“Oh!” I can see you thinking to yourselves, “there’s a typo in the title of Salt’s article. She means top ten, not "ten top"! What a silly muffin for having failed to notice this blatant error.”
Muffins aside, I can inform you that, contrary to my dear editors’ suggestions, I have decided to forgo the standard countdown format in favour of my preferred “brain-splatter” approach. It’s like a brain-storm, but more genre-appropriate. That is, ten films (in no particular order) which, I think, bare all the right features for making a darn good Halloween evening in.
I’ve tried to go for ones that are at the very least autumnal (that’s set during Fall, for you Americans), which is why a number of classics you might otherwise expect to see (Alien, Saw, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc.) are missing. Furthermore, bearing in mind that not everyone is as fond of being spooked/shocked/disturbed/repulsed (delete as appropriate) as I am, I’ve tried to make the following list as accessible as possible by selecting a film for every audience. Well, ish.
1. Hocus Pocus (1993)
Whether you’re with children, or simply like to act like them, this is a Halloween kids film with a difference – it’s actually rather good. Talking cats, Salem witches, comical zombies… even Bette Midler’s hammy performance gives it a touch of theatrical cheese perfect to kick start your celebrations. It’s not particularly clever, and the sensitive ones amongst you will probably want to set off Trick or Treating before the maudlin finale kicks off, but regardless of this, Hocus Pocus may well be a good starter for those of you as of yet unversed in the ways of horror.
If you liked this, you might like: The Witches (1990)
2. Beetlejuice (1988)
So the smaller children/freshers have left the house, and you want to score favour with their sardonic adolescent siblings? Then there’s no better place to turn than to the mind of cinema legend, Tim Burton. Only after their untimely demise do young couple Adam and Barbara Maitland (Baldwin, Davis) discover the extent to which Hell really is other people. Watching their house decimated by its unbearable new owners, the two feel it necessary to enlist the talents of rogue bio-exorcist Betelguese. Let the comedy commence.
If you liked this, you might like: Gremlins (1984)
3. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
As one of my all-time favourites, Shaun couldn’t fail to make the list. The best bridge between comedy and horror since Sam Raimi’s 1987 Evil Dead II, this suburban apocalypse can be enjoyed by both horror fanatics and first timers. Note: this is the first in the list with gore, so if you’re squeamish you might suffer a bit towards the end of the film. However, for those of you with the stomach for it, Shaun of the Dead is a horror pastiche with heart, and one of the most quotable scripts in history.
If you liked this, you might like: Zombieland (2009)
4. Pet Semetary (1989)
Love him or hate him, there’s no doubt Stephen King can tell a good tale. It’s the first horror in the list and, though not the scariest, more than lives up to the genre. Fans of the novel will find it true to its roots, and might even recognise the King himself in a cameo half way through. Perfect for a Halloween sleepover – you’ll get your spooks, but it shouldn’t deprive you of those valuable Zzs once the credits have rolled.
If you liked this, you might like: Children of the Corn (1984)
5. The Haunting (1963)
Can’t stand blood, but still love to freak yourself out? Well you can’t do much better than the original version of The Haunting. Unlike its unbearable 90s remake, there are no cheap shocks, nor any laughable CGI to distract you. The tension is entirely reliant on filmmaking, which is as simple as its black and white aesthetic suggests. The Haunting is a masterful example of how to make a film scary without resorting to novelty. Note: Please do not put it on in the background – this film deserves your full attention.
If you liked this, you might like: Psycho (1960)
6. From Beyond the Grave (1974)
If you’re a fan of The Simpsons Halloween specials, try and seek out this lesser-known gem of a film. The similarities lie with the fact that they’re both compilation in format – four tales tied together by a curiosity-shop and its somewhat sinister owner (Peter Cushing). Each story is distinct from the others, so the tension won’t be lost if your find you find yourself at the door more frequently than you’d planned. Not a fright-fest, but thoroughly entertaining nonetheless.
If you liked this, you might like: Asylum (1972)
7. The Orphanage (2007)
Just below Tapas, quality horror directors are fast becoming one of Spain’s best-loved exports. The Orphanage, Juan Antonio Bayona’s eerie debut, has an emotional core more moving, more genuine than any chick-flick I’ve so far been forced to endure. This is a film that questions the nature of fear; our reasons and intuitions. It’s also REALLY FRIGHTENING. Maybe one to watch if you’re planning an all nighter…
If you liked this, you might like: The Others (2001)
8. The Amityville Horror (1979)
Another psychological horror, Amityville ticks a number of the boxes you want from the genre: likeable characters, jumpy bits, blood, priests, possessions and, most of all, fantastic 70s hair. Watch Margot Kidder (of Lois Lane fame) and James Brolin suffer at the metaphorical hands of their new home. It’s got a great pace, is sexy, creepy and to this day makes my hair stand on end (even after repeated viewings). This is one case where home certainly ain’t where the heart is.
If you liked this, you might like: The Shining (1980)
9. The Exorcist – The Director's Cut (1973)
Forget everything you’ve heard about this being the film “to make grown men faint”, or “to evoke real possessions in peoples DVD players”. The Exorcist is a stunning film about people. People overcome by demons, yes, but people nonetheless. The battle between good and evil? A fearless depiction of innocence defiled? A testament to the kindness of strangers? Or simply a waste of good pea soup? No matter how you think of it, this is a film that will stay with you longer after your viewing, for better or worse.
If you liked this, you might like: The Omen (1976)
10. Halloween (1978)
Aim as many accusations of unoriginality at me as you like, in my eyes there is nothing wrong with watching a film purely for the fact that it’s seasonal – like saving It’s A Wonderful Life for Christmas, or Life of Brian for Python Day. To do otherwise would seem… just plain wrong. As it happens, viewings of Halloween need not be limited to its eponymous festivity because it’s also a great horror in its own right. Slasher movies aren’t my forte, but there’s something about the idea of a small boy in a clown-suit murdering his sister that I find kind of endearing.
If you liked this, you might like: Scream (19)