It’s everybody’s favorite time of the year; Halloween, the season where everyone’s entitled to one good scare. Below is a list of some of the most essential celluloid scare-flicks that cinema has to offer. Beware though, this is not a list of the greatest horror films ever made but rather a guide to get you in the mood for Halloween. I picked the lucky number 13 and chose the films that I feel best invoke the true spirit of All Hallows Eve so sit back, cuddle up, get some popcorn (and a few beers) and enjoy these nightly terrors. Oh, and have a happy Halloween!
13. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983, Dir: Jack Clayton).
OK, so this is a children’s film from Disney but hear me out… This twisted little tale is adapted from the Ray Bradbury classic of the same name and tells the story of two little boys who are confronted with evil itself in the form of a strange and dark travelling carnival. Set in October, Something Wicked is full of gorgeous autumn imagery and feels so right for Halloween viewing. Although this on is suitable for kids, it has some truly chilling moments – watch out for the room-full-of-tarantulas scene!
12. The Amityville Horror (1979, Dir: Stuart Rosenberg).
“For God’s Sake Get Out!” exclaims the poster for this classic 70’s scare machine. James Brolin (father of Josh Brolin), Margot Kidder (Black Christmas) and Rod Steiger star in this creepy chiller about a family who move into a house with an extremely violent past and that appears to “have memories.” If you think you know the trends of the haunted house movie it’s because Amityville got there first. Be prepared for some of the best jump-scares in horror history! Amityville is set in the autumn too so although it has nothing to do with Halloween, it will certainly get you in the mood.
11. Silver Bullet (1985, Dir: Daniel Attias).
An adaptation from the Stephen King cannon, Silver Bullet is about a boy who is determined to prove that a werewolf is causing the grisly murders in his hometown and armed with a high-speed motor wheelchair he sets out to do battle with the howling fiend. This one is great fun and stars The Lost Boys’ Corey Haim and Twin Peaks’ Everett McGill.
10. May (2002, Dir: Lucky McKee).
This is a much underrated little independent gem and concerns a girl called May who is trying to piece together her life after a traumatizing childhood. Poor May just wants to interact and connect with those around her but her method of making friends soon becomes deadly and violent. This is as emotional as it is horrific and with noticeable nods to directors such as Dario Argento, it really packs a punch in the final 10 minutes. There is a great climax on Halloween night too! If you like this then check out McKee’s other films The Woods and The Woman, highly recommended!
9. The Blair Witch Project (1999, Dir: Daniel Myrik and Eduardo Sanchez).
This film needs no introduction – the film that defined (but didn’t start) the found footage sub-genre revolves around 3 student filmmakers who venture into the woods to shoot a documentary about the local legend of the Blair Witch. With each night something sinister tampers with their gear, makes strange noises in the woods around them and leaves piles of rocks outside their tents. Is it a person warding them off? Is it a rabid animal? Or is it the Blair Witch herself? You’ll just have to watch it to find out but be prepared for a white knuckle ride all the way to the nerve-shattering finale. This one is genuinely creepy, I strongly advise you watch this in the dark.
8. Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981, Dir: Frank De Felitta).
An angry mob hunt down a mentally challenged man named Bubba – a man suspected of killing a little girl – and exact justice in the most unforgiving and harrowing way. Years later the members of the mob are hacked off one by one by what appears to be a walking scarecrow. This was a TV movie so is low on gore but heavy on atmosphere and inventive kills and jump-scares. The lovely rural location lends this film to be a treat for the eyes, especially around this time of year.
7. Night of the Demons (1988, Dir: Kevin Tenny).
OK, if you like your Halloween flicks trashy but fun this is the one for you. The set-up is thus; a group of annoying teens go to an old (supposedly haunted) abandoned funeral parlor to celebrate Halloween, they have a séance, awaken a vengeful demon, they die in a variety of different ways and come back as demons. Be prepared for some cheesy lines, gratuitous nudity and sex, gore and DEMONS! This one is perfect for a late Friday-nighter accompanied with plenty of friends, beer and pizza… enjoy. P.S. This one has spawned a few sequels which are just as fun and a really decent remake in 2009.
6. Satan’s Little Helper (2004, Dir: Jeff Lieberman).
Jeff Lieberman directed a number of underrated horror classics in the 70’s/80’s such as Squirm, Blue Sunshine and Just Before Dawn. Staying under the radar for a number of years he made this little low budget horror/black comedy which is about a boy who befriends a man dressed up for Hallowen as Satan, the main character in the boy’s favourite video game. Unbeknownst to the boy, Satan is actually a serial killer who is out slaughtering people under the guise of a Halloween costume. This is a strange little film but ultimately enjoyable and darkly comedic. If you can get over some clunky acting, this is a great celebration of all things Halloween. I strongly urge you to check out Lieberman’s horror oeuvre.
5. The American Scream (2012, Dir: Michael Stephenson).
Michael Stephenson isn’t just “the child actor from Troll 2,” he’s also an astounding filmmaker. The only documentary in this list, The American Scream follows the trials and tribulations of 3 families in Massachusetts who spend 365 days a year (and all their
money) preparing their houses for Halloween. More commonly known as “House Haunters,” these families dedicate their lives to making one night memorable for their local community. An extremely fun (and at times emotional) look into the spookiest night of the year and the people who love it.
4. Trick ‘r Treat (2007, Dir: Michael Dougherty).
From the team that brought you X-Men and Superman Returns comes a modern take on the anthology or portmanteau format and a celebration of all things Halloween. Set on one Halloween night we see 4 interwoven stories; a serial killer story, a Red Riding Hood tale, a creepy prank gone wrong and an old man’s confrontation with a serious trick or treater. This film is a lot of fun and is guaranteed to get you in the mood for Halloween.
3. Halloween (1978, John Carpenter).
Another film that needs no introduction, the original stalk-and-slash fright Flick starring Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis. Halloween was an independent, low budget labor of love that kick started the screen careers of legendary genre director John Carpenter and screenwriter/producer Debra Hill. Although not the first ever slasher film (this is arguably Psycho, Peeping Tom or Black Christmas) it is the most imitated and is a staple of the modern horror movie. Halloween is simple but effective; a group of young babysitters are stalked and slashed one Halloween night by an escaped psychotic murderer called Michael Myres (credited as The Shape). This is a classic horror flick that remains as scary and suspenseful as it ever did.
2. Ghostwatch (1992, Dir: Lesley Manning).
After watching this you will forever shudder at the mention of Mr Pipes… Ghostwatch was originally broadcast by the BBC as a TV drama Halloween special but was subsequently banned due to too many complaints and causing widespread panic across many homes in the UK. Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith and Craig Charles all star themselves, presenting a real-time paranormal investigation. With Sarah Greene reporting live from the home of a family tormented by the aforementioned spectre Mr Pipes, Parkinson leading debates and interviews with paranormal researchers and skeptics, Mike Smith manning the phone lines with calls from the public retelling their own spooky experiences and Craig Charles out on the street, tensions rise as the people you know and trust find themselves in some truly nerve wracking situations you will not forget! Ghostwatch really was a one of a kind phenomenon and should be watched every year in true tradition of Halloween.
1. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982, Dir: Tommy Lee Wallace).
Yes this is the 3rd installment in the Halloween franchise but no it doesn’t feature Michael Myres, but let’s forget that for a second. Season of the Witch is a stand alone movie that was meant to mark the beginning of the franchise broadening out but the idea didn’t catch on. What we are left with is a true piece of terror cinema that captures a dark side to Halloween. Starring Tom Atkins (aka the nicest man in horror), Season of the Witch tells the tale of a Halloween mask making company called Silver Shamrock who mass produce masks that turn children into TV addicts, ultimately making their heads dissolve into a squirming mass of insects and reptiles. This is a great shocker that almost doubles up as a sci-fi horror too and is so Halloween-y it’ll make your head dissolves! I feel this film never gets the praise it deserves but it has recently had a cult following. It also has a song that will stick in your head forever, I guarantee it.
– Sam Massey
Sam runs the Cult and Horror film discussion group Glasgore. The group meets on the first Wednesday of every month in the Glasgow GFT at 6.30pm.