As a child, Halloween was all about the costumes and the candy; as a teenager, the pranks and the parties. Now, as an adult, October means making some popcorn, turning out the lights, and putting on a scary movie that would surely give your younger self nightmares for weeks to come.
Now that you’ve learned to embrace the thrills and chills of frightening flicks, here are 10 must-watch horror movies for the Halloween season:
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman
The late George A. Romero’s debut zombie film Night of the Living Dead follows a group of terrified survivors who seek refuge in an old farmhouse when the dead suddenly come back to life. More importantly, though, the film sets the template for just about every single zombie movie that’s come since, such as the idea of a slow-moving enemy that’s easy to escape, meaning that only your fellow man or your own mistakes can be your downfall. The downbeat, realistic atmosphere gives the film a thrilling sense of tension, which continues right through to the very depressing conclusion. Night of the Living Dead is perhaps one of the greatest low-budget cult movies ever made, and certainly one of the most influential.Advertisement
The Cabin in the Woods
Director: Drew Goddard
Cast: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison
It’s a premise we’ve all seen before. Five friends head to a remote cabin hidden deep in the woods, and trouble naturally ensues. However, The Cabin in the Woods flips the script on this classic trope, resulting in a unique blend of horror and comedy that fully embraces both genres equally. Rather than steering clear of the usual horror clichés, this film welcomes them with open arms, giving Scream a run for its money when it comes to scary meets self-aware. The Cabin in the Woods is nothing short of a love letter to longtime horror fans, and while it might not outright scare you, it will leave you thoroughly entertained throughout.
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Ian McDiarmid, Christopher Walken
With stunning visuals and an utterly spooky atmosphere, Sleepy Hollow is perhaps one of the best-suited Tim Burton/Johnny Depp features for the Halloween season. The film tells the classic tale of the Headless Horseman, with Depp’s Ichabod Crane uncovering the mystery of the titular town’s haunting apparition while investigating a series of gruesome decapitations. Burton injects his unique vision and unmistakable style into the story, providing viewers with a dark and chilling movie that feels equal parts original and familiar, and while some would be reluctant to call it a horror film, per se, it’s an undeniably unsettling and aesthetically astounding piece of cinema.
Director: James Wan
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston
Sometimes, you simply can’t beat old-school horror scares, and The Conjuring delivers them in droves. The story follows a pair of paranormal investigators who are hired to research a sinister presence haunting a Rhode Island family’s farmhouse, but what they discover is a satanic evil that will require all of their spiritual strength to exorcise. What’s most perhaps most impressive is that this film earns its R-rating on scares, alone, and doesn’t rely on sex, cursing, or even gratuitous gore to elicit a reaction from viewers. Furthermore, director James Wan expertly capitalizes on the audience’s innate fear of the unknown, displaying incredible restraint by not showing too much but instead leaving it to our imaginations, which can sometimes be the scariest thing of all.
The Evil Dead (1981)
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor
The Evil Dead is a classic low-budget horror film that combines just the right amount of gore and black humor, eliciting an equal amount of thrills and laughs. The drama begins when five friends travel to a cabin in the woods (sound familiar?) where they unknowingly release flesh-possessing demons. The movie succeeds largely because it's aware of the fact that it's a simple zombie movie, and it never takes itself too seriously. It's meant to be campy, cheesy, revolting, and chilling at the same time, and there are clear moments where it seems to be making fun of itself and the genre in general. It’s an all-around cult classic and a bona fide must-watch.
Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke, Craig T. Nelson
The Poltergeist is a modern horror classic in which a family’s home is haunted by ghosts who kidnap the youngest child after she makes contact with the evil spirits through the family TV set. The plot is engaging and the acting is superb, but most importantly, the film transcends the general audience’s perception of ghosts by introducing the concept of these specters inhabiting a pseudo-fourth dimension. What’s more, it also helped breathe new life into the haunted house subgenre that had lain relatively dormant since The Amityville Horror came out three years earlier. While the lackluster sequels certainly leave much to be desired, The Poltergeist will undoubtedly stand the test of time as a highly influential and utterly frightening staple of the horror genre.
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette
Leave it to horror icon and Nightmare on Elm Street mastermind Wes Craven to give fans a film that completely deconstructs the very genre he helped put on the map. On the surface, Scream is your typical slasher story mixed with some dark comedy but at its core, it’s a brilliant metatextual examination of the tropes and “rules” of the horror genre. In fact, many film buffs that typically steer clear of horror movies have become fans simply because of how Scream breaks down the formula that spelled success for the countless scary movies that preceded it. Like The Poltergeist, the two sequels hardly match the original’s intelligence, but as a standalone film, Scream is smart, effective, and it manages to amuse and scare in equal measures.
Paranormal Activity 3
Directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Cast: Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Christopher Nicholas Smith
Arguably the best installment in this found-footage horror franchise, Paranormal Activity 3 ups the ante by dialing back the clock to 18 years before the events of the first film, giving fans an intriguing and decidedly terrifying backstory for sisters Kristi and Katie. You would need one hell of a sharp knife to cut through all the tension this movie packs, and unlike its predecessors, this one has a much swifter pace and a far more chilling tone since it plays heavily on the innocence of the child actors. If you were put off by the first Paranormal Activity, consider giving this one a chance this Halloween season because you just may find yourself wanting to give the entire franchise a second chance.
Trick ‘r Treat
Director: Michael Dougherty
Cast: Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Dylan Baker
This instant seasonal classic is a collection of five interwoven tales that all take place in the same neighborhood one Halloween night. It fully captures the essence of the holiday because it’s the foundation of the entire plot, taking everything you remember about Halloween as a child and mashing it all into a gleeful, creepy anthology of tales that are both genuinely chilling and nostalgically pleasing. And while Trick ‘r Treat certainly isn’t the scariest horror movie out there, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that better embodies the spirit of All Hallows’ Eve.
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tony Moran
While the title can be a bit misleading (this film could have arguably taken place on any night of the year without any significant changes to the plot), it’s hard to argue that Halloween is a perfect horror flick for the Halloween season. It’s the story of a masked, lumbering, homicidal maniac named Michael Myers, who escapes from a mental hospital 15 years after murdering his sister on All Hallows’ Eve and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield to seek new blood. This is by most accounts one of the most influential slasher-style horror movies of all time, with the legendary John Carpenter emphatically leaving his mark on the genre in this seminal film. Since its release in 1978, many imitators have surfaced, but nothing will ever compare to the one that started it all.