Halloween has the best movies, far better than any winter holiday.
More movies go with Halloween than other holidays. It could take at least a few days to go through them all.
So, my fellow horror fiends, ‘tis the season. Here are some I consider required viewing to get into the Halloween spirit.
1.) “The Shining,” directed by Stanley Kubrick, released 1980.
Kubrick takes the existing work of Stephen King and stands it on its head. Focusing much more on the troubled soul of Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson), we follow the struggling writer as he sinks to further into an abyss of murderous rage. Kubrick highlights the tension between Jack and his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), just as much as the Overlook’s manipulation through imagery and apparition. A masterpiece of terror ensues through some of the best camera work and use of sound in the genre’s history. You simply cannot consider yourself a fan of horror if you have not seen it.
2.) “Rosemary’s Baby,” dir. Roman Polanski, 1968.
Based on the novel by Ira Levin, we follow the story of Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) as she begins her a life in New York with her husband Guy (John Cassavetes). Surrounded by neighbors and strangers who work their way into their lives all through the guise of being friendly, Rosemary is manipulated in every way possible into being the bearer of a satanic offspring. The real horror in this classic is watching as poor Rosemary realizes just what is happening yet cannot escape the fate that has been so meticulously laid out for her. Proving that you do not need blood and gore to be truly terrifying, “Rosemary’s Baby” would spawn a number of imitations that could never duplicate the psychological terror mastered by Polanski.
3.) “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” dir. Tobe Hooper, 1974.
Ushering in the modern slasher movie is this film, which was banned in several countries and pulled from some theaters after protests over its violence. A trip for a group of teens turns deadly when they pick up a hitchhiker. From there a tale of wrong place/wrong time ensues. When great monsters in the horror genre are talked about, it’s impossible to make the list without including Leatherface. Popularizing not only the single killer idea of a slasher flick, the terror is intensified when you realize that the whole family is deranged. The “family dinner” scene just might be one of the most uncomfortable moments in all of horror. An ending that does not offer closure left the door open for several sequels and iterations, with none being able to touch the original.
4.) “Halloween,” dir. John Carpenter, 1978.
“You can’t kill the boogeyman,” said Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews) in the original “Halloween.” If “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” pioneered the modern slasher genre, Carpenter perfected it. The character of Michael Myers remains one of the scariest and most memorable in all of horror. Carpenter’s masterpiece relies on a lack of storytelling. We don’t know why Michael decided to kill his sister, or what would drive a 6-year-old to commit such a horrible crime. We only get lines from Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence), like “I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply evil.” Besides defining a sub-genre, the movie launched the career of actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who starred in “Halloween” as Laurie Strode, one of the most formidable “final girls” in horror history.
5.) “Hereditary,” dir. Ari Aster, 2018.
The incredible film debut by Aster, “Hereditary” focuses on what some might find the scariest subject of them all — family. Featuring a powerhouse performance by actress Toni Collette as Annie Graham trying to navigate a world set in motion by her deceased mother, “Hereditary” illustrates the phrase, “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.” Masterful storytelling by Aster leads the viewer on journey with plenty of twist and turns on its way to a startling ending. Echoes of the above-mentioned “Rosemary’s Baby” are seen and felt.
6.) “Scream,” dir. Wes Craven, 1996.
Imagine a magician giving you the secret to every trick while performing it and being entertained by the entire show. This is the best way I can describe “Scream.” Made by one of the masters of the genre, Craven weaves a wonderfully entertaining story with tons of humor, including the fact the two principle characters might be a little warped by their love of horror films. A memorable scene in which Randy (Jamie Kennedy) gives us the rules to survive a horror movie stands out for its comedy but is also a full on critique of the genre Craven helped define in the 1970s and 80s. Don’t get confused, though — this is no parody film, as there are plenty of scares, creepiness and gore to go around. “Scream” holds a special place as my favorite horror series of all time.
7.) “Dawn of the Dead,” dir. Zack Snyder, 2004.
A few twists highlight this remake of the 1978 film from the trailblazer of the zombie genre, George A. Romero. First, the zombies are fast. Throw all jokes about being able to merely outrun the bloodthirsty undead out the window. A daring choice helps add to the feeling that there is little escape from the flocks that surround our group trapped in a shopping mall, where most of this movie takes place. Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” also nails two other things required for proper zombie mayhem — zero explanation as to how the infection originates, and a downtrodden ending fit for the zombie apocalypse. A fun fact about the movie is that it takes place right here in southeastern Wisconsin. Pay close attention to the emergency radio message in which Miller Park and Racine and Kenosha counties are mentioned.
8.) “The Strangers,” dir. Bryan Bertino, 2008.
“The Strangers” is the home invasion thriller perfected. The first 45 minutes are as nerve-wracking as it gets as three masked assailants seem to take pleasure in trapping two home dwellers and toying with them. I remember seeing this in a full theater with an audience on the edge of its seat back when it was released, but the film is unnerving to watch alone at home. The ending leaves viewers completely distraught. A sequel was made in 2018, but it does not come close to the terror of the original.
9.) “The Blair Witch Project,” dir. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, 1999.
Helping send horror into the age of “found footage,” many filmmakers would try to capture the genius of this movie. Three documentarians out to make a film about the myth of a child-taking witch, then find themselves lost and stalked. Using a cast of unknown actors some of the most clever marketing ever, “The Blair Witch Project” was made on a shoestring budget and cashed in big at theaters.
10.) “Get Out,” dir. Jordan Peele, 2017
Rarely is a horror film nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Peele, who won an Oscar for his screenplay, has called “Get Out” a “social thriller.” Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) thinks he’s going on a trip to meet his girlfriend’s family but gets a much more terrifying introduction to an entire community. There is a little bit of everything in this flick — psychological manipulation, cults and enough blood to satisfy all components of great horror.