It’s that time of year again! Except, this time around it's... well, different. Scarier, but not for the right reasons. There will be no costume parties, no pumpkin carving competitions, no trick or treating (for those of us that still dress up like ghosts and hassle strangers for Mars bars. This is a judgement-free zone.) But don’t despair completely. Streaming services and VOD are here to save the day with wide selections of classic Halloween adventures, from friendly (if slightly irritating) ghosts to headless horsemen.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
The Sanderson Sisters resurrect on Halloween eve in the town of Salem, Massachusetts, 300 years after being hung for… well, being witches. Starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, Hocus Pocus was an instant classic because it gave us all the broomsticks and cauldrons and graveyards that one should expect from a Halloween film, but it also gave us laughter, too. The comedic trio are so beloved by audiences that there have been petitions and pleas for a Sanderson Sister reunion the world over. This year, you can actually help out with a fundraising effort by Midler. (Let’s hope she repeats her stellar rendition of I Put a Spell on You.)
The Witch (2015)
The Witch was writer-director Robert Eggers first feature and not only did it completely terrify audiences at Sundance where it premiered, it went on to win 43 awards around the independent film circuit, including the coveted Best First Feature and Best Screenplay at the Spirit Awards (like the Oscars for indie films). The tale of a 1630’s New England family thrust Anya Taylor-Joy onto the scene and cemented Eggers' place in iconic Halloween and horror movies forever.
“Halloween Night. A Small American town.” John Carpenter’s classic Halloween horror follows Michael Myers, a boy who murders his family on Halloween night in 1963, and escapes from the psychiatric institute 15 years later to terrorise the same, small American town. With a total of 11 movies in the franchise spanning 40 years, Halloween the original is pretty much the undisputed favourite of them all, but feel free to make your own judgements. And how can we soon forget, it brought us the enigmatic Jamie Lee Curtis as the film’s protagonist, Laurie, who would go on to star in five of the films, including the most recent one in 2018.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
In true Tim Burton fashion, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a quirky, creepy original made in collaboration with his oft screenwriting collaborator, Caroline Thompson. Jack Skellington is from Halloween Town but happens upon Christmas Town and is enthralled by the joy and light and all of the things that are diametrically opposed Halloween. His obsession with Christmas leads him to abduct Santa Claus, and there you have it folks—the weird and wonderful world of Burton wrapped up in lovely Christmas/Halloween bow.
Donnie Darko (2001)
Though it might not be immediately apparent, we think Donnie Darko is totally a Halloween film: the entire plot—written by a then 24-year-old Richard Kelly—centres around a world-ending event that’s set to occur on All Hallows Eve. Frank the creepy oversized bunny even has a countdown to the night in the beginning of the film. And let’s not forget the other Halloween-esque features in the film like Frank himself, a troubled teen (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Grandma Death. Though the film flopped (it was released less than two months after 9/11 and a plot point involved a jet engine inexplicably falling from the sky) the film has gone on to reach cult classic heights.
The Exorcist (1973)
One of the most successful horror movies of all time, The Exorcist is always a solid go-to for Halloween, though the plot doesn’t have anything to do with the holiday itself. Said to have caused fainting, vomiting and heart attacks in US cinemas, in the UK it was banned for a time and then released with an X rating. Though it no longer holds that kind of horrific sway over viewers – horror has gotten increasingly good at scaring the shit out of audiences – that exorcism scene is still worth the watch and will go down in history as one of the most gruesome scenes ever.
Hubie Halloween (2020)
A new kid is on the block. Hubie Halloween (written and starring Adam Sandler and releasing on Netflix October 7) is both a comedy and a mystery; it is both bad and good; it is, at its essence, an Adam Sandler film (flop?) through and through. You’ll watch it because you can’t not.
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
The mix of romance and horror is both thrilling and sappy in this Tim Burton-Johnny Depp classic. The story—originally written by Washington Irving in 1820—follows Ichabod Crane, a New York City police detective sent to the town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate murders perpetrated by the Headless Horseman. Sleepy Hollow also starred Christina Ricci, a veteran of the Halloween movie game, as the mysterious Katrina Van Tassel.
Just four years before Christina Ricci played Katrina Van Tassel, she’s innocent little Kat Harvey in Casper. Casper the Friendly Ghost was a Harvey Comics character until Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment adapted it into a live-action family film co-starring Ricci and teen heartthrob Devon Sawa. The movie came out in May, but it culminates in a Halloween party at Whipstaff Manor where Casper’s alive self is revealed to Kat during a perfect Nineties teen drama dance.
Mean Girls (2004)
“In girl world, Halloween is the one night a year where a girl can dress up like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” Another classic teen film with a pivotal moment at a Halloween party. Definitely not one that comes to mind for your typical Halloween cinematic lists, but when Regina promises to talk to Aaron for Cady, and then Regina kisses him instead (!) it’s, like, super important.
Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
Five spooky tales intertwine in this Halloween anthology from writer-director Michael Dougherty. Blending comedy, horror, suspense and mystery it stars Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Dylan Baker and Rochelle Aytes and is the perfect way to celebrate the season.
The Craft (1996) and The Craft: Legacy (2020)
As the witching hour approaches, the teen sensation of the Nineties is back with The Craft: Legacy. Written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones, this roundup of witches is shaping up to be a modern-day classic. Set in the same world as the original film, the new coven uses their powers to fight back against high school assholes, but it seems they’re stronger than they think they are. You can watch the classic version here.
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