Michael Saltis delivers a great list of Halloween movies to satisfy just about anyone’s taste in genre, from Hollywood classics, to family-friendly, to funny, to … uh… hauntingly disturbing (for me anyway) – editor. Take YOUR pick—
Let’s start with one you won’t find on many Halloween lists. I’m a sucker for Boris Karloff, but the 1932 film has nothing on Stephen Sommers’ late 90’s rollercoaster ride. The plot is simple: A buried treasure is found, an ancient curse is unleashed, and an undead Egyptian mummy wreaks havoc as our heroes flee his ghoulish hordes.
Each and every actor is perfect in their respective role – from Brendan Fraser’s charismatic leading man, to Arnold Vosloo’s Imhotep, right down to John Hannah’s comic relief as the unscrupulous (and hilarious) Jonathan. It’s good fun from start to finish.
Rated PG-13 for action violence.
Stephen Sommers found a stellar leading man in Brendan Fraser, but he really hits the jackpot (so to speak) with Hugh Jackman as the legendary vampire hunter Van Helsing. Adapted from Bram Stoker’s original character, Van Helsing is charged by the Vatican with the task of slaying monsters that lurk in the shadows across Europe. His main foe: Dracula, the vampire king himself. We also get to see venerable characters like the Wolf Man, Frankenstein, and even Mr. Hyde along the way.
For classic monster buffs up for a light-hearted adventure, it’s not one to be missed.
Rated PG-13 for nonstop creature action violence ad frightening images, and some sensuality.
You can’t make a list of Halloween movies and forget The Nightmare Before Christmas. Written by Tim Burton and featuring music by Batman’s own Danny Elfman, this animated film looms large in the early childhood memories of many a nostalgic 90’s child, and for good reason.
Rated PG for some scary images.
Let’s not forget the most influential horror icon of all time: Count Dracula, here unforgettably played by Bela Lugosi (a legend in his own right), who established the Transylvanian vampire’s accent for all time. The film was so successful that it kicked off the Universal Studios monster series, a successful “shared movie universe” predating Marvel Studios by nearly a century.
No movie buff, horror fan, or monster enthusiast worth his salt will disagree: When it comes to horror films as an industry, it really began with Dracula.
Released the same year as Dracula, Universal Studios had another hit with Frankenstein, an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic novel. The first of a countless number of Frankenstein adaptations, this remains the definitive version of the story (although a case can also be made for its popular sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein). The film made Boris Karloff a household name as the monster, and his makeup as the creature remains the definitive look for the character.
Man of hubris, be warned: Don’t play God, or you’re bound to step straight into hell.
Ten years after Dracula laid the foundation for the Universal Studios monster universe, Lon Chaney Jr. portrayed the tragic Larry Talbot, a man who returns to his ancestral home only to suffer the bite of a werewolf.
While The Wolf Man is as much of a classic as Dracula or Frankenstein, werewolves have had a rough time at the box office since the early 20th century, and I suspect it’s because storytellers don’t understand what makes the werewolf so frightening as a character. While Dracula is a universally recognizable story of good men pitted against an overwhelmingly powerful evil, The Wolf Man is something else entirely.
It’s the story of that awful feeling that comes over a man who, upon awakening from sleep, discovers he can’t recall the night before, and suspects he has done something terrible.
Bill Murray. Dan Akroyd. 80’s special effects. Ivan Reitman. Bill Murray. Sigourney Weaver. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Harold Ramis.
Did I mention Bill Murray?
It’s not a popular thing to say, but I suspect that of all the movies on this list, Young Frankenstein has aged the least gracefully (mostly due to its reliance on the audience’s familiarity with the clichés of the Universal Studios monster films). Nevertheless, I foresee no era in which mankind will be so disillusioned as to find no joy in the antics of Mel Brooks.
Come for Gene Wilder as Victor “Frankensteen”, stay for the great Marty Feldman as Igor.
This story of a friendly ghost begins with a paranormal expert moving into an abandoned manor with his teenaged daughter. Soon enough, they discover they aren’t the only inhabitants, and while the lovable Casper makes for good enough company for Christina Ricci’s friendless teen, some other mischievous spirits are eager to cause trouble.
It’s as fun and harmless as 90’s cinema gets, so relax and enjoy this with the kids.
Rated PG for mild language and thematic elements.
What is there left to say about ET that hasn’t been said? Steven Spielberg was at the top of his game with this story of a lost space traveler befriended by a troubled young boy in suburban California. For a later anniversary of the film, ET was re-released with updated special effects that replaced the practical puppetry of the original cut. The result? The reaction from longtime fans was so negative that Spielberg ensured that only the original cut would be released from then on.
If only his friend George Lucas had done the same with Star Wars…
Rated PG for language and thematic elements.
I told myself that I’d only recommend Halloween movies I’ve seen from start to finish, and I’ve stuck to that rule… for the most part. But in the case of James Wan’s The Conjuring, I should confess that there are still one or two scenes that I haven’t watched with my own eyes. Why? Because I was so scared watching this movie that I couldn’t help but cover them. The Conjuring is one of the best executed horror films in the last decade.
As a surprisingly pro-family movie (thematically, that is), it’s also arguably one of the most Catholic on this list.
Rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror.
Think Stephen King’s Cujo, but featuring a nightmarish creature far more dangerous than a rabid Saint Bernard. The least known entry on this list, The Monster is directed by Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) and stars Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine as a mother/daughter duo stranded in the deep woods after a car accident. As rain falls outside, they begin to suspect that something inhuman is stalking them. It’s wonderful to see practical creature effects being used over CGI, but it’s the terrific performances and strong characters that sell this one.
For 90 minutes of terror, try watching on a night as dark and stormy as the one featured in the film.
Rated R for language and some violence/terror.
Well, you knew it was coming. This is John Carpenter’s signature work, and the film that cemented the 70’s “slasher genre” in our collective memory. Like Jaws, its success is rooted in part in its simplicity: Michael Myers – or “the Shape”, as he’s credited – is unleashed on a group of teenagers in an unassuming suburban American landscape, and once he starts coming after them he Just. Doesn’t. Stop. The movie was so massively successful that it spawned a long line of sequels, the most recent being the critical and box office hit Halloween (2018).
Who knew a white William Shatner mask could be so terrifying?