These are my personal top 10 movies for Halloween. I’m a huge horror/sci-fi fan so in making my selections I had a pretty extensive movie catalog to narrow down, which took me the entire month of October. Going through all this cinema and observing how it effectively tracks the death of American “culture” and descent into a vacuous wasteland was a sobering experience, something worthy of future reflection in of itself. A few quick caveats on how I constructed this list:
1. This is not purely a top horror list, I included a couple non-horror titles because of their obvious Halloween appeal. For a top 10 of my all-time favorite horrors stay tuned.
2. I mostly stuck to a thematic formula that reflects the traditional monsters and myths of Halloween. My top 3 picks are vampires, zombies and witches in that order. I didn’t include pure sci-fi horror like Alien or the The Thing, expect those titles on my Ultimate Top 10 Horror list.
3. This is subjective and my personal tastes in film are on full display. You could easily make the argument for substituting any number of movies for picks on this list.
Away we go…
10. Nightmare Before Christmas
This was way too popular among nerdy college girls at one point in time, and it marks the first appearance of Chris Sarandon on my list. The Nightmare Before Christmas is like Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer for Halloween, it’s fun, a visual feast, downright funny, and packed with lots of memorable characters. It’s also very kid friendly and easily the least scary thing on this entire catalog of suggestions.
“THIS IS HALLOWEEN” is basically a Samhain Carol for me.
See also: “The Corpse Bride” for Burton’s take on this concept.
9. Sleepy Hollow
Sleepy Hollow is a comfy, enjoyable Halloween adaption of the Headless Horseman. It’s a competent, slick Tim Burton piece that doesn’t rank among his very best but more than gets the job done. Sleepy Hollow is my Halloween parallel to A Christmas Carol, Johnny Depp turns in a typically quirky performance that got more than a couple genuine laughs from me. Christopher Walken, Christopher Lee and Casper Van Dien make surprising appearances here, rounding out a strong cast.
For me, that flaming jack-o-lantern and the headless horsemen really set the mood for the Halloween season.
See also: “Beetlejuice” for a true Burton classic.
I asked my wife if she wanted to see this again with me and her response was “No, that movie is the goriest thing I’ve ever seen.” That’s really not an exaggeration, Hellraiser is fantastically gory in all kinds of disgusting body horror ways that have consistently grossed me out since I was a teenager. It’s probably Clive Barker’s best adaptation, and having read the Hellbound heart I can confidently say the film version is a more coherent rewrite. Claire Higgins really steals the show as the wicked step-mother descending into evil.
Like The Witch, Hellraiser works by centering supernatural horror on an intense family drama. It isn’t a slasher film about Pinhead hunting down victims, it’s a pretty gripping story about adultery and the predatory behavior of a sexual pervert who really does belong in Hell.
See also: “Nightbreed” is an underrated Barker film.
I rewatched Ghostbusters a few days ago and immediately put it on my list. Ghostbusters is an essential Halloween classic, like “Scrooged” for October. It’s just too good as a comedy; the chemistry and memorableness of the characters is legendary. This really isn’t a kids movie despite the PG rating and Bill Murray’s sleazy character is definitely aimed to amuse adult audiences. It’s endlessly quotable, the special effects are mostly awesome, and it’s basically a must-watch.
I saw the cartoon first, then the movie as a kid. I seem to remember being bored by it as a kid because it didn’t have enough Slimer.
See also: “Tucker and Dale Versus Evil” is the only thing that kinda comes to mind, but really nothing is like Ghostbusters.
6. From Beyond
As Jay from Red Letter Media would say, “Now this is my jam”. I watched this some time after Reanimator and I agree with the RLM crew that it’s a more polished, higher grade companion to that film. From Beyond is drenched in purple and pink colors, a real 80’s visual synthwave masterpiece of goopy practical effects and gross-out body horror. Jeffrey Combs is one of my favorite character actors, as you’d expect given the expansive number of roles he had on Star Trek. Barbara Crampton is doing Barbara Crampton stuff like frontal nudity but she does get a lot more of a leading role in this than in Reanimator.
From Beyond is definitely the most extreme of Stuart Gordon’s Lovecraft adaptations, bordering on Videodrome in terms of weirdness.
See also: “The Void“.
5. Event Horizon
This borders on a guilty pleasure, but ultimately it is a perfect “ghost ship in space movie” that ties neatly into the central premises of Doom and Warhammer 40K. It notably inspired Dead Space, which I consider the scariest video game ever made. Event Horizon has a strong cast, solid practical effects marred only by the occasional brush with 90’s CGI (Dead Space has better graphics) and boasts some amazing visuals. Laurence Fishburne is an all business ship captain and Sam Neill’s evolution over the course of the movie is one of his more memorable roles.
I first saw this while bedridden after a car crash in the early 2000s and it immediately cemented itself as a personal favorite of mine.
See also: “Pandorum“.
I motherfucking love this movie. This is one of my all-time favorites, and after agonizing over my last pick for this top 10 list I rewatched it. It is genre defying, I would call it a “reverse slasher movie”, but it incorporates enough obvious dreadful elements (The Black Skulls Cenobite biker gang), gory kills and hammers hard enough on the soundtrack to establish some genuine bona fides as a dark fantasy if not outright horror. This film is a visual acid-trip, literally any shot in the movie could be a bedroom poster. Sonically it’s the last work by the late Johann Johannsson and the soundtrack is employed with great skill to set individual mood pieces within the film. Nicholas Cage is skillfully channeled in the right direction here, going into a full-blown grief and rage stricken meltdown without compromising the overall integrity of the film with his typical scene-chewing antics. “Mandy” takes the viewer into an abstract world and pulls them through an emotionally resonate revenge story.
The director, Panos Cosmatos, absolutely hates hippie-dippie Boomer spiritualism and this is his second film to overtly feature a narcissistic Boomer ego-maniac as the villain. Jeremiah Sand literally believes the entire universe is just an extension of himself and descends into child-like rage when someone laughs at his shitty Boomer folk music wannabe routine.
3. The VVitch
Shifting gears completely, “The Witch” is a tense, chilling, “elevated horror” that represents the most serious entry on this entire list. It’s a methodical, carefully crafted, historically accurate period piece centering on family drama, crisis of faith, and primal fears of wild uncharted forests. Like a lot of good horrors, combining isolation and paranoia while an unseen evil stalks the central characters is a winning formula and The Witch executes it better than anything else to come out in decades.
We did a full review of this on the Poz Button.
See also: “Hereditary”
2. The Return of the Living Dead
Staying on the splatter-horror theme, The Return of the Living Dead is hands down the funniest and most stylistic of this type of horror. It easily beats out the entire Evil Dead trilogy by using the ridiculousness of the premise and the characters themselves to sell the comedy instead of just resorting to slapstick. James Karen, Clu Gulager, and Don Calfa turn in strong performances as different scenery chewing caricatures. James Karen in particular takes expository dialogue and turns it into an engaging and fun sequence that sets up the entire film. Like Fright Night, it’s driven by an excellent 1980s soundtrack and distinctive theme music.
There’s some rather interesting tongue-in-cheek satire on the Holocaust going on with Don Calfa’s Ernie Kaltenbrunner character incinerating zombie corpses and expressing his total disbelief that he could apply the same process to hundreds of bodies. I first saw this while spending a late October weekend at Kings Dominion amusement park and have loved it ever since.
See also: Over-the-top slapstick in “Evil Dead 2“.
1. Fright Night
Fright Night has really grown on me over the years. Chris Sarandon’s performance, the special effects make-up, and that killer score just barely nudge this one ahead of Near Dark and The Lost Boys in my book. Fright Night is the embodiment of a particular style of 1980s splatter horror that incorporates satire, comedy, and gruesome special effects to create a sort of comic book like entertainment. The protagonist watching a monster movie marathon featuring a Peter Vincent stand-in gives this an instant Halloween appeal, and the film itself neatly escalates into a total special effects masterpiece with a satisfying destruction of a vampire monstrosity by spectral green fire.
Just listen to “Come to Me” and you’ll see the appeal immediately.
See also: Bill Paxton chewing scenery in “Near Dark“.