It’s the most horrorful night of the year, boys and ghouls, and you know what that means: cosplay, drunken revelry, candy, and about a million articles about what movies you should watch this Halloween. Make that a million and one. I’ve been writing on the internet for over a decade now and probably close to half of that has been about horror. That’s kind of dropped off the last several years since I’ve been writing at Gamemoir. It’s not just because I use up most of my energy writing about video games these days, though. I’ve been neglecting my favorite entertainment genre because there’s a point where you feel like you’ve written and read everything there is to read and write.
Well, when it comes down to that, it’s probably time to get back to your roots and go back to the basics; the beginnings of what made you love this thing in the first place. So instead of some fancy list of the most obscure vampire movies I can think of or something like that, I’m going to be a basic bitch this Halloween and give you the twenty films that should be in rotation every Halloween. Films with the right atmosphere to get you in the mood and do what only the best horror can do: make you feel like a kid again.
Whether they terrify you to the point where you can only cower under your covers and pray for a dreamless sleep or bring back the wonder of All Hallows’ Eve and it’s strange and ancient rituals, these are the films that define my favorite holiday in my mind and help take me back in time to a place where I was learning about the power of a good scare and that lingering thought that maybe, just maybe, these things could be happening away from prying eyes in some moonless corner of the world. As an adult, I take my own son trick ‘r treating and then put him to bed before spending the night alone in the dark trying to scare myself with stories I’ve seen over and over. And sometimes, it works. These are the films -new and old- that seldom fail to capture that magic for me.
One of the first films I ever owned on DVD, and still scary after all these years. The Howling is the definitive werewolf film. One could argue that An American Werewolf in London is the better film and I would not argue, but there is just something in the atmosphere of this one that chills me to the bone. It’s sequels are among the worst films ever made (yes, ALL OF THEM), but they fail to tarnish the absolute perfect horror of the original.
Vampire Hunter D
The Howling was among the first DVD’s I ever bought, but I left the electronics store with my first DVD player and this film. This 80’s anime classic I taped on a whim from late night cable was literally the first thing I wanted to watch on a disc and it remains one of my absolute favorite films of all time. The atmosphere in this tale of a half-vampire vamp slayer for hire is unlike anything I’ve ever seen to this day and I love pretty much every single thing about it. And here’s a fun fact for you gamers: Yoshitaka Amano (most famous as a primary character designer for the Final Fantasy series) illustrated the original novels.
Todd Browning’s 1931 masterpiece starring Bela Lugosi is another one of my favorite movies of all time and remains somehow criminally underrated in spite of its classic status. What so many subsequent filmmakers have forgotten about the vampire is that what’s scary about him is his ability to hide. To play cat and mouse and always be a step ahead of his pursuers. To use centuries of predator knowledge to outmaneuver his mortal foes and keep moving while spreading his undead plague to their loved ones all the while. This film oozes atmosphere and may be the only version of Dracula to really capture that so it’s the only one I’m putting on this list.
Japan has fallen off the horror radar in the last decade after a 90’s boom that’s still being felt in Western horror today. A lot of great horror was made in that time before it all became a parody of itself, but this is the one that sticks with me the most. Ju-on (aka The Grudge) is the most frightening ghost story ever. Period. Pretty much all of the J-horror you’ll ever really need is wrapped up in this one near-perfect film that still catches me off guard. This movie actually scares me when I watch it, not in a jump-scare way. It chills me right to my bones and that’s a really, really rare thing.
Trick ‘r Treat
In 2007, this movie became the first film to legitimately challenge John Carpenter’s classic (which we’ll get to in a minute) as the definitive film to watch on Halloween. It’s an anthology film of sorts with connected stories that deal with the mythologies of the season and as a whole manages to be both fun and scary at the same time with plenty of thrills and chills. If you’ve been putting off seeing this, tonight’s the night.
The definitive classic. The one we all grew up watching. It needs no introduction. It spent over two decades as the undisputed go-to movie for your Horrorween film festivities and it’s still a sure-fire winner whether you prefer the new breed of horror or not. Marathons of the entire series are standard October 31st cable programming. I need say no more.
The first sequel to the definitive All Hallows’ slasher movie is the second half of the titular night in which Jamie Lee Curtis earned her title of cinema scream queen. It may not be quite the experience that the original is, but the story is incomplete without it and therefore, so is your Halloween horror marathon.
Satan’s Little Helper
This obscure 2004 gem is a nasty piece of work that strikes the perfect balance between terror and fun. The story is of a little boy who brings home a murderer in a mask that his family mistakes for his sister’s boyfriend on Halloween. The combination of legit tension and a brilliant wordless black comedy performance from the killer made this one of my new favorite Halloween films when I watched it on Netflix on a whim a few years ago. Sadly, it’s not streaming there anymore, but I recommend you seek it out anyway.
My favorite horror anthology of all time and another classic film that creates an incredible atmosphere. A movie so awesome it inspired one of the most influential bands of all time to create a new genre of music and name themselves after it. The American version is a bit different and neutered the brilliant irony of “The Telephone” present in the Italian version due to homophobia, but if you can’t get ahold of the original Italian version it will do just fine regardless. A scary film anyway you look at it.
Night of the Living Dead
Romero single-handedly created the zombie genre with his homage to Richard Matheson’s apocalyptic vampire tale I Am Legend and it’s still the scariest example of the genre. You can’t beat being trapped in a hose in the countryside with a horde of zombies outside trying to tear you to pieces and devour you. Well, I guess you can if your own daughter is infected and kills and eats you, but Romero had that covered too.
The Vampire Lovers
One of the best vampire films ever made and the closest thing I’ve seen to a faithful adaptation of the definitive female vampire story Carmilla. Hammer Studios made a lot of horror in their day, but this was their best in my opinion. In addition to being creepy as hell and successfully telling one of the best vampire stories ever told, this is also a rare lesbian vampire film that actually succeeds in being sexy.
Cabin in the Woods
The new kid on the block. Former Buffy/Angel partners Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard reunited for this slice of awesome that pays tribute to and subverts all of your dumb horror cliches and makes them shine like new. Such an amazing film for horror fans, I really don’t want to spoil any of it for you if you haven’t seen it in the three years it’s been out so let me just tell you that there’s never been a movie like this and leave it at that.
Sam Raimi’s independent feature film debut has stood the test of time as a true classic in spite of being banned for much of its existence. In fact, a CONTINUATION of the franchise is airing as a show on premium cable right about now. Can any other 80’s franchise claim that? Evil Dead and its sequels are firmly entrenched in the geek lexicon, but while the series veered heavily into comedy, this first film is a magnum opus of supernatural terror.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you….
As cheesy and just plain awful as almost every sequel is, there’s no getting around Wes Craven’s original. The music, the story, the character, the glove; this baby was just custom made to be a classic. Centered around the terror that a being could kill you when you are at your most helpless and there is nothing you can do about it, this was the film that made me afraid to even sleep. Any film that can do that deserves any and all praise it gets.
The Wicker Man
This creepy masterpiece is about the clash between ancient paganism and modern Christianity is
a slow burn for sure (see what I did there?) but so worth it. Plus it features some great costume ideas if you ever want to have the most horror cred at your costume party.
While the film has some missteps for sure (dat ghost….) all in all, this is one of the most horrifying films ever made. It was adapted from a novel Stephen King wrote and he decided it was so grim that he sat on it for five years before giving it up to settle a contract dispute with his publisher. How dark does a story have to be to make the nastiest horror writer of his time? Elementally terrifying like nothing else. This movie is wrong in so many ways that other horror movies wouldn’t even dare trying and in spite of its flaws that earns it a place in my Halloween Hall of Fame.
House on Haunted Hill
It isn’t Halloween without Vincent Price. So many movies from the greatest horror icon of them all to choose from, and almost all of them are fantastic. But I would say that for an All Hallows’ horrorfest, you’ve probably got to go with this one. Creepy in all the right ways and entertaining as hell to boot.
Take one part George R. Romero, one part Stephen King, and one part vintage 1950’s horror comics, mix well, and partition into five servings and you’ve got one of the sweetest films of the 80’s. Some really creepy stuff here, but this meeting of two of the finest minds in horror keeps its tongue in its cheek and delivers a sure-fire crowd pleaser in each of its five diverse vignettes.
You know that ben Stiller movie where all of the museum displays come to life at night? It’s been done. Only in this case, it was a wax museum filled with homages to classic horror stories. Waaaaaay cooler, no? I don’t know why this movie isn’t more popular then it is, but Waxwork is a great homage to the genre as a whole and one of the best horror comedies of the 80’s.
- The Exorcist
I was going to leave this one off since aside from Halloween, it’s possibly the movie that makes it onto these lists the most and I obviously couldn’t leave that one off, but screw it. I’m not that cool. I may slip in as many relative obscurities as I can on the off chance that somebody cares enough to check them out and gets inspired to plumb the depths of horror cinema and maybe one day return the favor to someone else, but leaving out the most iconic horror movie of all time just feels wrong. This film won Oscars in spite of the presence of a little girl onscreen screaming about “cunting” daughters, stabbing herself in the vagina with a crucifix shouting “fuck me, Jesus” then shoving her mom’s face into the bloody mess while howling “LICK ME!”, and projectile vomiting. Think about that for a minute. That’s a special film. Then after you’re done thinking, make your plans to get ahold of your ideal collection of old favorites, new favorites, and maybe a few forays into uncharted territory in search of new classics. Have a happy Halloween, everyone.