Image credit: Canva
All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Eve, Halloween. Whether or not you celebrate the day, you can still enjoy a good scary movie. Immerse yourself in these flicks themed around a holiday that represents everything from pumpkin carving to axe-wielding serial killers. What’s better than an excuse to be festive?
Every recommendation is spoiler-free, aside from general plot outlines, which double as content warnings.
Hocus Pocus (1993) PG
Rife with spooky iconography, Kenny Ortega’s autumnal flick is the perfect family film.
Halloween naysayer Max Dennison moves to Salem, Massachusetts, and underestimates the legitimacy of the cursed Candle of Black Flame. He inadvertently resurrects the eccentric trio of witches, the Sanderson sisters, played by icons of the screen Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker. In summary, Kenny Ortega can do no wrong.
This film is fit for taking a time machine back to the 1990s, and it has the greatest closing line in the history of Disney films.
Donnie Darko (2001) M
2021 marks twenty years since the release of Donnie Darko. While the plot of the film is notoriously difficult to decipher, the gist is that Donnie Darko is the blueprint for the angsty teenager, with an in-depth knowledge of Smurf lore.
Donnie meets a man in a rabbit costume claiming that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. The next morning, a mysterious jet engine falls into his bedroom and things keep getting stranger. This is essential viewing for Jake Gyllenhaal fans, and the overall meaning is largely up for individual interpretation.
While there is an ‘otherworldly’ element to the flick, Donnie Darko is also host to realistic portrayals of sibling interactions, adolescent romance, and mental illness. Not only is Donnie Darko a dark and spooky film, but the events of the movie exist as a countdown to October 31.
Carrie (1976) R
It’s hardly a complete list of Halloween movies without Stephen King, and where better to start than the beginning, with the first foray into screen adaptations of King’s work.
Outcast Carrie White is put through one too many humiliating experiences, causing her to unleash her telekinetic capabilities and wreak havoc. Putting aside the disturbing presence of the male gaze, Brian DePalma’s Carrie measures up as a well-paced, engaging, and tense depiction of one girl’s descent into chaos.
The retro gore, three-dimensional characters (Tommy Ross <3), and twenty-year-old John Travolta are what separates this iteration of Carrie from the 2013 remake.
Green Room (2015) R
To preface, Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room is very confronting. A punk band finds themselves performing a gig at a venue popular with neo-nazis, and tensions rise. Green Room is suggested for those seeking intense horror rooted in realism, not background noise for decorating the house with faux spider webs.
Green Room is as good as it is under-appreciated, which can be applied to most of the late great Anton Yelchin’s work. The sheer intensity of the impossible situation faced by the members of the Ain’t Rights is enough to keep you invested in every step they take to avoid a total cataclysm.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) M
Practically the definition of a cult classic. Conventional couple Brad and Janet are struck by a flat tyre, leading them to seek refuge in the nearest castle. Said establishment is populated by outlandish characters, urges, and tendencies, at least from the perspective of the world that Brad and Janet are used to.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is deserving of an enormous bowl of popcorn and an active audience and can be enjoyed in the home, despite the picture’s ongoing longevity in theatres.
The soundtrack is unironically magnificent, and it is so much more than the Time Warp. So sing along, dance along, and give yourself over to absolute pleasure!
Scream (1996) MA
The quintessential slasher, Scream masterfully subverts the tropes depicted in its predecessors. When a series of murders occur in her small California town, Sidney Prescott suspects that the killings are related and that she has to find a way to stop them.
Scream is full of enduring pillars of the 90s and a stream of iconic moments that have inspired four film sequels and a three-season TV show. Veteran director Wes Craven solidified his place as a horror movie legend with Scream and, despite the intentional use of cliches, keeps you guessing until the end.
A Quiet Place (2018) M
In the post-apocalyptic aftermath of a mysterious invasion, the Abbotts must exist in total silence to survive the threat of noise-sensitive aliens. As expected, this makes for tense viewing.
The directorial debut of John Krasinski (yes, Jim from The US Office), A Quiet Place doesn’t give you room to breathe. Due to their proficiency in sign language, the family is able to communicate, but the constant presence of a heavily pregnant matriarch forces viewers to stare in the face of the danger formulated by the impossibility of a silent childbirth. A Quiet Place is a different kind of horror movie, indicative of a new, more visionary wave of scary movies.
E.T. (1982) G
A podgy extraterrestrial is left behind on Earth, and his attempts to ‘phone home’ lead him to a boy in the suburbs and a series of close calls with various adults.
When it was first released, E.T. was the highest-grossing film of all time, and it remains an important signpost in the history of blockbuster films. Most people know the scene with the flying bike in front of the moon, but E.T. has a lot of iconic moments to offer, whether they make you laugh or cry.
Jennifer’s Body (2009) MA
Thanks to a well-deserved renaissance, Jennifer’s Body is finally getting the recognition it warrants. Jennifer’s Body was poorly received upon release but has since been reevaluated as the movie’s subversion of tropes and patriarchal expectations have led the film to gain cultish traction.
Jennifer’s Body is essential horror-comedy viewing and is undeniably Megan Fox’s best work, which she attests to herself. Archetypal popular girl Jennifer Check is mistakenly sacrificed to Satan, and when a killing spree ensues, Jennifer’s best friend is faced with the task of taking her down. Feminist horror-comedy? Count me in.
Train to Busan (2016) MA
For Seok-woo, what starts off as a train ride to take his daughter to his estranged wife, is flipped upside down when a chemical leak unleashes a plague of very fast, very scary zombies. The passengers’ defences against the growing zombie population become less effective as the titular train keeps the momentum. In a sturdy ensemble of characters so easy to connect with, things become all the more painful when the stakes are so high.
The Lost Boys (1987) M
A personal favourite, Joel Schumaker’s coming-of-age/horror flick is a triumph of camp cinema. There’s big hair, long stares, and bold prosthetics. Brothers Sam and Michael move to Santa Carla, only to develop suspicions that everything in this new town is not what it seems. While Michael socialises with a troupe of moody vampires, Sam befriends an adolescent pair of self-proclaimed vampire hunters.
With a haunting main score and killer one-liners - many of which should frankly be more prominent on t-shirt designs - the pop culture influence and one-of-a-kind aesthetic of The Lost Boys shall be overlooked no more!
What We Do in the Shadows (2014) M
A slight change of pace, What We Do in the Shadows takes audiences through the day-to-day lives of vampiric housemates in Wellington, New Zealand. Preceding Taika Waititi’s worldwide popularity, he accompanied Jemaine Clement in engineering this delightful mockumentary, so jam-packed with humour that you sometimes don’t have time to laugh before an even funnier moment comes along. Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr do their best to deal with what modern life throws at them, but a sacrificial mishap introduces a new housemate which makes things a bit tougher, especially with a couple of clashing egos.
I doubly recommend watching The Lost Boys before What We Do in the Shadows in order to fully appreciate the hilarity of Deacon’s ‘basghetti’.
Beetlejuice (1988) M
Tim Burton’s best. Sarcastic and unreliable bio-exorcist Betelgeuse showcases Burton’s originality and takes audiences along an exciting and surreal tour of the underworld, and the life of iconic angsty teen Lydia Deetz (played by the queen of Halloween, Winona Ryder). On the surface, ‘Beetlejuice’ is a surreal, stripey romp, with a bit of Henry Belafonte mixed in.
While it is all that, the film is also a unique yet accurate depiction of grief, loneliness, and coming to terms with death.