Halloween is my favourite holiday. It’s the perfect time of year to get creative and come up with a scary, sexy or sickening outfit, and force yourself into all sorts of terrifying and surreal scenarios. Unfortunately, Halloween is grossly underappreciated and under-celebrated in England (at least that’s the conclusion I’ve come to). If you’ve had fun celebrating the pre-Halloween weekend, but want to spend the Monday holed up watching some tried and tested DVD’s, here are 40 film suggestions.
If you’re like me, you will just want to watch movies that will scare the bejesus out of you, but I’ve also included some movies that capture the enchanting and magical spirit of this holiday.
1. Hocus Pocus
Before Sarah Jessica Parker was Carrie in Sex and the City, she was a Sanderson sister in Hocus Pocus. Three witches, hanged to death in Salem, Massachusetts, return on Halloween (of course) when a virgin lights a black candle. Their motivation? Eternal Youth and beauty. The sisters plan to absorb the life from the town’s children and live eternally. Two teenagers, Max and Allison (and Max’s Halloween mad sister Dani) assisted by immortal cat Thackery Binx are tasked with the not so easy mission of ensuring that the sisters do not get there way. This is the perfect Halloween family film combining humour and fantasy, but managing to be just spooky enough to give children their first taste of what the Halloween season is all about.
2. The Saw Series
As a diehard Saw fan, there is no way that I could exclude this series from my list. Saw has been, in my view unfairly, labelled a lot of things; torture porn, all style and no substance, just a sequence of gory and gruesome traps, but there is actually a lot of intelligence and forethought in this series. It has to be said that the sequels grow progressively worse, so if you only have the patience for one Saw film, make it the first, a truly innovative and suspenseful movie that plummets the viewer into a sense of claustrophobia and immediacy in this race against the clock game for survival. 20th century horrors tend to be pretty predictable, but the end will leave you genuinely surprised.
I’ve already written a lengthy review on Clive Barkers Hellraiser but this film is worth seeing. As a huge horror film fan, there’s nothing I’ve ever seen quite like it since. Hellraiser tells the story of Frank, a man magnetically drawn to the pursuit of pleasure, who solves a puzzle box that plummets him straight into hell. He is brought back to life by his brothers’ blood and relies on his brother’s wife, Julia, to provide him with the bodies that will replenish him. Unfortunately for Frank, the Cenobites of the puzzle box do not take kindly to people escaping them. Hellraiser is essentially a family drama with all the ingredients of a Greek tragedy or Shakespearian adventure, which manages to bring down on its own head the wrath of all hell.
4. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Capturing everything that is camp, kitsch and comedic about Halloween, the RHPC has been a Halloween staple for many years. A freshly engaged couple’s car breaks down and they find themselves having to seek help at the house of Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Everything else that happens after that pretty much makes no sense...or about as much sense as Alice and Wonderland, but its deliciously nonsensical and you will either love or hate the musical numbers that are rattled out at every opportunity.
5. The Shining
Everyone has heard of the Shining, even if you’ve never seen it, and if you haven’t, Halloween is the perfect opportunity to witness how Stanley Kubrick brought Steven King’s novel to life. Jack Torrance takes a job as a caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, bringing with him his wife Wendy and son Danny. It is thought that the isolation of their surroundings will encourage Jack to write, but the Overlook hotel houses dark secrets and seems to bring out the worst in Jack. As winter sets in, the family find themselves trapped and Jack slowly begins to lose his mind.
Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are two cops searching for a serial killer who tortures and mutilates his victims according to the seven deadly sins. This is a clever and crafty movie, deeply unsettling and with a real modern day grim gothic atmosphere.
Who can forget the story of a paranormal expert and his weary daughter Kat as they move into Whipstaff Manor and find it to be populated with three rather obnoxious ghosts, Stinky, Stretch and Fatso – and finally Casper ‘the friendly ghost’. This is family fun at its finest, spooky, spell binding but also sad.
Tim Burton has always brought something cartoonish and whacky even to his attempts at ‘horror’ and Beetlejuice is no exception. Recently deceased ghosts Adam and Barbara call upon the insane Beetlejuice to help them remove the human inhabitants from their home as soon as they realise that the cynical former city slickers aren’t quite attuned to the paranormal. Beetlejuice is a strange and surreal film (wait until you get to the dinner table scene) with a uniquely spooky style.
9. The Witches
If you’ve ever devoured Roald Dahl’s books as a child, you will love this interpretation of ‘The Witches’. Following the unforeseen death of his parents, Luke and his grandmother stay at an English hotel, which just so happens to be holding the annual Witches Convention, where the Grand High Witch reveals her plans to transform all of earths children into mice. This film really captures the spirit of magic and adventure through a child’s eyes and is perfect for actual children and adult children alike.
10. The Nightmare Before Christmas
I never know whether to class this film as a perfect Halloween or Christmas movie but it is essentially a blend between the two. Jack Skellington who lives in a world of eternal Halloween stumbles across Christmas and develops a fixation with it. He attempts to bring Christmas to Halloweentown but the concept falls a little flat. The visuals of this movie are sumptuous, the songs infectious and the characters bizarre and engaging.
For something a little more morose, you might want to check out Lars Von Triers Antichrist. This is not the typical horror slasher movie; it’s far more psychological and demands a little more patience. A couple in mourning after the death of their only son retreat to their cabin in the woods to be close to the natural world and make peace with their circumstances but the infectious and evil state of the natural world begins to ingratiate itself into their existence.
12. The Cell
The odd casting choices of Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn are soon forgotten once the Cell gets going. An FBI agent lets herself lose into the head of a comatose serial killer in order to extract the whereabouts of his latest victim. The serial killers mind opens itself up as a Kingdom of twisted insanity. This is another ‘Alice down the rabbit hole’ saga where all is not what it seems. The dreamy, surreal quality of his nightmarish thoughts and the real time horror of the kidnap victim whiling away time in her prison mix perfectly to create a truly memorable movie.
13. The Lost Boys
Michael and Sam move with their mother to a new town in California but begin to realise that the place is populated with teenage vampires. This film is super stylish, invigorating and pretty damn cool and should be one of the first you watch before you let the night degenerate with the more sick and freaky choices open to you.
Another Clive Barker offering, Candyman tells the story of Helen Lyle, who is completing a thesis on the urban legend of ‘the Candyman’, seemingly a creation of the poor citizens who dwell in the projects as an explanation for the inexplicable instances of violence that crop up repeatedly in their day to day life’s. The more engaged Helen becomes with her project, the more intertwined her and Candyman become.
15. Addams Family Values
Who can think of Halloween without fondly remembering the Addams family? There are lots of films to choose from but my personal favourite is the one listed, in which the family attempt to rescue a besotted Uncle Fester from the clutches of the beautiful but money grabbing Debbie.
Scream – subversive, satirical and god damn scary. Drew Barrymore falls victim to the ghost face killer and soon the entire town of Woodsboro is on lockdown in case the killer comes for them next, so what do they do? Throw a party of course. Scream sends up everything that is stereotypical and stagnant about the horror movie genre but still manages to be surprising and sensational. None of the subsequent Screams seems to capture the astuteness of the first, and Neve Campbell as Sidney, might just be the most likeable horror protagonist ever.
17. The Craft
The Craft ever so slightly reminds me of Heathers. It’s the story of new girl Sarah who makes friends with a trio of high school outcasts. The girls each have their own personal problems to deal with and turn to witchcraft to find the solutions. What begins as harmless fun naturally takes on a darker significance, particularly in the hands of the damaged and disturbed Nancy who seeks not only retribution for those who have committed wrong doings against her, but absolute power.
18. The Exorcist
The Exorcist is one of the most well known horror movies and tells the story of Regan, a young girl who is possessed by a demon. Her mother desperately calls upon the assistance of the exorcist to cast out the demon who has transformed her from a sunny girl into a bad mouthed contortionist. Although many of the scenes look dated now, there is still a very creepy vibe to the Exorcist and it is well worth watching.
19. A Nightmare on Elm Street
Freddy Krueger is one of horrors most iconic movie villains – a fearless wiseass who in life murdered children and was in turn murdered by a lynch mob of furious and vengeful parents. Freddy finds revenge though, by attacking the children of his condemners in their most vulnerable state – in their dreams. A Nightmare on Elm Street has since spawned an endless array of sequels but the first conjures perfectly feelings of helplessness and will make you terrified of going to sleep!
Everyone’s heard of Psycho, most media studies students have dissected it and a helluva lot of TV shows have referenced it. Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ is a hybrid movie that eventually settles on horror and takes some ambitious and quite unique risks in its telling of the tale. Norman Bates is the motel owner who can’t quite cut the umbilical cord with mummy, with terrifying consequences.
21. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Another Tim Burton film makes the list, this time with Sweeney Todd – the terrifying tale of a man who loses his wife and child and is locked away for a crime he did not commit. Upon his release, twisted, tarnished and tortured by thoughts of revenge, he sets up his own barbershop and seeks to turn the tables on the Judge who took everything from him. Sweeney is so caught up in his own victimhood that he doesn’t even realise until it’s too late that he has become the antagonist of this unsettling but beautifully told tale. A dark musical, perfectly casted and highly memorable.
22. The Midnight Meat Train
Another film taken directly from the mind of Clive Barker, The Midnight Meat Train is a movie myself and a friend stumbled in to when nothing else was on, but we were pleasantly surprised. A photographer stumbles upon an unpleasant secret as he takes the last train home and witnesses the same man murdering passengers night after night. A thrilling conspiracy movie that gets slightly silly towards the end but is still mighty enjoyable.
Another Clive Barker movie here (can you tell I have a thing for his stuff?). Every student wants to come up with a unique idea for a thesis – the students of Dread are no different. They decide to start researching peoples deepest darkest fears but one of the group attempts to take the experiments even further. This is a pretty disturbing movie that left me feeling pretty mortified afterwards – just right for Halloween you might say.
Getting trapped in a lift is bad enough but for this unlucky bunch, things get a whole lot worse once they realise that the devil is amongst them. Supposedly, the devil wanders the earth and now and again enjoys masquerading in human form in order to punish damned souls before he claims them. This movie was not particularly popular and received a lot of bad press, but it’s a simple and effective tale. It’s also quite fun trying to guess which of the trapped group might be housing Satan himself.
25. The Blaire Witch Project
Three amateur film makers head out to make a documentary about the legend of the Blaire Witch. Armed with cameras and camping out, things begin to get stranger and scarier until the group are finally separated. The style of filming gives this film a very authentic, genuine feel but it is best watched in the early hours of the morning in an unlit room with your head gingerly poking out over the covers if you want to grasp the full effects.
Orphan is another movie which offers up a pretty ingenious twist. Esther is adopted by a husband and wife desperate for another child. At first, she is the picture perfect kid; polite, slightly eccentric, artistic and charming, but Esther has an odd and shocking secret. If you didn’t have a chance to catch this movie upon its first release – now is the time!
Straight from the mind of Stephen King, IT is possibly the first story to introduce us to the concept of the creepy clown. Pennywise is a demonic child killer who plagues the life’s of the ‘loser club’ first in their childhoods and secondly as adults. This is half a coming of age tale and half a horror but it is pretty enjoyable to see where this one is going to go, and many scenes are genuinely unsettling, particularly when framed against the backdrop of the bonds of the children (excellent casting ensures that the friendships are believable which only adds gravitas to the story).
28. The Human Centipede (First Sequence)
Much has been said about Tom Six’s Human Centipede – a lot of it derogatory. A mad scientist decides to create for himself the perfect pet, by connecting three strangers in order to make himself a human centipede. This film is every bit as bizarre and as bad taste as it sounds but true horror is surely supposed to present us with ideas that are completely distasteful and that is what Tom Six manages to do.
29. Let the Right One In
The Swedish story of Oscar, the young boy who befriends a vampire, this is a bittersweet love story, as much as it is a horror, and is definitely worth a look before you check out the American remake.
Before Peter Jackson blew up as a big name when he directed the LOTR series, he liked to make low budget horrors like Braindead. A comedy horror, Lionel is a mummy’s boy and so when she turns into a zombie, he does his best to ensure its kept quiet, but unfortunately an epidemic of sorts causes things to get out of hand. This is a really funny movie (but also pretty gross).
31. Funny Games
Funny Games is quite frankly, a weird film that tips all of your horror/thriller expectations on their head. Nothing much happens, and yet everything happens. Two eccentric young men, very much the tweedle dee and tweedle dum of horror, take a family hostage and torment them for 24 hour duration with no motivation and no purpose. This film shatters all of horrors conventions but won’t be to everyone’s tastes.
32. The Descent
All good horror movies manage to evoke a physical reaction. The Descent manages to rouse feelings of claustrophobia, distress and real panic, as a caving expedition goes wrong in every way imaginable. You would think the idea of being stuck in an underground labyrinth of caves would be terrifying enough, but the party is also being stalked by a bizarre breed of predators. This is a film that offers little to no relief and is a truly harrowing venture into madness.
33. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
For me, this is one of the best as it truly captures blind terror and sheer panic, as well as genuine madness. It’s got all the hallmarks of the typical horror story, but being one of the first, this effort feels sincere and innovative. A group of friends on a road trip to the Deep South end up meeting a family of psychotic cannibals who send them on a torturous journey into the heart of insanity. There is something truly maniacal and atmospheric and Sally’s screams will still be ringing in your ears long after the films finish.
34. Perfect Blue
Who’d have thought anime could be scary? Mima is a successful singer with a legion of devoted fans. When she tries to cross over into the world of acting, she begins to experience the darker side of fame as reality and delusion, sense and paranoia begin to mingle together. You have to be paying attention to make sense of how this one ends.
One of the more recent films to make my list, Insidious comes to us from the makers of Saw. My theatre was littered with jittery, hyped up kids, who fell deathly silent when the film delivered its first shock. This is an old haunted house horror that concentrates the very best of its type with new and unique thrills, jumps and twists. Count the number of times this movie makes you jump!
Carrie is a social outcast, bullied and belittled both at school and by her fanatically religious mother. Carrie soon finds that she has a talent for telekinesis which is awoken when she begins her menstrual cycle. One cruel blow from a classmate is all it takes to tip Carrie over the edge. This campy, comical film delivers something pretty special.
37. Scary Movie
If you’re not a big fan of being scared, but don’t really want to miss out on the spirit of the season, then check out Scary Movie. It will pay homage to all your favourite scary movies by sending them up outrageously. Scary Movie focuses on satirizing Scream, which ironically satirized everything else. Scary Movie 2 is also well worth a watch, but everything past that begins to lose its way.
38. Interview with the Vampire
Lestat is a vampire who, desperate for a companion, transforms Louis into one as well. Louis doesn’t take well to vampirism and feeds on a young girl named Claudia, who is in turn bestowed with the dark gift. The three form a happy family of sorts until Louis and Claudia grow to despise living with the cruel and calculated bully that is their maker and seek to escape him, but as they uncover a coven of vampires posing as actors posing as vampires, they realise that even the eternally immortal cannot outrun their pasts.
39. Switchblade Romance
The French do horror well and Switchblade Romance is no exception. Marie and Alexa visit Alexa’s rural home but the illusion of peace and serenity is shattered when a killer, seemingly without provocation, begins to decimate their serene escape. This movie offers up a really unexpected twist and will leave your nerves jangling along the way.
This film, as the title suggests, was made for Halloween consumption. An institutionalised killer is on the loose just in time for Halloween and he has his sights set on the neighbourhood of Haddonfield. This film secured Jamie Leigh Curtis' prized place as a 'Scream Queen'.
What movies would you suggest for Halloween?