It’s that time of year again, folks. The leaves are changing, candlelit pumpkin eyes gawk at you while you walk down the street, and we’re all getting in the mood to get scared. Whether it’s Hocus Pocus or a certain John Carpenter jam that shares its name with the holiday, everybody has their Halloween playlist. But it’s easy to get overwhelmed by options, and before you know it you’re scrolling through every streaming service trying to find the perfect movie to set the mood, and by the time you’ve picked something, carolers are singing Jingle Bells outside your front door. So let’s thin out the options a little bit, and we’ll skip the stuff on every other list, so you can have something fresh picked out by Thanksgiving instead. So put on your favorite mask, grab a plastic pumpkin full of candy corn, and light some prayer candles, because here are the ten movies you should be watching this October.
- Halloween III: Season of the Witch
This probably isn’t the Halloween movie you were expecting to find at the top of the list, but it’s the one you deserve. While it doesn’t quite outclass the first entry into the Halloween franchise, it certainly has more reverence for the holiday in question. This is the only totally Michael Myers free entry into the series, and it’s probably the weirdest to boot. The story centers around an alcoholic doctor who witnesses a strange death that may be tied to The Silver Shamrock mask company who makes the most in-demand costumes of the season. Every kid wants one, and there’s going to be a big giveaway on Halloween night, but the whole thing is a lot more sinister than it appears. Before too long, witchcraft, human sacrifice, androids, and Stonehenge all come into play, and it’s a grab bag of seasonal fun. Shake it up this year and skip Michael Myers for some other kids in masks instead.
- Black Sunday
For me, there’s nothing that gets me more in the mood to munch on some candy and carve up a jack-o-lantern than old cobweb filled castles, foggy forests, and witches swearing vengeance. Black Sunday has that in spades. It’s the exact kind of movie to snuggle up on the couch with and just let it envelop you. It’s ahead of its time in many ways (especially in how horny it is), but it has a classic charm that will leave you begging to get cursed just to keep the party going. Barbara Steele plays a witch who was lynched but not before putting a (you guessed it) curse on the people who sentenced her to a particularly gruesome death. Decades later, her descendant (also played by Steele) starts to feel a little too close to her ancestor, and things start to get pretty freaky. Come for the spooky sets; stay for the surprising moments of black and white bloodshed.
There’s more to Halloween than just scares, and last year’s hilarious Irish indie ghost-hunting tale shows that things can get pretty spooky and still be fun. A quirky driving instructor who can speak to the dead (but doesn’t particularly like to) gets caught up with a man whose daughter may end up on the wrong end of a virgin sacrifice if they can’t work together to harvest enough ectoplasm to break a spell put on her by a dorky satanic musician. If that sounds silly, that’s because it is, and that’s part of what makes it so lovely. Extra-Ordinary isn’t afraid to laugh at itself, but it never loses its grip on it’s perfectly spooky vibe. The ghost hunting mostly provides a backdrop for loosely connected, very funny stories of local hauntings in a quaint Irish town. The whole thing is strung together by a score and cinematography that is simply to die for. This will satisfy all your spooky needs without ever making you have to hide under a blanket. Unless that’s your costume, in which case you look great!
- Night of the Creeps
Night of the Creeps is one of those movies you won’t believe you haven’t seen before. A peak 80’s horror/comedy/sci-fi flick with a lot of love for the classics, Creeps is a genre mish-mash that’s sure to scratch whatever itch you need scratching this time of year. It’s all about creepy crawly alien slugs that come from an accidentally unfrozen dead body tied to the murder of an alcoholic detective’s wife, and it all takes place on prom night, with as many bad 80’s prom dresses and great one-liners as you could ever want. It’s as fun and schlocky as it sounds, but you’ll always be laughing with it, never at it. You’d be hard-pressed to find more of a crowd-pleaser to watch this month.
- The Guest
Ever wondered what it would be like if Captain America was a psychopath? So did Adam Winguard when he directed The Guest, the tale of a dashing ex-soldier who comes to stay with his fallen comrades’ family while they’re mourning, he seems to have the best intentions in mind, but (incredibly handsome) looks can be deceiving. Dan Stevens brings an almost comical coldness to the role and sells his overprotective terminator-esque character perfectly. The soundtrack is incredible, and everything comes to a head at a big Halloween dance party. In short, it’s an absolute blast.
Laika’s well-regarded tale of a kid who can speak to ghosts is a family-friendly flick that has a lot of love for the horror genre baked into it. In addition to the stop motion studio’s deeply impressive art direction, this movie has a moral at the center that will never not be worth learning. ParaNorman is the kind of fun that reminds you of being a kid on Halloween again, even if you have a kid of your own at this point, and trust me, they’ll love it too. If you’re a horror fan looking for something light, this movie has you in mind. Keep your eyes peeled for some fun homages to classics and some of Laika’s best visual gags to date.
- The Fog (1980)
John Carpenter’s seaside ghost story is a beautifully made, moody, classic about a town whose dark secrets surface on its 100 year anniversary. As per usual with an older Carpenter joint, the score is incredible, and the slick cinematography is gorgeous. The Fog’s salty small-town fable is the purest embodiment of spooky, with a vibe so powerful that it’ll knock you out until your candy has gone bad. It’s not gonna scare the hell out of you, but the ghost design and the visuals will deliver you straight to Halloween heaven.
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula
An indulgent gothic horror masterpiece with so much blood and cool art design that your brain might very well melt. It’s the classic Dracula tale, with Gary Oldman donning the fangs to play the infamous count. Facing off against the titular vampire, you have Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, and Keanu Reeves’ famously terrible english accent. All of the movie’s effects are done in-camera with classic smoke and mirrors trickery, which makes the already incredible visuals all the more fascinating. You might lose track of the logic of things a bit, but that is far from the point of this decadent experience. Put on a silk robe, pour yourself a glass of blood-red wine, and enjoy.
- The Innocents
If you’ve tuned into The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix this year, you’ll spot some familiar story beats in this adaptation of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, in which a naive young governess travels to a picturesque english mansion to take care of two orphaned children after their previous caretaker died under tragic circumstances. But when specters of the past start to show up and the kids start acting a little too grown-up, the babysitter begins to wonder if she’s got her head screwed on straight. This Truman Capote penned script is loaded with complicated subtext to unpack and is as oft-debated as the source material. It’s a nearly perfect ghost story that’s as timeless as the ghosts peering in through the windows.
What are your favorite Halloween movies? Leave a comment and let us know!