A Halloween movie decision can make or break a date or a party—even if that party is just you, a pizza you cooked in a bowl because it’s easier than putting it in an oven, and a bottle of that Moscato they only sell at Olive Garden.
Unlike Christmas (when we all agree that A Christmas Story is acceptable to watch 27 times in a row) or Easter (when we try to forget that Hop ever existed), Halloween is all about movies—specifically, the deep cuts. So we’ve put together a list of movies you can enjoy for every mood or occasion. Want the perfect movie to watch with your Tinder date? Got you. What about one to enjoy with your grad school friends as you sip on wine from a jug and discuss important events? Don’t worry, I used to be a disaffected video store employee and know my way around The Criterion Collection. Start with Eyes Without A Face and let’s go from there.
If you want a scary film that will please (and unnerve) a crowd, watch:
The second film fucked the franchise over, but the original really was terrifying. This movie’s got everything: a scary villain with a horrifying face, creepy-as-fuck little kids, and a memorable twist. I was going to say it’s also got a naked Karl Lagerfeld who fans himself while screaming, because I miss Stefon, but someone might believe me and actually get mad.
The ABCs of Death (1 & 2) (2012, 2014):
An anthology of short horror films, one for each letter of the alphabet. From gory to disturbing to actually funny, the films are so short that even if you hate one, it’s over before you know it. Good if you have a short attention span. Bad if you’re getting high because you’ll think every short is a full-length film and then begin crying about how you’ve wasted approximate 52 hours of your life. No experience. See also: V/H/S
The Ring (2002):
Japanese or American—this is one of the few cases where the remake is as good as the original. I saw the in the theater and had to sleep over at my friend’s house after with the lights on. I saw the second one in the theater too, and a child had a panic attack right next to me. Excellent choice if you, too, want to have a panic attack. The gay porn remake starred Frederik Eklund of Million Dollar Listing. Also very scary.
If you’ve invited someone over for Netflix but you really just want to chill, watch:
The Craft (1996):
This movie is about witches. It’s also not very scary or very interesting. A cult classic, sure (see Scream if you want to go a little edgier), but one that doesn’t stand up to the test of the time. It was fun in the ‘90s but now it’s just a boring throwback that you can put on as some background noise. And I don’t say that without love—I used to have a giant poster of the film on my bedroom door and once had a teacher question why I was drawing scenes of the finale in art class.
The plot—an offensive good witch vs. bad witch trope that ignores the fact that most witches are neither good nor bad but are actually very complex people with deep inner lives—is easy to follow and you won’t feel like you missed out if you and your Tinder/Grindr/OkCupid date don’t really finish watching it. See also: Would You Rather, Unfriended, The Final
The Descent (2006):
Jump scare after jump scare after jump scare guarantees that you and whoever you’re with will have no problem getting really close as you watch a group of intrepid women try to defeat morlocks in a cavern deep underground. The ending isn’t as satisfying as one would hope, but hey, you’re going to be cuddling anyway, so it doesn’t matter.
Stay Alive (2006):
This 2006 film about a video game that kills people is actually pretty good once you buy into the fact that the soul of Countess Elizabeth Bathory (famous for popularizing the blood of virgins as a beauty regimen) is trapped in a video game and continues her reign of terror over anyone who plays it. Interesting enough to keep you engaged if it’s not happening with your date but this film has just enough jump scares to make putting your arm around someone less awkward than it would be if you were watching something like High Tension, which is a french horror film that’s not sexy in the least despite its poster.
If you actually want to be disturbed/disturb someone with your movie taste, watch:
A Serbian Film (2011):
This is the grandaddy of modern foreign sexploitation cinema. It’s got everything: murder, sexual assault, the defilement of small children. And it’ll stay with you forever. As someone with a fairly iron stomach for psychological horror, I can tell you that this one disturbed me so much that I couldn’t eat for a day. Not recommended for new friends or romantic partners unless you want to have a difficult conversation after. This film allegedly does well in a party atmosphere, despite the fact that it’s anything but a party. See also: The Life and Death of a Porno Gang, The Bunny Game, Megan Is Missing
This French film is no exception to the “foreign films do gore better” rule. While it’s not a film you’ll want to watch more than once, it will test your capacity for violence. There is a skinning scene. The French don’t fuck around. See also: I Stand Alone, Cannibal Holocaust (Not French.)
Red Room (1999):
This is a film that exists solely to test your tolerance for gross shit, like The Human Centipede or Saw. It’s Japanese, but the subtitles won’t bother you because it’s all about the visuals. The premise: four people play a card game in which the winner of each round can force the losers to do something sexually or physically awful in order to kill them or get them to quit. The torture includes a blow dryer shoved into a person’s mouth while it’s in the on position and a lightbulb being broken off inside someone. Also allegedly enjoyable in a group setting, but only if your friends are the gross-out type. Try Audition if you want something disturbing but easier to take. See also: Visitor Q, Red Room 2
If you want to impress the people you’re with, watch:
Holy Mountain (1973):
I don’t know what this movie is about and neither do you. All I know is that it was a big renter around Halloween and people would tell me that I needed to see it while high to fully understand it. Get yourself a copy of The Begotten with this one and pretend you know what’s going on.
Once, when the video store I worked at was going out of business, a woman came up to me and asked what Holy Mountain was all about. “I have no idea,” I said, “but it will really impress people when they come to your home.”
“I don’t care about impressing people,” she said before promptly buying the film. She also purchased the store’s copy of El Topo, which is also by Jodorowsky (if you know movies, you never use first names) and is apparently just as weird.
This is one of those movies that’s almost impossible to watch but which every “smart” person insists is an important meditation on the nature of fascism. That’s cool and all, but don’t forget another important focus of this movie—eating poop. Yep, there’s a whole extended scene where some kidnapped teens eat poop off of fancy plates while the viewing audience exclaims over exactly how brilliant the entire thing is. Mention this to anyone who’s ever taken a film class and they will literally come at the name alone. Which is weird, considering that this movie is all about torture and suffering. See Also: The Green Elephant.
The Night Porter (1974):
Also in The Criterion Collection, this film is Liliana Cavani’s contribution to the world of scary movies based on the Holocaust, because apparently genocide just wasn’t quite terrifying enough. The film follows a woman (Charlotte Rampling, whose beauty has been referred to as skeletal) who realizes the concierge at the swanky hotel she’s staying in is actually a former Nazi who used to sexually assault her in the camps. The two begin a romantic relationship that will all but guarantee a discussion that will bore you to tears afterwards as everyone tries to outsmarm each other in their explication of the film. The upside? People will respect you as a knowledgeable movie buff. See Also: Antichrist.
If you want to see something cheesy and have a good time, watch:
Any horror portmanteau produced by Amicus (1965-1974):
This includes Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Torture Garden (no torture), and Tales from the Crypt. Other favorites, which star big names from the ‘70s, include Asylum and The House That Dripped Blood. These are all anthology films centered around a specific theme or location. Torture Garden takes place at a carnival, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors takes place on a delayed train, and Tales from the Crypt takes place at a luxury resort in Hawaii. If you like anthologies, you should also consider Dead of Night (scary for its time) and Monster Club, an often-overlooked 1981 film about a nightclub for monsters. There are, in fact, dancing monsters. See also: Creepshow, Bloody Pit of Horror
Santa’s Slay (2005):
Will Rebecca Gayheart and Fran Drescher star in basically anything? Yes! And you reap the rewards as you watch the Noxzema girl and The Nanny terrorized by a demon santa. If you want some more bang for your cringey-as-fuck buck, consider tracking down a copy of Invitation to Hell, a Wes Craven film in which Susan Lucci plays a health club owner/The Devil.
Sleepaway Camp (1983):
This Friday the 13th ripoff is so bad that it’s good. Really, really good. Set at a summer camp, this movie tells the story of a girl who’s sent off for a season of fun, only to be met by a series of gruesome murders instead. Considered by many to have a shocking ending that comes out of nowhere (think the original Saw or the original Friday the 13th), it’s a fun time even if you won’t have any trouble sleeping after.
If you don’t actually want to be scared at all, watch:
The Worst Witch (1986):
Charlotte Rae plays a singing witch headmistress, Tim Curry plays a very important singing warlock, and Fairuza Balk does what she does best: plays a creepy little girl who is supposed to be cute. That’s all you really need to know to enjoy this movie. You can also get the terrifying Return to Oz and make this a full-on night of Fairuza. Be warned, though, the latter really did scare the shit out of me when I was younger.
Hocus Pocus (1993):
Unlike other Halloween movies which don’t stand the test of time, this kiddie horror film about witches who come back from the dead to wreak havoc upon an unsuspecting town gets more delightful each year. Featuring Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and a pre-Sex and the City Sarah Jessica Parker, this movie also introduced us to Thora Birch years before she was checking to see if her breasts were too different in American Beauty. If Hocus Pocus is too scary for you (and trust me, it was when I saw it at nine), you might want to try Halloweentown. Nothing comes back from the dead in that Disney film, but Debbie Reynolds’ career sure as hell tries.
That movie with the tiny Jewish girl in the big hat who goes “all that, all that” (1989):
This movie, described to me by my husband when I asked him for a suggestion, is actually called Teen Witch and is my favorite movie of all time. In fact, when I worked at the video store, I was asked to just take the DVD home because I would play it over and over on Saturday nights, which was bad for business.
Starring Robin Lively as Louise Miller, a girl who’s discovered she has magical powers, this 1989 cult classic is the ‘80s holding on desperately to the ‘80s. It features an improbable love story, way too many songs for a movie about witches, Zelda Rubinstein as Louise’s tiny mentor, tutus, lots of shots of the male lead without his shirt, sex in abandoned houses, and the aforementioned “Jewish girl in the big hat,” who’s named Polly and is actually rapping “top that.” Joke’s on anyone who’s making fun of her, though. Mandy Ingber (Polly) is now a celebrity yoga instructor who trains Jennifer Aniston and has her own line of DVDs. That means she is literally the most successful person who was in this movie.
If the sound on your TV is broken and you’re too broke to get it fixed, watch:
Vampires! But not the sexy kind.
Witches! But not the sexy kind. (This movie usually comes in two versions now. One is silent; the other is narrated by William S. Burroughs.)
Werewolves! [Of note: This is allegedly the oldest known werewolf movie to exist and is available on YouTube, meaning that you can watch it for free and save all your money for more delicious wine from a jug.]
And if all else fails, watch...
You want classy art-house horror? You want Suspiria. You want a movie about witches who run a ballet school? You want Suspiria. You want a badly-explained plot but a color palette that will make you wonder if you need to adjust your set? You want Suspiria, Dario Argento’s unsettling classic.
It’s actually a pretty interesting movie, but another one that got me in trouble at the video store. Mainly because, along with Must Love Dogs, it was the only film I recommended to customers for the first two weeks I worked there. But then a customer and her child discovered that just because it was about a ballet school didn’t mean it was for children, so, uh, don’t show it to kids unless you want to have a very uncomfortable conversation about keeping your minimum wage job in the longterm.
Happy Halloween! Watch responsibly!
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