Since this is Halloween, it felt appropriate to highlight the movies that best capture the spirit of Halloween. This list is not about the best movies or even great movies. Also, keep in mind this is my opinion. I am simply suggesting the movies that embody the Halloween spirit. My favorite thing about October is all the horror movies on television and the Halloween decorations. I have a bookcase full of horror films. I have hundreds of them, so I feel as qualified as anybody. It was nearly impossible to narrow it to 11. As a horror buff, I could crank out a top 50 if I wanted. There is no order since this list is not about quality. I tried to limit spoilers throughout the list.
Honorable Mentions: The Evil Dead(1981), The Curse of Frankenstein(1957), The Mummy(1959), The Phantom of the Opera(1925), The Last Man on Earth(1964), The Wolf Man(1941), Theatre of Blood(1973), Spanish Dracula(1931), The Terminator(1984), Nightmare on Elm Street(1984), Alien(1979), Repo! The Genetic Opera(2008), Tenebrae(1982), Inferno(1980), and Madhouse(1974).
Batman Returns 1992
Batman Returns probably seems like a strange choice, but of Tim Burton’s numerous films, this one makes me think of Halloween the most. Children nowadays are always dressing up as their favorite Superhero and with Batman in this movie it embodies the spirit of caped heroes. In addition, we have downright strange scenes. Penguin bites a man’s nose. He is talking to a school of penguins. The film is full of outlandish costumes that belong in a Halloween shop. The beginnings of Winter are present in the film too. Catwoman’s origin is straight out of a 1930’s Universal horror film. The Tim Burton effect, the costumes, zany characters and Penguin’s henchmen in skeleton outfits all make for a Halloween-like experience. Batman Returns is only a decent film, but it embodies Halloween in numerous ways.
The Shining 1980
It is Halloween, so we need a haunted house film. The Legend of Hell House, House on Haunted Hill (the original), The Old Dark House (the original), and numerous others could fit the bill. For me, The Shining is the ultimate haunted house film even if it is not exactly about the haunting of the house. You have ghosts and Jack Nicholson at his most insane. Everyone knows, “Here’s Johnny.” There is a sense of dread throughout the film that keeps building. Yes, it deviates from the book, but that is alright. The Shining as a movie is a horror masterpiece. Plot-wise, it blurs the line between reality and fiction for the character within the film. Like another film on this list, it touches on a character’s descent into madness. That combined with the haunted house elements make for an excellent Halloween film.
One of the original Vampire films that remained lost for a long time until someone found the print. An archaic Roman word for vampire had to be used since the director Murnau could not get the rights to Dracula. The original copies were all destroyed, except one, due to Bram Stoker’s estate threatening legal action. That one copy eventually found it's way to the United States where Dracula was public domain. That meant copyright could no longer stop Nosferatu. Now, the 1960's Nosferatu is probably the easiest movie to find. There are probably 50 different copies on Amazon that vary in quality(I would suggest Kino, or if you have a region free player, Eureka - those are the best copies). Regardless, the story of this film has twists and turns, and Bram Stoker’s estate could not keep Nosferatu from rising from the coffin again. The film itself is more like a piece of art and may be a little slow for modern viewers. The movie takes a while to build up, but it remains the coolest vampire film. Nosferatu, despite pre-dating all other vampire films we can watch, looks creepier than all its imitators. Nosferatu resembles more of a human rat. The atmosphere in this one is fantastic, especially at night.
A film that riffs on the slasher genre of horror movies. This film has everything you expect from the slasher genre, but a self-awareness other slashers lack. They even talk about the rules of a slasher film and how to survive. The twist at the end is effective, and most people do not see it coming the first time they watch this film. The kills are pretty ordinary, but the famous Scream costume is present and used well. The self-awareness makes it realistic in a sense. You have a copycat killer inspired by the numerous slasher films out there. The tropes of a slasher film become fun in this movie because it does not take them too seriously. This movie has both a serious tone and yet self-awareness that pokes fun at itself.
Witchfinder General 1968
Honestly, I could fill the list with just Vincent Price films and get away with it. However, that would be boring. Witchfinder General is one of Vincent Price’s most unlikable roles by far. Most Vincent Price films leave you cheering for the gentlemen of horror, but not this one. The film itself deals with the horrors of witch hunting. We have a witch hunter who brands people witches without due cause. It can even double as an allegory in the modern world where innocent men are convicted of crimes they did not commit. A film centered on the barbaric nature of witch hunts. The theme of this movie resonates no matter the time or place. It also gives us an idea of the horrors normal humans cause instead of the usual witch movie that paints the witches as abominations.
Dawn of the Dead 1978
The granddaddy of all zombie films and still the best without equal. The makeup does not exactly hold up like its unofficial sequel Zombie(1979) from Italy or its official sequel Day of the Dead(1985), but if you can live with that, this has the best story by far. The Walking Dead has nothing on Romero’s social commentary in the first sequel. A film about the horrors of racism, consumerism, materialism, vigilantism (encapsulated by the scenes with the rednecks), media, and government. Women's rights and aspects of Judgment Day from the Christian Bible are present too. A fun location in a mall where the horrors of raiders and zombies lurk. The death scenes are fantastic despite the zombies not looking the best. There are three common cuts of the film, and all of them have their advantages. The European Argento cut is a film of all dread with no comedic bits and fantastic music from Goblin. Romero’s American cut which is the easiest to find is the best of the bunch, and the one first timers should check out. It mixes Goblin music with public domain music. The comedic bits also stay in. The Extended Cut is a good watch too, but without the goblin music, it loses some edge. Regardless of which cut you watch, you’ll see the pinnacle of zombie films. This has a lot of fun scenes in the mall setting, and it is highly intelligent as an allegory on many issues in society that persist today. Horror fan or not, this one comes highly recommended. Especially if you like the inferior Walking Dead.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1931
This movie is a classic throughout time, and the Doctor won the Academy Award for best actor. Other Oscars for this film include the best cinematography and best adaptation writing. Even the critics loved this horror movie. The numerous transformation sequences are impressive for 1931 and done with makeup only. However, the real star of the show is Mr. Hyde. He is an absolute lunatic jumping around and causing chaos all over the place. It is entertaining, yet also utterly sad, the way he treats this poor woman Ivy. Even people who hate most old films end up liking this one if they give it a fair chance. This is a film for the ages that needs to be seen and celebrates both the science fiction aspects of Halloween and the horror of man’s need to play God.
I never understood the depth of this movie until I viewed it multiple times. On the surface, it appears to be a film about urban legends. If you look deeply, this film is also about the main character Helen and her descent into insanity. Is the legend of Candyman real or did Helen go completely insane obsessing over the urban legends? This film delves into the psyche of the psychotic while also being full of creepy imagery. The bees and Candyman’s solemn story as a slave burned alive coming back for revenge give it more depth than people realize. Creative death scenes with the right amount of creep. The urban inner city setting is fantastic. The shots you see of the city, and the graffiti stay with you. Tony Todd is mesmerizing as The Candyman. His voice is comparable to Karloff as the monster or Lugosi as Dracula. By far, the most underrated horror film of the 1990s.
Honestly, this film is like the heavy metal of horror films. Dario Argento, the greatest horror film director of all-time, created this one. I could have filled this list with just his movies, but that would be boring. This film, like most of his, is style over substance. The ending sequence in this movie is by far the best in horror history and somewhat creepy. The plot is of less importance in this one. The most vibrant atmospheric film ever created. Usually, a film relies on dark colors or black and white to create atmosphere. Not this one. Also, the music cues from Goblin add to that disorienting feeling. Everything about this film is disorienting. This film is a nightmare come to life. Even if you hate horror movies, you should give this one a chance especially if you like anything trippy or artistic. Think of this film more like a piece of art than a movie. I would call it the 2001: A Space Odyssey of horror films.
Tales From The Crypt 1970
I considered many anthology films. The semi-recent Trick R Treat(2007), Creepshow(1982), The Vault of Horror(1973), and The Dead of Night(1945) to mention a few are excellent anthology films, but the British Amicus Tales From The Crypt(1972) is by far the best of the bunch. It has good stories, a great twist, and is so much fun. I do not want to give it away, but it captures the essence of the more famous television show and the original comics from the 1950’s. The best way to describe it is a film about karma and how horrid deeds can haunt you. It fits Halloween perfectly because these are the kind of gruesome tales a group of friends may tell on Halloween night while sitting around a campfire.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch 1982
The ultimate Halloween movie. The people that dismiss this because it does not have Michael Myers do not know what they are missing. In my opinion, it is by far the best movie of the Halloween franchise. This film is about the consumerism of Halloween and how it targets children. It brings Halloween back to its brutal Pagan origins. The music is amazing. You’ll never forget the Silver Shamrock Commercial and the amazing John Carpenter theme. This film arguably has a better theme than the original Halloween and a lot more to do with the holiday of Halloween. This is a horror film about the Halloween season. It is a commentary on the costumes we buy, the candy we buy, and the corporate control that has overtaken this holiday. It blends the horror element of Halloween perfectly with that of consumerism. That makes it the ultimate Halloween experience since Halloween is all about consumerism.