I have a deep interest in film and television that borders on obsessive necessity and I observe culture as a hobby.
Every Halloween season, it seems like we get stuck watching the same films over and over again on television or in our own private collections. We typically marathon the films of our favorite serial killers or our favorite Stephen King miniseries. Even Harry Potter has become a tradition. However, there is nothing wrong with the Peanuts television specials. They are good for any season.
This list is meant to throw in a little variation to the regular rotation of flicks that pop up every October. Those go-to scary movies are deserving of a good rest from the regular programming. It's time to add in a few that have been overlooked or deserve more looks to the usual mix of Halloween favorites. With some totally creepy features, a few goofy comedies, some goodies for the kids, and throwbacks for those nostalgic for the past, the films here will feed all needs for the Halloween season.
Ten Films to Watch on Halloween
- The Uninvited
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show
- The Innocents
- Something Wicked This Way Comes
- Hocus Pocus
- Anything with Vincent Price
- Little Shop of Horrors
- Double, Double, Toil and Trouble
1. 'The Uninvited'
This story, based on the eerie novel of the same name by Dorothy Macardle, can be thought of as one of the most spine-tingling reads of the last century. The film adaptation presents a refreshing look back at suspense in a genre so overcome with blood and cheap scares. It stars Ray Milland, who is a great and underappreciated character actor and leading man, Ruth Hussey, and Gail Russell.
Here is a brief insight to the chilling explorations of the film's characters. While on vacation from the city, a brother and sister, Rick (Milland) and Pamela (Hussey), purchase an abandoned house on the seaside coast of England. Being a music critic, Rick's intent in purchasing the extended cottage is to find novel inspiration through the seemingly serene environment. He is unknowing that inspiration lies elsewhere in the village.The siblings purchase the house for a very near steal from the caretaker and owner of the home, Commander Beech, who is also in charge of his granddaughter, Stella (Russell). Stella has a connection to the home that awakens when the Fitzgerald's take up residence and the coastal town's buried secrets awaken dormant memories and wreak distress upon the new and old inhabitants.
2. 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show'
Ahhhh, yes. It is the classic love story of boy meets girl, boy asks girl to marry him, boy takes girl to an otherworldly cult in the middle of the woods. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) is the brainchild of Richard O'Brien, who began the story as a musical production in 1973. It follows Brad and Janet, two ordinary young adults in love. After becoming engaged, they drive into the stormy darkness to find their teacher, Dr. Scott, whose classroom they first met in. When Brad's car runs out of gas, the couple seeks safe shelter in a darkened castle. But once they knock on this door, there's no escaping the thrills and chills that will fulfill their deepest forbidden wills. The film is a cult classic from that slim rock-musical genre, narrated by a criminologist and full of exciting song and dance numbers—all inside an enchanted castle. It stars Susan Sarandon in an early role and Tim Curry as the beautiful Dr. Frank N. Furter—setting the tone for his acting career. This film will take you on a wild ride of musical dance and delight.
Here's a bonus recommendation. Follow it up with Shock Treatment (1981). It's the unofficial sequel to RHPS. It is a continuance for Richard O'Brien, who had many plans for the sequel. While the characters are new and the background has changed, it is still following Brad and Janet, just on a seemingly different planet. For some, it may be a bit out there, but the music is top quality. It's Halloween, so a film being out there is expected.
Clue (1985) is just like the board game! Except Tim Curry is in it, and the cast of characters are much funnier than the family and friends in your living room. The expected game pieces are present; Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, Mrs. Peacock, Ms. Scarlett, Mr. Green, and Mrs. White, as well as the Library, Kitchen, Billiard Room, and the rest. Throw in some blackmail and the FBI, and your night will be entertained beyond amusement. You may even watch it twice!
The film features an ensemble cast of overwhelming talent and enthusiasm for the plot. With the likes of Michael McKean (of Laverne and Shirley fame), Madeline Kahn (frequently providing laughs in Mel Brooks' films), Christopher Lloyd (we all remember Doc Brown, yes?), Martin Mull (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch), and, as mentioned above, the brilliant Tim Curry serving as the evenings host. This film is a presentation of prime thought and wit that is seldom seen in the comedic genre.
4. 'The Innocents'
It's The Sound of Music (1965), except it's in a haunted house and there is no cheerful singing. The Innocents (1961) is a ghost story set in the desolate English countryside. Miss Giddens, played by Deborah Kerr, is a new governess to two young children under the care of their uncle. Along with the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, Miss Giddens is in charge of the children and living in a house of seclusion and mystery. The children are strange and the surroundings do not help to ease the eeriness of the atmosphere. The remoteness delivers a strong sense of terror. It truly is the environment that acts as the evil and gives this film its creepy quality. It is a thoughtful and psychological horror. If you enjoyed The Others (2001), you'll find this a treasure from the past and relevant to the present.
5. 'Something Wicked This Way Comes'
As the visual outcome of a Ray Bradbury story, this film does well to emote the fear written in the original novel. This may be due to Bradbury also writing the screenplay. If he should be remembered for anything, it should be his ability to craft an interesting and original story. This film is no different. It focuses on two young boys who, upon a visit to a new carnival in town, are beckoned through a merry-go-round of nightmares. Jonathan Pryce plays the evil devil himself, Mr. Dark, who parades into town with his travelling carnival. He intends to steal the souls of the townsfolk and use them as his slaves.
Even as a PG-rated film produced by Disney, Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) does well as a horror film and provides plenty of darkness and doom to pleasantly pass a Halloween evening. It may be too scary for some younger children.
6. 'Hocus Pocus'
There has recently been a resurgence of love from nostalgic 20 and 30-somethings who enjoyed this spooky adventure as children. Hocus Pocus (1993) has been continuously left out of programming schedules in past years. This year, it has been shown multiple times on different networks so far, partly due to the popularity of all things 90s. This is the ultimate Halloween film from the 1990s.
Teenage virgin Max Denison accidentally brings the Sanderson Sisters, three witches from the 17th century, back from the depths of hell. With his sister, Dani, and crush, Allison, he has one night to return them to their ungodly graves before they curse the town and consume the souls of all the children in Salem so they can live forever. The Sanderson Sisters are the highlight of the film. Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker provide the laughter, spark, and charm that wins over the audience, regardless of their anti-human intentions.
The Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, creates fear in the unseen with his adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier novel, Rebecca (1940). You probably expected to see Psycho (1960) on a list of Halloween films, which is precisely why this film is appearing on the list instead. His direction of this story is a perfect example of Hitchcock's brilliance in mystery and suspense that can be shown only through film.
The film stars Laurence Olivier as the brooding widower Max de Winter and Joan Fontaine as the naïve second Mrs. de Winter. There is a mysterious death, a brand new bride, a faithful servant, and gossip galore. When a young woman (Fontaine) meets a wealthy, handsome man (Olivier) while working as a lady's travel companion, she falls immediately in love. They marry and move into the de Winter estate, Manderley. All is not well for the couple. Upon arriving home, the second Mrs de Winter is greeted with the shadowed memory of her predecessor. The beautiful Rebecca may have died in a boating accident, but she has not left Manderley and her presence plagues the household to no end.
8. Anything with Vincent Price
The films of this horror master delivers plenty of creeps. Throughout his career, Vincent Price delved into film, television, and theatre, but his art that impressed the most in pop culture are his horror films. He starred in House of Wax (1953), The Fly (1958), and House on Haunted Hill (1959). All should be on your viewing list in the month of October. In the 1960s, his films became even deeper and gorier when he embarked on adapting of the works of Edgar Allen Poe with horror king Roger Corman as the director. Check out Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Tales of Terror (1962), The Raven (1963), and Masque of the Red Death (1964). They bring across the fear and unease that Poe created when he wrote the stories. In addition to film, he took his creepy movie persona and portrayed multiple one-off characters in popular television series during the 1960s and 1970s such as The Brady Bunch, Get Smart, and The Bionic Woman.
9. 'Little Shop of Horrors'
For this viewing, go for the gold and watch both the 1960 original and the 1986 musical adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors. Beginning as a comedy horror film from the mind of Charles B. Griffith, it was directed by Roger Corman and featured Jack Nicholson. While the plots of both films tell the same tale, the 1986 version, directed by Frank Oz, adds songs by Disney's song geniuses, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. This version starred Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, and had a memorable cameo by Bill Murray.
This satire begins when Seymour (Moranis), a poor, lonely flower shop worker, finds an interesting plant in the market during a total eclipse of the sun. Seeing beauty in it, he names the plant Audrey II. Unbeknownst to him, his boss, and the fragile Audrey I, this plant is about to turn their Skid Row lives from dirt to green. As the plant grows, so does its desire for human flesh and blood. Between the gory quirks of Roger Corman and the cheesy theatrics of the music numbers, the Little Shop of Horrors double feature is a great fit for Halloween.
10. 'Double, Double, Toil and Trouble'
Double, Double, Toil and Trouble (1990) tells the exciting tale of twin sisters and their search for their family truth. When a secluded relative reappears in their lives, they discover a family history lost between generations. In addition to taking to task the good twin, bad twin concept, it is a simplified retelling of L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz. However, this is not a movie meant primarily for adult viewing. While it will supply nostalgic fun for certain millennials with a soft spot for Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen adventures, the story is also exciting for the new generation of youngsters trying to get into the Halloween spirit. Double, Double, Toil and Trouble has candy, pumpkins, magic, and witches . Plus, it stars a baby-faced Eric McCormack as the twins' father and the esteemed Cloris Leachman as Aunt Agatha and Aunt Sofia. Watch and reminisce, or let someone else experience it for the first time. You never know, this could be the stepping stone to a lifelong love of the horror genre.
Other Titles to Continue the Fun
The classic Universal monster films should be considered, such as Phantom of the Opera (1925), Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933) and Werewolf of London (1935). In addition to these, there are sequels, spin-offs, and crossovers to create an amazing night of movie marathoning.
After reaffirming the classics, try out the farcical side of the genre with Transylvania 6-5000 (1987), a comedic interpretation of the typical movie monster stories starring Jeff Goldblum.
You should also consider a night of Ed Wood films. Start with Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), Bride of the Monster (1955), and end with Night of the Ghouls (1959). The only scary part may be how bad they are. But with a group, you can have tons of Mystery Science Theatre-esque fun!
Luke Ellis from Nottingham on October 18, 2014:
Great list, made for an interesting read. Have you seen many foreign horror movies because there's some really terrifying ones out there. :)
Kelsey Thaves (author) from Twin Cities on October 13, 2014:
Robert, thank you for the comment! I definitely agree with the follow up of Tim Burton's Ed Wood film. It is a great look into the process of Edward D. Wood Jr.'s film making. And if I may say so, it's Tim Burton's best film. - I'm agreeing with goodmovies here! I like the Val Lewton movies, too!
The reason I didn't include any of the Hammer films is bluntly that I forgot them - which is unfortunate because EVERYBODY should be watching them around Halloween (or any other time.)
There are so many great classic horror films that get pushed to the back of the list. They should be shown in lieu of the current recycled films (at least for a year or two.)
Randy Ray from Texas on October 13, 2014:
I second the Ed Wood recommendation. That's probably Tim Burton's best film. (That or Edward Scissorhands.)
Robert Sacchi on October 12, 2014:
Thank you, a good list. I would suggest anyone who chooses the Ed Wood route should top it off with the 1994 movie Ed Wood. Any reason the Hammer films didn't make the cut?
bayarea from United States on October 11, 2014:
Great list you have here! I love Rebecca the most :)
Randy Ray from Texas on October 09, 2014:
Nice list. Any of Val Lewton's horror movies make for good watching, too--especially Cat People. Jacques Tourneur directed that one. I Walked with a Zombie is another great one from Lewton and Tourneur.