I have a friend who can’t stand scary movies. He’s not a fan of horror films or intense psychological thrillers in general, though I have known him to make a few exceptions here and there. Okay, okay, I can’t keep up this charade! That friend is me. I’m talking about myself! I don’t like scary movies *hangs head in shame*.
So what on earth qualifies me to make a list of them for you? Well, I have fingers and a laptop with which I can google as well as the next guy; plus, I also happen to be a certified film buff (my actual college degree is in movie-ology, which is totally a real degree, look it up!).
As a result, the list below features some classic scary movies, the kind your parents and grandparents love, and I guarantee they can still put a fright in you too. It also features a few foreign horror films, for those that don’t mind subtitles with their scares, and I’m including just some good ol’ fashioned autumnal flicks, with orange and yellow leaves galore, for those that don’t like any scares at all. Think of it less as a top ten list and more as the cheese plate of Halloween/autumn movie lists, aka there’s something for everyone.
So, in no particular order, I present some solid and spooky Halloween movies for this weekend and any weekend where you need a fright, or maybe even respite.
Psycho (1960, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) – One of the very first “slashers,” Psycho has all the pedigree an aspiring cinephile needs when watching films. It’s demented, twisted, and spooky but not so much that it’ll keep you up at night; it’s also directed by the legend himself, Alfred Hitchcock, who, despite his very english attitude, spent the majority of his career in Hollywood, soaking up sunshine and stirring up suspense.
If you’ve already seen Psycho my bonus suggestion is to check out Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, from the same year. Just as creepy, but British, and, if we’ve learned anything from The Great British Baking Show, it’s that British accents improve everything, even bad desserts and excellent thrillers.
The Haunting (1963, dir. Robert Wise) – A splendid psychological thriller and one of the prototypes for the oh so common haunted house sub-genre; the technical crafts utilized to make the film creepy, like reversing the film stock and rubberized doors, are worth an entire blog post on their own; this film is a must-see for folks who like old school special effects, none of this CGI business. If British horror sounds like your speed, check out the original The Wicker Man from 1973 (and sadly skip the Nic Cage remake).
Sinister (2012, dir. Scott Derrickson) – I mostly bring up this film because I mentioned it in a blog post earlier and because Forbes found it to be the scientifically proven scariest film of all time…of 36 movies. So maybe not? But still the film stars Ethan Hawke, which is reason enough to watch in this writer’s esteemed opinion.
Get Out (2017, dir. Jordan Peele) – This movie took Hollywood by storm when it came out, and with good reason. It’s both terrifying and timely and is a must-see if you haven’t seen it already (or one more time if you have). Peele won a well-earned Academy Award for his script. Check out Us, his 2019 film, if you’ve already seen Get Out, or eagerly await the Candyman remake that’s coming in 2021.
Silence of the Lambs (1991, dir. Jonathan Demme) – So it’s not technically a horror film, but it is downright terrifying, and very, very creepy. It took the Big Five in Oscars parlance (Best Pic, Best Actor, Best actress, Best Dirctor, Best Screenplay), becoming only the third in film history to accomplish the feat. Mmmm fava beans.
Parasite (2019, dir. Bong Joon-Ho) – Again, not a horror film, but it will horrify you. This Korean thriller shocked the world with four Academy Award wins and director Bong Joon-Ho has a talent for switching emotional tenors before your heart can even finish a beat. The first third of this film is like a classic Hollywood comedy of manners, the second third is brooding, and the final third is just brutal; if you’ve seen it, check out Bong’s 2009 psychological thriller Mother, or any number of excellent Korean films.
Videodrome (1983, dir. David Cronenberg) – A Canadian national icon, Cronenberg is one of the cult legends of the horror genre, specializing in particularly gruesome body horror, though he has since moved a bit beyond that. Videodrome is gobsmacking when you see it and so is Cronenberg’s Scanners, from 1981, which is worth a watch…if you can stomach it.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, dir. Guillermo del Toro) – del Toro has a way of infusing history, drama, fantasy, and terror that is wholly original and yet feels familiar. He is truly one of the modern masters and this film is one of his rightly acknowledged masterworks. I still get the sweats thinking about the Pale Man. If you want something slightly lighter, and in English, check out del Toro’s fun-filled Hellboy from 2004. It’s tamer than Pan’s Labyrinth, though not without violence, and it’s better than the recent remake. (Ron Perlman just has more moxie than David Harbour.)
Suspiria (1977, dir. Dario Argento) – A classic of Italian horror that fuses bloodshed and black magic; it was recently remade, but the original is definitely worth it. Argento’s loose sequel, 1980’s Inferno, might be next on your list.
And now, for those who want their heartbeat to rise only from tender cinematic moments (and not thrills and chills), I present a small list of autumn-inspired hits for you to enjoy:
When Harry Met Sally (1989, dir. Rob Reiner) – One of those essential New York City films, and a personal favorite. Bonus bonus: Meg Ryan co-starring with Tom Hanks in another Nora Ephron hit in 1998’s You’ve Got Mail.
Dead Poets Society (1989, dir. Peter Weir) – “Oh Captain, My Captain!” and you know the rest. Plus, again Ethan Hawke! Bonus bonus: Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting (1997).
Little Women (2019, dir. Greta Gerwig) – My favorite film of 2019, possibly of the 2010s; you can’t beat this movie for its plush Massachusetts settings and woolly garments. Bonus bonus: Pride & Prejudice (2005) of course. Could there be any other bonus bonus?
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009, dir. Wes Anderson) – A wonderful stop-motion animated romp starring George Clooney as a fox with a penchant for thievery. Also worth checking out are other gems from Anderson’s oeuvre: Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), as well as his earlier films. His work is as eye-catching as it is eccentric and I’m all here for it at these odd times.
Far From Heaven (2002, dir. Todd Haynes) – Haynes’ ode to 1950s melodramas is full of vibrant life and vivid hues and deals with sexuality, race, and class in 1950s America. Plus it stars Julianne Moore, which is always a win. If you like it check out the original films Haynes looked to for inspiration: Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (1955) as well as George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun (1951), Fred Zinnemann’s From Here to Eternity (1953), and Joshua Logan’s adaptation of William Inge’s Picnic (1955), which features gorgeous Technicolor cinematography by the legendary James Wong Howe.
Well, there you go folks. In general, I’m not the biggest Halloween fan. As a kid, I liked to dress up, but quickly just grew out of it I guess. However, I do love autumn as a season as it builds into winter. The world quiets and comes alive all at the same time. As leaves fall and day stretches into night earlier, we’re all forced to slow down and maybe even self-reflect.
As I’ve said before, these are strained times. But, if you have time, take a moment to let the pressure out with this cinematic selection of Halloween frights or autumn delights for you and yours. Snuggle up with a blanket and loved ones, some cocoa or hot apple cider, and enjoy.