By Eric Maxwell
At the grueling prospect of not celebrating Halloween in-person this year, we compiled a haunting list of films and TV shows that are perfect for a frighteningly good time from the comfort and safety of your home. Gather your COVID pod for a ghastly streaming party or let the stream of horror spread via Zoom. With this list, you will be checking the locks and leaving the porch light on …
Slashers & Stalkers
Slashers & stalkers are probably the most popular part of the genre. They give us sequel after sequel and get remakes for decades. Here’s a few to cut your teeth on.
The 1969 original Alfred Hitchcock film is considered by many to be the birth of the slasher film. No one felt safe in the shower again after this one and it goes to show you can’t trust a man with mommy issues.
Michael Myers has been scaring audiences since his 1978 debut and the 2018 sequel was so successful that he’s got two more films in the works. Forget a 401K when you can stalk babysitters with a butcher knife.
Friday the 13th
Not far behind Michael, you’ll find Jason Voorhees. Though he’s not the killer in the original film (Scream trivia!) this series has given us a whopping 12 films (one short of Michael Myers’ current output) that have found him slashing from Crystal Lake, to Outer Space and even to Springwood, Ohio to fight a familiar foe.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
If you think there’s nothing scary than giving a speech naked then you’ve never met Freddy Kruger. A former child murder who was burned to death by neighborhood vigilantes, this series was the height of the MTV generation in the 80s. The Springwood Slasher even faced Jason Voorhees in 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason.
A clever modern take on the genre, the Scream series is a story of revenge and uncovering secrets. At times hilarious and extremely quotable, this is the definitive popcorn flick of the 90s.
I Know What You Did Last Summer
Hot on the heels of Scream is another revenge tale with bigger star power and a fearsome hook. The first two films starred Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Brandy – talk about girl power – escaping from an angry father who’s wants revenge for his dead children.
From haunted houses to haunted VHS tapes, ghost just have a lot of unfinished business and they are mad about it. Get spooked with these.
The 1963 adaption of Shirley Jackson’s novel “The Haunting of Hill House” was a classic Cinderella story gone wrong where a woman breaks free of her family and finds herself in a mansion of ghosts. The 1999 remake dialed up the sex and humor with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson giving us tons of special effects and atmosphere. It was later adapted into a TV series on Netflix.
The House on Haunted Hill: If you want campy fun, look no further. Not to be confused with The Haunting/”The Haunting of Hill House,” there’s lots of special effects pioneering in the 1959 original starring Vincent Price as one half of the world’s unhappiest married couple who invite people to survive the night at a haunted house for a cash prize. The 1999 remake dialed up the sex and gore with Famke Janssen (X-Men), singer-actor Taye Diggs, and Ali Larter (Final Destination).
Of no relation to Scooby-Doo, this film is about a family getting an inheritance from a distant uncle – but it’s not what it seems. The inheritance is an incredible mansion…filled with ghosts. And they aren’t happy to be there. The 2001 remake starred Tony Shalhoub (pre-Monk), Shannon Elizabeth (American Pie), and Matthew Lillard (Scream).
Japanese horror was all the rage in the mid-2000s and the 2002 American remake of 1998’s Ring started the trend. This compelling story of a ghost exacting revenge through a curse will make you afraid to watch a VHS ever again. Hopefully we’ve escaped the ghosts by moving to YouTube.
Hot on the heels of Ring was 2000’s direct-to-video Ju-On. This gave birth to a few sequels that eventually made their way to cinemas and were remade in 2004 with Buffy herself in the lead role. This ghost was wronged and anyone who lives in her house has hell to pay, even a slayer.
Classic Monsters Updated
Universal Studio created the original Dracula and company films in the 1920s and they spawned many sequels and a period of remakes. Now Hollywood is breathing new life into with a series of reboots that will bring them all together again.
This 2014 remake added elements of the real life Vlad the impaler to the classic vampire story and kicked off the universal monster cinematic universe.
2017’s The Mummy brought in star power with Tom Cruise though many preferred the charm of Brendan Frasier in the 90s remake.
Elisabeth Moss has a thing for being oppressed and she’s so good at it. Fresh off the heels of The Handmaid’s Tale she finds herself being pursued by abusive boyfriend who is nowhere to be found. The suspense is dialed up to 11 in this taught thriller that had to be released direct to streaming due to COVID-19.
Vampire Films With Bite
There’s no love story to be found here, only bloodsuckers that go bump in the night.
Cute boy next door versus hot scary neighbor in this 80s classic. Come for the sex appeal and stay for the laughs and 80s fashion.
30 Days of Night
The unique setting of Alaska gives this group of high speed vampires the chance to ravage a town in Alaska for a whole month. Their real estate market will never recover.
Let Me In
Though the original Swedish Let The Right One In is arguably spookier, the American remake brings the charm of Chloë Grace Moretz to make you wonder what would happen if two kids just want to be friends – but one of them is a vampire.
You’ll need more than a hat and a few spells to fight these empowered bad girls. The scariest thing about witches is that they can be anyone anywhere.
If you’ve never heard the phrase “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” then you need to watch this movie to see what a satanic goat by the name of Black Phillip has to offer to his coven of witches.
The Italian original offered some of the most stunning visuals and memorable music in a horror film, but Amazon’s 2018 remake added over an hour of story to the film and brought it’s own sense of high art through extended dance sequences in this tale of an American girl who goes to study dance in Europe only to find that the studio is run by a coven of witches.
There is a reason you should never get to know your neighbors and never trust a stranger. 60s it-girl Mia Farrow stars as pregnant Rosemary who is expecting a baby that she definitely isn’t expecting.
There’s something to be said about capitalism and the zombie film. George A. Romero created the genre as a metaphor for the consumerism of the west and they ironically always make a large profit.
Dawn of the Dead
Though Night of the Living Dead started the franchise, the real star was it’s 1978 sequel. One of the first horror films to star a black male in a leading role, this story revolves around a group trying to survive a zombie outbreak by holing up in a shopping mall. The 2004 remake dialed up the special effects and especially the speed giving a whole new life to the undead by making them run extremely fast and bite even faster.
28 Days Later
This film gave us the idea of having the zombie outbreak as an actual virus and the sequel took the story to international heights.
Return of the Living Dead
After their creative divorce following Night of the Living Dead, writer John Russo decided to title his sequels with the “Return” prefix and gave us a series of campy, goofy, gory films that more closely mirror Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” than Romero’s artistic criticism of capitalism.
Werewolves Are Furry Friends Too
Everyone feels different when they start to grow body hair, but these films exceed the limit of a normal puberty. Here are some to sink your claws into.
An American Werewolf in London
Two friends have an unexpected mishap during a backpacking adventure in the UK. John Landis’ 1981 horror film was filled with groundbreaking special effects. The werewolf transformation scene might look familiar – he replicated it when he directed Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. The sequel proved travelling to Paris is no less of a hairy adventure.
Two sisters grow apart during an unusually stressful time of puberty, boys, and murders. This is perhaps the best Canadian horror film ever made and the cast really nailed their alt-90s characters, but let’s agree to forget the sequels happened.
The original was a high-profile success based on the novel of the same name. The story of a news reporter who finds herself at odds with a local colony of werewolves soon spawned a number of low budget sequels that so often filled the filmscape of the 80s.
Some folks like blood and guts and some can’t stand it. If you want to see the insides on the outside, look no further.
Saw is the epitome of modern torture porn. People must escape from traps that are based on the wrong they’ve done in life or they’re going to die…gruesomely. This series was one of the most successful film series to consecutively release sequels on Halloween each year, rivaled only by the Paranormal Activity franchise.
For once, Hollywood decided to leave the original film intact and instead decided to just dub the audio. This 2003 French film is a bloody mindfuck about two friends who go to visit family for a weekend study break.
Laid to Rest
Imagine waking up with amnesia in a coffin and being pursued by a man with a very large knife. This gore-filled action story spawned a sequel and has one more in the works. The camera never cuts away so if you don’t want to see someone literally cut in half from head to toe then skip this one.
Director Eli Roth is a god among horror fans and every single one of his films is absolutely drenched in blood and guts. Hostel is a standout in the genre of what happens to Americans who go backpacking in Europe. Hint: nothing good.
Family Friendly Frights
Not everything is blood and guts and for that the internet coined the term “spoopy” to mean spooky in a fun and lighthearted way. Here are some films the whole family can enjoy.
The Sanderson sisters are witches and they’re back from the dead after being summoned by a virgin who lit the black flame candle. Literally everyone has seen this film a million times but there’s a good reason for it. It’s remarkably fun adventure story with so many levels of humor built into it. It’s probably the most memorable Halloween-centric family film that will ever be made.
The Addams Family
The classic comic characters were finally brought to the big screen in 1991 starring the Anjelica Huston and Christina Ricci.This is the original goth family and they’ve got enough comedy and adventure for several sequels and a cartoon series.
The original 1990 film also starred Anjelica Huston as the grand high witch in this adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book. Though it wasn’t a hit in theaters, it’s such a cult favorite that HBO Max is releasing a remake this month starring Anne Hathaway who has now come full circle after Devil Wears Prada to being an evil but fashionable modern woman.
A group of ghost hunters get together to free New York from pesky poltergeists. This family favorite spawned a ton of merchandise in the 80s and gave us a few sequels and a remake.
Another Christina Ricci starring film, this is the story of two lonely kids who meet and share a special connection. Part friendship and part love-story, this is a great one for families with preteens.
Disney struck made-for-TV gold with this series about a girl who discovers her family secret is the power of witchcraft. They travel back and forth between the goofy and fun land of Halloweentown one night a year and hijinks always ensue.
There’s no shortage of animated specials centering on Halloween. These are family friendly but they make spook the littlest ones.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Tim Burton’s classic story combines the two biggest holidays into one where Halloween’s ghosts and goblins find themselves trapped in the world of Christmas.
It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Charlie Brown swaps a football for a pumpkin in this popular animated special about believing in the magic of the holidays.
Garfield’s Halloween Adventure
Garfield and Odie get lost while trick or treating as pirates and meet a creepy guy who tells them a ghost story. Boy did this thing give me nightmares as a kid.
Disney’s Halloween Treat
This hourlong special chopped together clips from many Disney films including The Sword in the Stone, Fantasia, and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. There’s a few different versions floating around that are either narrated by the mirror from Snow White or a jack-o’-lantern puppet. This is where the iconic dancing spooky skeletons were resurrected into the limelight of pop culture.
Adam Sandler and Selena Gomez voice the lead roles in this hilarious family friendly CGI cartoon about Dracula opening up a hotel in Transylvania as a place for monsters to hide out from the world of humans. It spawned two sequels with a fourth film in the works.
Scary Good TV
From movie adaptations to anthologies, horror is finding a new home on the small screen by being able to tell longer and more in-depth stories than any movie could. Here are some of the best.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
A few years after the questionably loveable movie, Buffy Summers was redeveloped for TV starring future horror queen Sarah Michelle Gellar as a considerably smarter and more bad ass slayer with a group of close-knit friends. This show has so many emotional ups and downs and tackles subjects like loss and death as well as some of the best love storylines on teen TV. The show is probably best known for its sarcastic and dark sense of humor.
The Haunting of Hill House
Shirley Jackson’s novel gets retold again this time in a well-written, incredibly suspenseful, and downright scary original TV show for Netflix. The character names were recycled from previous iterations, but the show itself focuses on a family that lives in the house after the events of the original story.
American Horror Story
Ryan Murphy makes like 10 TV shows a year now and AHS is to blame for that. After two decades in the industry already, he created a show that breathed new life into the horror anthology genre and became so massively popular that anyone and everyone wanted a piece of him. Each season is related and recycles some of the actors who also sometimes play the same role in more than one season. The show has tackled everything from murder, witchcraft, insane asylums, sideshow freaks, and haunted hotels to the lost colony of Roanoke, cults, the apocalypse and, most recently, the slasher glory of the 80s. Production of the tenth season is underway using COVID-19 precautions and Murphy has released teasers on his Instagram account that lead many to believe it will be set at the beach and possibly involve mermaids or sirens.
While the film series is still alive and well, MTV developed an unrelated show that is often as comedic and suspenseful as its film counterpart.
Slasher Netflix also acquired the rights for this Canadian gem. Horror fans have been buzzing about this series that is filled with frights, mysteries, and a surprising amount of gore that could never make it onto American broadcast TV. The seasons of this anthology series do recycle some of the actors but, unlike American Horror Story, the seasons are not related. Each season focuses on a pair of crimes (often a sex-related murder, echoing the Scream franchise) and the need for revenge