Candy’s great, going to see bands play as Limp Bizkit is chill, but the best part about Halloween? Watching as many spooky movies as possible. In our vast streaming options, there are plenty of 'em to binge this year. Almost too many, perhaps. Luckily, a good chunk are worthwhile. But to do the season correctly, it’s important to remember that not every film is Halloween-ready. The season thrives on atmosphere, nostalgia, the monsters that are at once foreboding and cuddly, and a healthy balance of scares and ha-has. It makes sense that our flicks reflect as such.
While some staples of the season remain available only for a rental fee—Trick r Treat, Suspiria, The Shining, and Beetlejuice, to name a few—there are still a bunch you can get through the regular outlets. This is not a definitive list of the all-time best horror movies; rather, just a variety pack to get you started. Stuff to make you chilly, to please the eye, plus new tastes you may not be used to. And maybe you’ll finally find a costume. It’s been a big ol’ year for horror—both on the screen and off—and there’s only two weeks left until the big day, so let’s not get too serious. Onto present horror business! If you’re gonna scream, stream with me.
The Craft (1996) - Netflix
There’s always time for the weirdos, mister. What makes this Gen X favorite so versatile is it’s a teen film first, a horror movie second. The creepy atmosphere is consistent throughout this tale of a new girl (Robin Tunney) attempting to fit in, and her discovered supernatural powers make her a shoo-in with the local coven (Fairuza Balk, Rachel True, Neve Campbell). What’s helpful is that it gives the “weird girl” archetype some dignity, exploring the issues that affect them - suicidal thoughts, malicious racism, body image issues, domestic abuse, serpentine sexual assault. Where it shifts is when Balk, the gang’s leader, craving absolute power, suddenly being in one’s Burn Book sounds less bad as… I dunno, potentially being murdered?
See also: Coming-of-age horror is, in fact, a genre all of its own. This year, Julia Ducournau’s debut Raw (Netflix) was the centerpiece. In this case, cannibalism is what’s humanized. If it’s more witchcraft you seek, last year’s The VVitch (Amazon Prime) conveys its female self-discovery via an aesthetic that more resembles a woodcut illustration than classic cinema. The Swedish Let the Right One In (Shudder) potently subverts gender, especially considering it’s among preteens (and vampires, of course). It Follows (Netflix) will have you feel guilty for people-watching hereout.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) - Amazon Prime
Now that humid Octobers are the new normal for the Northeast, this film seems apropos. The late Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece is built to make one squirm, and good grief does it deliver. The initial scraping sounds and brief flashes of decaying bodies give way to an extended shot of two recently-unearthed corpses baking in the sun. Then there’s the matter of the revolting hitchhiker a bit too jazzed for his knife, and of course the grisly methods of Leatherface...and there’s still so much movie to go. So much of the film is powerfully suggestive. You feel the grime of bones and feathers, and you can taste the miserable conditions. Despite the queasiness, there’s a weird edge of dark comedy lurking throughout. Plus, even though Leatherface gets much of the credit, it’s Marilyn Burns who’s the film’s MVP, taking upon the last half of the film with enormous physicality. She’s running for her life, and very few heroines capture the twitchiness of traumatic shock as her. Her survival is one of the most satisfying in horror history.
See also: Piggybacking off Chain Saw’s success is Pieces (Shudder, available via Amazon), an English dubbed Spanish ripper that features one of the most ludicrous twist endings of all time. It is, for my money, the go-to 80s slasher. Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2 (Prime), also by Hooper, is far more comedic in tone. Rob Zombie essentially remade the film twice with House of 1000 Corpses (Starz) and its quasi-sequel The Devil’s Rejects (Starz), and loving tributes they are.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) - Netflix
It’s tough outgrowing this one. Despite being bombarded with GIFs in social media feeds whenever October approaches, despite the vast merchandise that’s been pouring out for decades, Tim Burton and Henry Selick’s movie stands on its own. The combined animation with puppetry makes Halloween Town warmer to the touch, making you want to live in that enthusiasm. Every frame is rich, and every citizen, no matter how secondary, is completely memorable. It’s a fairly simple story, much like the old-time specials that inspired it - man gets bored, latches onto the next flashy treat, nearly ruins everything in the process, digs himself and his friends out. Just try to not croon along with every song. It’s tough.
See also: Disney may as well trademark the holiday, but hopefully they won’t. The Mickey Mouse cartoon “The Mad Doctor” is so eerie, one wonders just what the hell Walt Disney was going through at the time. On Hulu, you can make your own Nick or Treat block with Hey Arnold, Doug, Spongebob Squarepants, and Rugrats. Via FX Now, every “Treehouse” of Horror” from The Simpsons awaits. Plus, a lot of people seem to dig Ernest Scared Stupid (HBO), so don’t let me ruin your fun.
Tales from the Hood (1995) - Starz; trial available via Amazon
For my money, Jordan Peele’s debut Get Out is the best film of the year, regardless of genre. Film nerds lapped up every homage owed to socially-minded horror movies. Those in want of more should seek the Spike Lee-produced Tales from the Hood, a six-chapter anthology of the horrors of black life in America. Like in the old EC comics, director-cowriter Rusty Cundieff channels revenge for police brutality, domestic abuse, bigoted leadership (a Trumpian KKK member is a senator here), and intercommunity terror through startling allegories. Although heavy-handed at times, few horror comedies dare to address social issues so bluntly. As the horror host, a wild-eyed Clarence Williams III almost supersedes the Cryptkeeper, no puppetry required.
See also: Jordan Peele name checked many social horror movies as influences on Get Out, which are always viable - Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs (Starz) and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (Starz) wildly explore the oppression of black people and young mothers-to-be, respectively. Those looking to pay homage to the late Jonathan Demme and Tom Petty should hit up The Silence of the Lambs (Hulu) to kick out the windshield during “American Girl.”
TerrorVision (1986) - Amazon Prime
Perhaps it’s 80s cheese you seek - the gooier and stringier, the better. TerrorVision is loud and proud, the kind of spooky flick that makes you crave more pastels in the genre. It’s a live action cartoon that satirizes the excesses of the 80s - a boy and his Technicolor punk sister resist the embarrassment of their parents, still stuck in the swinger parties of the 70s, with an overly lush house with a brand new satellite dish. When a signal attracts an extraterrestrial life form, the kids find themselves in some hot soup. Those remorseful over a lack of Elvira available for streaming, fear not - the slightly more flashy knock off Medusa should suffice. An earwormy theme song and wonderfully gross creature effects make for a fun side dish to pizza.
Also: An equally colorful Killer Klowns From Outer Space (Starz), plus Chopping Mall (Amazon Prime), which may not ease your fears of your job being automatized/militarized. Best of all, Night of the Demons (Shout Factory!, free trial via Amazon) is the ultimate 80s Halloween bash, embodied in one immortal line: “Eat a bowl of f--k, I am here to party.”
John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) - Showtime
A handful of John Carpenter’s films qualify, but as this is proving as influential as the groundbreaking Halloween, it deserves inclusion. Maybe the only study of nihilistic existentialism to feature a gooey disembodied head with spider legs, The Thing is Carpenter’s terrific exploration of a thesis he cemented in Halloween‘s finale: the evil was here before we knew it, and it will never cease. When a shapeless alien organism that mimics whatever sap it crosses reaches an American research base on Antarctica, the inquiry into who’s infected sends the cast—and the audience—into a paranoid frenzy. Weirdly colored body fluids fly everywhere, but really, Kurt Russell is why we’re all here.
See also: A moodier, supernaturally minded Carpenter can be found in Prince of Darkness (Starz), and one of the creepier tributes can be found in The Void (Netflix). For more urban-minded paranoid chills, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Hulu) has your back, plus a baby faced Jeff Goldblum.
Green Room (2016) - Amazon Prime
Not exactly the most seasonably appropriate, but for those of you still aching to punch Nazis, dig this: a punk band gets caught in the wrong place at the wrong time after playing for a bunch of neo-Nazi skins, when they find themselves steeled in the venue in brutal combat. Stripped down, raw, and to the point, it’s the Dead Kennedys song “Nazi Punks F--k Off” come to life. Just know the battle doesn’t end up well for anybody. You’ll never look at Patrick Stewart, here as the even-toned head white supremacist, the same way again.
See also: Okay, one more Carpenter. They Live has become increasingly relevant more so lately than it must’ve thirty years back. The film’s moral: to submit to the elitist life is to become the enemy. After discovering that a metropolitan yuppie population are actually hideous aliens, 80s wrestling legend Rowdy Roddy Piper becomes the action hero you never expected, but always wanted.
Halloween II (1981) - Starz
Alas, the original John Carpenter classic remains only for rental, but Halloween II satisfies plenty. Beginning seconds before the original ends, the night Michael Myers comes home just gets a little bit longer. Still stalking Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the trail of blood leads to a hospital, leading to some gruesome thrills and clunky mythology building. Consider it the mainstream version of part one - there’s more gratuitous violence. Carpenter skipped out on this one, but he still contributed an eerie soundtrack more in common with the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross cover than with the original.
See also: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Starz) is a highly contested sequel, particularly since, well, it’s nil to do with the Myers mythology. But a greater threat looms overhead - the holiday itself. The music is as simple and punchy as the original, and instead of oversexed teenagers being the target, it’s the children. The culprit? A diabolical capitalist and a sinister set of mass-market masks.
House (1977) - Filmstruck
Maybe the biggest headscratcher on this list. A psychedelic ghost story aimed at a kid audience, co-written by the director’s eleven year old daughter? That’d explain the frenetic style that’s bubblegum-bright and mirrors a constantly diverted attention. A group of schoolgirls - known only by nicknames like Gorgeous, Kung Fu, and Fantasy - travel to a mysterious aunt’s house, where they find themselves faced with increasingly ludicrous and terrifying fates, be it a flesh hungry piano or a mushroom cloud-shaped cat. The director’s J-pop horror classic appears innocent on the surface, particularly with its simple piano motif, but very subtle allusions to generational memory and the after effects of war linger throughout.
See also: Really, any horror film available on Filmstruck, which partners with the Criterion Collection, should suffice. A nice trio could be made with Kwaidan and Kuroneko, two other classic Japanese ghost stories. Those in want of Twin Peaks vibes but can’t access Fire Walk With Me (side-eying at you, Showtime) should peep David Lynch’s debut Eraserhead. This surrealist masterpiece about the horrors of parenthood not only features a protagonist whose hair is the very depiction tense fear, but was also Stanley Kubrick’s biggest cinematic influence during The Shining.
An American Werewolf in London (1981) - Amazon Prime & Hulu
Among the very best horror comedies of all time, partly because the timing of the jokes are as well measured as the scares. A backpacking trip is cut short when too students are attacked by a werewolf. One survives, and he starts to feel very strange. Suddenly, his dead friend keeps appearing to him, looking more decomposed each time. When the full moon arrives, the transformation, in full light, is one of the most astounding spectacles. And that’s before a most terrifying chase through the London tube. Odds are that if Michael Jackson hires you to direct a music video for his then-unreleased horror-themed single on this film’s basis, you did right.
Under the Shadow (2016) - Netflix
The Iranian/British answer to Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (Netflix), writer-director Babak Anvari makes the claustrophobia tighter in this apartment-set spookshow. Here, ghosts of war batter Tehran amidst the late 80s conflict with Iraq; you can literally see bombings in the background as young mother Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is expelled from university. Institutionalized sexism is a phantasm of its own, as conditions force Shideh to take upon a sole role of mother and provider, her strength tested by djinn, the Islamic form of the supernatural. The concept of the home becomes a complex prison. Left to their own devices, constantly bombarded with condescension for being women, only Shideh and her daughter can defend themselves.
Addams Family Values (1993) - Hulu/Amazon Prime
A spooky film that’s also ripe for summer and Thanksgiving? What a thoughtful gift! Whereas the original film relied too heavily on slapdash to make a compelling story, Addams Family Values finds a larger soul in the creepy/kooky family. Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd), howling for love, becomes smitten with new nanny Debbie (Joan Cusack), who gold-digs then kills. Not even the Addams children are immune to emerging hormones, who turn a smiley sleepaway camp into an anarchic dressing down of the pilgrims. One of the great comedy ensembles of all time.
See also: Clue (Hulu) absolutely qualifies: an old dark house full of murder, a stormy night, plus Christopher Lloyd. To make a long story short - too late? - among the sharpest 80s comedies, and with hardly any raunch.
Pet Sematary (1989) - Hulu/Amazon Prime
Stephen King continues to make his imprint as perhaps the most adapted horror writer of all time, and Mary Lambert delivers one of the most faithful treatments. The notion of dying never eases with age, as shown in a beautiful family who moves to a Maine home near a mystical burial ground and a road with some trucks going a little too fast. The past can haunt, maybe even kill, so be careful what you choose to preserve. In this film’s case, literal reanimation of a cat and baby occur, something with which they seem unhappy. The fall foliage will make you pine for New England autumns, and the presence of Fred Gwynne, Herman Munster himself, should sort your mood properly.
See also: Two sizable Stephen King adaptations hit us in one year, with the low-key boiler Gerald’s Game (Netflix) swinging out of nowhere. The less said about the plot the better. Just know that Carla Gugino gives one of the year’s best performances, bearing much of the film’s weight.
Night of the Living Dead (1968) - Amazon Prime
Grainy footage of militias, hunting dogs in tow, looking for bodies to put in a fire. That may sound like a nightmare of today, and it certainly was the reality of the 1968. The late George Romero, in stark black and white, recreates the footage of the day in Night of the Living Dead, which spawned the zombie genre as we now know it. Shot on the cheap in Pennsylvania, the film really solidifies death as an American value, as well as offer one of the best and nuanced portraits of racism.
See also: Undead, Italian style - Zombie (Shudder) was the unofficial sequel to the original Romero-helmed Dawn of the Dead, but maestro Lucio Fulci brought the stumbling corpses to a grislier degree. Lots of bloodletting from above the neck, plus a wonderful zombie vs. shark battle. Just don’t poke your eye out.
The Monster Squad (1987) - Hulu
Those eagerly awaiting Stranger Things season two should think well to chill with these goons. Like the Hawkins gang, these boys approach their monsters with equal parts fascination and terror. No classic Universal horror movie could unite their monsters as effectively as this, plus it does well to once again humanize Frankenstein’s monster, played by the always wonderful Tom Noonan.
See also: The monster mashes that started it all—Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, and The Mummy—are available via Shudder. Creature from the Black Lagoon (Starz) ought to whet one’s appetite for Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming The Shape of Water. And for more ghouls teaming with kids, or to compensate for a lack of Beetlejuice, consider Little Monsters (Netflix). Despite a terrible shortage of the classic creature feature, one among them walks: Creature from the Black Lagoon (Starz), which should also whet one’s appetite for Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming The Shape of Water. Then again, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (Netflix) is so faithful to the James Whale originals that it’s practically canonical.