny design Jack Nicholson’s performance, film simply feels wrong. This even extends to Kubrick’s cinematography, which utilized the Stedicam to feel a perspective outside Jack, Wendy or young Danny is watching the characters. Ironic then that all the scenes we most affiliate with this- the Twins, Redrum, “Here’s Johnny,” “All Work and No Play…”- were of Kubrick’s design, not King.
Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island
I feel your judgment and I rubber-and-glue it right back to you for the following reasons. Cartoons geared toward children tend to focus on music and world-building to immerse the audience in fantastical universes, something the creators of Scooby-Doo did most effectively. And what do horror movies need to manipulate their viewers’ deepest, most impulse-driven fears? Well-placed musical stings and goosebumpening environs. On top of all of that, Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island actually has a pretty fascinating plot. In Zombie Island, the Mystery Gang travels to the Louisiana Bayou to investigate the whereabouts of Captain Moonscar’s famous pirate treasure. The supernatural happenings in the area become more frequent after the gang arrives, revealing the existence of werecats, functional voodoo dolls, and a zombie horde. Most importantly, a twist near the end of the movie delivers a crucial life lesson to the kiddies and kiddies-at-heart on the other side of the TV screen: be careful who you trust.
And that’s why Zombie Island is one of my favorite films to put on every Halloween. Granted, there are a couple reductive jokes and assumptions about Louisiana’s Bayou culture that feel dated, but it’s still pretty enjoyable. Check out Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders if you’d like to continue down this particular rabbit hole.
The Fly (1958)
Sure, the Cronenberg remake is a fun watch, but something about the original’s kitschy special effects and Vincent Price’s conjectures on the difference between human beings and lower-order animals make the older version the most rewatchable version, at least to me. The Fly follows a scientist – David Hedison’s Andre Delambre – whose experiments with instant teleportation go way off-course when he accidentally melds his body with that of a fly by…something, something science machine. The accident yields two demi-insectae. Semi-fleas? Flytaurs? Flytaurs. The fly-headed man spends the film looking for the man-headed fly in order to wrangle it back into the machine, repeat the accident, and reverse the incident’s effects.
A lot of the tension comes from the scientist’s attempts to hide one of his new physical forms from his wife Helene, played by Patricia Owens. And, as mentioned before, Vincent Price gives the movie a great dollop of camp. As Andre’s live-in brother François, he plays the same type of role that made him a staple of classic Hollywood cinema: a monoogizing psychopomp to the realm of the macabre, shuttling normie characters to the depths of the horrifically absurd. It’s a fun time.
Growing up, I loved horror movies and Looney Tunes. Naturally, Gremlins became an all-time favorite of mine and has been on loop all year ’round. Look at most creature features now and you’ll realize that CGI took over as the source of these monsters. Back in 1984, however, director Joe Dante opted for practical effects and had models built for the mogwai and gremlins, giving them more life and personality. As terrifying as the gremlins can be, Dante balances it perfectly with over-the-top cartoon humor. In one scene, a gremlin may be wielding a chainsaw, grinding through a wooden bat until they can kill Billy. In another, a group of these same creatures have donned winter clothes, Christmas carol music sheets, and sang for a petrified Mrs. Deagle. These scenes may make Gremlins seem like a comedy, but it only solidifies itself as a timeless horror classic in my books. Just get the tissues ready when Phoebe Cates tells her personal Christmas hell with Billy and Gizmo.
This movie came out of nowhere and knocked the wind out of me. Jay, a hit-man coming up on the anniversary of a job gone wrong, is approached by his old partner for a simple three mark job. Only, the job isn’t as simple as Jay thought, with Jay being plagued by strange occurrences. To give away Kill List would be to dishonor the journey that director Ben Wheatley has crafted here. Some could incorrectly fault Kill List for the slow burn first half, but the details laid out beautifully set up the end destination and help form a unique story told in a strong, confident voice by Ben Wheatley. The horrors that Jay and his partner Gal uncover are visceral, disturbing, and cannot be shaken off easily, but plead the case Wheatley sells in the long run. Kill List is the perfect horror movie that stays with you for hours afterwards and demands multiple viewings to further uncover Wheatley’s secrets.
Around Halloween, one movie I like to re-watch is The Thing, a 1982 horror/sci-fi film directed by John Carpenter. If you like graphic and grisly horror movies, then this will definitely be up your alley. The special effects are nowhere near the level of CGI we have today, but that’s what makes it special. The effects are vivid, like the shark from Jaws or the T-Rex from Jurassic Park. The titular “Thing” is terrifying because it’s an extraterrestrial life form that can shape-shift into its victims, which gives the film a spin on the “whodunnit” trope. The result is an engaging and suspenseful ride that seems almost hopeless for the characters.
Creepshow is a horror/cult anthology by author Stephen King and director George A. Romero. The film features five different stories and has a 1950s comic book feel to it. Each tale varies from one to another, but they’re filled with humor, shock, and fun. There’s something for everyone: hungry zombies, bizarre monsters, creepy bugs, angry ghosts, and even psychological terror. What I like about this movie is that it’s great to watch for a laugh and a fright. Either way, you won’t be bored.
I was about twelve when I first saw Alien. I made a big deal about seeing it in the dark, alone, and I had to pause halfway through and talk to my mom because of how scared I got. To this day, the movie still freaks me out because the questions the movie didn’t answer makes me think of the absolute worst things imaginable. A movie that has the power to scare without me even watching it is unquestionably a great movie.
In similar vain to Alien, Cloverfield scares me in a multitude of ways. Since Abrams has his hands in it, not a single question is or has been answered. It was also the first movie I ever threw up watching. Left the theater, threw up in a trash can, went back, and finished it. What really scares me most is that there is no music while the movie plays, and the roar of the monster feels more real than most. It felt like a real thing and making me feel the realness of it all is something I must commend Cloverfield for over a decade later.