A Halloween Film Guide

Halloween is upon us. What—beyond big eyed spiders in storefront windows and pumpkins beaming their welcome from doorsteps—does this mean to the average adult? Halloween, you might say, is monopolized by children anticipating mouths awash in sugar. Nonetheless, a day on which one can pretend to be someone or something else possesses the power to rejuvenate the adult mind. Halloween reminds us that creativity is transformative. Below are some titles that will rouse your spirit from the grave of its daily routine.

  1. The Exorcist – The film directed by William Friedkin and based on the novel by William Peter Blatty never fails to unsettle. Hades’ head honcho crosses the threshold of innocent Regan’s bedroom, and afterward, all hell breaks loose.
  2. Halloween – John Carpenter’s classic slasher flick is arguably the king of its subgenre. A first person look through Michael Myers’ eyes forces viewers into roles of both stalker and stalked.
  3. FreaksFreaks touches upon the disturbing ways American culture marginalizes those whom it perceives as Other, and asks viewers to investigate their own prejudices. Plus, the final scene may be difficult to scrub from your mind.
  4. The Babadook – A mysterious children’s book foreshadows the haunting of a single mother and her son. If you duck beneath the covers and venture a look, beware the presence of Mr. Baba-dook, dook, dook.
  5. It Follows – STD’s, voyeuristic technology, and an entity unrelenting in its hunt of victims render this film as both smart and scary.
  6. Scream – A combination of brilliant metafiction, Shakespearean tropes, and poignant critique of 90’s American culture make this movie worth watching over and over. If you receive a call from a stranger asking if you’d like to play a little game, be sure to decline.
  7. The Shining – Stephen King hates Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel. Still, Jack Nicholson delivers a memorable performance, and the Overlook Hotel manages to be both cavernous and claustrophobic. Enjoy with a glass of red rum.
  8. The Blair Witch Project – The first of its kind, this movie manages to capture the realistic aesthetic of found footage while retaining cinematic beauty. A small town’s mythos of the Blair Witch itself is enough to keep you awake at night, but the film’s minimalism is what allows its scary moments to truly shine.
  9. The Conjuring – James Wan’s homage to 70’s films like The Exorcist and The Omen makes use of classic horror tropes that somehow feel fresh. After seeing this one, your feet will never venture out from under the blanket again.
  10. Nosferatu – What’s Halloween without some good old fashioned vampire terror? A masterpiece of German Expressionism, Nosferatu is a silent film based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It is often regarded as one of the most influential horror films of all time.
  11. Paranormal Activity – Want a lesson on how to squeeze a lot from a little? This low budget flick forgoes gaudy effects and instead uses smart details to elicit dread from viewers. If you find your partner in a catatonic state with toes turned inward, time to run.
  12. Evil Dead – Sam Raimi began working on this movie while he was still a college student. If you are seeking a splatter fest that is at once horrifying and hilarious, join Ash and crew as they take on evil spirits loosed from the Book of the Dead.
  13. The Sixth Sense – Haley Joel Osment delivers an incredible performance in M. Night Shyamalan’s magnum opus. Even those who’ve yet to see the film are likely familiar with Osment’s chilling utterance, “I see dead people.”
  14. Psycho – According to Norman Bates, “We all go a little mad sometimes.” This is perhaps the strongest film on the list, critically-speaking, and tends to find itself at the top of horror movie rankings. Disclaimer: soap stings the eyes, so no matter how freaked out you are in the shower, rinse all soap from hair/face before making sure no one is in the bathroom with you.
  15. The Ring – Some argue that the single most shocking scene across the genre appears in this film, which is based on its Japanese predecessor, Ringu. As a ghoulish Samara crawls from a well and through a television screen, you may be convinced that your own screen is inadequate protection from what was meant to be only a movie.
  16. The Witch – The only thing scarier than the witch itself is the way viewers are placed in the Puritan mindset of the film’s characters—a scary mental space to occupy.
  17. Poltergeist – “They’re hereeeeee!” What is it with little kids scaring the hell out of everyone? Carol Anne talks with ghosts through a television set and is abducted. An epic battle between vengeful spirits and determined parents ensues.
  18. Sinister – Super 8 footage unveils the sorts of home movies you want to avoid starring in.
  19. Beetlejuice – You’ll be hard pressed to find a more Tim Burtony Tim Burton film. Burton’s farcical depiction of the afterlife is delightful, and his vision is fully realized by a stellar cast, which includes Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder.
  20. The Nightmare Before Christmas – Aesthetic beauty, exceptional creativity, and richly developed characters are but a few elements that make this stop motion musical great.
  21. Young Frankenstein – We end with a Mel Brooks parody that stars the talented and sorely missed Gene Wilder. The film is often ranked as one of the funniest of all time, which, in a way, highlights some of the overlap of comedy and horror. Use this one as some medicine for the spirit after traipsing through the others on our list.

For those who aren’t the biggest fans of movies, here are some uncanny short stories of literary value:

  1. Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  2. The Man in the Black Suit by Stephen King
  3. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
  4. A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
  5. Markheim by Robert Louis Stevenson
  6. The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell
  7. The Horror in the Museum by H.P. Lovecraft
  8. The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs
  9. The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe
  10. The Long Hall on the Top Floor by Caitlín Kiernan
  11. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates
  12. Two Brothers by Brian Evenson
  13. Proving Up by Karen Russell
  14. The Squaw by Bram Stoker
  15. A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner

Dan Kennedy is a first year fiction writer in Virginia Tech’s MFA program. He grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated from Boston University with a BA in English. As a child he aspired to be the next Batman, but upon realizing that he possessed neither the funds nor skills to accomplish his goal, he decided creative writing and sports were the next best things.

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