There’s no better season for movie watching than autumn. Christmas films during winter are nice, and warm summer films help us bear the heat, but nothing compares to the atmospheric nights that lead-up to Halloween. It’s a perfect yearly opportunity to indulge in horror all month long, and get yourself into that cozy headspace we love so much. With all that in mind, this is a list of 31 movie recommendations for October. Some are set during Halloween, and some just share its vibe. You might have seen a lot of them, but rewatches are a necessary part of this movie watching tradition.
Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock star as sisters in this autumnal rom-com about witchcraft, back-from-the-dead boyfriends, and social persecution in the modern age. It’s got an earthy orange glow that’ll have you running for the nearest cup of hot chocolate, two killer performances, and strikes a welcome balance between fun magic shenanigans and genuine family drama.
Paranorman is a stunning stop-motion effort from Laika Studios that contains many odes to all things horror. It’s beautifully animated, boasts incredible set design, and has positive messages for kids within its creepy story. It also evokes a love of all things weird and unique and paints our differences as things that make us stronger together in place of fear and ignorance.
Cult classics don’t get much better than Donnie Darko, and it has a Halloween party towards the end of the movie as memorable as any. Its suburban setting makes the movie feel familiar alongside other seasonal films, and the end product is unforgettable. If you want to introduce some masterful sci-fi into your road to Halloween, it’s the way to go.
We’re kicking it back all the way to the 30s for Frankenstein — a pop culture game-changer. Soak up the gorgeous sets, black and white cinematography and monster design. A Halloween watchlist isn’t complete without a classic Universal monster movie, and this one may be the best of the lot.
Death Becomes Her
Robert Zemeckis’ insane and satirical film starring Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep at their campy best is delectable. The script is witty, the visual effects are hilarious, and it’s unabashedly fun and frantic. The gothic style and horror-comedy fit hand in hand here, and it’s worth a watch for star power alone.
We’ve got another witchcraft entry in The Craft, which playfully details the moral corruption that comes with power in the hands of goth teenage girls. It drips with a dark style and is so very 90s. Each of the young four witches in the movie has their own dilemma, and its in the way they navigate their newfound gifts that separates them.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Nightmare Before Christmas is arguably more of a Christmas film, but there’s more than enough Halloween elements and style to include it here. It’s a Henry Selick and Tim Burton project, of course, it fits the bill.
For the purposes of this list, the fourth film in the Scream franchise does not exist (I don’t like it). The original trilogy has its ups and downs but each of the three movies — especially the first one — is enjoyable enough to warrant trying to squeeze them all in. Sydney (Neve Campbell) is one of the genre’s best final girls, and Wes Craven’s meta contributions to horror filmmaking will always be remembered fondly.
James Wan’s paranormal flick that kickstarted The Conjuring Universe may not have much to do with our favorite holiday, but the eerie atmosphere and scares are fantastic. Mist shrouds the film like a smothering blanket. It’s pure terror, and one of this decade’s best scary movies. It’s packed with jumpscares but impresses with effective tension building and much-praised performances from Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. Wan’s direction is admirably fresh, and only one part of what makes The Conjuring so alive.
Hocus Pocus is a modern cinematic landmark for so many young adults, and for good reason: it’s cheesy to a ridiculous degree, has a Bette Midler musical number, and a talking black cat. The three infamous witches and their villainy in the story are brought to life with glee and the whimsical tone is just right for Halloween night. This is one to share with the kids in your life. Please, pass it on as a family heirloom.
Tim Burton’s underworld-set gothic romance is one of his better modern efforts. Helena Bonham Carter delivers a lovely vocal performance and the stop-motion looks wonderful. What it lacks in some areas is made up for by the beautiful production.
Dario Argento’s Giallo classic is a strange and color-soaked must-watch. The 2018 remake is good, but the original is worth seeking out for its weird tonality and unfortunate dubbing. The music is trance-like, as is the entire experience inside the other-worldly dance school the film is set in.
Must a film franchise be good? Is it not enough to have Debbie Reynolds as a magical grandmother manifest herself in a pot of soup in the sequel? Halloweentown is a millennial treasure.
The Addams Family and The Addams Family Values
Both of The Adams Family outings are enjoyable, but consider this: Values has Joan Cusack. With the same sharp cynical humor and style as the first film, the sequel is just as worthy.
Poltergeist is a classic paranormal horror from Tobe Hooper — one of America’s most loved horror directors. With Spielberg producing, the movie has a mish-mash of Hooper’s inspired filmmaking and a Spielbergian sense of wonder at the concept of ‘the other side’. The unfortunate tragedies after the film’s release add a slight chill to the proceedings. There should always be at least one Tobe Hooper movie on your Halloween list — this is a rule.
A Nightmare on Elm Street and A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors
Wes Craven’s fan-favorite introduced us to one of horror’s most famous killers: Freddy Krueger. All these years later, the dreamscape is still a spooky storytelling device that sets the film apart. It’s a bit rough around the edges but charmingly, and it’s evocative of teenage sleepovers where everyone swears they’ll not get scared but end up hiding behind pillows.
Dream Warriors is widely regarded as the best of the numerous sequels and is a refreshing entry due to Heather Langenkamp’s return to the franchise as a leader figure.
James Wan makes his second appearance on this list with his 2010 horror about a young boy who is stolen by a demon looking to possess his body. If you hate jumpscares, this isn’t for you. Otherwise, please enjoy leaving your body every few seconds when things go bang. Some will argue Insidious isn’t scary, but the idea of bitter demons clambering to reach our earthly plane by using us as vessels isn’t particularly appealing. It borrows heavily from Poltergeist thematically and narratively but is completely different in every other conceivable way. It also has a killer twist ending.
At this point, you may be thinking there are too many bad Disney movies included on this list, but nostalgia is one of the best parts of Halloween. And what better way to connect with our childhood than to relive the cringe movies we watched on repeat. Twitches is best watched in the background while carving pumpkins.
Trick ‘r Treat
Trick ‘r Treat follows five interwoven stories that take place on Halloween night. Like most films of episodic nature, some of the stories are better than others, but there’s something for everyone here. It’s frightening, and with previously-niche horror director Michael Dougherty at the helm, it’s not as trashy as it may appear.
Arguably peak Tim Burton, Beetlejuice is about a deceased couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) adjusting to the afterlife. It’s wholesome despite how much of a creep show Michael Keaton’s Betelgeuse actually is, and has so much character due to the practical effects and set design.
While we’re on the subject of Tim Burton, his macabre short film from 1982 starring Vincent Price speaks to the young hobbyist in all of us.
2002’s live-action Scooby-Doo is a surreal trip that probably shouldn’t exist, but we’re so glad it does. From Sarah Michelle Geller’s empowered Daphe to Fred’s bleached blonde locks, it’s glorious. The gang travels to a strange monster-themed island in this story, and it gets crazier from there. It’s a great time that holds up even now.
It doesn’t get much better than The Exorcist, a vicious and brilliantly-made possession film that dives into religion and family. The tubular bells theme music is as spine-tingling as ever, and there’s simply no excuse for not having seen this by now, you heathens.
We’re in telekinesis territory now with Carrie, Brian DePalma’s intense film starring Sissy Spacek as a teenage girl who is at the end of her rope. It handles the topic of abuse with a fury that’s rarely handled well in cinema. The climax is one of the most referenced ever, which is no surprise once you’ve seen it.
Sometimes the only medicine you need to treat a cold is Kristen Wiig hunting ghosts. Ghostbusters is a light and well-meaning effort from Paul Feig that makes great use of the cast’s talents.
Halloween and Halloween (2018)
John Carpenter’s Halloween is the ultimate simple slasher film, and an October 31st staple. The theme music is chilling, and watching the showdown between Laurie and Michael doesn’t get old despite the bare-bones framework. Settling in for the night and watching the opening credits’ pumpkin glow with intense orange light is incomparable. As for the never-ending sequels, you can head straight to David Gordon Green’s 2018 reboot of the franchise to see Jamie Lee Curtis take things to new heights. It’s not Halloween without Halloween.
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Hello, I am a Scottish filmmaker who enjoys writing about movies and reading comics! You can follow me on Twitter @_trudiegraham or on Instagram @tru.die