A selection of films to make your Halloween weekend movie marathon family-friendly or fright-inducing - you pick the level of terror!
It’s October in California, and that means one thing – no, not pumpkin-spiced everything. No, not sweater weather (no, really, that’s not until at least mid-November here). No, absolutely not holiday music and decorations! No, no, no…people, come on now – it’s scary movie season!
Halloween is this weekend, and while most of us will certainly be heading out to enjoy festivities this year after the real-life horror that was 2020’s Halloween, many still prefer a quiet night at home passing out candy while enjoying a horror movie marathon (as I raise my hand). I’ve always been a self-proclaimed spooky child – since I can remember I’ve always loved all things dark, spooky, creepy, and scary. Needless to say, this is my month (and yes, for those wondering, I do have an October birthday, too). It is with this pride and confidence that I’d like to present you with a guide to your Halloween weekend horror movie marathon. I’ve even been sure to provide three small mini-lists catering to varying scare levels since, let’s face it, not all of us enjoy being so thoroughly terrified that your electric bill skyrockets from you not turning out your lights for a month. Luckily, though, I just so happen to have a boyfriend who is one of those people that enjoys being scared beyond belief and has agreed to assist with that particular list since, despite my love for the stories and the subject matter, I tend to top out at the mid-level “peaking-through-the-blanket” scares. So, without further ado, here are your different scare-level marathon guides for the perfect Halloween weekend movie marathon!
Not-So-Scary (Range of “This isn’t really scary.” to “Eek! Well, that was a little creepy.”)
Sleepy Hollow (1999 – R – Directed by Tim Burton): Let’s all be real for a minute – it’s Halloween. It’s almost a requirement that you watch something A. directed by Tim Burton and B. with Johnny Depp in it. The absolute best choice for this is hands down 1999’s Sleepy Hollow. It’s a beautifully done retelling of the classic Headless Horseman tale with a few mild scares that warranted the R rating - but I assure you even the timidest of moviegoers would still survive at the end of this wonderful film. Although, I will say that if you’re feeling a bit more melodious, 2007’s Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a wonderful substitution that will still help you meet the Burton/Depp requirement – with the added bonus of Helena Bonham Carter, too!
ParaNorman (2012 – PG – Directed by Chris Butler & Sam Fell): While there are many family-friendly Halloween films out there nowadays, it can be a bit difficult to find one that still has just the right touch of spookiness to it. ParaNorman is one of those magical unicorn films that has it all – charming animation, enough funny to keep the kids entertained, enough funny that goes a bit over the kids’ heads to keep the adults entertained, and the right amount of spookiness for everyone to get in the Halloween spirit. Norman is a young boy with a special ability – he sees dead people. Or no, wait, wrong movie and completely different scare level…but he does see ghosts, and no one believes him. He also just so happens to end up with the hefty responsibility of having to save his entire town from a 100-year-old witch’s curse while dodging both ghosts and zombies that seem to be out to get him. See? Wholesome fun for the whole family!
Clue (1985 – PG – Directed by Johnathan Lynn): If blood, guts, gore, spirits, and monsters aren’t your thing, there’s one more option that most people can still manage to stomach – a good ‘ol who-done-it murder mystery. You won’t find a single one better than 1985’s Clue. Yes, it’s based on the popular board game (well, it was popular – Gen Z, ask your parents about it), and yes, it’s just as much (if not more) fun. You’ll also be treated to one of Tim Curry’s most treasured performances throughout his entire career, and that’s saying a lot for the man who brought us the original Pennywise and the infamous Dr. Frankenfurter (again, Gen Z – Google it. You’ll thank me later).
What We Do in the Shadows (2014 – R – Directed by Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi): Halloween and vampires go together like garlic and pasta…or well, you know what I mean. For a fresh take on the vampire culture and a ton of laughs to accompany it, check out 2014’s What We Do in the Shadows. If you ever wondered what a day in the life of a vampire in modern times might look like (one that’s not in high school and sparkles…) this is the movie for you. There are a few minor scares, but you’ll probably be laughing too hard and miss them. If the title sounds familiar to you, yes, they even continued to make a hit TV series based on the movie, now currently just finishing its third season on FX and Hulu (and was announced to have the green light for a fourth, as well).
Supernatural (2005-2020 – TV-14 – Created by Eric Kripke): Okay, I know I kept saying movie marathon and this is a TV show, but sometimes you want something that you can dive a little deeper into and binge all weekend. I couldn’t make this list without my boys, Sam & Dean. Supernatural is the show that has it all – blood, guts, gore, ghosts, monsters, demons, angels (which can be worse than demons unless they’re in a trench coat), gods (the big G, too, and his sister), devils (the big L, too, and his son), all in a beautifully wrapped 1967-black-Chevy-Impala-shaped package. You will laugh so hard you cry, and you will undoubtedly cry so hard you can’t do anything but laugh about it. The show lasted 15 seasons for a reason, so settle in for a crazy ride with the Winchester brothers.
Kinda-Scary (Range of “Eww! What was that?!” to “I can’t watch this part...”)
The Haunting (1963 – G – Directed by Robert Wise): I am a firm believer that the only reason why this film is rated G is for the simple lack of actually seeing anything bloody or overtly “scary,” but don’t let that fool you – this film scared the pants off me the first time I saw it, if only for the fact that it had me so completely sucked into the story that even I started wondering if I was going mad and seeing things. I was so engrossed in Julie Harris’ performance that I even jumped 5 feet off the couch at a part that I’m pretty sure wasn’t even intended as a jump scare. For maximum ambiance, watch with the lights off and a giant bowl of popcorn – you’ll thank me, I promise.
Warm Bodies (2013 – PG-13 – Directed by Johnathan Levine): When one thinks about a feel-good romance, zombies certainly aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. Warm Bodies managed to do it though! Talk about a fresh take on your typical zombie movie, I don’t think you could get much more unconventional than a love story between a zombie and a living girl (who happens to be the daughter of a Colonel who's set on eradicating said zombies). You’ll laugh, you’ll jump, you’ll scream (because some of those zombies & "bonies" are really pretty freaky), you’ll say aww and get the warm fuzzies, and then get a bit grossed out because – yeah, zombies.
A Quiet Place (2018 – PG-13 – Directed by John Krasinski): This movie is a perfect example for the statement that just because a film is about aliens, it doesn’t automatically go in the science fiction section. Sure, there are a good number of jump scares and some terrifying imagery, but, as the title suggests, all of that is heightened by the absolute quiet throughout the whole film. If a post-apocalyptic world overrun by extraterrestrial monsters isn’t scary enough of a world to live in, take that world and make it completely silent since the creatures have uber-sensitive hearing and will hunt you down as soon as they hear you.
Donnie Darko (2001 – R – Directed by Richard Kelly): Okay, so Donnie Darko for many isn’t necessarily considered horror, or even really all that scary. However, this is my list, dangit, and yes, this film freaked me the heck out when I first saw it – and even still on my umpteenth time watching it. The terror in this film comes not from blood, guts, gore, or even monsters (although, yes, Frank is literally panic-inducing), but comes from the power of your own mind and your own imagination; the idea that as you get deeper and deeper into the film you yourself start wondering about time travel and if you’re actually the one going mad. Be sure to settle in for this one, because it definitely needs (and deserves) your full attention.
Scream (1996 – R – Directed by Wes Craven): It wouldn’t be a horror movie list without the quintessential 90’s slasher flick. Even though John Carpenter put slasher films on the horror map almost 20 years prior with the granddaddy of all slasher films in 1978’s Halloween, Wes Craven revamped the category and gave it fresh blood (hah…) with 1996’s Scream. The film introduced the world to Ghostface who remains to be one of the most recognizable horror villains (and top-selling Halloween costumes) to date. It also gave the world a huge piece of advice – if the phone rings and some strange voice asks if you like scary movies – HANG UP AND RUN.
Really-Freaking-Scary (Range of “OMG NO” to “Turn it off! Turn it off!”)
Midsommar (2019 – R – Directed by Ari Aster): I’m convinced that in order to work at A24 Studios, you have to have a mind capable of creating some of the most twisted, disturbing, and utterly terrifying stories ever told. From the same minds that gave the world the utterly disturbing masterpiece that was 2019’s The Lighthouse and the terrifying and unsettling piece of work that was 2015’s The Witch, Midsommar completes the trifecta of what some would say are the most terror-inducing tales from A24 Studios. Midsommar does something no other film has really been able to effectively do in the many, many years of horror – make daylight, sunshine, and the middle of summer absolutely terrifying. The film follows a young couple traveling to Scandinavia to visit a rural Swedish town’s midsummer festival. Sounds innocent enough, right? So, so, so very wrong.
The Exorcist (1973 – R - William Friedkin): I’ve learned in life that there are two kinds of people – those that find The Exorcist absolutely and utterly horrifying (raises hand) and those that laughed through the whole thing (like my mother). I saw this film once and refuse to ever, EVER watch it again. I can’t even listen to clips of it because even just the voice of Regan when she’s possessed must somehow hit all of my fear receptors – it sends chills straight down my spine and paralyzes me in terror. Meanwhile, my mother laughs any time she has pea soup. I don’t get it, but if you want to see which kind of person you are, have at it. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Fire In the Sky (1993 – PG-13 – Directed by Robert Lieberman): So, this is purely a pick from my boyfriend, who defends it spot on this list as follows – A. It’s based on a true story (okay, yes, that always adds an extra layer of creepiness). B. People being accused of murder (Well, yeah, that’s never good). C. The movie plays with your attention. It flows inconsistently and some scenes don’t even seem like a horror film, but then it gets you when you least expect it – much like something supernatural or alien would in real life since you’re not exactly expecting to see a UFO or being abducted (Yikes…that’s true…and unsettling). And D. (semi-spoiler alert) The entire flashback of Walton’s onboard experience was an incredible scene and the fact that it wasn’t completely unrealistic only made it that much more terrifying. Okay, we see you Fire In the Sky, you can stay on the list.
Hereditary (2018 – R – Directed by Ari Aster): While Midsommar certainly takes the A24 crown in just pure, unadulterated terror, 2018’s Hereditary was another gem from the studio that many have come to regard as one of the best “slow burn” horror films of all time, being compared to other heavy hitters like the aforementioned The Exorcist and Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic The Shining. It’s dark, it’s disturbing, it’s suspenseful, it’s twisted, and yet it still manages to be a hauntingly beautiful film. Besides, we all know how unsettling family secrets can be…
The Thing (1982 – R – Directed by John Carpenter): Yet another instance in which aliens do not just equal science fiction. Aliens can actually be really freaking scary, and 1982’s The Thing does a perfect job showcasing that. As if something extraterrestrial wasn’t scary enough, give it shapeshifting capabilities so you never know just who the monster is, and set the whole story in the frozen wasteland that is Antarctica – then you’ll definitely have some snow-covered nightmares coming your way for a while. Besides, it’s John Carpenter at the helm – his name alone attached to a project means it’s going to stick with you for the foreseeable future (cough Halloween cough).
By no means do I intend for these lists to be the be-all, end-all of your Halloween movie marathon. In fact, I hope they act as a mere jumping-off point and these suggestions then inspire you to branch out and find some of your own favorites! Besides, who said horror movies are confined to Halloween? Get out there, find your inner spooky child, and celebrate all things eerie year-round! Muahahahaha!