It’s hard to get worked up about fictional creatures when there’s a deadly viral villain just an errant cough away. But with Halloween just around the corner, being intentionally scared by things we know are patently pretend might be just the escape we need right now.
To help, I’m sharing with you a list of my 10 favorite Halloween movies. And don’t worry; they aren’t all scary as I tend to waver on what I’m in the mood to watch during spooky season.
Also, this isn’t intended to be a definitive list of the “10 greatest Halloween films of all time.” I’m sure guts and gore fans out there will say my selections are too tame or that they aren’t specific to the Oct. 31 holiday.
My choices are intended to offer variety, and hopefully you can find something to help get you in the spirit. So counting backward, here are my picks:
10. “House of Wax” (1959): For my money, no list of great scary movies would be complete without something starring Vincent Price.
In this flick, Price plays a sculptor gone mad after his partner sets fire to their wax museum. Injured in the blaze and left crippled and unable to sculpt, Price’s character resorts to murder and coats the bodies of his victims in wax to display in his new museum.
Also consider: Despite its truly ‘50s special effects, “The House on Haunted Hill” (1959) is another great choice if you’re jonesing for a classic Price pic.
9. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993): If you have young children, breaking out the “Saw” series might not be advisable.
Ideal for all ages, this stop-motion animated film from director Tim Burton shares the story of Jack Skellington, the recognized king of Halloween Town who grows tired of his typecasting and becomes obsessed with taking over control of the yuletide season from Santa Claus.
Also consider: 2005’s “Corpse Bride” is another slightly spooky stop- motion option from Burton that would be perfect for some not-too-dark, kid-friendly holiday entertainment.
8. “The Frighteners” (1996): Before becoming a recognized name with the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Peter Jackson directed Michael J. Fox in this cult favorite comedy horror film.
Fox plays an architect with the ability to communicate with ghosts, who he then sends to haunt homes so he can charge owners a fee to exorcise them. Things get dicey when he comes across the ghost of a mass murderer who can attack the living and the dead.
Also consider: It’s not exactly a comedy, but 1985’s “Fright Night” about a teen convinced he lives next door to a vampire is campy enough to not be taken too seriously while still providing some great scares and suspense.
7. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984): Few modern horror villains carry the same clout as Freddy Krueger. The bladed-glove-wearing killer tormented the teens of Springwood, Ohio, entering their dreams to systematically take them out.
The franchise includes a total of nine films, but Krueger’s introduction in the original “Nightmare” guaranteed bad dreams for all who saw it.
Also consider: 1996’s star-studded “Scream,” a modern whodunit with enough twists to keep even the most ardent murder-mystery fan on edge. A killer known only as Ghostface terrorizes a California town targeting ... you guessed it ... teens.
6. “Carrie” (1976): The film adaptation of this Stephen King novel features one of the better jump-scare endings I’ve ever seen (sorry, no spoilers).
In a tale that likely resonates with anyone who has attended high school, a bullied teen is pushed to her limits and uses her telekinetic powers to exact revenge on her tormentors. The performance earned star Sissy Spacek an Oscar nomination.
Also consider: “The Omen.” Films about the antichrist are frightening enough, but when the perceived threat comes from a eerie 5-year-old, that’s where the creeps in this 1976 scarer really take off.
5. “Friday the 13th” (1980): Want to gauge the impact this film had on pop culture? Put on a hockey mask, walk down a dark hallway and see what sort of reaction you get.
In this slasher classic, teenage counselors trying to reopen an abandoned summer camp are picked off by a machete-toting masked killer. Ch, ch, ch ... ah, ah, ah.
Also consider: Before eventually being let in on the fact it was a scripted production, viewers of “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) were led to believe this “found-footage” chronicled the true story of three young filmmakers who mysteriously disappeared while tracking down a local horror legend in the hills of central Maryland.
4. “The Exorcist” (1973): For my money, the scariest film ever made. It might not have the level of gore found in some of today’s films, but for premise and graphic elements, it’s hard to beat.
Linda Blair became a star as Regan MacNeil, a 12-year-old who becomes possessed by an evil demon. Levitating beds, projectile vomit and heads rotating 360 degrees only add to the shock factor of a horror flick that, despite being made nearly 50 years ago, still holds up.
Also consider: “Rosemary’s Baby.” Mia Farrow stars in this 1968 film about a young woman tricked into carrying the spawn of Satan. Despite being undeniably creepy, it is widely recognized as a cinema classic.
3. “Young Frankenstein” (1974): When it comes to listing the masters of macabre, you aren’t likely to find Mel Brooks. Still, his comedy starring Wisconsin’s own Gene Wilder as the grandson of the infamous scientist (“It’s pronounced ‘Fronkensteen’”) is the perfect palate cleanser here.
Shot in black and white for effect, the comedy also features Peter Boyle as the monster, Teri Garr, Marty Feldman and Madeline Kahn.
Also consider: Say it three times. In 1988’s “Beetlejuice,” a newly-dead couple can’t scare away a pretentious family that moves into their former home. For help, they conjure up a strange specter who is equal to the task ... for a price.
2. “Halloween” (1978): This one has an edge because the holiday is in the name, but it is more than deserving to be high on the list. The prototype Halloween film stars Jamie Lee Curtis, who continues her family’s horror lineage in this breakout vehicle.
After 15 years in a sanitarium, a patient named Michael Myers escapes on Halloween night, puts on a mask and begins stalking and killing teen baby sitters in an Illinois town.
Recognized as the origin of popular slasher movies, the film franchise features 10 sequels not including two more scheduled for release in 2021 and 2022.
Also consider: Featuring Janet Leigh, Curtis’ mother, 1960’s “Psycho” introduced horror fans to Anthony Perkins’ quintessential mama’s boy, Norman Bates. Directed by the “Master of Suspense” Alfred Hitchcock, the movie did no favors for the motel industry.
1. “Frankenstein” (1931): “It’s alive!” Sorry, but as a kid, this was this one that always got me.
Boris Karloff is a horror legend, and the manner in which he plays the monster paired with the black-and-white presentation is menace defined. Despite the monster’s slow gait, you quickly realize he’s never going to stop coming after you ... and everybody gets tired eventually, right?
The scene where he eventually kills, seemingly accidentally, a young girl adds not only a human element to the storyline but also an unexpected dimension to the outcome.
Also consider: I saw the 1931 version of “Dracula” starring Bela Lugosi when I was 9. In the heat of summer, and with no air conditioning, I slept for weeks with the covers pulled up under my chin.
The iconic film isn’t nearly as scary as I remember, but I find its escalating dread and sense of doom more psychologically satisfying than simplistic blood spatters.