5. Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
Few movies truly capture the Halloween spirit like Michael Dougherty‘s modern classic, Trick ‘r Treat. This spooktacular anthology strings together multiple interweaving stories that all take place on Halloween night. At the heart of it all is Sam, a devilish trick-or-treater that wears orange pajamas and a canvas sack over his head. Sam loves Halloween and believes people should respect the holiday’s many rules and traditions. Those that fail to do so must be punished.
Trick ‘r Treat oozes Halloween spirit. Spooky Jack-o-lanterns, creepy old-timey costumes, eerie orange lights, poisoned candy, and super sexy werewolves adorn the screen while Sam searches for those naughty tricksters undeserving of treats. The film celebrates Halloween while providing very valuable lessons. Never blow out a Jack-o-lantern before midnight, always check your candy before consuming it, and for the love of God, if you’re home, please pass out treats. (Chris Coffel)
4. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
For years Halloween III: Season of the Witch was viewed as the out-of-place weirdo of the Halloween franchise. While the film still doesn’t fit the rest of the series, it is now a beloved cult classic and one of the greatest Halloween (holiday and horror franchise) films of all time. Superstud Tom Atkins and his mischievous mustache star as alcoholic doctor Daniel Challis. After a patient of his is murdered by a mysterious man in a suit, Challis works with the dead man’s daughter (Stacey Nelkin) to figure out who killed her dad. Their investigation takes them to the Silver Shamrock toy factory. The factory is owned by a man named Conal Cochran (Daniel O’Herlihy), who plans to kill millions of children on Halloween night by harnessing the power of Stonehenge.
At the center of this bonkers plot are three incredible Halloween masks — a witch, a skeleton, and Jack-o-lantern. Thanks to some impressive advertising, the masks have become all the rage, and every child must have one. These ads conveniently leave out the fact that the masks will turn your face into insect mush. Why is Cochran planning to do all this? As a callback to an ancient pagan ritual in which children were sacrificed during Samhain, of course. Makes sense! (Chris Coffel)
3. Ginger Snaps (2000)
Most horror movies earn immediate points in my book for being set around Halloween, but when an already-awesome movie becomes a Halloween flick halfway through, that’s even better. Ginger Snaps does just that, starting its story in the fall when goth teen Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) gets bit by a werewolf and ending with a climactic evening from hell that takes place during a Halloween party.
Ginger Snaps is a great movie regardless of its time period: Isabelle and Emily Perkins, who plays Ginger’s sister Brigitte, are both excellent as two girls whose deep bond is tested by a monster of a puberty metaphor. But the film’s Halloween setting is the icing on top of the pumpkin cake. Like many other October 31st-set movies, Ginger Snaps is able to place its supernatural action in the middle of a crowd since everyone is dressed up, and no one will question a bit of gore. The result is a doozy of a climax that’s perfect for seasonal viewing but just as fantastic any day of the year. (Valerie Ettenhofer)
2. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Arsenic and Old Lace is the safest of Halloween frights. Cary Grant‘s lovelorn Mortimer discovering a corpse in his aunt’s window seat on the day of his wedding triggers an array of macabre hijinks. His crazed brother Teddy is not just a delusional oddball but a gravedigger, hiding his aunts’ victims in the dirt below the basement. His other brother Jonathan is a fine killer in his own right. He comes complete with a maniac surgeon accomplice! As the film races through the multiple bodily reveals, Mortimer quickly questions his own morality and mentality. Could he turn killer at any second? He certainly can’t have a child with his new bride!
Director Frank Capra treats the proceedings as a gas, delighting in the wickedness on parade. Arsenic and Old Lace is the movie you play to kickstart your Halloween marathon, slowly building the horror until you reach John Carpenter’s masterpiece (see our top spot). The film puts you in the spirit, liberally unleashing dark snickers from its audience so they can gladly greet trick-or-treaters throughout the evening. (Brad Gullickson)
1. Halloween (1978)
It’s impossible to talk about movies that take place on Halloween without discussing John Carpenter‘s Halloween. After all, it’s right there in the title! On Halloween night, 6-year-old Michael Meyers — dressed as a clown — stabs his sister Judith to death. Michael spends the next 15 years locked away in Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. On October 30, 1978, Michael breaks out and returns home to his little town of Haddonfield to finish what he started.
Michael is the embodiment of evil. He needs no motivation, and he cannot be stopped. He is the boogeyman. This is partly why Carpenter and co-writer and producer Debra Hill set the film on Halloween night. As Hill put it, “Halloween was the night when all the souls are let out to wreak havoc on the living,” and Michael is the physical representation of that night.
The little indie film became a massive hit, and Michael became an instant horror icon. It spawned a franchise that is now 13 films deep and ushered in the slasher era that would dominate the ’80s horror. And it has become a staple of the holiday season. Every October, Halloween plays countless times on television while making return appearances in theaters. Carpenter’s haunting piano melody has become the unofficial theme song of the holiday, and we’ve all tried to recreate that Jack-o-lantern from the opening credits. There’s no denying that Halloween is Halloween. (Chris Coffel)
Looking for horror lists that aren’t specific to Halloween? Then check out more 31 Days of Horror Lists!
Related Topics: 31 Days of Horror Lists