It’s the time of year where the leaves are changing, the wind feels a little colder and the sun sets earlier than you might like.
Maybe you’re dreading the impending snow or looking forward to the holiday season in December, but you could be missing out.
If you’re anything like me or my wife, Jill, you revel in the fact it is officially horror movie season.
Last year, I think we set a record by watching at least 50 horror movies in the lead-up to Halloween. We started a little early this year (like the end of August), so we might be able to eclipse that previous number.
We don’t separate movies that are Halloween-themed from straight-up horror movies; we love them all equally. So here’s a little taste of what you could try adding to your viewing list this Halloween season.
When it comes to the movies we outgrew long ago but still enjoy watching, we have a few favorites. “Hocus Pocus” is a mid-’90s classic I had never seen until Jill made me watch it a few years ago. It’s actually a pretty fun movie, regardless of my distaste for anything that approaches a musical.
“The Haunted Mansion” doesn’t get a lot of love, and it’s not one of the better Disney movies of the last 20 years. However, Eddie Murphy is fun to watch, and it does conjure up memories of the ride that shares its name at Disney World, which Jill and I absolutely love and make a point to go on several times whenever we are at the Magic Kingdom.
It’s not a movie, but “Garfield’s Halloween Adventure” aired on CBS in 1985, and it’s one that we watch every year. It’s quite dated and pretty cheesy, but I remember watching it when I was a kid, and it brings back some fun memories. Besides, who doesn’t love Garfield and Odie?
“The Simpsons” has aired the annual “Treehouse of Horror” Halloween episodes since 1990 (which is hard to believe), so we always hit up a few of those. I don’t like to go beyond about the tenth installment, which falls within the “golden years” of the show.
Some of my favorites are the ones that parody classic “Twilight Zone” episodes such as “The Bart Zone,” a parody of “It’s a Good Life” from 1961; “Terror at 5½ Feet,” a parody of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” from 1963; and “Clown Without Pity,” a parody of “Living Doll,” also from 1963.
Then, of course, there’s “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” which first aired on CBS in 1966. I’ve watched this every year as long as I can remember, but for some stupid reason, none of the networks showed it last year. That just meant we had to buy the DVD so we wouldn’t miss out on Linus trying to convince Sally to sit in a pumpkin patch all night and miss tricks or treats in order to see the supernatural Great Pumpkin. It’s too good not to love.
Netflix has done a great job with some of the best shows/miniseries with a spooky edge to them.
There are three seasons of “Stranger Things” available, though only the second season actually takes place around Halloween. Still, the creepiness and supernatural factors as well as the dozens of references to ‘80s horror novels and movies make any of them appropriate for the season.
“The Haunting of Hill House,” which aired in 2018 as a 10-episode series based on a 1959 novel by Shirley Jackson, is the first part of Netflix’s “The Haunting” anthology series. There’s a great time jump aspect that goes back and forth between 1992 and the present day that keeps you guessing all the way to the end.
“The Haunting of Bly Manor,” which aired in 2020 as a nine-episode series, is part two of the Netflix anthology. It has much of the same cast as “Hill House,” but the narratives have no connection. This one was a bit of a slower burn than the previous entry, but it had enough of a creep factor to keep it interesting. Plus, it has one hell of a surprise ending.
When it comes to “classic” horror movies, there are really too many to mention. Still, there are a few in particular that we never miss.
The original “Halloween” from 1978 is always a must-watch, though we force ourselves to wait until as close to the actual holiday as we can to make it just that much spookier. Compared to many of today’s horror movies, it’s really pretty tame. But some of the camera angles and effects still make it super enjoyable, and the music can’t be beat.
“The Omen” from 1976 is another one we always have to watch. The whole premise of a newborn baby swap that hands an unknowing couple the spawn of Satan (aptly named Damien) is just too good to not love. Also, the death scene involving a plate of glass and a decapitation may look dated, but it’s still pretty chilling.
“The Exorcist” from 1973 has been copied, spoofed and referenced more times than I can count, but it still holds up. The backwards crab-walk down the stairs by the possessed Regan still looks freaky and the whole idea of your child being possessed by a demon should scare any parent more than ghosts or goblins ever could.
As far as horror franchises go, typically it’s only the first movie in a series that’s worth watching. For example, the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” from 1984 is still pretty creepy, but then it went off the rails as Freddy Krueger became a parody of himself for the next half-dozen sequels.
That’s a similar problem with “Friday the 13th,” which started out promising with the first few films from 1980-82 (though the acting is pretty bad), then fell into the same trap of turning Jason Voorhees into some sort of unkillable, supernatural beast.
That said, we always have to hit up a movie or two from the “Scream,” “Paranormal Activity,” “Final Destination,” “Insidious” and “Conjuring” franchises. Some of those franchises certainly fall under the aforementioned rule, but most are still enjoyable.
We also like to include some late-’90s/early-2000s movies such as “The Blair Witch Project,” “Stir of Echoes,” “Sleepy Hollow” and the remake of “The House on Haunted Hill,” all from 1999. There is also 2002’s “The Ring,” and 2004’s “Shaun of the Dead” is a nice palate cleanser with some very funny moments.
A few others that we never get to Halloween without watching: 1968’s “Rosemary’s Baby,” 1980’s “The Shining,” 1982’s “Poltergeist” and “The Thing,” 2015’s “The Witch,” 2017’s “It” and the 2018 “Halloween.” Of those, “Poltergeist” is probably my favorite. Again, it’s a bit dated, and some of the effects don’t look great, but put Steven Spielberg in charge of any movie and it’s pretty much guaranteed to be good.
The one movie we watched last year that still holds the mark for what we both consider to be about the worst movie we’ve ever seen is 2002’s “Cabin Fever,” which we just felt had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. As a matter of fact, any time since then when we’ve watched a movie that didn’t quite meet our expectations, we say “Well, it was no ‘Cabin Fever.’”
The only type of horror movie we generally avoid are the disturbing ones. The real world is scary enough, so in my mind you need some sort of escapism when it comes to horror movies (or really any movie). I believe there needs to be some sort of separation from what you’re watching on screen to what you experience in real life.
To us, the movies that fall under this category give you that “icky” feeling that is hard to shake. We’ve stumbled across some of these disturbing movies from time to time (“Midsommar” and “Hereditary” come to mind), but they generally don’t get a second watch. Some people really like the “Saw” series, “The Hills Have Eyes,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “The Last House on the Left” and some are even considered classics. They just aren’t the ones we prefer.
Hopefully this gives you some ideas of what to include in your horror movie fest this Halloween season. You’ve got to get as many in as you can before every channel on TV starts showing Christmas films, sing-a-longs, musicals and specials, which seems to start earlier every year.