Somewhere deep inside of every film critic, there is a film fan. And if you’re a horror fan like I am, than Halloween is the most wonderful time of the year to kick back, watch the leaves turn, and watch some great movies. Unfortunately, Hollywood seems to be on a seemingly unending kick of horror reboots and sequels, so to get you through this year, I’ve compiled a list of some of the best movies to watch to get your Halloween spirits up and running.
Now, there are horror movies, and then there are horror movies, so I’ve broken down the list to help you decide what movies to watch in what scenarios. Some are bonafide classics, others good for making a date cling on for comfort. Some are better to enjoy with friends, and others are best enjoyed alone as a legitimate challenge to scare you in a way you might not have thought was possible. So flick the lights off, get the candy corn ready, and settle in for some fun.
28 Days Later… (dir. Danny Boyle, 2002)
Danny Boyle’s revisionist zombie film is nothing short of an absolute marvel. It’s gritty, digital image creates a truly apocalyptic view of London, where a virus has turned everyone into raging, super fast crazies. When Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up to find out that he’s apparently missed the end of the world, he must find a way to survive not just by staying alive, but by staying human. 28 Days Later works best because when it isn’t making you scream, it’s making you think. Watch it with: Friends.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (dir. Wes Craven, 1984)
The innumerable sequels (and recent remake) aren’t worth your time, but Wes Craven’s first go round with eventual icon Freddy Krueger is actually a lot of fun; playful at times but still suspenseful after all these years. It also boasts an arsenal of pretty cool (though slightly outdated) special effects, plus it’s before Craven’s “teenagers linked by their parents sins” schtick got overused. Watch it with: a Date, especially if you want a creative excuse to make them stay up all night.
Antichrist (dir. Lars von Trier, 2009)
Von Trier is crazy, so naturally this movie is too. But crazy doesn’t mean bad, and this meditation on a couple dealing with the death of their infant son is as rough as they come. The film features only two actors (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsburg) and takes place primarily at their cabin in the woods, but what starts as a think piece on grief soon descends into a hell of resentment, misogyny, and physical and psychological torture. In addition to winning the Best Actress award at Cannes, it received a unique ‘anti-humanitarian’ award for it’s troubling subject matter. You’ll never look at scissors the same way again. If you were wondering, it’s not a date movie. Watch it for: A Challenge.
The Blair Witch Project (dir. Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez, 1999)
For my money, the most original horror film of the last 15 years, and if you go into it with an open mind, one of the most rewarding. The first in a long line of found footage films (not counting 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust), it is a masterclass in misdirection and sound design to create suspense. It also had a genius, based on a true story marketing campaign that helped it gain momentum. Steer clear of watching it with a date unless you know how they respond to motion sickness. Watch it for: A Challenge.
The Descent (dir. Neil Marshall, 2005)
This claustrophobic import is relentless. It’s also one of the most staunchly feminine horror films to come out in a long while, and boasts a cast of strong actresses to carry some real drama down into the cave with them. But getting trapped in the cave is only the beginning, and once the blood starts flowing it becomes a primal thrill ride you don’t want to end. Watch it with: Friends
The Exorcist (dir. William Friedkin, 1973)
A true classic, through and through. It’s legacy stands on it’s own, it doesn’t need me to vouch for it. It also has a pretty fun history of a supposedly cursed production. But if you haven’t seen the restored version with Regan’s spider-walk, do yourself a favor and rent it. Watch it for: a Classic
Halloween (dir. John Carpenter, 1978)
The grandaddy of them all, and perhaps the most effective classic on the list besides The Exorcist. Michael Myers’ dead white face peering out from shadows never gets old, and Carpenter’s now legendary score is one of the all time great horror anthems. Want an excuse for your significant other to cling to you (or to cling to them)? Rent Halloween. Watch it for: A Classic.
Hostel (dir. Eli Roth, 2005)
Torture porn? Certainly. Fun to pop on in a room full of friends to see who looks away first? Definitely. Plus, Roth’s bloodbath gets a few bonus points for subverting the Final Girl idea, and making a few political statements about American’s abroad (even if they do get lost in the tendon splitting). Watch it with: Friends
House of the Devil (dir. Ti West, 2009)
This throwback to 80s horror flicks looks, sounds and feels like the same thing, but it was sadly overlooked after it’s release. It’s a classic babysitter in the wrong job tale that’s expertly paced to create almost unbearable tension before it’s explosive third act. Especially recommended for it’s jazzercise scene. Watch it for: A Challenge
The Omen (dir. Richard Donner, 1976)
Perhaps the best demon child movie ever made, and my personal favorite film on this list. An impressive cast is fronted by Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, who have the small joy of discovering that their new son Damien is actually the Antichrist. It’s part family thriller, part adventure, and all horror as Peck races to find out the truth about his son and how he can stop him. Avoid the remake at all costs. Watch it for: A Classic.
Paranormal Activity (dir. Oren Peli, 2007/2009)
Last year’s little horror film that could. It borrows big time from Blair Witch, but packs enough original, creative scares with relatively no budget to become genuinely frightening. You’ll either buy into it and be thrilled, or laugh your way through the whole thing. Either way, if you’re watching it with someone who hasn’t seen it yet, make sure you’re ready to pry them off of you when it’s over. Watch it with: A Date, or Friends. Really anyone who hasn’t seen it.
Repulsion (dir. Roman Polanski, 1965)
Infinitely more disturbing than Polanski’s other, more well known horror film, Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion is a female coming of age tale unlike anything you’re likely to see again. Catherine Deneuve gives a bold, unsettling performance as a sexually repressed woman who is having serious difficulty dealing with her fantasies of being groped and raped by phantom men that seem to spring from the walls. Watch it for: A Classic
The Ring (dir. Gore Verbinski, 2002)
The first in a long wave of Japanese horror remakes, Verbinski’s film stands as perhaps one of the defining horror movies of our generation. You can pretend it didn’t bother you, but deep down you remember where you were exactly seven days after you first saw it. It’s full of deep, moody photography and creepy images to get you unsettled, but it’s really the final act that gets under your skin when the film’s over. Watch it with: A Date, especially since you’ll have an excuse to hang out a week later.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (dir. Tobe Hooper, 1974)
The original (not the Jessica Biel trainwreck) is still disturbing almost 30 years after it’s initial release, despite the lack of actual blood shown on screen. Leatherface may be an icon now, but it’s still hard to watch him drag that poor girl closer and closer to the meathook. Marilyn Burns has one of the all time great final girl screams, and when she lets them loose during her dinner party with the Leatherface clan, it’s impossible to not to squirm in your seat. Watch it for: A Classic
And there you are, folks. The list is by no means exclusive, but it is a solid enough mix for you to enjoy the days leading up to Halloween with some familiar films and a few new ones that can make you shudder. Hopefully next year Hollywood can serve up something new for us horror fans to sink our teeth into. Until then, these will have to do.