For as much as I love Halloween, I hate scary movies. Maybe hate is too strong a word, what I mean is getting scared is generally not entertaining for me. Which can leave me struggling to find new movies to watch this time of year. But my general dislike for horror doesn’t mean I can’t get in the spirit of things. Below are ten films that really exemplify this time of year for me. While I can’t guarantee that some of these won’t keep you up at night, all of these scream Halloween like nothing else.
10. Hocus Pocus (1993)
This should be throw away 90’s children’s Halloween movie has aged much better than I thought it would, thanks to the performances of the the three women playing the Sanderson sisters. I absolutely adore a young Sarah Jessica Parker here, getting so much joy in portraying the ditzy Sarah. Kathy Majimy, fresh off Sister Act, gels with the other two witches perfectly. And what else can you say about Bette Midler at this point? Whenever she is on screen, she owns the scene. The kids are forgettable, and the talking cat and the comic relief zombie are standard kids fare. The story is the most Halloween thing one could think of (witches coming back to life after a cursed candle is lit in Salem), but the absolute joy these three women have playing these characters turns something that should be forgettable into something charming.
9. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
I have to admit that I was very late to the Rocky Horror scene, not seeing it until I was well into my twenties. But even after first experiencing it at such an old age, there was no denying why this is the quintessential cult classic. This film has touched millions, not only with its offbeat production design and memorable music, but its important depictions of sexuality. This isn’t one to watch in the comfort of your own home, but in a packed late night screening with dozens of costumed others who will sing along with every line. That you can still easily find a theatrical screening in 2018 is more than enough to warrant it a place on this list.
8.Young Frankenstein (1974)
Other than Dracula, there is no monster more synonymous with Halloween than Frankenstein’s monster. Mel Brooks takes this tale on with his classic style and irreverence, teaming up once again with comedy legend Gene Wilder. This spoof both takes the piss out of, as well as pays tribute to, the old monster movies it takes inspiration from. Looking back on it now, some of the jokes don’t age as gracefully as others, but that can be said about a lot of Brooks’ work. But when it hits, oh boy does it hit, and it remains one of the best horror satires out there. Too bad he couldn’t get it right the second time around with the dreadful Dracula: Dead and Loving It. At least we’ll always have Frankenstein’s lab, right Mel?
7. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)
I got a rock. So technically it’s a short and not an actual film, but it’s quintessential this time of year. And this won’t be the first time I fudge the rules of this list, so we’ll allow it. For something so brief, it is packed with moments that define the Peanuts gang. Charlie Brown and the football. Snoopy as a World War I pilot. The lessons Linus learns in the pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown shows why Charles Schulz’s characters have lasted so long and it remains a great snapshot into the lives and minds of children.
6. Psycho (1960)
It would be remiss to have a list of Halloween films without including at least one Hitchcock. While Psycho isn’t my favorite of his, it does scream Halloween to me more than any of his other work. More psychologically thrilling than actually scary (at least in 2018), Psycho remains a showcase as to why Hitchcock was considered the master of suspense. A cultural classic, it’s a must watch for fans of both thrillers and film in general. It’s also the first American film to show a toilet flushing, so it’s deserves a spot on this list for that alone.
5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
It’s the film that keeps Hot Topic in business, Tim Burton’s stop motion animated classic. Is it a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie? That hardly matters, as this one stands the test of time. Between Danny Elfman’s classic score and the timeless animation and character designs (more animated films should employ stop motion), Jack Skellington, Sally, and company have cemented their place as official ambassadors of the Halloween season.
4. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
How would you act during an actual zombie apocalypse? I think most of us would behave somewhere along the lines of Shaun and Ed, bumbling around while trying to survive. No gun? No problem! LPs and cricket bats will do just fine (well maybe not the records). Can’t take the zombies head on, so try to awkwardly avoid them. The Walking Dead this is not. With well rounded characters and a great sense of humor, Sean of the Dead took the zombie genre to a refreshing place. The bumbling protagonists and the down to earth tone present here make you think that you too could survive if the dead ever come back to life. Just maybe make sure you have a bat laying around, and aim for the head.
3. The Shining (1980)
If I have a change to put a Kubrick film on a list, I’m going to find a way. Like Psycho, it’s an iconic piece of art, on top of being a great genre film. Undeniably the scariest movie on this list, it’s worth sitting through even if it does keep you up that night. Nicholson’s descent into madness is something to behold and Kubrick’s changes make this adaptation one of the rare times the film is better than the book it’s based on. While it may not fit the overall theme of this list, it’s too good not to include.
2. Beetlejuice (1988)
It would be easy to fill a list like this up with early Tim Burton films, so I’ve had to limit myself to two. The ghost with the most is his crowning spooky live action achievement. At a time before his unique visuals became passe, Beetlejuice provides a near perfect mix of thrills and comedy. A lot of this has to do with the performances, with Michael Keaton in particular absolutely owning the titular role. It’s an absurd, off the wall dream, a perfect compliment to these chilly October nights.
1. Ghostbusters (1984)
Almost 35 years after its release, and I still think Ghostbusters is a near perfect comedy. That is bound to happen when you have three people (Ramis, Murray, and Aykroyd) performing at the top of their game. While the special effects may have aged, the material by and large hasn’t, with this tale of supernatural exterminators being just as relatable and funny today as it was back in the eighties. Its level of polish and situational humor are still difficult to match, even the later entries in the franchise struggle to keep up. Perhaps it was lightning in a bottle, but Ghostbusters is so good, like the Twinkie, it will be here long after we are.