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13 Horror films for Halloween
Every year as the winds grow chilly, the autumn air smells of wood smoke, and the leaves began to fall, Halloween draws closer. This time of year is filled with Pumpkin Spice Lattes, Apple Orchards, costume parties, and most of all - Horror film marathons! This time of year I seem to get inspired to watch more horror than I usually do (which is saying a lot since I watch a ton of it already). So, I have decided to share a few of my favorite scare-fests for the Halloween season.
1. Halloween (1978)
As you prepare to carve your Jack-O-Lanterns let's start with required Halloween viewing. John Carpenter's tale of a six year old child “with a blank, pale, emotionless face” who murders his sister on a cold Halloween night has become nothing short of a masterpiece in horror cinema. The now iconic killer Michael Myers escapes a mental institution to make his way back to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois fifteen years after his sister's murder. He encounters Laurie Strode and her friends and begins playing a deadly game of trick-or-treat. Starring Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis – this is a must see on every October 31st. This is a film that has more suspense and technique than gore and shock value. It builds slowly and creepily to a terrifying climax. Carpenter fleshed out the story of The Shape’s psychiatrist, Dr. Samuel Loomis (named after the character in Hitchcock’s Psycho) while producer Debra Hill wrote most of the girls’ dialogue. This is the film that would go on to earn Jamie Lee Curtis her infamous label of "Scream Queen" and with good reason. The masked killer gives her plenty to scream about.
Halloween is available together with the rest of the series in a boxed set featuring tons of extra features and rare treats. It's available on Amazon.
2. Trick 'r Treat (2007)
This is the best Halloween anthology film to ever grace the genre. The tales are all interwoven with various residents of a small town with many skeletons. The film features stories that occur on Halloween centering around killers, vampires, and witches. A devilish trick-or-treater is the common denominator in each story – making sure certain traditions (and hidden secrets) are not forgotten. This is one of the most inspired anthology films in quite a while. All the best Halloween imagery is here - it's like having the best of the holiday displayed on screen while horrible events unfold in front of your very eyes. The film introduces a modern horror icon - Sam. Who is Sam you may wonder? Watch this film and meet him. You won't be disappointed.
3. Night of the Demons (1988)
A group of high school seniors decide to have a Halloween party in an abandoned mortuary. While conducting a séance they unwittingly unleash a demon that has been trapped in the bowels of the crematorium. One by one they die and then return as demons themselves. Night of the Demons features one of the best dance sequences in a horror film along with one of the most famous scenes featuring scream queen Linnea Quigley and a tube of lipstick. I would argue that this is one of Linnea's best performances. Amelia Kinkade leads the group of demons as Angela. This film would spawn two sequels and a cult following. It also has a fantastic tag before the credits roll. If you haven't seen it at all or if it's been a while - put this on your watch list this year. Scream Factory has released the definitive collector's edition available on Amazon. This edition has loads of extra features and a great transfer. Extras include:
• New Audio Commentary With Director Kevin S. Tenney and Actors Cathy Podewell, Hal Havins, Billy Gallo And FX Artist Steve Johnson
• Audio Commentary With Director Kevin S. Tenney, Executive Producer Walter Josten And Producer Jeff Geoffray
• New Interviews With Cast And Crew Including Director Kevin Tenney, Writer/Producer Joe Augustyn And Actress Linnea Quigley
• Promo Reel
• Video Trailer
• Theatrical Trailer
• TV And Radio Spots
• Still Galleries
4. All Hallows' Eve (2013)
With all the recent coverage of creepy clown sightings in national news, why not bring one right into your living room courtesy of All Hallows' Eve? Imagine the kids you're babysitting come home from trick or treating and one of them has a VHS tape in their bag. What do you do? Well, you watch it of course! The tape contains terror-riddled tales all linked to a clown with a taste for bloody murder. As the night progresses and the babysitter watches each tale she begins to realize that the clown is more than just a plot device. One of the best segments features a woman waiting at a creepy train station who is being taunted by the maniacal clown. While not a high budget scare-fest the film definitely does the best it can with the budget it has and it does an effective job.
5. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The most iconic zombie film ever made, George Romero's masterpiece of the macabre tells the tale of the dead coming back to life to feed on the living. A group of people are thrown together in a secluded farmhouse and must do everything they can to survive until the morning. I remember watching this film when I was a child on Halloween night and being terrified out of my wits. I thought this was happening somewhere in the world at that very moment. I will never forget that feeling as I watched the film for the first time. The low budget lends a gritty realism to the proceedings. The spooky ambience and shocking moments must have had movie audiences going insane with terror in 1968. This is always a must see during the Halloween season. Watch it while you can because “They're coming to get you, Barbara!”
Right now the film is only available on blu ray in a multiple region import. We can only hope that Scream Factory will give this the Collector's edition treatment in the near future. Until then - you can find the link to the only available blu ray release of the film below.
6. Freaks (1932)
A trapeze artist named Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) discovers the circus midget Hans (Harry Earles) has an inheritance coming to him. Knowing that he is smitten with her, she devises a plan to woo him, marry him, and then slowly poison him so she can steal his money and run off with The Strong Man. Once the rest of the circus freaks catch on to her evil intentions, they plot a horrifying revenge. The film really builds character development before the chilling climax. The scene where the freaks are coming after the wrongdoers through the rain is possibly one of the most terrifying sequences ever filmed. Directed by Tod Browing in 1932 this film still packs a punch within its 65 minute run time.
7. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The late Marilyn Burns stars as Sally Hardesty, a young girl traveling with her friends to investigate a series of vandalized graves in the cemetery where her grandfather is buried. They spend time visiting the old family farmhouse and encounter a hitchhiker with violent tendencies and a sadistic family living nearby. The young friends are butchered one by one by chainsaw-wielding Leatherface (the late Gunnar Hansen) a psycho who wears the skin of his victims as a mask. The film is loosely based on the murders committed by real life serial killer Ed Gein. The film was banned in several countries upon release. Tobe Hooper's graphic portrayal of the exploits of Leatherface and his brutal family has become one of the most beloved horror films ever made. As the tag line asks “Who will survive and what will be left of them?”
The 40th anniversary edition from MPI Media Group presents the original restored film in an all-new 4k scan authorized by director Tobe Hooper, featuring a new 7.1 surround sound mix, commentaries, never-before-seen outtakes, and many more features. See the link below!
8. Psycho (1960)
The grandfather of all slasher films, this is Alfred Hitchock's tale of an introvert named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who has an unhealthy relationship with his mother. When a secretary named Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) stumbles upon his motel she discovers that a mother can be very protective of her son. Especially if she were alive. Hitchcock utilized the crew and sets of his television show to make the film since the studio was not as enthused about the project as the director himself. The film has been influential to hordes of slasher films that would over-saturate the market throughout the 70's and 80's. Based on Robert Bloch's novel the story (like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) is also inspired by serial killer Ed Gein. So relax, take a shower, and settle in to watch this iconic film before the kids come knocking on the door for candy.
9. The Fog (1980)
John Carpenter's underrated ghost story tells the tale of Antonio Bay and its not so clean past. The town was founded and built with the fortune stolen from the crew of the Elizabeth Dane, a ship lured by the townsfolk by a campfire, which crashes against the rocks and leaves all aboard dead at the bottom of the sea. 100 years later the ghost ship returns the crew to Antonio Bay to exact revenge on those whose ancestors lured them to their icy cold deaths. Local radio station owner Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) broadcasts from a lighthouse trying to warn the townsfolk. Carpenter's score is fantastic and creepy. It's one of the elements that makes the film work so well. Originally after making a cut of the film he was dissatisfied with the results. He went back and re-shot some scenes and added the now familiar score. The film also features several of the cast members from the Halloween series. Jamie Lee Curtis, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Loomis, Ty Mitchell, and Tom Atkins were all a part of the original Halloween trilogy.
Scream Factory has delivered the definitive edition of the film with all the previous special features from the earlier DVD release as well as brand new commentaries. The Scream Factory release has the most extras compared to any other prior release of the film. Bonus features include:
• New 1080p High-Definition Transfer Supervised By Cinematographer Dean Cundey
• Audio Commentary With Writer/Director John Carpenter And Writer/Producer Debra Hill
• New Audio Commentary With Actors Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins And Production Designer Tommy Lee Wallace
• New Interview With Jamie Lee Curtis
• Tales From The Mist: Inside The Fog Featurette
• Fear On Film: Inside The Fog Featurette
• The Fog: Storyboard To Film Featurette
• Horror’s Hallowed Grounds – A New Look At The Film’s Locations
• Theatrical Trailers
• TV Spots
• Photo Gallery
10. House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Rob Zombie's debut film is a grisly and brutal tale of friends who stumble upon the wrong people when their car leaves them stranded the night before Halloween. The Firefly family treat them all to their own brand of Halloween pranks – which have deadly results. The film was finished three years before its release date due to the studio shelving the project for its intense sequences of graphic violence and gore. The film was controversial for a variety of reasons - violence being only one. Zombie was able to sell the film to Lionsgate who released it in theatres in 2003. The film would spawn one sequel "The Devil's Rejects".
11. Dead of Night (1977)
Not to be confused with the 1945 anthology film of the same name, this made for television horror anthology features three tales from legendary horror writer Richard Matheson. The film (Directed by Dan Curtis of "Trilogy of Terror" and "Dark Shadows" fame) is quite impressive for a TV movie. The first tale concerns a young man who is restoring an antique car which turns out to be more than just an old car. It's a time machine. The final and best segment in the film tells the story of a mother (Joan Hackett) who is grieving terribly for her young son. She is given the chance to reunite with him by using black magic to bring him back – but the reunion has chilling consequences. This is the sole reason to watch this film. The other segments are pretty decent but "Bobby" is the winning segment with a fantastically scary ending. If you are not familiar with this obscure film I highly recommend it as essential Halloween viewing.
12. Hellbent (2004)
A group of gay friends celebrating Halloween are stalked by a serial killer in a devil's mask. The friends are on their way to the West Hollywood Halloween Carnival - where the film was actually shot. The killer follows the group of friends to a club and begins to wield his scythe to take the heads from the unsuspecting group. The film has many classic slasher film moments and the characters are likable. You want them to survive. Unfortunately for them the killer does not. Featuring sexy guys, lots of blood, and the most exciting night of the year - this is one of the better modern slasher films. Definite recommended Halloween viewing.
13. Carrie (1976)
This film might not be set on Halloween but it deserves its place on everyone's list for seasonal viewing. Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), the high school scapegoat, is targeted by her peers in an act of cruelty. She is sent home to her fanatically religious mother, Margaret (“Go to your closet and pray!”) – who is equally as cruel. Of course Carrie has hidden talents. She is telekinetic. Her peers, angry at being punished, concoct a vicious prank to get back at her. Carrie is asked to the prom where the evening begins beautifully until the prank is carried out and results in Carrie's power being unleashed in a violently explosive manner. Director Brian De Palma uses his trademark split-screen in the most famous prom night ever filmed in horror history. Pino Donaggio's score is absolutely phenomenal and lends so much atmosphere to the film. Carrie is one of the rare horror films to have been nominated for various Academy Awards.
The film was recently released by Scream Factory in a 40th anniversary edition featuring a new 4K transfer from the original negative and seven brand new special features! Check out the link below.
A final word
Although there are definitely a plethora of films that one could watch this Halloween season, these are the ones I come back to year after year. They help to get me in the spirit of the season - some are recent additions, some are like revisiting old friends. Hopefully one of these will join your favorites list this season.
Oh, and Happy Halloween.