There are so many facets to the Halloween season. There’s decorating, picking out and wearing costumes, listening to spooky music and of course there’s trick-or-treating. Another big part of the season is movie watching, and there certainly are many out there that are perfect to set the mood for October. This is not a count-down list but a listing of random movies that I try to watch every year leading up to Halloween.
HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1983)
I know a lot of people didn’t like HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, mostly due in part to the fact that it didn’t continue the Michael Myers storyline from parts one and two. Even though the basic story of this movie is totally unbelievable, on the verge of being ridiculous, it is still a fun movie and if you are willing to suspend your disbelief, you will enjoy it! The cast is fun and the special effects are gruesome enough for most gorehounds. I also enjoyed the limited look at the inner workings of Don Post Studios, who actually made the skull, witch and pumpkin masks used in the film. Both Tom Atkins and Stacey Nelkin are great here.
HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988)
I really enjoyed this sequel and this was actually the first HALLOWEEN movie I saw in the theater. I remember getting chills the first time I heard the HALLOWEEN theme. I left the theater feeling satisfied that the Michael Myers legacy was continued with respect thanks to good writing and a suspenseful plot. Danielle Harris playing Jamie, Laurie Strode’s daughter, is excellent in this role and you genuinely feel bad for her and the terror she conveys from what is going on around her!
CREEPSHOW rates up there as one of my all-time favorite horror movies and it is perfect for viewing at Halloween. The stories are short, well written and a lot of fun thanks to the top-notch cast featuring Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Leslie Nielson, Fritz Weaver, E.G. Marshall, Ted Danson and even Stephen King. This George Romero/Stephen King collaboration is a collection of horror stories not to be missed!
PHANTASM (1979) and PHANTASM 2 (1988)
The PHANTASM series is one of those series that you either love or hate. Though the five films vary is quality when it comes to story telling, the first two are the best of the series. They are very bizarre films that are both fun and yet scary at the same time. Both stories feature the Tall Man, played magnificently by Angus Scrimm, who compresses corpses into vicious dwarves that do his bidding. Don Coscarelli’s story of good versus evil is wonderful and you truly feel the evil in the Tall Man. These two films make a great double feature!
THE HOWLING (1981)
1981 was a great year for werewolves with the release of two of the most popular werewolf movies of all time, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and THE HOWLING. Though I love both films, THE HOWLING to me is just a tad bit better. First off, I am not a fan of werewolves that walk on all fours and though AWIL is a fun movie, I didn’t find it to be as genuinely scary as THE HOWLING. Rob Bottin’s werewolf creations, in my opinion, still have not been topped and this movie is fun because of the great cast, including many cameos! How many can you spot?
I remember hearing about PUMPKINHEAD from Fangoria Magazine and being disappointed that it never played in my area. I also remember renting the videotape of it for the first time…eagerly excited at the prospect of a new movie monster. Let me say that this movie did not disappoint in any way! The story is really good and Pumpkinhead himself is one of the best movie monsters ever created! Stan Winston did an amazing job in his directorial debut creating a movie full of atmosphere and terror! You are truly missed Mr. Winston!
I remember when I first saw this film advertised I had no idea what to expect. Growing up I loved the Casper cartoons and comic books but wasn’t sure how a live-action movie would play out. I think it played out great. Christina Ricci and Bill Pullman are wonderful as the father and daughter team. Pullman is a paranormal psychologist hired to get rid of some ghosts in an old mansion. The story is strong enough for both kids and adults and the sets and special effects are really good.
THE CROW (1994)
THE CROW is another film that I initially found out through Fangoria Magazine and I still remember hearing the news of Brandon Lee dying as a result of being “shot” on the set. I was devastated by this news as I was quickly becoming a Brandon Lee fan and had so far really enjoyed all of his movies. Other stories were circulating about problems on the set so that when it finally did come out, no one knew what to expect. Though this is not a horror or monster movie, it is a movie dealing with the supernatural and it is done tastefully and with respect! The plot takes place during the days leading up to Devil’s Night, the night before Halloween. The story is touching and timeless and the dedication to Brandon and his wife helped to make it perfect. This is a much recommended classic for the Halloween season.
JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING (1982)
John Carpenter was certainly riding a wave of horror movie hits in the late 70’s and early 80’s! It seemed as though everything he did was a hit and this remake is no exception. The isolation of this film, being trapped in a place with no chance of escape while being hunted by an alien being that can mimic any living thing, sets up a story of pure terror that cannot be missed! Even though this film is over 30 years old it still holds up really well and Rob Bottin’s effects blow away many things being seen in today’s horror films! Modern film makers should take note: this is how horror movies are supposed to be made!
THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD) (1951)
I have always been a fan of the black and white movies from the 50’s portraying alien invasions and this one is my favorite. This film works on so many levels, even though the actual alien is tame by today’s standards. It is still a force to be reckoned with and the director did a beautiful job with this film, creating just enough tension at the right moments to allow this movie to still work 60 years later! I watch this movie at least twice a year and I now make it a Halloween tradition, thanks in part to it being shown on TV while Laurie Strode is babysitting in the 1978 John Carpenter classic HALLOWEEN.
TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015)
This is a fun movie for Halloween that features ten separate short stories all from top genre directors and are all Halloween-themed. Like most anthologies, each story varies in quality but this is one where each short film has something fun to offer. I would not recommend this for kids but it’s a great film to watch on Halloween night. The stories all take place in the same town and the stories interlock. Adrienne Barbeau is a radio DJ, heard in multiple entries, reprising her role from our next film.
THE FOG (1981)
Here is another fine example of John Carpenter at his best. Not only did he create a genuinely creepy movie but he also created one of the best horror movie soundtracks ever made. The whole concept of vengeful spirits in the fog is a simple one but it is beautifully portrayed here with a lot of atmosphere and suspense. The usual John Carpenter regulars are here too…Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes, Tom Atkins and of course Adrienne Barbeau. Other greats include Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh and John Houseman. For an even better experience watch this classic in the dark!
IDLE HANDS (1999)
This is one of those movies whose title can be deceiving, making you question whether it is worth watching or not. I can say that without a doubt it is worth seeing. It takes place at Halloween and is about the possessed hand of the main character. The hand likes to kill and prevent him from being able to get together with the girl of his dreams. He convinces his two friends, now zombies to help and parts of this movie are quite funny. The special effects are top notch and Seth Green is fantastic here, with a beer bottle embedded in his head.
SPACED INVADERS (1990)
This is another fun film that takes place on Halloween. Five aliens land on earth after picking up a broadcast of the original War of the World radio play. They want to join in the destruction but as they look for the actual battle, they have all kinds of misadventures throughout town. The special effects, especially with the aliens, are really good and stand up great so many years later.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
I suppose any one of Romero’s zombie epics would be great for viewing at this time of year but I have singled out the original for inclusion on this list. This movie is a classic and can be viewed by people of all ages (unless your version has the scene showing a woman’s bare breasts and rear end). This is the original zombie film and even today, so many years later, it is a lot of fun to watch. It is stylish, creepy and very realistic at times! The news reports, professionally done, just add to the realism of what these people are experiencing. For me, this is one of the most believable zombie movies ever made, taking nothing away from DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) or DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) and is a must see not only at Halloween, but any time of the year! Of course you could always watch all three entries and have an awesome Halloween night triple feature!
CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)
Five college students head to a cabin that is so secluded that contact to the outside world is non-existent. This Joss Whedon feature is about worldwide secret government agencies that sacrifice victims using different methods, based on their individual fears, to keep the world from going dark. This film is well-acted with great effects. It also features a pre-Thor appearance by Chris Hemsworth.
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)
This film is a classic that fits in perfect for late-night viewing. William Castle has created such a fun film starring one of the best, Vincent Price. He invites five people to stay the night in a mansion, that has a history of murder and ghosts. If they can stay the night, they will each get $10,000. The story is well-paced and is full of dark humor. A jump scare in this film is still one of the best ever put on film. I cannot recommend this classic enough!
THE MIDNIGHT HOUR (1985)
This hard to find TV movie is a must see at Halloween, especially for kids. I remember seeing this when it was originally broadcast on network television in 1985 and I was blown away by it. This fun movie is very well put together with some great monster makeups and an awesome soundtrack! The attractive cast includes Shari Belafonte, LeVar Burton and Deedee Pfeiffer (with cameos by Kevin McCarthy and Dick Van Patten). Wolfman Jack also appears on the often-listened-to radio playing all kinds of fun songs that have a Halloween feel. Why this isn’t shown every year I will never know. It is occasionally available for sale on DVD from Amazon.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004)
This film, though a horror comedy, is one of the best zombie films ever made. Shaun, played by Simon Pegg, is oblivious to the world around him, even the ever-growing zombie apocalypse. With his best friend Ed (Nick Frost) they try to survive with a few of their other films. The effects in this film are very well done and there are enough scares and laughs for everyone to enjoy. There are also so many references to George Romero’s original Living Dead Trilogy!
TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007)
This is the BEST Halloween movie to come out in a very long time and it still amazes me that it never got released in the theater. This is one of those rare gems that stands up to repeated viewings. The movie features multiple stories with different characters all taking place on Halloween night and they are all connected in one way or another. The character of Sam (as seen in the movie poster), though simple in design, is one of the scariest monsters ever created! He is genuinely creepy and absolutely brutal in his attacks. I do not recommend this movie for kids but hell, if you want to torture them with a scary film like this, who am I to judge?!?
A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993)
This film, by Tim Burton, is the perfect film for both Halloween and Christmas. Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, gets bored year after year of doing the same thing. He stumbles onto the doorway to Christmastown and falls in love with this holiday, wanting to make it his own. In doing so he almost wrecks Christmas so he must do everything he can to fix what he did. This is a film for all ages.
JOHN CARPENTER’S HALLOWEEN (1978)
What can I say about this classic that hasn’t already been covered? This is by far not only one of the best horror movies ever made but it is also the best movie to watch at Halloween time every year! What John Carpenter has done is create a masterpiece that doesn’t rely on blood and guts to get a reaction (in fact there is very little blood to be seen at all). What he does do is create suspense and tension that puts you in the movie with the characters…you feel their terror and experience their anxiety as if you are in the room with them. Though this movie was imitated many times in later years, no one has ever been able to duplicate what Carpenter has done here!
HOCUS POCUS (1993)
This is another fun film that takes place on Halloween. Three witches who were executed during the Salem witch trials are brought back to life in modern times after a teen uses a lit candle to bring them back. Not only are they looking for teens to eat, they have to deal with present times.
FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)
The 80s saw a resurgence of vampire films, the most popular of which are THE LOST BOYS and FRIGHT NIGHT. Both films are well known and despite THE LOST BOYS seeming to have more fans, I think FRIGHT NIGHT is the superior film. A teenager sees a new neighbor moving in, carrying a coffin. He surmises that he is a vampire and needs the help of his girlfriend Amy and best friend Ed, as well as washed-up vampire movie actor Peter Vincent, played by the ever-charming Roddy McDowall. The vampire Jerry Dandridge, played perfectly by Chris Sarandon, is one of the best vampires ever put on the big screen. There are little touches throughout the film that you will pick up with each additional viewing.
THE BLOB (1988)
Though the 1958 version of this film is fun, this remake takes the terror to a new level. The blob is actually a government experiment gone wrong. The creature is very convincing in most scenes and when it consumes someone, it is terrifying. The characters are very likeable and it’s interesting that people you think will be the hero, or make it to the end of the film, all get consumed, causing the blob to grow to gigantic proportions.
THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)
This whole film is based on the premise that the movie NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was based on true events. The living dead are being stored in cannisters in the basement and when a pair of workers from the Uneeda medical supply company accidentally releases one, a new zombie takeover begins. This film is the epitome of a horror-comedy and every attempt to eradicate the recently brought-back-to-life just makes things worse.
So there is my list. I am sure there are going to be plenty of you out there who would disagree with me for whatever reason. Just remember, this is my list and it is in no way set in stone that these are the only films you should watch at Halloween time. These are just the movies that I try to watch every October during the weeks leading up to Halloween. Yes, I left out many great films…this was not an easy list to compile to be honest…but it is MY list and I stick to it. Thanks for reading and Happy Halloween (cue John Carpenters “Halloween” theme here).
Don’t forget to check out the other entries in my BASEMENT’S HALLOWEEN HAVEN series.