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20 Horror Movie Essentials for the Halloween Season


Boo!  The month of October is especially exciting for horror movie fans.  Halloween is the perfect excuse to dust off some of those old favorites and to explore previously undiscovered films.  In fact, as an avid horror fan myself, I’ve committed this month to watch at least 31 horror movies that I’ve never seen before.  A big tradition for Halloween is the costume party, a great reason for adults to get dressed up and be silly drunk for no reason at all.  Halloween parties are all about atmosphere and I always find it fun to have some horror classics playing in the background.  I’ve compiled this list of 20 horror movies that will make great additions to your Halloween party.  Now, these movies aren’t necessarily the scariest, but they are all fun movies that can be enjoyed at a party.  So whether you are just looking for some background entertainment or looking for a serious Halloween movie-watching experience, take a look at these selected films.


20. The Blob (1988)

A re-make of the 1958 classic starring Steve McQueen, this movie takes cheese to the next level.  The film stars Kevin Dillon (Drama from Entourage) as a totally ’80s teen trying to warn his town about the gelatinous ooze that is devouring everything in its path.  The really great thing about this movie are the insanely grotesque special effects.  Oh, and let’s not forget that this film is firmly planted in the 1980s and brings back all the memories of those glory years.


19. Phantasm (1979)

The first of a series of films featuring the epic villain the Tall Man and his arsenal of tricks.  The Tall Man invades a small town, posing as a funeral home director but in actuality he is robbing graves to create an undead army.  This movie has a combination of legit scares (the flying sphere) and absolute silliness (the Tall  Man’s midget minions).  You might also want to check out Phantasm II which has a lot more of the ’80s charm that I love.


18. Zombie aka Zombi 2 (1979)

George A. Romero’s hit zombie film Dawn of the Dead was released in Italy under the name Zombie. Italian horror director and master of gore Lucio Fulci made this film as a sequel to Dawn and called it Zombi 2 (but for the sake of confusion, it is released in the US just as Zombie).  In actuality, this film has little to do with Romero’s film, but it certainly holds up on its own.  This is probably the grand-daddy of Italian zombie films and it has a ton of great scenes, the most famous of which is probably Zombie vs Shark.  This may not to appeal to a lot of people, but the mere fact that that scene was put on film makes this movie a must-see at Halloween time.


17. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

I can tell you exactly where, when, and who I was with when I first saw this movie.  I rented the VHS from a Blockbuster when I was 15 and invited my two neighborhood friends up to my room and we watched it with the lights off.  The film had such an impact on me that I will remember that day forever (this might even be TOO scary for this list!).  TCM is such an effective movie in the way it is shot: sparse, documentary style with practically no soundtrack.  It’s so real and so scary and it’s a great movie to watch with a bunch of people!


16. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

One of the all-time great horror comedy crossover movies.  Directed by John Landis (famous for Animal House and Blues Brothers), the story concerns two Americans hiking around London that are attacked by a werewolf.  One of the hikers dies in the process, while the other lives on with the curse of the werewolf.  This movie has some serious laughs, the kind you would find in the most raunchy of ’80s comedies.  However, it also has the most realistic werewolf transformation that I have ever seen.  This is just a really awesome, fun film.


15. Suspiria (1977)

Another “American in another country getting scared” movie, this time from Italian master Dario Argento.  An American ballet dancer goes to a European dance academy and soon finds out it is being controlled by a coven of witches.  Argento’s films are famous for beautiful cinematography and this one is certainly no exception; the opening sequence alone makes the film worth it.  You can almost watch it with the sound off because it is such a delight to look at, but then you would be missing out on the AMAZING soundtrack by Goblin.  It’s equal parts good looking and sounding.

Dead Alive

14. Dead Alive aka Braindead (1992)

If there are people at your party who you want to leave or who you just don’t want to be friends with anymore, then you should put this movie on.  Director Peter Jackson, who is now widely known as the guy who made Lord of the Rings, got his start making INSANE splatter movies in New Zealand.  Seriously, this movie is bat-shit crazy.  You will never see more terrible acting or more blood in any other movie out there.  However, all of its crazy elements combine into this perfect storm of absolutely delightful entertainment!


13. Freaks (1932)

Historically, this is a very interesting movie.  It effectively ruined the director Tod Browning’s career because of its controversial depiction of real people with birth defects.  The film was cut from 90 minutes to just 64 minutes before it was even released, and still people went insane when it came out; the film was even banned in the UK for decades and only made its resurgence in the late ’60s and early ’70s.  Today, it is considered one of the premier cult films ever made.  It is a fascinating look at circus freak shows and has some legitimately scary moments in it.


12. Carnival of Souls (1962)

One of the ultimate B-movie experiences, this movie is a prime example of how to create spooky atmosphere in a film without a bunch of high-tech effects.  The story follows a talented young organist who is the only survivor of a horrific car accident.  After accepting a new job, she is constantly haunted by a mysterious man and is drawn to a creepy, abandoned carnival.  The film effectively blurs the distinction between her reality and the “spirit world” which she encounters.  Add just enough camp and an eerie organ soundtrack, and this becomes a great Halloween treat.


11. The Haunting (1963)

In my opinion, this is the most effective haunted house movie out there.  It’s a very simple plot: a team of investigators spend a few nights in a home to find out if it is haunted.  Craziness ensues from there.  The great thing about this movie is that it remains so effective with such simple effects.  You never see a ghost, yet you are still legit scared for the team.  This is a great example of how a movie can be chilling without overdone CGI and effects, a true classic in every sense of the word.


10. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Halloween just isn’t Halloween without a Vincent Price movie!  Really, I could have picked any of his movies here because they are all so great in their own way.  And Vincent Price is one of the truly underrated American actors of all time.  He can literally carry any film that he is in.  And he has the perfect voice for horror.  I chose Dr. Phibes because it is just an insane movie, but you really couldn’t go wrong with any of Price’s movies: House on Haunted Hill, House of Wax, Witchfinder General, Theater of Blood, The Masque of Red Death. Hell, just have a Vincent Price marathon and you will have a great time!


9. Return of the Living Dead (1985)

And now back to more ’80s cheese!  This movie is a party movie in every sense of the word: teenage punks partying in a cemetery, a crazy punk rock soundtrack, and toxic zombies running around killing people.  There are more laughs here than scares; in fact, I don’t think there are any scares at all.  It’s just a great, balls-to-the-walls, zombie movie that is a pure product of the ’80s.  Great background movie for a party too, because it has a sweet soundtrack!


8. Night of the Creeps (1986)

And even more ’80s cheese!  Alien invasion with worms that crawl into your mouth and turn you into a zombie, all happening on the night of the big fraternity date dance!?!?  Yes please!  Lots of laughs in this movie, which is actually an homage to the B-movie genre (in fact, most of the characters are named after famous horror movie directors).  This movie also features the AMAZING Tom Atkins, who delivers some of the best lines in the history of movies.  Thrill me!!


7. The Fog (1980)

Ok, I’m going to level with you.  I love the ’80s when it comes to horror movies.  In fact, there are two more movies from this glorious decade still to come on this list.  But really, who can blame me when we are delivered gems like The Fog.  A coastal town is overcome by some strange green fog.  I know, you’re like “Fog?  Big deal?”  Well, what if I told you that fog was a transportation device for LEPER GHOSTS SEEKING REVENGE!  They ride into town in their fog-car and start messing stuff up like crazy.  This peach of a film also features Tom Atkins again, along with the great scream queens Adrienne Barbeau and Jamie Lee Curtis.  All the recipes for success!


6. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

I think it should be federally mandated: all citizens must watch one (1) classic Universal horror film during Halloween.  Not only are they really important movies, they are all amazing.  The acting, the writing, the sets are all just great.  You don’t really find that much talent in modern horror these days.  I chose Bride because it happens to be my favorite.  Boris Karloff is brilliant in it, and how much of a bad-ass is he that he is just billed as Karloff?!  You really can’t go wrong with any of the Universal stuff though.  Also check out Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, or The Creature from the Black Lagoon.


5. Halloween (1978)

Well, it wouldn’t be much of a Halloween without the movie that shares its namesake!  This movie traumatized me as a kid; I saw it way too young and for the longest time I couldn’t go up my basement stairs without running.  I’ll even break down my tough-guy veneer to say that I still get chills when I hear bits of the soundtrack or see the mask.  Michael Myers is the ultimate slasher icon and this movie just has a great Halloween vibe.  Id’ go so far as to recommend parts 2-5 as well.  While not quite as good as the first (sequels rarely are), I still find them quite fun.  Just be forewarned that part 3 does not have Michael Myers in it at all.  However, it does have Tom Atkins in it and it is a crazy movie, well worth it.


4. Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

This movie was scheduled for a theater release in 2007, then kept getting pushed back and back.  It finally was released straight to video in 2009.  This bonehead move by Warner Brothers was a big mistake because this movie is totally awesome and deserves a theater release.  This film follows the fine horror tradition of the anthology, a series of four interconnected stories that all happen on Halloween.  The look and feel of this film is 100% Halloween; it totally captures the spirit of the holiday.  It is films like this one that give me some hope for the modern horror film.  Given some more time, this might leapfrog the next three films to become my favorite Halloween pick!


3. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

This is the ultimate zombie movie, the one that essentially created the entire genre.  George A. Romero created such a profound movie that not only scared your pants off but also made you think about the world.  Part of the midnight movie craze of the late ’60s and ’70s, I don’t think there is much out there that can top this.  Do yourself a favor and check out the follow-ups to this: Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead.  They are progressively more cartoonish and focus more on the blood-and-guts of zombie attacks, but they are still fantastic films.  A perfect trilogy, in my opinion.


2. Re-Animator (1985)

More ’80s, as promised!  This is probably the best adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story ever made.  Not because it follows the text religiously, but because it is just a fanastic good time!  Dr. Herbert West’s life work is to perfect a solution that will re-animate dead tissue.  Well, he does develop the solution, but it turns corpses into deranged zombie madmen.  It’s equal parts mad scientist story, zombie movie, and raunchy comedy.  There is so much craziness that happens in this movie I don’t want to give it away.  I’ll just say that to me, this is the height of cheesy ’80s movies.


1. Evil Dead (1981)

Finally, the number one Halloween movie!  And for me, it is not only the best Halloween movie but the best horror movie, period.  Everything about this movie is awesome.  There are some real legitimate scares in one moment and hearty laughs in another.  Bruce Campbell is a great lead and the overall king of b-movies.  Sam Raimi, now well-known for the Spider-Man films, directs the shit out of this film.  There are some amazing shots and camera movements in here that far exceed what one would expect from a low-budget, independent movie project of any kind.  Overall, it is just an extremely enjoyable film that I think everyone should see!

I can’t believe I typed so much!  I know lists like these tend to create a lot of discussion (I for one, have screamed at my computer many times after seeing other lists that are, according to me, “abominations”).  This list is meant to be fun, made up of movies I think everyone can enjoy through both scares and laughs.  I know I left some heavy hitters off this list, so I will just mention them now.  These are great movies but I don’t think they fit into the “party essentials” that I tried to include here: Alien (1979), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Drag Me To Hell (2009), The Exorcist (1973), Friday the 13th (1980), Jaws (1975), Psycho (1960), [Rec] (2007), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Shining (1980), 28 Days Later (2002). Any one of these also would be great to watch for Halloween.  I hope this list has given you a few ideas for some great Halloween entertainment this year!