Here’s our take on the best Halloween movies…
A big part of Halloween festivities are the Halloween movies. Everyone likes to snuggle up on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn and get a good scare on. Movies set the stage and mood for the season, getting you good and psyched up for the night of October 31st.
So what makes for a good Halloween movie?
Not sure? Don’t worry, I’ll help you. Here they are:
- It doesn’t have to be gory or bloody, which, for a lot of people is a distinct turn off. The mere suggestion of blood and gore is oftentimes scarier than its outright portrayal. Our imaginations are far more effective at filling in the details than any special effects man.
- It needs a good element of suspense. Being mildly interesting to the viewer doesn’t cut it. It needs to hold your attention. You don’t want to miss what’s coming next in a way that keeps you “on the edge of your seat.”
- Along with suspense, there has to be release as well. The release is best when done at a level that is just enough to make you a kind of complacent. That way you can be caught by surprise and scared again (and again and again). The best scary movies lull you into a false sense of security that is suddenly, unexpectedly and entirely shattered. It works even better when it happens to a sympathetic character you’ve grown to like over the course of the movie.
- Good, believable characters are a bonus. You need to have at least one character you like and can root for. There can also be one sympathetic character that has the misfortune of getting bumped off. That’s the best way to really establish the villain and just how evil he/she/it truly is.
- Good acting is not always necessary, and in most horror movies, not commonly present. The acting can be campy and over the top which sometimes makes the movie more fun to watch when it’s done well. The script can be deliberately corny and hokey. This adds levity to a grim subject or situation and reminds you that after all, it’s just a movie.
- A good sound track or sound design is needed. You need creepy, dissonant music that underscores the fear and terror a character is feeling or to make a situation seem appropriately dark and murky. Simply using sounds can accomplish this, too.
- Lighting and cinematography create the mood, as well. The lighting for a dark, murky, graveyard scene must emanate creepiness. You can’t use the same lighting you would for a cheerful, happy birthday party scene. Though you could make that birthday party look like a graveyard with the right lighting and filters if you wanted to!
The Best Halloween Movies
Now that we’ve identified core elements to the best scary movies, here are some of our favorite shows to watch on Halloween.
This is William Peter Blatty’s (the same guy who wrote Jaws) tale that contains all the traits I described above. Regarded as a masterpiece that transcends its genre, it has it all–superlative acting, well-written script, great music and cinematography with plenty of suspense and lots of good scream-worthy scares. If you’ve never seen it, this is the famous one with Regan, a little demon-possessed girl whose head spins on its axis, walks down stairs like a crab and who literally climbs the walls. In places it’s downright terrifying. If you’ve seen it before then watch it again. It is simply not Halloween without a viewing of The Exorcist, although you might not ever feel the same way about guacamole again!
House on Haunted Hill
A party is held where a game is played. A group of strangers is called together and dared to stay in the house all night. Those who make it through until morning will win a large sum of cash, but as soon as night falls, the bodies start dropping and ghosts emerge from walls. Vincent Price stars in this Halloween classic. The script is loaded with scary danger, vats of acid, hanging corpses and flying skeletons which makes it absolutely fun to watch. This is one of those perfect Halloween movies.
This, like The Exorcist, is a movie that along with Alien, Star Wars, and Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind everybody, and I mean everybody, saw and talked about back in the late 1970s. The subject matter is the coming of the Antichrist and it played on all the good versus evil, “are we all going to be enslaved by some vast global Satanic cabal run by the superrich?” thing, long before the current fascination with conspiracy theories started. (1977) Great acting with plenty of stars known for good chops, plenty of suspense and lots of scares. The child actor, Harvey Spencer Stevens who plays the young Antichrist does a great job of emanating the kind of malevolence you’d expect from Mr. 666. Another classic, and another must-watch for Halloween.
This movie plays on the whole heaven and hell, good and evil thing. It’s all about a supermodel who goes to live in an apartment building that turns out to be the gateway to Hell. Of course the realtor says nothing to her about this, although the tenant at the top floor is strangely disturbing. The nasties at Hell’s gate want our lovely supermodel and to come out and raise havoc in late 70s Brooklyn. Some scenes in this flick are genuinely creepy and disquieting. It’s a very suspenseful movie with a relentless undercurrent of suppressed evil, watching and waiting for the door to Hell to open. Isn’t that what Halloween is all about?
Blair Witch Project
A film crew disappears, but later their gear is found in the woods. With it is found footage of their documentary covering the history of Coffin Rock where numerous bodies were laid head to toe and bound together for some mysterious and thought-provoking reason. The movie follows the crew as they research the story and get lost in the woods, themselves falling victim to a similar fate as those they are learning about until, at the very end, their cursed lives come to a horrific end. It’s an unsettling film that has been known to make people jump and can scare the living tar right out of you. Great for October 31st!
Paranormal Activity I through IV
A successor to Blair Witch in filming style, this is a series of movies made with the “found footage” technique. It’s the first movie that turned ghost hunting into terror and did it really, really well. There are lots of places where you will literally jump in your seats and you won’t be able to watch it alone. I dare you to keep the lights off. Intense and scary for a good scare on Halloween.
Halloween (The Original, 1978)
Michael Myers is the infamous blade-wielding, mask-wearing psychopath who will not die. This horror villain gets up over and over again, but wait. Let’s back up. It’s Halloween and Michael has just escaped from a local mental hospital. He’s a lunatic murderer with a violent past, now on the loose and coming for you. When your doorbell rings, you don’t know if it’s a trick-or-treater or a killer at your door. One thing’s for sure, if he ends up at your doorstep, you will not live long. The dark and ominous movie is punctuated by that creepy “dink doo doo dink doo doo dink doo doo Dink! doo” riff that announces the arrival of Michael Myers. It just isn’t Halloween without the Halloween movie.
You can probably rent this at any Redbox, if it’s not already checked out. A girl tries to escape the thing that is chasing her after having sex. It’s the most original and creepy horror film in ages. Like a supernatural sexually transmitted disease, if you have casual sex, you will bring on this horror and it will not let you go. Very unique and sure to scare you. Want to know more? I wrote about it here.
Sometimes childrens’ stories can be truly terrifying. This is the movie about a childrens tale that introduces The Babadook – a murky spirit that will come if called and bring gloom and death upon your house. That’s exactly what happens in this movie full of dread and ominous tones. It’s another very unique film that keeps you on the edge of your seat. You may forget to breathe. If you want to learn more, read my take on the film here.
The Haunting (1963)
Shirley Jackson wrote the story upon which this movies is based. Eleanor, the main character, spent her whole life caring for her invalid mother, a relentless, demanding tyrant who makes sure Eleanor has no life of her own. As the movie begins, the mother has just died and Eleanor is finally free to live a normal life. She answers an ad to participate in an experiment and agrees to spend the night in an old house. She takes her mother’s old car and against her family’s wishes, drives out to Hill House. The house drips evil and malevolence. It’s a humongous, hulking piece of Victorian oppression. What ensues will give you nightmares. You can’t call yourself a serious horror fan until you have seen this movie.
Two kids, brother and sister, get to spend a week with their grandparents whom they’ve never met and who are estranged from their mother, who has not spoken to them or seen them in 20 years. Initially, they have a good time. The grandparents spoil them with cookies and the house positively glows with good feelings that only Nana and Pop Pop can give. There is only one rule: Don’t leave your room after 9:30 pm. Then, as time goes on, Nana and Pop Pop start doing disturbing things that get harder and harder to explain away. It’s not that they are just old, they are creepy! This is one of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen and besides being scary, is also very funny in parts. It’s got a range, rarely found in the genre.
Alien is a genre-bending sci fi-horror flick. This is the story of a space-based refinery/spaceship that gets called to an unknown planet by a distress signal. There, they find a derelict spaceship where they encounter a mysterious room filled with eggs. Turns out the eggs contain a nasty, spider-like creature that attaches itself to your face and implants you with an embryo that turns into an even nastier critter with acid for blood. Plenty of surprises and good scares in this one. There is one scene that is so scary it may literally make you jump out of your seat and scream!
Now you know the best Halloween movies to watch. So go and get your scares on! Happy Halloween!