Halloween is a time to indulge the dark, weird or wacky side of one’s personality. Whether it be donning costumes, carving pumpkins, lighting bonfires, telling scary stories, trick-or-treating with friends or visiting haunted houses, it’s all part of what makes Halloween the most creative annual holiday. Another staple of the All Hallows’ Eve experience is watching horror films.
There’s been plethora of horror films over the past half century -- some good, some bad, some mediocre -- so deciding what to watch on Halloween can be a bit of a daunting task. Watching the right scary movie can set the perfect mood, while watching the wrong one might dampen the Halloween experience. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered. Below, check out a list of the top 13 scariest, weirdest or just plain wackiest films to watch on Halloween.
1.) Halloween (1978)
Modern horror as we know it started with this film. What better way to get into Halloween than by watching one of the most iconic horror films of all time? The movie launched the career of Jamie Lee Curtis and established John Carpenter as one of the top directors of his day. Michael Myers remains one of the scariest movie villains of all time. It’s an essential film on the list of scariest films to watch on Halloween.
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2.) Friday The 13th (1980)
We all know the scary image of hockey-masked Jason Voorhees stalking and killing horny teenagers in Camp Crystal Lake; now see where it all began. “Friday The 13th,” released in 1980, is credited with launching the slasher genre that would define American horror films for the next decade. There have been 12 films in the series, including the 2009 remake and "Freddy vs. Jason," but nothing beats the first one.
3.) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The name pretty much says it all. A group of friends in rural Texas find themselves at the mercy of Leatherface, a chainsaw-wielding killer who wears human skin on his face. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” shocked audiences and critics alike when it was released in 1974, and it still holds up to this day. This film was way ahead of its time. Skip the sequels and remakes, and head straight for the classic original.
4.) The Evil Dead (1981)
Sam Raimi is probably best known for directing the first three films in the Spider-Man series, but film buffs often point to his early, groundbreaking horror work as proof of his talent. Raimi teamed up with childhood friend Bruce Campbell to create this horror flick, which includes demon possession and plenty of gore. It would go on to become a cult classic and establish both of their careers.
5.) Suspiria (1977)
It’s time to go across the pond for the next entry in the list of scariest horror films to watch on Halloween. Italian director Dario Argento is noted for his creepy, surreal films. “Suspiria” is perhaps the best example of this. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this film is so unsettling, it just has to be experienced. The strange, hallucinatory images from the movie will stay with the viewer long after it ends.
6.) Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Before “The Walking Dead,” there was George A. Romero’s “Living Dead” series. The first entry, 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead,” could have been included on the list of scariest horror films to watch on Halloween, but if we’re being honest, its sequel, 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead,” ups the ante even more. Those looking to watch a zombie movie on Halloween need look no further.
7.) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Is there anything scarier than the concept of a killer stalking your dreams? Wes Craven (a perfect name for a horror director) didn’t think so, which is why he decided to base a film around the idea. Freddy Krueger and his signature glove would feature in a bevy of movies and television shows, so it’s easy to forget that the wise-cracking Krueger of later films was actually an ominous, largely silent presence in the first film. This creepy, supernatural horror film should be essential viewing for any horror fan on Halloween.
8.) Hellraiser (1987)
Clive Barker burst onto the scene in a big way in 1987 with the release of “Hellraiser,” a film based on his own novella “The Hellbound Heart.” The movie centers around a group of extra-dimensional demonic creatures called Cenobites who use human souls for sadomasochistic experiments. Their leader, Pinhead, features in all “Hellraiser” films. Strap in for a fun ride when you pop on this movie for Halloween.
9.) Black Christmas (1974)
While “Halloween” gets all the credit for starting the slasher genre, it really originated with this film. An unseen killer terrorizes a group of sorority sisters over the course of one night around Christmastime. Watch this film on Halloween night, and prepare to be creeped out. It’s that effective, almost 40 years later. Check out the POV shots from the killer that “Halloween” would later put to great use. Director Bob Clark would later go on to direct “A Christmas Story” and “Porky’s.”
10.) Paranormal Activity (2007)
Here’s a modern entry into the list of the scariest films to watch on Halloween. This inventive movie in the “found footage” subgenre documents a couple being haunted by something in their San Diego house. It’s undoubtedly one of the scariest films to come out in recent years.
11.) The Shining (1980)
Maligned upon its release in 1980, this slow-burn film by legendary director Stanley Kubrick has come to be recognized as one of the most effective psychological horror films of all time. Jack Nicholson is in full-on creep mode, and Shelley Duvall delivers as the long-suffering wife Wendy. For a fun addendum, check out the excellent documentary “Room 237” about the hidden messages allegedly embedded into the film.
12.) The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter comes in with a second entry on the list of scariest horror films to watch on Halloween. 1982’s “The Thing” is a freaky sci-fi horror flick that follows a group of researchers at a station in Antarctica as they battle an alien being with the ability to mimic the appearance of the organism it consumes. Sounds like a great way to spend a Halloween night!
13.) Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
This Japanese horror film released in 2002 is the third installment in the groundbreaking “Ju-On” series. The movie packs plenty of scares that should spice up your Halloween night.
Honorable Mentions: Night of the Living Dead (1968), Alien (1979), 28 Days Later (2002), The Omen (1976), The Beyond (1981), Event Horizon (1997), Session 9 (2001), Poltergeist (1982), The Brood (1979), Insidious (2011), The Descent (2005), Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973)