Today’s celebrations have come a long way since its pagan beginnings; it seems as though the entire month of October each year is dedicated to Halloween. People spend hours trying to find costumes for parties, while families fill up their candy bowls to satisfy the hoards of neighborhood kids. However, of all the great aspects of Halloween, my favorite is the movies that revolve around the holiday. To help get you guys in the Halloween spirit, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite films for the season. My criteria for this list is that each movie must either be of or relating to concepts relevant to the holiday (the supernatural, monsters, horror, killers, or just spooky things). As always, for the sake of not having a list of very similar movies, I will be choosing films based on a variety of factors to give a list that not only spans decades, but also a multitude of different genres and stories. With that being said, let’s dive into #10.
- The Shining (1980)
This list would not be complete without including a film based on the work of the king of horror himself, Stephen King. King is behind such classics horror novels as “It,” “Pet Sematary,” “Salem’s Lot,” and “Carrie.” The majority of the books he’s written have been adapted into movies, but of all the adaptations, my personal favorite remains to be Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” Although this movie does not take place on Halloween, this film strongly evokes the sentiment related to the holiday. The supernatural is a huge element of this story and the way it’s translated into film makes it all the eerier. Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duval star in this horror film as married couple Jack and Wendy Torrance. Jack is a struggling writer who is hired to be the caretaker for a large resort hotel called The Overlook during the resort’s non-operating months in the winter. Jack, Wendy, and their troubled young son Danny, head to the isolated hotel where they must stay for several months until spring comes along. As time passes, the horrors of the hotel’s past begin to reveal themselves to the family, as their dynamic slowly crumbles along with their mental health in the brutal winter that so violently entraps them in the halls of The Overlook. With brilliant performances from the cast, the film is made even better by the direction of Stanley Kubrick. The camera angles and long takes work to induce fear in the viewer and successfully creates a feeling of sheer unease throughout the entirety of the viewing. Along with a haunting score and a truly disturbing story, this movie really does get you in the mood for Halloween.
- Young Frankenstein (1974)
Out of all the classic monsters (Dracula, The Wolfman, etc.), few have inspired more movies than Frankenstein’s monster. Frankenstein was a horror novel written by Mary Shelley in 1818 about a scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who created a creature using the body parts of corpses and successfully brought it to life. The book was adapted for the screen in 1931 with Universal Studios’ “Frankenstein,” which terrified audiences at the time. Over 40 years later in the 70s, the original “Frankenstein” film was fairly laughable to modern audiences, so working off of this idea, comedic-genius Mel Brooks decided to make a parody of it. “Young Frankenstein” tells the story of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, a professor of medicine, and grandson of Victor Frankenstein. Frederick, who is ashamed of his family’s name, is notified that he has inherited his late grandfather’s estate in Transylvania. Tormented by the legacy his grandfather left and with a large estate now on his hands, Frederick heads to his grandfather’s castle where slowly but surely the past begins to repeat itself. This film is simply hilarious. Gene Wilder plays the starring role and his performance is made even better by a perfect supporting cast, all of whom are hysterical in their roles. This film heavily parodies the original 1931 movie, even using a lot of the same props and set pieces from it, but “Young Frankenstein” is still extremely funny as a stand-alone film (even if you have not seen the original). For those looking to take a risk on watching a fairly older film, I assure you can’t go wrong with this weird comedy.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Is it more a Christmas or Halloween movie? Regardless of how you characterize it, there is no doubting its fabulously spooky nature, placing at the number 8 spot on my list. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a stop-motion animation musical that follows the story of Jack Skellington, the “Pumpkin King” and unofficial leader of Halloween Town. When he begins to grow tired of the Halloween lifestyle that he lives, he accidentally stumbles into the world of Christmas Town, where he is swept off of his feet. He then begins to concoct a plan to commandeer Christmas for himself and his town’s people. However, things quickly go awry as this new holiday he so desires does not seem to fit him all that well. Although many people attribute this film to Tim Burton, he was only the producer; it was actually directed by Henry Selick, who does a wonderful job of bringing this creepy film world to life. The music is fantastic and the fact that this film was made using stop motion processes makes it all the more wonderful to watch. Although fairly dark for a children’s movie, its charm and nostalgic value cement it as a Halloween classic.
- Ghostbusters (1984)
Bill Murray is without a doubt one of the most legendary actors of his generation. Although comedic actors are often discredited for the genre they perform in, that does not take away from their skills. This is apparent in the 1980s blockbuster comedy “Ghostbusters,” where Murray plays Peter Venkman, a scientist who after discovering a ghost, is fired by the dean of his school for trying to convince him that ghouls are real. With the help of his scientist friends, Venkman starts a crew called the Ghostbusters whose goal is to fight back against the supernatural entities that keep popping up all over New York City. This film has a fantastic cast, co-starring Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Dan Akroyd, and Harold Ramis. The latter two actually wrote the screenplay together, which makes perfect sense as to why this film is so funny. Bill Murray basically plays himself in the movie, with his sarcastic and laid back comical nature, which helps make this film so iconic. With the catchiest theme song ever written, and laugh-out-loud performances from the entire cast, “Ghostbusters,” is spooky enough to make it a Halloween movie and fun enough to watch again and again.
- An American Werewolf in London (1981)
“An American Werewolf in London” is an underrated gem from the 80s that in its short run-time takes the viewer on a whirlwind of emotions. It’s a horror, it’s a comedy, it’s a romance, it’s a thriller, and it’s a tragedy. The film is about two American college students, Jack and David, who decide to go on a backpacking trip across Europe. But while they are in England, David and Jack are attacked one night by a wolf, killing Jack and injuring David with bites and scars. While recovering from his wounds in London, David soon realizes that what attacked him that night may not have been just an ordinary wolf. The writing and directing by John Landis is really what sets this movie apart from all other horror flicks of the era. Landis is behind comedy classics such as “Animal House,” and “Trading Places,” so his screenplay and direction make an otherwise scary movie a bit more light-hearted and unique with its comedic twinge. The protagonist David, played by David Naughton, also makes this movie very relatable as you just can’t help but feel bad for this regular college student who just happens to find himself in the position of a monster. For those who have studied abroad or plan on it, this movie holds even more value to the American who has been overseas.
- Harry Potter Series (2001-2011)
J.K. Rowling is quite simply a creative genius. She imagined an entire world full of witches, wizards, supernatural entities, and more. Her fantastic books inspired on-screen adaptations that do a fantastic job of capturing the essence conveyed through her novels. In the imaginary world of Harry Potter and Hogwarts, all things that are Halloween-related actually exist. Although I’m sure many of you are familiar with the story, I will give a brief synopsis for those who have yet to enter the wizarding world of Harry Potter. The series revolves around a boy who was orphaned at birth and grew up in the normal “muggle” world with his cruel relatives. Then on his 11th birthday, he finds out that he is in fact a wizard, and famous for surviving the wrath of the most evil wizard to ever live. Now in a magical new world, Harry starts wizarding school at Hogwarts where he navigates his youth while adjusting to a whole new community he never knew existed. These movies revolve around all things supernatural: magic, spells, witches, ghosts, monsters, and more. Furthermore, each of the movies pays tribute to Halloween, as major plot developments always occur on the holiday. The Harry Potter series is a lot of fun and definitely sets the mood for Halloween, especially the third installment “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” which takes place predominantly in the fall season.
- Hocus Pocus (1993)
At #4 on my list is the Halloween movie that I grew up watching every single year: “Hocus Pocus.” Nothing made me more excited as a kid than being able to pull this VHS out of its case and watch it in the weeks leading up to the holiday. This movie may not be some critically acclaimed Oscar-nominated feature, but its fun-spirited nature and nostalgic value are what help make it a cult-classic. “Hocus Pocus” follows Max and his sister Dani as they move to Salem, Massachusetts from California. While dealing with the problems of being the new kid in town, Max has to take Dani trick-or-treating on Halloween night. While trick-or-treating, Max runs into a classmate he has a crush on, Allison, and the three decide to visit the house of the Sanderson Sisters, witches who were executed hundreds of years earlier. While trying to impress Allison, Max accidentally completes a ritual that brings the Sanderson Sisters back to life. Then, the rag-tag team of kids, with the help of a talking-cat, have to fight the three witches and stop them from taking over the town. Although it’s just a kid’s movie, “Hocus Pocus” is fun for all ages. The witches are played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy, who make this over-the-top flick even crazier, and even more fun. This entire movie takes place on Halloween and highlights the best parts of the holiday. From the great 90s aspects of the movie to a musical number performed by Bette Midler, this movie is an all-around great time and a must-watch during this season.
- Halloween (1978) and (2018)
The slasher genre is one that has been overdone in recent history; it seems as though there are at least 50 of them released each year. However, the slasher genre was non-existent before 1978. That was until the release of John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” This movie started the slasher movement in horror films, and also started the ever-popular “scream queen.” The title alone guarantees it a spot on this list, but beyond that, it is so suspenseful and entertaining from the opening credits to the shocking end. “Halloween” revolves around Michael Myers, notorious for murdering his sister one Halloween night when he was just six-years-old. Now 15 years later on Halloween night, Michael Myers escapes from the asylum he is being kept at and wreaks havoc on the town he grew up in. Myers’ doctor knows the terror that he is capable of and tries to stop him, while Myers targets a group of teenagers that include the innocent high-school student Laurie Strodes. The premise is rather simple, but that’s part of what makes it so great. There is no real deep study that can be done here, the film is simply about good versus evil. “Halloween” takes a simple concept and makes it terrifying through its suspenseful direction and the horrifying character of Michael Myers. “Halloween” is important to film history, as so many of the horror tropes used today rose from this film, setting precedents for all future scary flicks. Fast forward 40 years and “Halloween” (2018) acts as a direct sequel to the original. It captures some of the charms of its predecessor and is definitely a fun movie for those not wanting to venture back too many years into the scary movie filmography. The 2018 sequel has more than enough scares and even some laughs along the way, making it a solid watch for the season as well.
- Fright Night (1985)
The 1980s truly were a golden-era in cinema. The movies made during this decade had a massive range and truly succeeded in giving audiences a pleasurable viewing. “Fright Night” epitomizes pure fun in movies during this time, and is just a great campy flick that is perfect for the Halloween season. The story revolves around a teenager named Charley Brewster, who is obsessed with horror movies, and constantly watches a supernatural program hosted by television “vampire-killer” Peter Vincent. When the charming Jerry Dandridge moves next door, Charley soon becomes convinced that his new neighbor is a vampire. After unsuccessfully trying to convince his friends and the police that his neighbor is a vampire, Charley then turns to his childhood hero, Peter Vincent, to help him get to the bottom of this. This movie has a funky 80s soundtrack, amazing practical effects, and a great Halloween-vibe throughout its entirety. “Fright Night” is a campy masterpiece and has become a cult-classic for very good reason, making it a well-deserved runner up on my list.
- Scream (1996)
Released in 1996, “Scream,” completely changed the way horror movies were made. Following in the wake of slasher films like “Halloween,” Hollywood churned out hundreds of copy-cat films that all used the same basic tropes and standard storylines. However, “Scream,” decided to turn the horror genre upside down by acknowledging the lack of creativity in horror movies. “Scream” pokes fun at horror films, and the characters within the movie discuss horror tropes that had been popularized by movies before it, as shown in the iconic opening scene of the movie. “Scream” follows Sidney, a high school student, whose mom was murdered a year before. When people in the town begin to get brutally murdered, it becomes apparent that the killer is ultimately targeting Sidney and may have some connection to her own mom’s murder. The entire movie revolves around Sidney and her friends, as she tries to stay alive while a killer only known as “Ghostface” terrorizes the town. This is one of my favorite movies of all time, as it so perfectly comments on the horror industry, while also providing its own scares, twists, and laughs along the way. “Scream” is meta cinema at its finest, always giving slight nods to the audience and making its self-reflexivity part of the enjoyment in its viewing. This film is so much fun to watch as it constantly diverts your expectations, so for those who haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching it in a group setting because it really is a movie made to be enjoyed with others. “Scream” has a masked killer, good scares, great laughs, a bunch of surprises, and it takes place on Halloween, making it quite simply a perfect Halloween movie.
I hope you guys enjoyed the read and that you give the movies on this list you haven’t seen a chance; you may just end up finding your new favorite Halloween film. While it’s October, be sure to keep your holy water handy, a silver bullet in your pocket, stay away from any suspicious candles, and remember to have a happy Halloween!
Cover Photo: IMDB