Pumpkin Spice hasn’t taken over all of October, not yet at least. Today we bring you a list of Halloween films to curl your toes and put you in the mood for the frightful holiday that is rife with silly costumes, sweet treats, and eery images. Grab your favorite person to hold on to while you boot up Netflix and pop some corn.
House of a 1000 Corpses Four young people spend Halloween searching for the legendary roadside attraction Dr. Satan in Rob Zombie’s feature debut — and boy, do they find him. Setting the tone for his entire career, Zombie’s spin on backwoods horror like “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” is gruesome, dirty and captivating. With a great cast portraying both normal people (Rainn Wilson, Walton Goggins, Tom Towles) and murderous freakshows (Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie), there’s real heart and menace in between the buckets of blood. Add inventive camerawork and sound design and, although Zombie would dilute his style by going to this well too many times, his first full-length feature is a low-budget classic.
Donnie Darko At the beginning of Richard Kelly’s 2001 indie sci-fi thriller, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) sleepwalks out of his house and meets a terrifying figure in a rabbit costume, who tells him the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds — on Halloween. The rest of the film unfurls like a demented trip into Donnie’s troubled psyche as he experiences hallucinations of the monstrous bunny figure, who convinces him to do mysterious things while sleepwalking. It’s a time-traveling spin made even spookier by a goth rock soundtrack and Gary Jules’ eerie cover of “Mad World.” Plus, Donnie’s low-key skeleton get-up, as well as the masked Frank, have become cult-favorite Halloween costumes.
Nightmare Before Christmas A Halloween movie? A Christmas movie? Regardless, the stop-motion animated musical is a visual delight that seamlessly combines the two holidays into one film. Directed by Henry Selick, the story follows Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon), the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, who has grown tired of the same routine of frightening people. After stumbling upon Christmastown, Jack devises a plan to take over the joyous holiday. A testament to producer Tim Burton’s whimsical yet sinister imagination, the film features memorable songs like “This Is Halloween” and “What’s This?” from composer Danny Elfman.
Young Frankenstein After denouncing his grandfather’s work as “doo-doo,” Young Frankenstein, also known as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder), receives word that he’s inherited his famous ancestor’s Transylvanian castle. There, with the help of his lab assistant Inga (Teri Garr) and pop-eyed hunchback Igor (Marty Feldman), he discovers a secret library containing his grandfather Victor’s notes on how to bring the dead to life. The temptation is too great to pass up. In the renowned Frankenstein laboratory, young Frederick creates his own monster (Peter Boyle) and harnesses the power of an electrical storm to bring him to life in this deliciously funny film by Mel Brooks.
Hocus Pocus Three words: the Sanderson sisters. While the Disney comedy features an amusing storyline on Halloween night in present-day Salem, Mass., home of the Salem Witch Trials, it’s truly Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker’s performances as the trio of diabolical witches that make the feature a Halloween cult classic. Who could forget Midler singing “I Put a Spell on You” as the buck-toothed Winifred Sanderson? From an immortal talking black cat to a zombie ex-boyfriend, “Hocus Pocus” proves that a film doesn’t have to be horrifying in order to capture the spooky aura of the Halloween season.
Scream IV (2023) The Carpenter sisters (and their masked stalker) move to New York, a city so big that, according to the movie’s tagline, “no one hears you scream.” There, Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega) link up with “Scream” vets Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) to untangle the menacing Manhattan mystery and defeat Ghostface(s?). The bustling Big Apple serves as a refreshing backdrop for the “Scream” franchise and adds new thrills, like the franchise villain blending in on a crowded subway car full of people dressed in Halloween costumes, including a couple of Ghostfaces. The sixth “Scream” will change the way you view the spooky holiday in the big city.
Knock at the Cabin M. Night Shyamalan throws together an apocalyptic doozy of an existential nightmare. Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge and Kristen Cui star as a family vacationing at a Pennsylvania cabin that’s invaded by armed strangers – including their massive leader (Dave Bautista) – with a stomach-turning order: sacrifice a loved one or doom mankind. Bautista is fantastic in a well-crafted thriller that’s less bleak than it sounds.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown If your Halloween activities include a viewing (or two) of the classic Peanuts TV special, there’s a bit of Halloween trivia that you might enjoy knowing before watching the show.
For instance, according to the Washington Post, for years after “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” first aired in 1966, viewers mailed candy to Schulz’s California studio out of sympathy for Charlie Brown, whose Halloween haul included just rocks and no treats.
Another fact? In traditional Lucy fashion, Charlie Brown’s foe goads him into kicking a football before pulling it away at the last minute, causing him to fall. According to IMDB, the “Great Pumpkin” is the first time TV viewers see this ongoing gag, which originated in Charles Schulz’s comic strip in 1951 with Violet — not Lucy — pulling the prank.
Finally, for much of his life, Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz went by the nickname “Sparky.” How did he come by the unusual moniker?