Eleven Classic Movies To Watch On Halloween

Every year, us film buffs gather around and decide which scary movies we need to watch to make this Halloween a memorable one.  If you’re a fan of horror films, odds are you aware of most of them.  Then there is that section of the population who have seen a few of the best in terror, they KNOW about the others, but have never bothered to see them.  Maybe the movie is old, or it simply looks dated.  Perhaps the backlash has become so severe that those “True Horror Fans” have talked them out of it.

Well we decided to put together our own list of required viewing, both of my own choosing, along with a hand from a few contributors.  These are the classic films that have affected or influenced us the most, and we implore you to watch if you never have, either alone or with those you want free from harm, and judge them for yourselves.  Sure, some of these films you might have seen in a dozen other Halloween lists popping up across the internet. If that is the case, maybe you should finally take a chance and see for yourself exactly what it is that so many others claim you are missing.

This list should keep you covered for the entirety of All Hallow’s Eve as we offer you 11 classic horror movies, and hopefully make your Halloween experience a bit more complete.  Feel free to list your favorites or the most undiscovered in the comments. Maybe you can entice others to discover something new, old, or a mix of the two this Halloween.

So, without further delay and in no particular order of prominence…

Slither

If you have seen Slither, you know why it’s on here.  If you haven’t…WHY HAVEN’T YOU?!  Oh, because it made roughly $4 at the theater when it was released and therefore you had no one with good taste around to recommend it.  Well, now you do.  Thank us later.

When angry husband, Grant (Michael Rooker) becomes unwittingly invaded by an alien slug, he begins to change.  Slowly but surely, others in the small town of Wheelsy also become infected, resulting in various stages of death or dementia.  It is left up to our Sheriff (B-actor God & Castle star Nathan Fillion) and Grant’s wife, Starla (a perfectly cast Elizabeth Banks), to stop the alien plague and save the town.

Why should you watch this?  Because it’s a love letter to every single body snatchers, ’80s gore-fest, and alien invasion flick ever made.  The movie is filled with clever performances, suspenseful scares, a nice mesh of practical and digital effects (i.e., gore), and most of all – IT’S FUN!  Director James Gunn knows his audience and he caters to their every whim, and we said this BEFORE Guardians of the Galaxy.

So be sure to watch Slither this Halloween.  You can’t help but smile, because this movie is some f*#@ed up s#*t.

Trick ‘r Treat

This is one of those little movies that most people haven’t bothered to watch, which is really a shame.  Best Halloween movie ever? No, not even close.  But a very enjoyable and mostly clever anthology that focuses completely on the actual holiday of All Hallow’s Eve.

Trick r Treat tells several stories based around classic horror and holiday tropes (vampires, ghosts, serial-killers, trick-or-treators, cranky old men, etc).  The difference between this anthology and most others, is that this film treats its vignettes as more of a Pulp Fiction-y Halloween film than completely separate stories.  Most of the characters intersect at some point, and the entire film takes place on one lone, Halloween night.

Director Michael Dougherty (Krampus) has a nice touch and creates an overarching atmosphere that helps sell the mood of each story.  Character actors pop up with regularity (Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Dylan Baker), yet they never take you out of the story…which is very important for an anthology such as this.

I don’t want to oversell the movie as it really is a small horror film, but if you have yet to catch it, be sure to check it out this  season.  There are very, very few actual Halloween-themed movies in the world, and this one caters to most horror lovers.

It might even make you rethink that little trick-r-treator at your door…especially if his name is Sam.

Zombieland

Sure, the horror-comedy has been around since Gremlins (would you REALLY call Ghostbusters a horror themed comedy? Didn’t think so). For my money, though? Zombieland is the movie to beat.  Clever, scary, funny, and did what films of this ilk NEED to do – offer something new.  It is old hat now, but the introduction of zombie rules, comedy that actually works in a horror setting WITHOUT sacrificing the actual horror creates that rare gem every film buff needs to see.

Woody Harrelson stars as Tallahassee, a rogue soul who teams up with Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) to travel the zombie wasteland.  Along their way, they meet up with Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), two sisters conning their way through as well.  All four of our stars are in search of different things (Columbus wants to show Little Rock the joys of an amusement park, Columbus wants to find his parents…and Tallahassee just wants a Twinkie), what they find is each other.

Why is this a perfect Halloween movie? Because not every film at this time of year needs to be terrifying.  Sometimes you just want to kick back and have a good time, and not a better time can be had than this modern classic.  All of the actors are the best they’ve ever been, with the possible exception of Stone, and the film also boasts possibly the best cameo in film history.

Yes, it’s a comedy.  And it’s gory.  And there’s action.  Mostly though? It’s just fun.  So sit back this Halloween and catch Zombieland for the first time or yet again, and relax.

And always remember to Double-Tap.

The Howling

When reporter Karen White (Dee Wallace) escapes death at the hands of a serial killer, she does what any crazy person would do: She runs to a remote, woodsy cabin retreat run by some of the creepiest people you could ever hang out with.  It is there she finds out what just may be behind the city’s recent rash of murders – werewolves.

People can have An American Werewolf in London, a fine film played more for laughs than terror.  For my money, ‘The Howling‘ is easily the best werewolf film in Hollywood’s history.  Dee Wallace, the 80’s Scream Queen (Cujo, Critters), is perfectly cast as Karen White.  She is someone the audience can instantly sympathize with, and fear for.  When she is confronted with the horrible truth about what is going on, and she is forced to watch the most horrific werewolf transformation in film history, you spend every second on pins-and-needles, just hoping she can escape certain death.  Something most horror film characters never come close to achieving.

Director Joe Dante, went on to direct several other classics (Gremlins, Innerspace), but ‘The man who finally made werewolves terrifying’ will always be his place in film history to me.  If you have never seen this horror classic, now is most definitely the time.

Sleepaway Camp

Angela (Felissa Rose) is a horribly shy teenager sent to summer camp with her cousin, Ricky.  Of course, Arawak is the worst place to go to summer camp, not simply because of the numerous 80’s mustaches and bullies, but because everyone eventually ends up dead.  As the film ramps up as Angela and Ricky search for the killer, and bodies continually pile up, we are treated to one of the most clever conclusions in horror history.  This is a film that was running on the popularity of the Friday the 13th series, but dared to offer something different, it was unique.

Yea, this isn’t necessarily a ‘Great’ movie.  It is a slice of 80’s cheese sandwich all the way through.  There is some acting to behold in this 1983 classic, yet the film is one of the most influential horror films of all time – You know why?  That ending.  Wow. That ending took balls, and the filmmakers pulled no punches. For every Scream or likewise film with a clever surprise ending, eat your bloody heart out.  Sleepaway Camp did it first, and it did it best.

Creepshow

When Creepshow came out I was 11 years old, so the binding element struck a chord with me. Creepshow, if you’re unaware, is a film that is comprised of 5 “Tales of Terror”, bookended by a story of a boy being punished for reading comics. The whole movie is woven together with the premise that the 5 stories are contained within the pages of the comics that the boy was reading. It also pays homage to the 1950’s E.C. horror comics: i.e., House of Mystery, House of Secrets, The Witching Hour, Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear. These same comics were also the basis for the popular HBO series “Tales from the Crypt“.

Creepshow is influential for a multitude of reasons, the first being it was a collaboration of Stephen King and George A. Romero, two powerhouses of the genre of horror. Second, it was one of the first movies to feature Tom Savini doing special effects. Third is the fact that, even though several films based on King’s work had been released to varying degrees of success, Creepshow was the first based on an original screenplay by King himself AND the first to feature King’s acting. Creepshow was the first visible, public sign that King was not content to have an ordinary publishing career, but rather was pushing himself into what is now common occurrence, cross-media artistry.

Creepshow came out as a movie and as an actual graphic novel, though they were still just called comics at that time. It also did something that, at the time was not common place, it blended animation with live action to tie the individual stories into one binding element. The chapters are all equally creative, filmed in garish and sometimes jarring comic-book colors. Tom Savini‘s makeup effects are quite memorable (my favorite being the ever hungry monster from “The Crate”), if not overly campy, and as a film, Creepshow’s attempts to serve up horror and humor in equal measure do a fair job along the way.

As with most multi-tale films, the the stories have basic moral messages – good generally triumphs and evil is generally punished but with the added bonus of a generous heaping of blood and gore. Another thing Creepshow has going for it is the star power (granted most are no longer well known). It starred the likes of Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, and E.G. Marshall.

Probably the best reason to watch Creepshow is that the stories themselves are simple and entertaining. The horror/gore factor is actually pretty low, especially by today’s standards and the humor factor is intentionally campy. There actually have been 2 consecutively bad sequels (Creepshow 2, Creepshow 3), but they are really only worth visiting for completionists.  My simple advice is NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

If you’re afraid of the undead, vicious monsters, seaweed, alien goo and especially – cockroaches – then Creepshow simply must be seen.  So get on it, ya lunkhead! – Rob Rowald, Contributor

Halloween

Yea, THAT movie. You truly cannot have a Halloween list without listing the one film that actually had the cojones to name itself after the titular holiday.  So why add it to this list? Because it belongs on every person’s Halloween list!  Especially those horror fans who have never seen it. This remains John Carpenter’s crowning directorial achievement (sorry Vampires), and it is a crime that so many of today’s audiences have never given the film a fair shot.  I blame their parents.

Halloween begins with a young Michael Myers, caught literally red-handed after viciously murdering his sister.  After he spends 20 years in a sanitarium, Michael escapes just in time for All Hallow’s Eve. He hunts down a nifty William Shatner mask and begins silently stalking Laurie Strode (a young Jamie Lee Curtis), for reasons we learn as the film progresses, all the while being pursued by his psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis (a not-so-young, yet still terrific,  Donald Pleasance).  The film builds methodically, unlike today’s quick-to-the-chase kills, and ends the way all films meant to terrorize should.

Different people have various favorites in this seemingly endless series (my personal pick being Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers), but there is no denying that if you have never seen the original, you are doing yourself a disservice. It is a classic for a reason.  Is it as fast-paced as today’s horror films?  No, of course not.  This movie was made when people enjoyed building tension, you know, they could wait for it.  Not like now, where audiences need all of the characters dead within 10 minutes because so they can urgently Tweet about it.

It also boasts what is perhaps the greatest score for a horror film ever put to celluloid.  Very few films have a score this recognizable, and Carpenter knew exactly when and where to use it.  Just a few bars of the classic theme song and the hair on the back of your neck is bound to stand directly on end, and you just might start wondering if ole’ Michael Myers is now coming for you…

Is it cliché to have Halloween on this list?  Of course, it is.  Does it belong here? Absolutely.  So stop being such a hipster-hater and go give this classic a spin.  You might be surprised how much you’ll enjoy it.

Oh, and just so we’re clear…I mean the 1978 version, not that awful Rob Zombie hillbilly-dreck-remake-catastrophe-piece-of-dung from 2007.  Just no. Please don’t make me clarify that again.

Suspiria


From the mid-70s through the 1980s the world of horror saw a boom of cinema from Italy, spawning many cult classics beloved by hardcore fans of the genre. Suspiria is highly regarded as one of the best and most influential of this bunch. With its vibrant colors, minimal plot and unnerving soundtrack, Suspiria is a supernatural fever dream overflowing with a creepy atmosphere perfect for Halloween.

Suspiria follows an American ballerina, Suzy, who arrives at a prestigious dance school in Germany. Shortly after, bizarre incidents begin happening and Suzy must uncover the school’s horrific mysteries. It’s a simple horror movie plot but the star here is the production. The use of fantastic set design, strong color lighting, unorthodox score and top notch cinematography turn the dance academy of Suspiria into a fairytale-like haunted house.

Suspiria was directed by Italian master of horror Dario Argento and while it may not be his best film, it was groundbreaking in its stylish approach. While the movie doesn’t shy away from the red stuff, a lot of what makes Suspiria work is the surreal mood and tension. The pacing and dreamlike style may turn off the average movie fan but if you’re interested in seeing a more artistic creepfest, Suspiria is worth checking out (preferably with lights off and volume up).  – Brad Peterson, Contributor

The Exorcist III

The most underrated horror movie of all Time? The William Peter Blatty-directed movie, based on his book Legion, delivers multiple memorable scary moments where timing is everything. Dating, the lottery, and this is especially true in horror films. The Exorcist III has impeccable timing. It strays from the conventional beats to deliver a scare when you don’t expect it – once you relax.

Given how sacred the first one is, and how utterly atrocious the second one is, it is likely you avoided Exorcist III like a plague of butt locusts. One can’t argue too much with that logic. However, you would be doing yourself a disservice by not tracking it down – likely by digging up a DVD copy of it, as it is not on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

For the plot-curious, Exorcist III follows a police detective who is investigating a rash of murders by someone claiming to be the famed Gemini Killer. To the best of my knowledge it invented the creepy idea of an old lady crawling on the ceiling. There are wicked hospital tools that could cut open a car like it was a hot knife through a stick of butter. And let’s not forget about what is known as “The Scene”. If you’ve seen it, then you know what I mean.

The Exorcist III uses one of the best tools in horror masterfully: tension. Long static shots that appear normal, then just when you think something is about to happen… nope. Then BAM! Gotcha. For a movie that is almost 25 years old, it still holds up. The music, tension, and sinister usage of religious icons is a fantastic recipe that still scares the bejeezus out of me.  – Brian Williams, Contributor

Night of the Living Dead

‘They’re coming to get you, Barbara’

For millions of Walking Dead fans, they have no idea where that line came from.  And that, my friends, is a travesty of apocalyptic proportions.  Each week they sit down and watch the latest episode, believing this is fresh and new.  Well, it’s not.  Heck, most of Season 2 was pretty much this film.  I’m here to tell you that if you are a fan of the Walking Dead, or the zombie genre in particular, you owe it to yourself to watch the movie that started it all.

In 1968, George Romero gave us the Night of the Living Dead, a film that showed us we could now be afraid of the one thing that we used to think could never kill us – Dead people.  Even at breakneck paces of .20 MPH, these lumbering slogs could take us all with sheer numbers.  Trapped in a farmhouse, Ben (Duane Jones) and Barbara (Judith O’Dea) gather with fellow survivors to escape the plague outside.  Only to realize, the real threat comes from within.

Filmed in black & white, the film broke many barriers and tried several new things.  It took gore to a new level by showcasing the cannibalism that has become commonplace now; introduced a black hero, without feeling the need to constantly point out his color; and especially, it dared to do what horror films typically shied away from – deliver a simple story with no explanation to provide social commentary on the state of our world.  The film also posed the question: What should man fear most – the undead, or themselves.

The film is no longer quite as terrifying, but it holds up remarkable better (in my opinion) than Romero’s later classics Day of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead.  For my money, the simplicity sells it.  Enough reading, hobble over to your preferred streaming device and catch this one.  Before the apocalypse actually does hit and a crazed man name Tallahassee shows up at your door.

The Blair Witch Project

Oh yes.  Just wait for the nerd explosion for mentioning this one in a list for the most influential or favorite classic horror films.  “It sucks!”, “Overrated!”, “Not Scary!”  They’re so cute in their hipster igloos.  Are you a person that is a fan of the “Found Footage” genre? Then say your thanks.  It is all due to the success of this film.  Loathe the genre? It still falls on their backs. Paranormal Activity 1-36, Last Exorcism, even Cloverfield, all owe their debt to the well filmed and masterful marketing this gem pulled off at the time of its release.  And also, still the most successful Found Footage film to date.

So why suggest it when so many declare outrage against it?  Because it’s still good.  Like most Found Footage flicks, it does not hold up to repeat viewings,  but if you have never seen Blair Witch?  You owe it to yourself to turn the lights out, grab a couple friends and enjoy the surroundings.

Released in 1999, The Blair Witch Project offers itself as a collection of footage recovered from 3 missing documentarians investigating the aforementioned Blair Witch legend, deep in the heart of woodland Maryland.   The movie builds slowly and methodically, as our heroes – Heather, Josh & Mike – find themselves more and more lost, all the while realizing they have become part of the very legend they were researching.  The film is capped off with an exhilirating ending that will have you freeze-framing and possibly slapping the person to your immediate right…then rewinding just to see if you really saw what you think you did.

Ignore the countless imitators and grossly overthought sequels, The Blair Witch Project is one of those rare horror films that launched  an entirely new genre and finally gave us something we constantly say we really want – something new.  If you have never seen it, set aside haters of the Witch (who probably raved about it at the time, but hipster mentality says to bury that deep, deep inside), and give it a look.

There’s our list. Some you might agree with, some you may not. We do not know all though. So what Horror films do YOU feel are required viewing for All Hallows Eve?

About Aaron B. Peterson

The Hollywood Outsider was born in an attempt to discuss a myriad of genres, while also serving as a sounding board for the ‘Average Joe’ – those film buffs who can appreciate Taxi Driver just as much as Transformers – without an ounce of pretentiousness. I try to approach each film on its own merits, and through the eyes the filmmakers intended.

Enjoy yourself. Be unique. Most importantly, ‘Buy Popcorn’. Aaron@TheHollywoodOutsider.com

  • Courtney Davenport

    Blair Witch was one of the best theater experiences I ever had. I was SO SCARED. They marketed it as if it was real and it was terrifying.