I don’t do much for Halloween. I don’t dress up. I don’t decorate or wait for kids to show up and extort candy from me. What I do, is watch movies. Any excuse to justify some quality couch potato time.
So, with that in mind, I have created this, very personal, list of Halloween movies that I love. It is not intended to be comprehensive or a list of critical favorites. They are “best” only in the sense that, for whatever reason, these movies connect with me in some way and make me think of Halloween.
There could also be a whole, heated, debate about what constitutes a “Halloween” movie. For instance, do science fiction movies count just because they are science fiction? What about silent films? Anime? TV series? For the purposes of my list, the answers are “no,” “yes,” “yes” and “no” to the above. But that’s just me. It’s all just me. I just want to make that clear.
Now, without further delay, my random, very personal, list of great Halloween movies.
THE HALLOWEEN MOVIE LIST (not in any particular order):
THE EXORCIST. The most frightening movie ever made. I thought so when I first saw a heavily edited version of it on TV when I was thirteen. I still think so now. And I’m not even Catholic. Linda Blair is so convincing as the kid consumed by the devil. The medical scenes where they are trying to discover what is wrong with her are as scary as the actual showdown with the priests. It’s all just convincingly creepy. And, honestly, it’s just a, flat out, great movie, on every level, in any genre. My favorite Halloween movie of all time and I don’t expect that to ever change.
FRANKENSTEIN. My vote for best horror character ever. Not because he is the scariest. He, and by “he,” I mean “The Monster,” not Dr. Frankenstein, is frightening. But more than that, he is sad and lonely and confused and just forced into a shitty life he never asked for. It is the ultimate depiction of monster as victim right up there with KING KONG and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. That scene where he throws the girl in the water thinking she’ll float almost brings me to tears every time. Damn you, Dr. Frankenstein! Damn you to hell for creating this poor, misunderstood, doomed creature to satisfy your own ego!
ATOMIC AGE VAMPIRE. The Italians make some weird movies. This one is about a scientist who must kill people to get the human body parts needed to keep his sexy, showgirl, girlfriend alive. It was made in 1960 and shot in black and white with a really distinctive look to it. It’s no EXORCIST, by a long shot, but it’s damn entertaining.
NO LIFE KING. This was a Japanese movie from 1989. It is not a scary horror movie, as much a STRANGER THINGS kind of throwback to being a kid and scaring the crap out of yourself. The plot is about a group of kids who get obsessed with an early video game which they begin to think is cursed. As in, if you lose, you will actually die. It’s just a really, nice, movie which brings back some memories.
CARRIE. Needless to say, I am talking about the real one, with Sissy Spacek, from 1976, not the remake. Based on Steve King’s first breakout novel, it’s still painful to watch. The usual torments of adolescence; bullying, psychologically abusive parents, falling for the wrong person…It’s all there and all as real and horrible as anything the devil could ever come up with. Not to mention, the best use of blood, ever, in a movie.
GOJIRA. The first, Japanese, Godzilla film. If all you know is the American one with Ramond Burr, you need to see it. It’s a “real” movie. Which is both its strength and its weakness. If you’re looking for a quickly-paced, monster stomp-a-thon, this isn’t it. It was made only nine years after Japan was fire bombed and nuked into devastation. As Godzilla walks through the rubble of Tokyo at night, ablaze with fire, he appears more like a demon from hell then the semi-friendly monster we knew him as later.
DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. If you ARE looking for a Godzilla movie the way you probably remember them, this one of the best. It’s from the original “Showa Era” in the sixties and early-seventies. Color. Lots of stomping. And best of all, many of the best monsters. The Kaiju who make an appearance include Rodan, Ghidora, Mothra and several of the lesser known beasts. A good time Godzilla film, if ever there was.
BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE. This Japanese anime “film” is only about forty-five minutes long. It was released in theaters in 2000. The story is set at an American airbase in 1966 and concerns a young girl hunting vampire-like creatures, called Chiropterans. And it’s beautiful. If you’re looking for a visually stunning intro to Anime you could put this one right up there with other classics like GHOST IN THE SHELL or AKIRA. The plot is kind of cool too.
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. As written about in another shadowswriter blog post, this was one of three films based on the book “I AM LEGEND.” It’s a low-budget affair that features Vincent Price, which isn’t great. But much of it was shot on location utilizing Mussolini’s Fascist architecture in Rome, which is awesome. It’s also the film version truest to the spirit of the original novel.
VAMPYR. This film from 1932 seems to always be overshadowed by its far more famous silent brethren, NOSFERATU. This should not be so. Marnau’s NOSFERATU, made ten years earlier, is a classic in its own right. Yet, VAMPYR is the one I find far more interesting. It was directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, who made THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, widely considered by critics to be one of the greatest films ever made. He got seriously panned for doing a vampire flick, just four years later. But Vampry is no ordinary vampire flick. The imagery and use of film language is every bit as brilliant as Dreyer ever did. More to the point, it’s just a whole lot of fun to watch.
THE PURGE. I love the first two PURGE movies. After that, they lost some steam. In fact, the franchise should have been put out of its misery a while ago. But those first two…The idea of a night where people are allowed to do as they wish without fear of legal consequence is actually kind of personal to me. I spent part of my childhood growing up in the suburbs of Detroit. There is a very, real, thing in Detroit called “Devil’s Night.” It’s the night before Halloween. It is a night celebrated with pranks and destruction. In my safe little neighborhood, this usually mean eggs thrown against windows and toilet paper in the trees. But downtown, that was a different story. Arson ran rampant. The city burned. Violence skyrocketed. If you don’t think THE PURGE could happen, just look at the news footage they use in the title sequences. That was real. That was “Devil’s Night” in Detroit.
TRAIN TO BUSAN. My vote for best zombie movie EVER. I know those are fighting words but no other zombie flicks, not NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, not 28 DAYS LATER, are quite as good as this one. This Korean flick broke box office records in its home country back in 2016. It starts a little slow but picks up nicely. The zombie stuff is terrific. However, what really makes it stand out is the characters. I actually care if they get eaten or not. And when bad things happen to some of them, it’s not just some cardboard character getting turned to human tar-tar, it’s a person. Even those with serious zombie fatigue should check it out, if they already haven’t.
SEOUL STATION. This is the animated sequel to TRAIN TO BUSAN. It is not as good. But it’s good. It’s a story which takes place in Seoul just as the zombie epidemic is starting. The artwork is nice. The characters are pretty developed. And there is a plot twist at the end which will kick you in the gut and leave your head spinning.
SUSPIRIA. Once again, I am talking about the 1977 original, not the recent remake. SUSPIRIA was my introduction to Dario Argento. I am not an Argento fanatic, like many, but I still love SUSPIRIA. It’s about a ballet school where very bad things happen. The acting is not great. The plot is not all that gripping. But the visuals are fantastic. Horror film as art. The soundtrack by Goblin is also kind of fun.
DEMON SEED. I’ve already written about this movie in another post. It was made in the seventies based on a book by Dean Koontz. The story is about a “smart home” being taken over by an AI system and developing some very unhealthy urges toward one of its beautiful occupants. It’s so dark and so weird I am still kind of shocked it ever got made.
ALIEN. I’m not sure I really think of ALIEN as a Halloween movie. But I should. It’s a monster in space. A really cool, scary, monster that chases people around and kills them. It’s a little slow, more on the suspense side of things than the action side of it’s, also fun, sequel, ALIENS (with an “s”). And Ridley Scott directed it, so, of course, it looks amazing. I don’t know though. It’s on the list but I’m not sure I really think of it as a invoking the Halloween spirit. But, maybe.
CHRISTINE. This is a bad movie. Flat out. Based on a Steven King book about a car that gets possessed, it’s weak from almost every objective viewpoint. But, what can I say? I still find myself watching it over and over again. Maybe it’s because that’s what I think of when I really get down to it. My personal Halloween memories are not based around great art and filmmaking. But around crap that just seemed fun at the time. Don’t know. Don’t really care. I’m keeping CHRISTINE on the list.
THE OMEN. The real one. Obviously. It’s not nearly as scary as THE EXORCIST. In fact, even as a kid, I didn’t find it very scary. But it’s a good story. Kid as devil. Family as, in denial, victims to the fact they have brought the Antichrist into the world. Gergory Peck actually turns in a very solid performance. Clearly, he wasn’t just phoning it in because it was a horror movie. And that bit with the lightning rod spearing someone..Good stuff, all the way around.
28 DAYS LATER. No, it’s not as good a zombie flick as TRAIN TO BUSAN. But it’s still damn good. Danny Boyle managed to make a zombie movie feel like a real drama with proper acting, good writing and confident directing. It’s actually a pretty basic, simple, film. However, because it was executed so well on every level it still holds up, over fifteen years later.
THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES. I just saw this film for the first time and am putting it on the list. Maybe, with time, I will regret this decision. But, by golly, I’m gonna take the risk! THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES is one weird film. It’s a French film, made in 1971, by Jean Rollin. Even though punk didn’t really exist yet, there’s something very punk about it. Part of that is the raw, simplistic, rock soundtrack but it’s more than that. It’s a very, very, low budget film about two newlyweds that stop by to visit relatives at a remote castle and encounter vampires. The lighting leans toward intense reds and purples. The female characters are often naked. The dialogue sounds like it was written by PHD students tripping on drugs. The result is something you should see and judge for yourself.
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. The real one. What’s strange about this movie is how much it terrified me as a kid. I had nightmares. Literally. But it’s not that scary a movie, except for one scene. The whole movie is about a house being possessed. Kind of fun. But not very frightening. That opening scene where the father murders his whole family though? Now, that’s nasty stuff. Just goes to show you, even a a kid, I already knew the scariest things on earth weren’t vampires, zombies or ghosts. It was us.
This list, obviously, includes movies of many types, from many countries, from many eras, of varying degrees of “quality.” However, the omissions are probably as notable as what I’ve chosen to include. There are many worthy movies that for, whatever reason, I can respect and appreciate, but do not have that emotional connection with. THE SHINING, for example, is a great piece of filmmaking, on every level. It’s just not there for me. Kind of like learning the prettiest girl in the whole school likes you but, when it comes down to it, you’re just really not that into her.
If I had my way, everybody I know would make their own list of favorites and we would all share, and talk, and debate, and tell stories about how “Old Horror Movie Whatever” scared the crap out of me when I was six and I couldn’t sleep for three weeks. But, I won’t hold my breath.
It seems people have other things they need to attend to like jobs and taking care of their children and such nonsense. So, sad. But if you did, just happen, to have the time, I’d love to hear from you about your personal lists. Please leave comments or message me on my @shadowswriter instagram.
Until then, thanks for reading, and Happy Halloween!