Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays; an excuse to eat candy, wear costumes, and try to scare myself silly and rather than restrict it to one night, I prefer to celebrate all month long, with foods, wine from the Vampire vineyards, (yes that’s a real thing,) books, parties, and of course movies. From family friendly, to haunting thriller, to outright gory here are some of my favorite Halloween flicks for your binge watching pleasure; one for every night of October!
(Note these films are listed in chronological order for the sake of clarity. You can watch them-or not-whenever you choose. Nor is this by any means a comprehensive list so don’t get angry if your favorite isn’t included.)
1. Nosferatu (1922) Murnau’s black and white silent classic still holds up today as not just a great vampire movie but a great movie period with Max Shreck’s legendary performance in the title role. You can do this one as a double feature with Shadow of the Vampire (2000) that netted Willem Defoe an Academy Award Nomination. Or you can check out AFI’s perennial live screening of Nosferatu to musical accompaniment-a great D.C. Halloween tradition!
2. Psycho (1960) Accept no substitutes (or inferior remakes.) Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh become one of the most memorable screen pairings of all time in Hitchcock’s instant masterpiece that has also become the inspiration for the current ongoing TV series Bates Motel.
3. The Birds (1963) Another instant classic by Hitchcock, Tippi Hedren’s screen debut ensured you could never help but feel nervous anytime you saw a gathering of crows.
4. Night of the Living Dead (1968) Sure everybody does zombies now but really it all began with George Romero’s seminal groundbreaking work that was the first to truly understand how humans have to fear each other just as much as the Undead. And no I’m not just partial being from Pittsburgh though, of course that helps.
5. The Wicker Man (1973) Don’t touch the remake but go straight for this classic from the United Kingdom, where a police sergeant (Edward Woodward) is sent to a remote Scottish village to investigate a child’s disappearance and is shocked by the island’s pagan practices led by the charismatic Lord Summerisle (a young Christopher Lee). That’s right-young Christopher Lee! Need I say more?
6. Soylent Green (1973) Granted you know the ending. Still this feature starring Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson, and Leigh Taylor-Young remains one of the most well known sci-fi films of the 20th century for a reason and its depiction of an hot and horrifically over-crowded planet seems ever more topical today.
7. Young Frankenstein (1974) Mel Brooks in his best years directed national treasure Gene Wilder in this comedy about you know who’s grandson who’s spent years trying to live down his family’s reputation suddenly inheriting the estate and recommencing with his grandfather’s experiments. Besides Wilder’s wonderful performance and some truly hysterical humor, you also get the great song and dance number “Putting on the Ritz!”
8. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) This comedic camp musical, began the careers of Susan Sarandon and Tim Curry, conquered the world for Drag, and has become one of the longest running cult phenomenon of all time to the point where it’s a rite of passage, (particularly in the District) to attend a live showing and sing-along to such favorites as “There’s a Light,” “Let’s do the Time Warp Again,” and “Creature of the Night.”
9. Suspiria (1977) Dario Argento’s gory masterpiece about a ballet student who comes to realize there’s more to her dance academy than meets the eye as a series of gruesome murders takes place. It’s frenetic energy and bright candy colors made it an instant stand-out.
10. Halloween (1978) No such list could be complete without Jamie Lee Curtis’s introduction as cinema’s scream queen and John Carpenter’s most enduring and beloved work. With its literally killer opening and cliffhanger ending the Real Michael Myers (the less said about the Rob Zombie version the better), with his Shatner mask and penchant for sharp instruments became an indelible cultural boogeyman and part of the cultural landscape forever.
11. An American Werewolf in London (1981) This tale of two American backpackers who meet are attacked by a werewolf one night became an instant classic. With its well-crafted characters, groundbreaking make-up effects for the wolf transformations, and the best use of “Bad Moon Rising” in a movie now and forevermore, it is indeed a howling good time. Sorry!!! Sorry!!!. (Dodging tomatoes.)
12. Evil Dead (1981) This delightfully gory and depraved cult classic about five friends who unknowingly awaken flesh possessing demons during a wilderness retreat not only kicked off Bruce Campbell’s career thanks to his turn as the cowardly Ash one of the most improbable and unforgettable characters in sci-fi history but was also what first got people talking about its director Sam Raimi. Perhaps you’ve heard of him?!? With its memorable mix of horror and black humor Evil Dead completely redefined the genre.
13. The Hunger (1983) Forget Twilight, True Blood, or even The Vampire Diaries; bloodsuckers were never more gorgeous or sexy as they were here played by David Bowie, Catherine Denueve, and Susan Sarandon in this light on plot, but heavy on style romantic horror fantasy directed by Tony Scott.
14. The Monster Squad (1987) In this family friendly 80’s classic, a band of neighborhood kids team up to defeat the forces of Darkness led by Count Dracula himself from taking over the world! One of writer/director Shane Black’s earliest efforts, besides the Count we get Fish Man monsters, the Wolf Man, a Mummy, Frankenstein not to mention the late great character actor Leonard Cimino in an unforgettable turn as Scary German Guy.
15. Beetlejuice (1988) In this early Burton flick we get the novel approach of a haunted house story-from the perspective of the ghosts. While Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis give nice turns as the lovely young couple who perish only to see their home invaded by obnoxious living souls from New York, really it’s all about Winona Ryder’s Lydia and Michael Keaton hamming it up in the titular role-as well as Burton’s truly original take on the Nether-world.
16. The Witches (1990) Adapted from Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel. A young orphaned boy living with his grandmother stumbles onto a convention of witches led by the Grand High Witch, (national treasure Anjelica Huston) plotting to destroy the world’s children, and our brave young hero must somehow defeat them despite being turned into a mouse.
17. Tremors (1990) A young Kevin Bacon’s performance anchored this creature feature about a small desert town’s inhabitants trying to defend themselves against mysterious underground monsters.
18. Candyman (1992) Adapted from Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” a graduate student completing a thesis on urban legends encounters the legend of “Candyman”an artist and slave who was murdered and had his hand replaced by a hook. Tony Todd gave an outstanding performance in the title role that made him an instant cult figure but Virgina Madsen is also excellent as heroine Helen as her character’s arc is not only horrifying but strangely moving as well. It’s a film that haunts you not long after the closing credits.
19. The Crow (1994) Besides being known as where Brandon Lee met his tragic, untimely death, this graphic novel adaption about a brutally murdered man coming back from the dead to seek vengeance on Devil’s Night in Detroit, (rendered as a dark nightmare landscape) has a gothic beauty and haunting style all its own-while being at its heart essentially a love story.
20. Ringu (1998) No offense to the American remake which also has its charms but the original Japanese telling of a mysterious video that kills whoever views it is still the superior one with its sense of an otherworldly horror that lies just beyond human understanding, and an ending with chilling implications for the future.
21. Sleepy Hollow (1999) Not to be confused with the current tv show this feature film directed by Tim Burton (before he went stale), stars Johnny Depp (before he went downhill too), as Ichabod Crane investigating a series of beheadings in upstate New York in the 18th Century. Wonderfully spooky, melodramatic, moody, and enchanting all at once it also starred Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Caspar Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, and with memorable cameos by Christopher Lee AND Christopher Walken!
22. Cherry Falls (2000) In this deliciously subversive, (and sadly underseen) slasher fest a serial killer appears to be targeting virgins which sends the town’s teenagers into hormonal overdrive to organize a massive deflowering. In the meantime the local Sheriff’s daughter (Brittany Murphy) begins an investigation into the town’s dark secrets that might hold the key to the present killings. Things are further complicated by the fact that her alcoholic mother is flirting with her boyfriend and her father seems a mite too possessive of her.
23. Ginger Snaps (2000) Outcast goth sisters Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger’s (Kathryn Isabelle) strong fraternal bond is tested when Ginger undergoes a strange transformation after an animal attack. A truly clever and inventive take on werewolves and the relationship dynamic between the sisters is fascinating.
24. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) The Kings of Claymation Steve Box and Nick Park kindly provided us with this full length Wallace and Gromit feature where a small rural village’s vegetables are ravaged by a horrible bunny-beast! During the course of it’s 80 minute run-time you get a fantastic parody of monster films, an English comedy of manners, and a tribute to King Kong as well. Featuring Wallace and Gromit’s trademark humor, visually stunning, and with vocal performances by Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter this one’s a delight for kids of all ages.
25. The Descent (2005) A all women’s group of adventure enthusiasts go on a caving expedition including Sarah (a revelatory performance by Shauna MacDonald) who recently lost her husband and child, her best friend Beth, and mutual friend Juno who leads the crew. Their caving expedition goes horrifically wrong as they become trapped and pursued by strange predatory creatures. Besides delivering the grisly goods, The Descent, offers a truly outstanding array of strong female characters, whose relationships with each other including secrets and betrayals become the true dramatic focus of the movie.
26. Slither (2006) This under-seen little gem about a small town taken over by an alien plague that turns the infected into grotesque mutated monsters was written and directed by James Gunn currently the toast of Hollywood for co-writing and directing Guardians of the Galaxy. You could see his off-ball sense of wit and visual flair though in his earlier gross-out effort starring Elizabeth Banks, Nathan Fillion, and the great character Michael Rooker whom you probably know as Yondu from Guardians of the Galaxy.
27. Monster House (2006) In this animated feature, one Halloween night three teens discover that the spooky house next door is in fact an living, breathing, scary monster that literally eats people alive. Utterly original and beautiful to look upon it joins the pantheon of great family friendly Halloween features.
28. 28 Days Later (2007) This low budget gem from legendary director Danny Boyle starring Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, and Naomie Harris helped breath new life into the zombie genre. As haunting as it was watching our main hero Jim wander the empty streets of London the movie’s real terror and power comes from its depiction of the human dynamics in the face of the apocalypse. Some like Frank and Hannah can find beauty and meaning even in the worst of times while others inevitably fall into eternal darkness.
29. Trick R’ Treat (2007) Four interwoven tales of horror all taking place on Halloween night in the same small town; a high school principal who really is evil, a virgin being stalked by a mysterious stranger, a Halloween hater ‘s worst fears come true, and a group of tweens commit a vicious prank and pay a high price. All of these stories come together nicely for some rated R fun!
30. Coraline (2009) Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s children’s book of the same name, this hauntingly beautiful and creepily enchanting animated film features a brave young girl who ventures into what appears to be an ideal fairy land that holds some truly dark secrets. Voices by Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, and Keith David.
31. ParaNorman (2012) You can check out my full review for this animated treat but to summarize a misfit boy gifted/cursed with the ability to commune with the dead has to save his town from an ancient curse. Funny, spooky, visually striking, and surprisingly moving all at once.