Sure, there are plenty of Christmas films, but Halloween is the only holiday that has an entire genre of movies associated with it. It offers horror buffs a new excuse to gorge themselves on scary movies for the entirety of October. Granted, only a few films actually revolve around the beloved holiday, but many more use their scares to reflect the spirit of Halloween. They embody the hybrid of fear, fun, and childlike discovery that makes the holiday popular even among adults far too old to go trick-or-treating anymore. Try watching these 10 horror-centric Halloween movies to truly put yourself in the right mindset for All Hallows’ Eve.
10. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
This Halloween film is typically overlooked because it doesn’t feature an appearance from the series’ masked slasher, Michael Myers, but it’s still enjoyable in its own right, particularly around this time of the year. The plot involves a conspiracy to sell killer Halloween masks and includes a number of genuinely scary scenes amidst lots of lovable, low-budget ’80s cheesiness.
Silly and scary go hand-in-hand around Halloween, and it’s hard to find a horror film any sillier than House, a colorful Japanese cult film concerning six schoolgirls who visit a haunted house that belongs to one of their aunts. As the film goes on, the house begins to devour the girls in increasingly bizarre ways, making for one of the most unexpected and deliriously off-the-wall viewing experiences one could ask for.
8. Tales of Halloween
Released in 2015, this anthology film is made up of 10 separate horror comedy shorts, each taking place in different parts of the same town on Halloween night. Even the lesser shorts achieve a rare balance between lighthearted fun and genuine horror. Highlights include an urban legend about copious candy consumption leading to cannibalism and a hilarious standoff between a slasher villain and the most adorable alien invader in film history.
It wouldn’t be Halloween without a good haunted house film, and Poltergeist is likely the most effective and iconic one ever released. The film recaptures the childlike feeling that something sinister is lurking in the shadows of one’s home, and then ratchets up the tension with one terrifying set piece after another — skeletons in the pool, a snowy television, and that damn clown doll that only seems to grow scarier with each revisit.
6. The Guest
Adam Wingard’s second feature, The Guest toes the line between horror and thriller for most of its runtime, until it reaches its stylishly thrilling climax set amidst all the ominous lights and artificial fog of a Halloween haunted house. The film maintains tension throughout thanks to an atmospheric synth score and a performance by Dan Stevens as the mysterious David, a horror villain that’s as terrifying as he is charismatic.
5. The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Nightmare Before Christmas begins with a defining moment in Halloween-centric cinema — the catchy, creepy triumph of a song called “This Is Halloween.” Most of the film’s plot revolves around the lovably weird residents of Halloweentown who are trying their hands at making Christmas. But the ghoulish setting makes The Nightmare Before Christmas ideal for October viewing, as does its central lesson that holidays should be kept separate. Halloween is completely different from Christmas, and that’s precisely the way it should be.
4. Trick ‘r Treat
Trick ‘r Treat was never given a proper theatrical release, but it found acclaim on home video for its five loosely-connected stories that take place on Halloween night. Each story is gruesome, yet goofy in much the same way childhood urban legends are. Trick ‘r Treat deserves a spot on this list if only for inventing a mascot worthy of Halloween in the masked trick-or-treater called Sam, who doesn’t take kindly to folks breaking holiday tradition.
3. Evil Dead 2
The first Evil Dead is a gritty, no-budget exercise in relentless horror, but its sequel injects a welcome dose of Looney Tunes-esque slapstick into the proceedings, and in doing so, creates a perfectly fitting Halloween film. The blood-soaked handmade effects and rubber-faced performance of blustery star, Bruce Campbell help sell both the humor and horror of a film that’s about little more than undead demons messing with the living any way they can.
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street
There’s no mention of Halloween in A Nightmare on Elm Street, but its villain Freddy Krueger ranks right up there with Sam from Trick ‘r Treat as the picture-perfect avatar for the holiday, thanks to his iconic costume and talent for hilariously macabre one-liners. The concept of a killer who stalks children in their dreams is pure genius, and Wes Craven executes every scene with a creativity that keeps viewers guessing what Freddy will do next.
Sometimes the easy pick is also the right one. John Carpenter’s Halloween inspired countless imitations that didn’t understand the simplicity that made the 1978 original so effectively terrifying. Michael Myers is a simple villain who’s scary because of his mysteriousness and his omnipotence. Wherever Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie goes, he follows, his imposing figure lurking ominously in the background, turning every suburban street into a terrifying place of impending horror — much like the titular holiday is supposed to do.
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