If you’re not of the opinion that Halloween is a holiday for devil worshipers and witches, chances are you find every October 31st to be a fantastically fun time filled with family and friends. With pumpkin flavored everything, the smell of rubber Halloween masks, that guy whose costume is always “a guy who forgot his costume,” and those clingy-as-hell nylon spider web decorations, Halloween should remain a timeless holiday that brings you back to simpler times and immediately fills your body and soul with feel-good nostalgia.
But as important as decorations and costumes are, Halloween just isn’t Halloween without your favorite autumn-hued movies. Forget about horror movies; the real heroes of Halloween are the creepily campy and downright delightful films that we can’t help but fire up year after year. In honor of a rapidly approaching Halloween and our desire to treat you to seasonal goodness that won’t rot your teeth, check our list below of the 10 Best Movies to Get You in the Halloween Spirit.
You should note that this list isn’t about horror, but rather movies that elicit a certain, spooky Halloween mood.
Who didn’t want to ride the Up and At ‘Em Machine from 1995’s Casper? Nobody, that’s who. If you have a heart and were a child in the ’90s, Casper was your go-to movie; although looking back on it, the story of a lonely girl befriending the ghost of a dead boy – a ghost who has been tormented by his ghost uncles for eternity – isn’t really the feel-good movie we all remember. But that’s just what makes Casper so special.
With its excellent use of atmosphere, score, and surprisingly great special effects for an early CGI-era film, Casper flew its way into our hearts by providing us with an exceptionally creepy yet heartfelt film that never talked down to its audience. Filled with iconic sights and sounds that any fan would instantly remember during a rewatch, Casper the Friendly Ghost is one character that’s welcome in our living rooms – and our hearts – every Halloween.
What to make of Donnie Darko, the cult classic starring a young Jake Gyllenhaal and a disturbing rabbit demon? After all these years, it’s still not easy to say, but the one thing that’s for sure is Donnie Darko is essential Halloween viewing.
The creepy factor of Donnie Darko is among the highest on this list. The film is jam packed with demonic undertones, apocalyptic themes, and a general sense of dread that our favorite feel-good Halloween movies don’t tend to have. But what sets Darko aside from – ahem – darker fare is a standout performance by Jake Gyllenhaal and a well-told story that still continues to surprise after multiple viewings.
With a countdown to Halloween permeating the proceedings of the plot, Donnie Darko does a great job bottling the anticipation of Halloween while still getting at the more sinister ancient roots of the holiday. Simply put, Donnie Darko is a strange little movie that we’re not sure why we love so much that fits perfectly with a strange little holiday that we’re not sure why we love so much.
Ernest Scared Stupid
In recent years audiences looking for their fill of Halloween movie goodness have had to turn to R-rated horror films. Gone are the days of a simple little horror-comedy throwing all reason to the wind and jamming Jim Varney as Ernest P. Worrell and a horrifying child-eating troll in the same film and watching the madness ensue.
Nothing about Ernest Scared Stupid – not its plot, not its characters, not its performances – matters as much as the fact that the movie simply exists, and its existence is downright spectacular. The type of film you’d catch on a Halloween block of TV programming in late October, everything about Ernest Scared Stupid is campy and amazing; the perfect storm of Halloween nostalgia and atmosphere thrown into a loopy movie that has spawned memes aplenty.
Even if you never saw Ernest Scared Stupid as a child, this is the movie of all our childhoods, and it has the awesome power to bring any viewer back to the Halloween parties of their youths’, complete with peeled grape eyeballs and spaghetti brains.
If you’re seeing a trend of nostalgia filled Halloween hits from the ’90s, you’ve been paying attention. It’s not that the ’90s were the only time in history that Hollywood churned out fun and light Halloween fare, but it was at peak output back then; all building to a VHS fueled overload that saw Hocus Pocus as the victor of repeat viewings.
The very Disney channel-esque story of three witches and a handful of teenagers on Halloween night is what everyone thinks of when they think back to their favorite Halloween movies. With Hocus Pocus, the only thing that really matters is the emotions the film conjures up, and sure enough – like the best Halloween movies – it brings up a wide range of joy, laughter, and cringe-worthy camp.
Despite writer Dan Harmon claiming that Monster House was ripped out of his hands before he was able to finish the screenplay and turned over to – in his words – a moron (Steven Spielberg), the film is a lovingly crafted homage to childhood and the year we all thought we were too old for Halloween.
Though the film was head-scratchingly released in the dead of summer, the opening frame of Monster House makes it painfully clear that you’re in for a yellow-and-orange-saturated fall flick, complete with the best things the Halloween genre has to offer. The beautiful performance-capture animation brings to life the imagination and awe that any great Halloween movie should, while the great voice-performances and a delightful Amblin charm from – in my words – a genius (Steven Spielberg, who produced – it was directed by Gil Kenan), brings humor and heart to the forefront of a potently emotional story. Though 2006’s Monster House is a late entry to the list, it’s one that nonetheless will get you right into the Halloween spirit and send you scrambling into the basement to find that favorite monster mask of yours.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
As the world keeps turning, arguments will never cease as to whether The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween or a Christmas film. Either way, it’s from the early 90s and we all have fond memories of spending our Octobers with Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween Town. So, for arguments sake – and for the sake of our collective childhoods – The Nightmare Before Christmas is OF COURSE a Halloween movie!
Music, animation, and iconic imagery abound with Tim Burton’s lovingly crafted homage to Halloween. Danny Elfman brings it like he’s never brought it before with the Halloween score to end all Halloween scores; not to mention his performance as Jack’s singing voice.
The American Scream
Sure, The American Scream is technically a documentary, but no movie on this list treats Halloween – or its characters – with as much tenderness and heart-aching respect as this film does. Following the journey of three families in a small Massachusetts town as they prep their house for the ultimate Halloween Home Haunting, The American Scream carves into the lives of its subjects and scoops out a handful of the Halloween spirit that lives in all of us; it just happens to live in these characters a hell of a lot more.
Filled with atmosphere and emotion enough to make it an instant classic, The American Scream makes all of us wish we could dive through the screen and enter the world of Fairhaven, Massachusetts; and live there forever in a world perpetually on the cusp of Halloween. By treating its main characters as people – rather than a collective of weird hobbies and quirks – The American Scream is a character study unlike any film on this list. While so much of what makes the film work is tapping into our love of Halloween, the film’s true accomplishment is in setting a up tone of wonder, mystery, and mischief, bringing viewers back to the core feelings that a great Halloween film is meant to evoke.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Proving that not all great Halloween films came from the 90s, 1983’s Something Wicked This Way Comes is based on the Ray Bradbury novel of the same name, bringing with it that dark Bradbury charm and unsettling undercurrent throughout its running time.
Something Wicked – which is set to be remade by Disney and written and directed by Seth Grahame-Smith – has all the emotion and angst that the best films on this list have, but here it’s amped up to 100. The story of the loss of innocence between two best friends as a mysterious carnival comes to town, Something Wicked This Way Comes throws a powerful theme into a beautifully scored and shot film, perfectly encapsulating our deep feelings of dread and excitement that accompany the darkening days of autumn and the turning of another year.
Tower of Terror
1997’s Tower of Terror was a Disney film about a Disney theme park attraction before such things – here’s looking at you Pirates of the Caribbean – were in style. As a result, the film shoehorns in a weird made-for-TV narrative that isn’t particularly great, and because of that clumsy awkwardness – at least in terms of Halloween movies – it’s everything we could ever want.
Chalk full of bad special effects and Steve Guttenberg, Tower of Terror is a perennial Disney Channel Halloween hit, and although it would be nice to say it’s achieved cult status in the time since its release, there’s nothing to support that claim… Yet.
So, this Halloween, turn the camp up a notch, – or really, a million notches – throw a VHS copy of Tower of Terror into a VCR that you may or may not have found in a haunted hotel, and invite all your friends over. Even if they’re ghosts, they’ll thank you for it.
Trick ‘r Treat
Halloween and anthology horror films go hand in hand like rich people’s houses and handing out full size candy bars for trick-or-treaters. And speaking of trick-or-treaters, Halloween, and anthology horror films, Trick ‘r Treat is a stylish combination of all these things, perfectly encapsulating the holiday spirit with four disconnected horror stories that add up to a movie that’s more than the sum of its parts.
Though Trick ‘r Treat didn’t have a conventional release – in fact, it barely played in theaters in its original release– it has since found success on home video, and in recent years has been a staple of Halloween theatrical screenings around the country. With its eventual success came an announcement of an upcoming sequel, which will hopefully bring audiences more of the originality and gore-coated-charm that made the first so memorable. Filled to the brim with delightfully creepy costumes, scenes, and memorable ideas lurking behind its seemingly ordinary surface, Trick ‘r Treat is that rare modern horror film that provides more than simple jump scares. Like all great Halloween films, the thing that really shines in Trick ‘r Treat is its use of atmosphere and mood to bring the audience along on a journey, and in that regard the movie fires on all cylinders throughout each of its four stories.
Trick or treat, what a feat, to pick 10 Halloween films that are pretty sweet. What are your favorite films that get you in the Halloween spirit? Sound off below and let us know which Halloween classics leave a taste of nostalgia in your plastic jack-o-lantern bucket. Happy Halloween!