To all things there is a season, and right now, it’s a great time to watch horror movies. But not just any horror movies (Santa’s Slay, for example, is definitely not right for October.) You need to pick carefully. Here are 15 films that are set on or around Halloween, to get you into the pumpkin-carving spirit…
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way, for starters. Often cited as the film that sparked the 80s slasher trend (even though it’s far from being the first movie of its kind) the first Halloween movie stars Jamie Lee Curtis as an innocent teenager who finds herself being targeted by a masked maniac with a knife. Most of the film feels a little dated now, especially if you’ve seen Scream or The Cabin In The Woods, both of which make fun of many of the tropes established here, but that opening sequence is still brilliant. If you’re only going to watch one horror movie this Halloween, you might as well make it this one.
Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982)
All of the Halloween movies are set at Halloween, but listing them all here would be pretty tedious. The third one deserves a mention, though, because it isn’t about Michael Myers killing babysitters. Instead, it’s about the mysterious Silver Shamrock company, which appears to be manufacturing evil masks. At the time, it didn’t go down well with audiences expecting a slasher, but it’s acquired a cult following since. If nothing else, the Silver Shamrock jingle will stay with you – and totally get stuck in your head every Halloween for the rest of your life.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
Adults probably won’t be creeped out by this Disney comedy about a group of kids who accidentally bring some long-dead evil witches back to life, but as kids we found some scenes terrifying. Now we just love it because it’s so much fun – watching the witches adjust to modern life is entertaining, particularly when they repeatedly fail to understand Halloween costumes, and the kids (including a very young Thora Birch) are endearing rather than annoying.
Trick ‘R Treat (2007)
A schoolbus full of dead children. A corpse turned into a scarecrow. And a grumpy old man who hates Halloween. The stories in this Halloween-themed anthology pack in all of these and more. Thanks to some bizarre studio politics, this film had its release pushed back for years before it finally came out on DVD, which is a shame, because it’s brill.
Night Of The Demons (1988)
Holding a séance at a Halloween party is never a good idea. Especially if you’re having a party in an abandoned morgue. So when Angela and her friends try it in this 80s-tastic horror movie, all hell breaks loose. It’s a daft movie for the most part, but it does have some distinctly disturbing scenes (the bit with the lipstick, in particular, still makes me shudder) and, hey, it’s probably a better idea to watch this than attempt to have your own Halloween séance.
Idle Hands (1999)
When a lazy pothead finds his under-used left hand has become possessed by the devil, he cuts it off. Cue Addams Family-style chaos as the severed hand goes on a killing spree. Idle Hands is more of a comedy than a horror movie, but it has some great gory moments, including the scene where The Offspring are murdered at the local high school’s Halloween party, and there are plenty of great costumes on show.
It’s not really a film, but Ghostwatch is brilliant, and totally appropriate creepy Halloween viewing. Although it purports to be a live broadcast from a haunted house (and BBC studios), Ghostwatch was originally shown on 31 October 1992, which should have tipped people off that it maybe wasn’t entirely serious – but lots of people really believed what they were seeing, even going so far as to call into the show with their own stories. (The phone operators clued them in, don’t worry.) Pipes, the malicious ghost, makes eight appearances during the show’s 90 minute runtime, but they’re not all obvious, so keep your eyes peeled…
Another one that’s suitable for kids – or scaredy cats – all the climactic scenes of this 90s adaptation of the classic Casper cartoons take place at a Halloween party, where guests get more than they bargained for as some real ghosts get in on the action. It’s sweet and adorable and it’ll probably make you cry, if you have any kind of heart at all.
Satan’s Little Helper (2005)
A videogame obsessed kid ends up unwittingly assisting a murderer in this low-budget comedy-horror. Dougie’s favourite game involves playing Satan’s little helper, so when he spots a man dressed as the devil he decides to play out the game for real – never quite realising that ‘Satan’ is really quite evil. Though it doesn’t entirely work, there are some impressively creepy scenes in this film, so if you’re bored of all the more well-known Halloween movies, it’s worth seeking out.
Donnie Darko (2001)
There’s so much weirdness going on in Donnie Darko that it’s easy to forget that it is, technically, a Halloween film –but of course, it is, and the iconic ‘Frank’ rabbit mask is just part of a Halloween costume (though it’s also much more than that). There’s something quite self-conscious about Donnie Darko, and it doesn’t really all fit together at the end, but it’s kind of great anyway.
The Crow (1994)
Technically, the events of The Crow take place on October 30th (“Devil’s Night”) rather than Halloween itself, but for the purposes of this list, it seemed close enough. It’s a basic revenge story, really: Eric and his fiancée Shelley are killed on the night before their wedding, and one year later, Eric returns from the dead to torture and kill their murderers. It hasn’t really stood the test of time very well, but that’s still one hell of a Halloween costume.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Jack Skellington decides he’s had enough of being the Pumpkin King and sets his sights on another winter holiday instead in this amazing stop motion musical. (Naturally, his talent for the disturbing and creepy doesn’t go down too well with the folk of Christmas Town.) So is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween film, or a Christmas film? I say: both. If only because I spend the entirety of October singing “This Is Halloween”, much to the distress of my boyfriend, who insists that song can only be sung on October 31st. Spoilsport.
May finds it hard to make friends. She’s a very strange woman, with very strange interests, and no matter how interesting and quirky people find her at first, her weirdness always scares them off in the end. But her loneliness eventually pushes her to find a way around all that… Angela Bettis is amazing as the tragic title character, and despite the gore and creepiness, it’s ultimately kind of heart-warming. And, of course, the climactic events all take place on Halloween.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
The Fitzgerald sisters don’t need Halloween to be spooky – they’re into wearing bird’s skulls around their necks and faking their own deaths all year round – but when Ginger gets bitten by a werewolf, her transformation and the approach of Halloween coincide. Handy, really, since most people assume her fangs and claws are just part of a costume. Ginger Snaps is a fascinating take on werewolf mythology, and it’s actually pretty scary, too.
Mean Girls (2004)
Alright, it’s not a horror movie, but it does have a Halloween scene, so if you’re not in the mood for anything truly scary, you can still get into the spirit with this teen comedy. Lindsay Lohan stars as the new girl trying to navigate the social complexities of an American high school, and the Halloween party really shows up how clueless she is – while every other girl has gone for some kind of flattering/’slutty’ costume, she’s the Bride of Frankenstein, complete with hideous yellow fake teeth. But honestly, do you really need an excuse to watch Mean Girls again? Thought not.