With Halloween on the horizon, now is a great time to grab your friends, break out the popcorn, and marathon some spooky movies. If you’re having trouble choosing something to watch, allow me to suggest some of my favourites:
If you’d rather watch a distinctly Halloween movie more than a straight horror film, most of Tim Burton’s offerings from the ’80s and ’90s are appropriate. Since The Nightmare Before Christmas is multi-holiday fare, I usually watch Beetlejuice around this time of year. Most people in my generation have already seen it (same goes for Hocus Pocus, another nostalgic Halloween classic), but if you haven’t and like your spooky movies a bit weird, this might be the film for you.
For genre nerds like me, American horror films from the ’30s and ’40s provide lots of options. The Frankenstein films are my favourite, boasting the best crop of sequels in the Universal Horror vault; you could have a “Frankenfest,” as my high school English teacher called it, and finish off with Mel Brooks’ classic Young Frankenstein, even funnier with the source material fresh in your mind. If you’ve already seen the major Universal films, you might like to check out some of the less famous options; The Black Cat, starring both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, is often called the first psychological horror film. There’s also Paramount’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for which Frederic March, playing the dual lead, won an Oscar. The John Barrymore take on Jekyll/Hyde is excellent as well, if you enjoy silent films.
If you prefer later films but still want something unlikely to give you nightmares, the oeuvre of Vincent Price is a Halloween goldmine. My favourite Price film is House on Haunted Hill, directed by gimmick master William Castle. It moves along at a good pace and has some genuinely startling moments for those of a jumpy disposition, but it’s goofy enough that it’s unlikely to seriously frighten. Price also did a number of films based loosely on Edgar Allan Poe with director Roger Corman, my favourite of which is easily The Raven. It can barely be called a horror film, as it’s quite intentionally funny, but it’s worth a watch during the spookiest time of year to see Price alongside other legends Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and young Jack Nicholson.
For genre-savvy fans of Shaun of the Dead or Cabin in the Woods, other genre-benders like Tucker and Dale vs Evil and John Dies at the End are good options. An American Werewolf in London blends moments of genuine horror with the humour of the guy responsible for Animal House. The Evil Dead series present a gradient of terror, with the first film trying at straight horror and Army of Darkness making very little attempt to be scary at all. If you can only watch one though, stay away from the remake and watch Evil Dead II, which succeeds admirably as a giddy gorefest. Other classics like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Poltergeist are good bloody fun and lend themselves well to group viewings.
For those who want something genuinely scary, recommendations are more difficult – we’re all scared by different things. Robert Wise’s The Haunting, while it came out in 1963, is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen; however, like The Exorcist, it’s a lot of dialogue interspersed with more sensational scenes. Both films reward attentive viewing and aren’t necessarily conducive to group showings. If you don’t mind subtitles, [REC] is an effective, claustrophobic horror film that revives the found-footage genre and should get some response from even the most hardened genre fan. The Descent is a horror/action film that also preys on our fears of being trapped in the dark, and shifting relationships between the protagonists add as much tension as the creatures lurking in the dark. James Wan is a good modern horror director, and his films like Insidious (fun but a bit goofy to be scary for me) and The Conjuring (which I loved) are worth a watch.
Many of these suggestions are stalwarts on lists like these, but we continue to recommend them for a reason. Halloween is associated with horror, but also having fun, so hopefully I’ve provided a few good options no matter where your tastes land.