All Hallow's Eve; it doesn't really change much year in year out, and unfortunately neither does the list of movies you're supposed to watch either. Not to diss on ol' Michael Myers (this one, not this one) and while Halloween is a brilliant movie, it's not exactly inspired viewing come October 31.
So in light of this we've compiled a list of the Highsnobiety team's favorite movies to watch on that fateful night each year. Some are classics, some are left of field, and some aren't even really scary at all. Nevertheless each film lends it's own distinct creepy/terrifying/dark/(insert angst-ridden adjective here) take.
So cosy up and get on that Netflix and thrill tonight with our favorite movies to watch on Halloween.
The Babadook (2014)
Director: Jennifer Kent
The Babadook is the best horror film slash psychological thriller I've seen in a long while. I wasn't expecting too much from a low-budget horror from Australia – and the directorial debut of Jennifer Kent – but it absolutely came through, both in terms of effects and theme.
The plot centers around a character from a creepy children's book, The Babadook, who comes to life and terrorizes the home of a depressed widow and her only son. The Babadook embodies the grief, depression and difficulty of solo parenting faced by the film's lead character, Amelia (Essie Davis), and the story is about her internal struggle to free herself from his ghoulish grasp. It's absolutely terrifying, and deeply satisfying.
Director: Rob Reiner
For me, a good horror film is something that could actually happen to a person. Rob Reiner's film, Misery, illustrates this point perfectly. Inclement weather? Check. Traffic accident? Check. The kindness of a stranger? Check. And with that, you have the set-up for the film which eventually finds writer, Paul Sheldon (James Caan), holed up and recovering in the house of Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates).
Since it's in the horror/thriller genre, Paul has much more to worry about than just his car accident and his circumstances eventually lead to a torture scene so gruesome that it cost the film its original director and caused legendary screenwriter, William Goldman, to say years later, "I could not fucking believe it! I mean, I knew she wasn’t going to tickle him with a peacock feather, but I never dreamt such behavior was possible. And I knew I had to write the movie.”
The Ring (2002)
Director: Gore Verbinski
I never figured that a girl who’s been chilling in water and has refrained from brushing her hair could be so damn terrifying. Also, I’m now eternally afraid of anything resembling a well and can’t swim in the dark, due to which I’ve missed plenty naughty skinny dipping opportunities. Don’t even get me started on the Japanese version.
Director: Dario Argento
There are few films that capture the sensation of being trapped in a nightmare as well as Suspiria. The normal laws of time and space do not apply in this tale of a sinister ballet school; dark hallways open into rooms full of jagged barbed wire, maggots rain from the ceiling without warning and blood inexplicably pours out of characters mouths from unseen wounds. And the real kicker is that the movie is so strikingly beautiful that you truly can’t look away.
Shards of glass impaling a jugular are wrought with exquisite painterly touches by legendary director Dario Argento, and the color red hues each frame like a miasma of torn flesh. Add in a score by a band called Goblin consisting of tribal shrieks, throbbing synthesizers and a tinkling children's music box, and you’re left with a true horror masterpiece.
The Thing (1982)
Director: John Carpenter
I'm a big fan of horror films and even though there are films that are certainly scarier than The Thing, it continues to be just as exhilarating today as it was when it came out 30+ years ago. There's not too many jump scares throughout but the underlying sense of dread and paranoia just does it for me every time.
There's also the whole thing about it being a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic during the '80s. At the time, AIDS was thought to mostly be exclusive to the gay community. There are no women in the film, besides the voice of the computer, and all the men are skeptical of one another, getting killed/infected one after the other. There's no sense of trust among them and it's every man for himself.
It was also one of the last films to make extensive use of special effects before the industry went digital, allowing it to stand up to time and not look outdated by today's insane standards. Sorta like how the dinosaurs in the original Jurassic Park are much more terrifying than in the god-awful Jurassic World.
The title cards and music too are a reflection of the era's aesthetics yet hold up perfectly today. The success of Stranger Things is probably the best evidence of the film's timelessness. If you somehow haven't seen the film or have only seen the 2011 prequel, do yourself a favor and watch it now.
Salem's Lot (1979)
Director: Tobe Hooper
This is a family classic, from my grandmother to my nephew we all watch Salem's Lot around this time of year. It's a two-part made-for-TV movie but lead actor David Soul is able to carry the full three hours with ease. Spooky and haunting, the tap tap tap at the window still freaks me out. It's a perfect horror movie. Watch the trailer, it's still proper scary even after all this time.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Not really a horror movie in the tradition sense but Cannibal Holocaust is just pure fucked up.
I discovered it years ago on one of those "banned" movie lists and could not be more disturbed, and I wish I had passed on it. Plot is pretty direct: a film crew goes missing in the Amazon, a professor from NYU goes to the Amazon and finds the lost missing film canisters and brings it home, and some TV station wants to air it.
The film itself is quite straight forward, but what is not is how they used live animals for their kill scenes – something that viewers would only learn about later. It is credited with revolutionizing the flashback/found film narrative, but otherwise, I would not watch this twice.
Spoorloos (The Vanishing) (1988)
Director: George Sluizer
When Stanley Kubrick says a film is the most terrifying movie he has ever seen, even more so than his own The Shining, you know you’re not in for an easy ride. Spoorloos doesn’t shock you with blood, gore or violence, instead it prays on much deeper fears of a life defined entirely by the disappearance of a loved one. In this case, a wife, and of her husband’s three-year search to find her.
From the onset we know more than the husband does about the man responsible, yet the more we know, the more we fear. The film’s unusual structure and creepy late ‘80s look builds suspense right until the fateful last few minutes — it’s perfect for a shock-free, but nevertheless sleepless, Halloween.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
More than 50 years on, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho still stands as one of the greatest horror films ever made. Sure, it doesn't compete with the modern slasher for sheer gut gurgles but, for its time at least, this was a seriously terrifying flick. But how about today? If you're not already acquainted with Hitchcock, the infamous Psycho shower scene, with its close-ups providing an unnervingly subjective view of the murder, should still give you the squirms. But you probably shouldn't go into this classic thinking you'll be having sleepless nights afterwards. This is Hitchcock, so you're watching a true silver screen artist at work.
It's the way Psycho's plot unfolds that makes this such a rewarding movie. Protagonist Marion Crane's cash theft leads her into hiding, with the hiding place – the mysterious Bates Motel – home to the seemingly benign Norman Bates and his overprotective mother. But the real reward comes with letting Hitchcock lead you along a narrative trail that builds right until the truth emerges at the end. It's at that point you'll realize Psycho needs a second sitting until you've fully digested it all.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Director: Edgar Wright
Ask if I’ve seen any number of iconic films and it’s likely I have not. Back to the Future? No. Jaws? No. Titanic? No, no, no. I could probably count the horror films I’ve seen on one hand. As you can tell, I'm a real authority on movie recommendations, so trust me when I say you should watch Shaun of the Dead. It’s a horror comedy that'll spur your Halloween spirit without the sleepless nights. Plus, it’s hilarious.
Director: Vincenzo Natali
This schlocky Canadian sci-fi horror was like a breath of fresh air the first time I saw it. As with all good sci-fi movies from this period it comes with a hearty dose of cheese which keeps it from becoming too earnest, as well as a plot that can only be described as Kafkaesque.
A group of strangers wake up to find themselves trapped in large cube-like rooms with hatches on each wall (including ceiling and floor) which lead to other identical rooms. Catch is, some rooms have deadly traps which are set off by various censors (motion, heat, sound, etc.). The group of shady strangers have to work together to try and break out of whatever it is they're in.
Personally I love the way hard mathematics is woven into the plot. Add to that corporate conspiracy theories and the decline of humanity and you've got my worst nightmare – or greatest horror film.
Director: Brad Silberling
Casper the Friendly Ghost was brought back to life in 1995’s Casper, starting a young Christina Ricci and even funnyman Eric Idle of Monty Python fame. For any fans of the cartoon version, this live action spinoff provided a backstory to Casper’s death, and wasn’t short on hilarious moments courtesy of Casper's wicked uncles Stretch, Stinky, and Fatso, aka the Ghostly Trio. Keep your eyes peeled for clever cameos from Clint Eastwood, Rodney Dangerfield and Mel Gibson.
For more Halloween viewing ideas, check out these 20 slasher movies you should know.