It’s that time of year again when the leaves turn brown and everything is pumpkin-flavored. Folks are pulling out their Halloween costumes and getting ready to carve their jack-o-lanterns. And what’s better to do on a cold October than to cuddle up with a pumpkin spice latte and watch a movie? October is prime time for horror movies and television specials, but not many of them actually take place on Halloween. You can watch horror movies any time of the year, but there’s something special about watching a Halloween movie that is actually set on the holiday.
These 15 films are either set on or around Halloween. They vary from cheesy gore-fests to lighthearted fun from your childhood. Get your candy ready and revel in these Halloween-themed classics all this month - these are the 15 Best Horror Movies That Take Place on Halloween.
15 Donnie Darko
Richard Kelly’s 2001 feature film debut bewildered audiences with its philosophical and oddly comedic plot. There are essays upon essays trying to analyze what’s going through Donnie’s head, but they just end up causing more confusion. There are issues of time travel and alternate universes all centered around a very creepy bunny.
It follows teenager Donnie Darko, who narrowly misses a plane engine crashing into his room after a six foot tall rabbit named Frank tells him that the world is coming to an end. He is then plagued by strange visions that manipulate him to commit violent crimes.
While Halloween isn’t the center of the film, it is a big part of the climax. Two hours before Frank’s prophecy is supposed to happen, Donnie is desperate to find Roberta Sparrow, the author of The Philosophy of Time Travel (a book given to Donnie from his science teacher). While they’re trying to find her, the pieces slowly start to come together and center around the pivotal theme: time travel. No matter the time of year, Donnie Darko is a movie that jampacked with so much detail that every viewing reveals something new.
If you prefer a little lighter fix for your horror needs, Halloweentown is a perfect watch. It perfectly encompasses the innocent side of Halloween and creates a town that only a child would dream of. It focuses on Marnie, a 13 year old who is forbidden to celebrate Halloween by her mother. When her eccentric grandmother makes her annual visit, Marnie learns that she is a witch and follows her grandmother back to her home, the festive Halloweentown. However, when a dark force threatens to destroy it, it’s up to her and her siblings to discover their powers and stop it.
Halloweentown may be more corny now then when you were a kid, but the magic is still there. The autumn leaves mixed with all of the classic monsters brings the perfect feel for the season. There are modern twists on everything from the broomsticks to the sauna for ghosts. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Halloween movie without some scary monsters (most notably Kalabar) but the disturbing faces are no match for the family values that the movie instills.
13 The Houses October Built
There is no denying that the found footage genre has been beaten into the ground. So many films are trying to become the next Paranormal Activity, and most of them fail in the long run. Judging by the ratings, The Houses October Built sounds like it went down the same route, but it’s surprisingly refreshing. The Houses October Built is directed, written, and lead by first-timer, Bobby Roe. He is accompanied by a cast (who are playing themselves) on a trip to actual haunted attractions.
Like most teenagers in horror movies, Roe and his friends are tired of the cheap horror attractions. Instead of hitting up the usual places, they decide to go to not so well known towns who host their own haunted events every year. On their trip, they hear about this travelling attraction called The Blue Skeleton that is supposedly the scariest of them all.
As they draw closer to the mysterious haunt, the actors start to become malicious. Is this all a part of the show or are they torturing these people for the fun of it?
The film is a slow burn to the action but it actually feels like a genuine found footage film. When there’s a break from the horror, it’s almost lighthearted at times. The cast’s dynamic feels incredibly natural and their wise cracking jokes in their RV makes it easier to care about them when they’re in peril.
12 Sleepy Hollow
Loosely based off of Washington Irving’s short story, Tim Burton takes Sleepy Hollow and gives it the Tim Burton makeover. While it doesn’t explicitly say that it takes place on Halloween, the numerous jack o lanterns and autumn leaves give us the hint that it takes place around that time. Accompanied by a Danny Elfman score and gothic scenery, Sleepy Hollow stars Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane—the disgraced detective who is sent to the quiet town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate three brutal slayings. Soon enough, he is being haunted by a headless horseman who is killing people and taking their heads.
While Burton has hit and misses in his career, he always knows how to create the proper tone. The film is not necessarily scary but uses the time period to his advantage. He nails the southern gothic tone and keeps the sense of dread in the air. Even though the film is completely different from the story, Burton still upholds the fairytale feel instead of making it full on horror.
11 Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Notably the only installment to not feature Michael Myers, Halloween III: Season of the Witch was supposed to start the anthology trend in the series. John Carpenter believed that the franchise had potential to branch into different films with their own characters and storylines. Halloween III: Season of the Witch doesn’t have any slasher elements from the previous two but instead focuses on science fiction and witchcraft. However, like the previous titles, Season of the Witch still explores violence against children.
It revolves around the Shamrock mask, a popular Halloween costume that the kids are fawning over. However, Doctor Dan Challis is skeptical about the company due to a strange murder suicide that happened in his hospital. The next morning, Dr. Challis and the victim’s daughter decide to investigate the murder and discover that there is something much more sinister behind the scenes. The mixture of science fiction and Celtic mythology help steer the film’s disturbing metaphor of American consumerism.
Unfortunately, it was a box office flop because viewers did not like the absence of Michael Myers. If this film had been under any other name, then it would probably be considered a horror classic. Instead, it prompted the return of the famous slasher six years later.
10 Night of the Demons
Director Kevin Tenney loves Halloween and celebrates the holiday in this fun horror comedy. The film takes place in an abandoned mortuary where ten teenagers are throwing a Halloween party. During the festivities, they decide to hold a seance to see if they can contact any of the evil spirits that supposedly haunt the premises. And as it goes, they summon a demon who possesses one of the hosts and proceeds to cause bloody terror.
Night of the Demons is the reason why we love 1980s camp so much. Tenney’s film is very small scale, but takes advantage of its claustrophobic setting for the scares. The amount of dread and tension is heightened and it’s rewarded with gory deaths such as eye gouging or tongue ripping. Screenwriter Joe Augustyn makes light of the high school tropes and subverts our expectations. The jocks, goths, virgins, and other stereotypes are put together in one room and have to try to survive. Think of it as the horror version of The Breakfast Club.
9 Ernest Scared Stupid
Regarded as the American version of Mr. Bean, Ernest was one of those lovable oafs in the comedy genre. Jim Varney made the character iconic and created over a dozen films about him getting in some sort of trouble. One of his more popular additions is his Halloween film, Ernest Scared Stupid—a light horror comedy. It has Ernest Worrell helping his middle school friends build a treehouse, only to accidentally release a 200 year old troll. The troll wreaks terror in the town by turning all of the neighborhood kids into wooden dolls and it’s up to Ernest find a way to get rid of him.
While the film is certainly cheesy, there are scenes that could be quite scary for the little ones. The troll sneaking into the little girl’s room is an unexpected jump scare, especially for a kid’s movie, but gives the audience a solid taste of horror. The trolls’ practical effects were actually quite good for the 90s and felt like a goofier version of Gremlins.
8 The Crow
The Crow may not be a horror film, but it’s perfect for fans who want a different experience this Halloween season. It’s a mixture of fantasy, supernatural, and romance—a perfect combination to tell this tragic story. The premise is about a slain musician, Eric Draven who comes back from the dead to avenge his and his fiancee’s brutal murders. Even though director Alex Proyas hasn’t had the best track record (including his most recent Gods of Egypt), this is certainly his best. It’s one of the most faithful comic adaptations and uses a gothic style to tell an engrossing romantic story.
This was Brandon Lee’s breakthrough role and, sadly, his last. He was accidentally killed while filming a scene, prompting much controversy behind the release. However, The Crow is more than just the news that follows it; its melancholy tone applies to both the story and Lee’s presence. If Lee had been alive after the release, the feeling might have been different, but his death gave The Crow a eerie sense of truth. It’s now considered a cursed set, but perhaps Jason Momoa will clear the stigma.
For a film about a friendly ghost, Casper can get pretty grim. Compared to its original cartoon and comics, it is much darker in terms of tone and juggles the themes of life and death.
After the death of her father, spoiled heiress Carrigan Crittenden finds out that she’s only been left the Whipstaff house in Friendship, Maine. Unfortunately, it turns out that it’s haunted by Casper and his obnoxious uncles, the Ghostly trio and no one wants to go near it. She comes across paranormal therapist, Doctor Harvey and hires him to take care of the ghosts. But when Casper becomes infatuated with his teenage daughter, Kat, they go on a journey to discover who he was in his past life.
Even though the CGI is incredibly outdated (despite being cutting edge for its time), Casper doesn’t fail to stir up all kinds of emotions. Sure, There’s cheesy pop culture mentions (including a hilarious cameo by Dan Aykroyd as a Ghostbuster) but it also pulls at the heartstrings. Even though Doctor Harvey obsesses over finding ghosts, Casper wants nothing more than to be alive. Kat is the only one to accept him for who he is because of her own loneliness. This may be a Halloween film, but don’t expect to come out dry eyed.
6 Ginger Snaps
Think of Ginger Snaps as the handbook for the emo teenager: Two sisters, Ginger and Brigitte, are the outcasts of their neighborhood. They dress in all black and takes pictures of themselves committing suicide. On a full moon, Ginger gets her first period and also happens to get bitten by a werewolf at the same time. She starts to change physically and sexually, attracting all of the men who previously mocked her. Soon enough, bodies start to pile up and Brigitte has to try to find a way to save Ginger—by either turning her back or killing her.
Screenwriter Karen Walton was apprehensive about writing the film at first because of how negatively women are portrayed in the media. Fortunately, she changed her mind after director John Fawcett convinced her that the film would break the cliches. The strong female cast and satire on teenage life was a huge hit among the fans and critics. Using lycanthropy as a metaphor for feminine puberty made Ginger Snaps stand out more in the werewolf genre and gained it a cult following.
5 Hocus Pocus
Hocus Pocus has a magical history behind it; originally a bedtime story he told his children, David Kirschner helped bring this fairytale onto the big screen. Unfortunately, the critics weren’t put under Bette Midler’s spell and it was a box office flop in 1993. But over two decades, it has become a part of pop culture and has graced the silver screen every Halloween. Thanks to DVD sales and TV runs, Hocus Pocus is still generating millions of dollars in revenue today.
The movie begins in the 17th century when the Sanderson sisters are to be executed for practicing witchcraft. Before they are hung, they turn a young boy, Thackery Binks, into a black cat and make him immortal. For three hundred years, he lurks around the Sanderson house making sure that they can never be brought back to life. But Max can’t resist looking cool around his crush, Allison, and lights the black flame candle in their house. Soon enough, chaos ensues when the Sanderson sisters are brought back to life. But little do they know that it’s not the 1600’s anymore and they have to learn to adapt to life in 1993.
Hocus Pocus’ age demographic is all over the charts; it’s a perfect film for the young ones to enjoy because of the screwball comedy, but also fun for adults because of the hidden jokes. How many eight year olds know what a virgin or “yabbos” are?
4 It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!
As a collective society, we love revelling in the misery of Charlie Brown. To kids, he’s a big doofus who trips on everything; to adults, he’s a symbol of loneliness and alienation (really deep, I know). It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is one of the classic Charlie Brown specials.
It’s Halloween and the gang is preparing for their big night out. Charlie is trying to make a costume while Linus is preparing for the Great Pumpkin to make his appearance. Similar to Santa Claus, Linus believes that the Great Pumpkin will show up and give candy to all of the boys and girls. With his usual skepticism, Charlie Brown questions Linus’ beliefs and tries to tell him that the Great Pumpkin doesn’t exist. However, Linus won’t budge and proceeds to sit in the pumpkin patch all night waiting. Meanwhile, Charlie has to deal with his own grievances when he only gets rocks while trick or treating with friends.
Despite being a Halloween classic for the whole family, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown brings a lot of adult themes into the spotlight, such as religion, neuroticism, and despair. It's not only fun to watch during the season, but also to analyze for the symbolism that the writers put in.
3 The Nightmare Before Christmas
If you say that you hate The Nightmare Before Christmas, then you’re just a Halloween Scrooge. Considered the best stop motion animation film, The Nightmare Before Christmas has touched the hearts of many Tim Burton fans (even though he technically didn’t direct it). Just by reading this post, you already can hear the spooky jingle of “This is Halloween”, the opening song that introduces us to the wide array of characters; but the most famous one of the bunch is Jack Skellington. On the outside, he’s the beloved Pumpkin King who makes Halloween a smash every year. But deep down, he’s depressed and wants to do something new with his life. When he stumbles across Christmastown, he gets inspiration to try out the holiday for himself—but he doesn’t exactly grasp the concept. In lieu of actual reindeer, he has skeleton shaped reindeer manning his sleigh; his idea of toys are dead animals and evil jack in the boxes. Despite multiple warnings of danger, Jack continues to try to make his dream come true, only to have it blow up (literally) in his face.
The Nightmare Before Christmas was one of the first full length stop motion films. Its dark and weird themes caused Disney to release under Touchstone due to the risk of its brand. Now, it’s one of the only holiday films where it's heavily debated on whether it's a Halloween or Christmas film (though Burton has stated that he considers it a Halloween feature).
You can’t talk about Halloween themed films without discussing John Carpenter’s classic slasher. Halloween became one of the most influential films in the horror genre and established Jamie Lee Curtis as one of the quintinessial scream queens. Halloween is such a simple movie that doesn’t rely on gore or jump scares to make its point. Instead, we have the soundtrack (or lack thereof) to do all of that for us. We also have long, narrow shots where you can simply see him peek out in the corner without any indication. Sometimes, we’re even in his point of view so we can also participate in his voyeurism. We never know what his motivations are; he’s simply a force of nature who kills because he wants to (though Carpenter has hinted that he might have supernatural origins).
One of the reasons why Michael Myers is so scary is because he is real. Vampires and werewolves may be scary, but they’re nothing compared to murderous stalkers. Even though the topic may hit a little too close to home for some, Halloween is a true horror film because it's in the news every day.
1 Trick r Treat
A few years ago, we would be calling Trick r Treat an underrated gem, but it seems to have become a mainstream classic as of late. Anyone can tell a scary ghost story, but director Michael Dougherty adds in his own personal flair in this anthology film.
Trick r Treat takes place in a seemingly normal town. It has white picket fences and townspeople who seem to know everything about everyone. However, everything is far from normal: the elementary school principal is a child-murdering sociopath; there is a female werewolf clan; and there are zombies left over from a tragic accident. The only thing that these stories have in common is a mysterious creature named Sam.
If Santa Clause is the mascot for Christmas, then Sam is the mascot of Halloween. Dressed in a burlap sack and orange pajamas, Sam is like our narrator for each story. He quietly observes until someone breaks the rules of the holiday (such as not passing out candy), and then he kills them as a lesson to others.
While most horror movies use Halloween as a setting, Trick r Treat completely revels in it. Dougherty loves the culture of Halloween and captures the spirit in the film. He explores different aspects such as children telling ghost stories and slutty costumes. No other film has a person relive their childhood while enjoying gore at the same time. It’s another reminder why Halloween is the best holiday.