The Best Halloween Movies (For All Sensibilities)

Halloween movies run a broad gamut, from sinfully smutty art-house fare to straight-up horror to some thoroughly entertaining family-friendly pictures. These lists appeal to all three of these genres. (To watch trailers and parts of the movies on YouTube, click the movie title).

Halloween Movies For The Whole Family

Hocus Pocus (1993)

Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker star as three 17th Century witches, resurrected by a skeptical teen and his sister (played by a young Thora Birch). Essentially one long chase movie, the three witches pursue the adolescents, hoping to steal their souls to obtain eternal life. It’s a fun game of cat and mouse, and the witches’ version of I Put A Spell On You is not to be missed.

Beetlejuice (1988)

This movie offers a unique twist on the afterlife, which is presented as a social welfare office. It’s a bit of a complex story: Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis play a recently deceased couple tasked with haunting the new residents of their house, played by Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones. Against the advice of their social worker, they recruit the titular “bio-exorcist,” played by an unrecognizable Michael Keaton. Instead of doing his job, he falls for a young Winona Ryder, playing O’Hara and Jones’ goth daughter. While the film’s grotesque imagery might not sit well with small children, it’s dementedly good fun.

Casper (1995)

Unlike the recent slew of CGI-laden adaptations of childhood cartoons for the big screen, this movie possesses a great deal of smart humor and a good sense of pathos. Themes of life, death, and the afterlife are hidden among jokes and sight gags that any child could appreciate, while offering entertainment to the adults in the audience.

Addams Family Values (1993)

The creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky family is at their best in this sequel to the 1991 film. The humor is dark and sarcastic, touching on the original television program’s off-beat but macabre roots, but completely suitable for children. Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams gets a substantial role in a subplot where the Addams children are shipped off to summer camp, and Christopher Lloyd is terrific as Uncle Fester, who falls head over heels in love with a serial killer played by Joan Cusack.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Tim Burton’s masterful stop-motion story is as much a part of Halloween as It’s A Wonderful Life is for Christmas, complete with a love story and musical numbers. The world of Halloween Town is a physical manifestation of the scary (but not too scary) imagery that makes Halloween a holiday centered on fun and fantasy. It’s a great adventure, unique and unequaled as a film celebrating Halloween.

Halloween Movies For Horror Fans

Saw (2004)

Forget the sequels, the seventh of which is coming out this weekend. It’s a brutally violent film, but it is jointly redeemed by some fantastic performances as well as a twisted sense of righteousness by the film’s antagonist, the Jigsaw Killer, played by Tobin Bell. Although the film had to be re-edited to avoid an NC-17 rating upon its initial release, Saw is available in all of its uncut – and gory – glory.

Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock is, without a doubt, the patron saint of horror and suspense. Partially inspired by the misdeeds of sadistic killer Ed Gein, it is a riveting murder mystery with a classic Hitchcockian twist ending. Anthony Perkins is fabulous as the unsettling Norman Bates, and the shower scene remains one of the most memorable onscreen murders in the history of cinema.

The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

After decades of sexploitation and splatter films on the grindhouse circuit, this movie singlehandedly rewrote the horror genre. Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is a tough, empowered heroine, a far cry from the damsel in distress trope that had populated most mainstream horror flicks. Both of the film’s antagonists – Sir Anthony Hopkins as the iconic Hannibal Lecter and Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill – are chilling, complex villains rather than faceless sociopaths like Jason from the Friday The 13th series or Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s a compelling, psychologically-engaging meditation on the nature of evil.

Audition (1999)

This film, disguised as a romantic movie in its first third, is one of the best representatives of Japanese horror. A middle-aged widower uses his producer friend to “audition” girls as a way of meeting women. The girl who “passes” the audition has some dark secrets, climaxing with a shocking end that caused its share of controversy. What makes the scene so shocking is its subdued presentation stylistically: no rapid cuts, no loud music, no devices used to make the audience jump in their seats. As a result, the audience squirms and cringes…but just can’t look away.

The Exorcist (1973)

It has inspired countless (read: awful) knock-offs both by way of sequels and any number of films with the word “exorcism” in its title, but make no mistake: the original still packs a terrifying punch. Linda Blair deserved an Oscar for her performance as the possessed Regan, and Jason Miller, as the troubled Father Karras, is simply incredible in what was his film debut.

Halloween Movies For The Adventurous

Invocation Of My Demon Brother (1969)

Avant-garde pioneer Kenneth Anger took the remnants of his incomplete film Lucifer Rising (which he eventually finished in 1980) and edited his footage into this eleven-minute short. It’s a wild juxtaposition of nightmarish tableaux, including footage of Anger conducting an occult ceremony, Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey as the Devil, clips from a 1969 Rolling Stones concert, military footage from Vietnam, and scenes of hippies smoking marijuana out of a skull. What is already a disturbing picture is given an even more sinister edge with the fact that Bobby Beausoleil, who plays Lucifer in the film, later gained infamy as a member of the Manson Family. Make sure the kids are out of the room for this one.

Andy Warhol’s Dracula (1974)

This isn’t a Warhol film, inasmuch as he financed it, with artistic cohort Paul Morrissey directing. Regardless, this version of the Dracula tale is dragged through the trashy aesthetics of underground cinema. In this movie, Dracula isn’t a power seducer in the vein of Bela Lugosi, but rather a weak and sickly figure, needing virginal blood to survive in what is a thinly-veiled allegory for drug addiction. There’s rampant nudity and sex throughout, offset by the cartoonish scenes where Dracula mistakenly preys upon non-virgins, which causes him to violently throw up. It has to be seen to be believed.

The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920)

One of the earliest horror films, Dr. Caligari is a visually impressive film, with its German Expressionist set design becoming increasingly warped as the story becomes more disturbing. The tale of the sleepwalking killer culminates in one of the first twist endings in cinema.

Nosferatu (1922)

The image of Max Schreck as the villainous Count Orlok, seen in silhouette, is one of the defining images of German Expressionist cinema. Director F.W. Murnau presents a marvelous horror story that gave us the first allegory of vampirism as a plague. It reshaped Dracula (as an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, the vampire is never referred to as such) from a distinguished figure to a nocturnal monster.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Undoubtedly the most popular midnight movie of all time, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a playful romp on classic horror films and the era that spawned them. It’s kinky and subversive, with a devoted fan base that epitomizes the phrase “cult following.” Catching a public screening of the film is a must, but be warned: hardcore fans throw toast and playing cards, shout insults at the screen, and shoot water pistols. It’s an experience in and of itself.

Alex DiBlasi is a musician pursuing a Master’s Degree in Musicology, specializing in rock and roll history at CUNY Brooklyn.

About Alex DiBlasi (72 Articles)
Alex DiBlasi is a writer and musician based out of Philadelphia. As a journalist, he has contributed articles for the Queens Courier, Long Island City magazine, the Journal of Rock Music Studies, and the American Music Review. As an academic, he has written about Frank Zappa, The Monkees, The Kinks, and the cinema of the Czech New Wave. He also previously taught literature at St. John’s University in Queens. His first book, an anthology of scholarly essays from all over the world on Geek Rock, co-edited with Dr. Victoria Willis, will be released in October 2014 by Scarecrow Press. Alex spent most of 2013 and part of 2014 on the road with his partner Alexa Altman, visiting each of the Lower 48 states as the basis for a book. Aside from his work in the arts, Alex also works with the Manhattan-based Sikh Coalition as an advocate for religious freedom.

1 Comment on The Best Halloween Movies (For All Sensibilities)

  1. Justine Garcia // November 3, 2010 at 9:16 pm //

    I think all of my favorites are in the family friendly category…even though I love my share of very scary movies!

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