I’m a self-described Halloween junky. The combination of autumn and all things spooky go together better than espresso and pumpkin spice (another fall staple that I’m currently drinking while writing this). I like watching movies, and I like reading movie lists, so I’m writing a list of my favourite movies to get into the Halloween spirit.
There’s definitely a distinction between Halloween movies and horror movies. I love horror, but not all horror movies are Halloween-y. And not all Halloween movies are horror. There will be overlap on this list. I’m also going to be writing up a list of my favourite horror movies for anyone who’s seeking out some straight-up scares for their movie marathons, Halloween or otherwise.
Trick ‘R’ Treat (2007)
My favourite Halloween horror movie, Trick ‘r’ Treat is everything that you could want in a scary Halloween flick. Originally conceptualized with a tie-in comic book, it’s an anthology film telling a handful of Halloween stories. I think that horror as a genre is incredibly suited to anthology storytelling, and Trick ‘r’ Treat ties these stories together into a great non-linear narrative celebrating . My favourite short is either the party girls or the tweens at the quarry, but honestly they’re all good.
As well as the Halloween storytelling, this movie just screams Spooktober vibes. The warm autumn tones and surplus of vintage Halloween imagery have a way of making this movie feel surprisingly cozy while we watch some seriously good scares. This love letter to Halloween is capped off with the film’s mascot Sam (pictured on the poster above), who represents the importance of respecting Halloween traditions… or else.
The Haunted Mansion (2003)
I will start by saying this movie is not good. It has DCOM energy on a box office budget. Based on the iconic Disney Parks ride, The Haunted Mansion is an extraordinarily campy movie starring Eddie Murphy as a real estate agent who learns the value of family after a series of ghostly hijinks ensue at the eponymous mansion. The writing falls pretty flat, and the acting is mixed. I don’t love early 2000s comedy Eddie Murphy (it kind of works in this movie), but Terence Stamp is decidedly creepy as a mysterious butler, and Jennifer Tilly as Madame Leota is a weird casting choice that I personally liked. The movie’s sets look like a Halloween haunted house attraction, which I think really works in this case, because it adds to the camp value of the film and ties it back to the Haunted Mansion as a ride.
This movie was played on CBC Movie Nights when I was a kid, so my appreciation of it as a Halloween movie is pretty steeped in nostalgia. The cultural collective seems to agree that Halloweentown is an iconic Halloween movie, and in my opinion The Haunted Mansion is waaay better than Halloweentown. Everyone is sleeping on this largely ignored movie as the perfect campy Halloween film.
Ghosts, witches, and zombies populate Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts in this spooky stop motion flick. Surprisingly cute despite its creepy premise (a young boy who can speak to the dead, uncovering a curse in the process), this movie is well worth a watch if you’re looking for something on the creepier side. The characters are very likeable, and the animation style is quite unique. If you’re a fan of Coraline, a close contender for this list, you’ll probably like ParaNorman. I watched it on Halloween night a few years ago after my mum and I handed out candy to Trick or Treaters. It was surprisingly witty and even a bit scary at times! I find it a bit surprising that this movie had an August release, because it’s obviously made for a cozy October movie marathon.
The Conjuring (2013)
This movie is a juggernaught in contemporary horror cinema. It’s spawned two direct sequels, as well as the spinoff Annabelle franchise (three films), and two more spinoffs: The Nun and The Curse of La Llorna. While not all of the “Conjure-verse” films are masterpieces, the original is a contemporary horror classic that carries strong Halloween vibes. I think that haunting and demonic films feel a lot more seasonal than slasher films. The autumnal setting and bleak colour palette further contribute to this movie’s classification as solidly Halloween, and the retro setting (1971) contributes to the same nostalgia as Trick ‘r’ Treat, but in a more perverse way.
The film tells the story of a Rhode Island family whose new home is posessed by the spirit of a devil-worshiping witch. The Warrens, famous real life demonologists from the 1960s-80s, attempt to help the family. Yes, this movie is based on a true story! Even though film studios play fast and loose with “inspired by true events” (case point being that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is decidedly not the true story of Ed Gein), and even though hauntings and possessions aren’t real, the fact that real people claim to have experienced these events is still a bit creepy. And if it doesn’t creep you out personally, it’s a good tidbit to whip out to those more faint of heart who you may be watching it with.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The only true classic horror film on this list, as well as the only slasher. Like I said, slashers don’t really feel all that Halloween-y to me! Yes, that applies to John Carpenter’s Halloween as well – it’s a great movie, but it doesn’t have to be Halloween for the events to take place! Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street‘s supernatural elements and weird surreal deam sequences feel more appropriate for Halloween. Freddy Krueger is also the OG slasher who brought comedy to the genre with his quips. Though he becomes a pastiche of himself in the later films (which is fun in its own way), he’s definitely played on the scarier side in the original film. This movie has great camp value on top of some genuine scares, and a sequence of subsequently sillier sequels make it a great series to marathon come October.
A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Do I need to explain? I’m not the biggest fan of some of the iconic Halloween movies like Halloweentown or Hocus Pocus, but A Nightmare Before Christmas is an iconic Halloween classic that I can fully get behind. The stop motion masterpiece is a beautiful nod to the season, and its most famous song “This Is Halloween” absolutely slaps. Fun fact: though it’s marketed as “Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas“, it’s actually directed by Henry Selick. It’s based on a concept by Burton, who acted as a producer on the project. The film acts as a testament to all things weird and wonderful about the Halloween season, and to those who identify with the spooky and sinister. Anyway, this movie is a Halloween classic, and if it’s not on your October movie list, you’re wrong.
Rounding off this list is one of my favourite horror movies of all time. This movie scared the shit out of me, and I think it’s one of the best horror movies from the past 10 years. The plot, acting, cinematography, lighting, sound mixing, pacing… everything comes together so perfectly in this movie. Though it is a bit heavy on the jumpscares, I think that Sinister is the type of film that demonstrates just how valuable this type of scare can be when it’s used appropriately. One of the biggest jumps I had watching this film was a scene transition from the anticipation of something lurking in the dark, to a scene transition in which a teaspoon is loudly dropped into a coffee cup.
Seriously, the atmosphere of this film is so well constructed. If you’re a horror fan, or just horror curious, this movie is always one of my top recommendations for just how good horror movies can be. Like The Conjuring, Sinister isn’t explicitly Halloween-y, but it does have a similar autumnal setting and colour palette. Aesthetically autumnal and absolutely terrifying, Sinister is my number one pick for spooky fall horror.
The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror
Okay, so this isn’t a movie, but The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” Halloween specials are such a nostalgic piece of media for me. CBC would play reruns leading up to Halloween, so a lot of the earlier episodes are firmly imprinted in my mind. If you are unfamiliar with “Treehouse of Horror” specials, they are Halloween episodes divided into three shorts, typically satirizing horror or science fiction classics. This is a pretty definitive list of iconic segments from Treehouse of Horror. Yes, they are still making new Treehouse of Horror episodes, and no, they are not good.