Halloween is fast approaching. As kids, we would go from house to house collecting candy, chips, and gum. And yes, on occasion some people had the nerve to give out fruit. Seriously? There are rules here, people. We dress up. You give out TREATS. What’s so difficult about this?
Sadly, the free goodie train comes to a halt at around 13 or 14 years old. But fortunately, there are other — and much more tooth-friendly — ways to enjoy Halloween, such as with a movie marathon!
I asked the movie geeks here at Devolutions to share with me their best-of-the-best horror movie recommendations. Below are the top 13, which are listed in alphabetical order. Why 13? Because… 13!
28 Days Later
What it’s about: twenty-eight days after a mysterious and incurable virus spreads throughout the UK, a handful of survivors try to find sanctuary.
Why it’s great: The cinematography of this movie is interesting and engaging — it has a low-budget feel, but in a way that is aesthetically pleasing! This perfectly fits the gritty, apocalyptic feel of the film. We also love how it deals with paranoia.
What it’s about: The crew of a commercial spacecraft encounter a deadly lifeform after investigating an unknown transmission.
Why it’s great: Ridley Scott’s masterpiece is hailed by many as not just the greatest horror movie of all time, and not just the greatest science fiction movie of all time, but arguably the single greatest movie ever made — period! The pacing, the acting, the soundtrack… it’s just flawless. It’s the kind of movie that you’ll want to see again and again.
What it’s about: There are 8 — yes, 8 — movies in The Conjuring Universe. The films dramatize the real-life cases of paranormal investigators and authors Ed and Lorraine Warren. In simpler terms: they are REAL ghostbusters (not like these guys).
Why it’s great: Sometimes when we watch horror movies, in the back of our minds we know that they're fictional (even when they're terrifying). But then there are movies like the ones in The Conjuring series that blur the line between fiction and reality. Who really knows if demonic possession and haunted houses are actually real? All of the movies in the series are frightening, but we recommend the fifth installment: The Nun. There are a whole bunch of jump scares (i.e., when something frightening occurs suddenly and without warning, a technique often used in horror movies).
Dawn of the Dead (2004 version)
What it’s about: A nurse, a salesman, a policeman, a young married couple, and other survivors of a worldwide plague that is producing aggressive flesh-eating zombies, take refuge in a mega Midwestern shopping mall.
Why it’s great: Not all zombie/action movies also double as great horror films — actually, some of them are pretty dumb — but the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake is definitely worth your time. And while we typically think of zombies as sluggish creatures, be assured that there is NOTHING slow about this movie. It’s perhaps not as thrilling (in the terrifying sense) as the original 1978 version, but there is much more action.
The Exorcist (original)
What it’s about: When a teenage girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter.
Why it’s great: When this movie was released in 1973, some moviegoers were so shocked and terrified by what they saw that they actually fainted in the theater, and some people even had heart attacks! This is truly is a horror masterpiece, which few movies — if any — have surpassed. If you watch this, then you get bonus points if your bedroom has access to the attic in your house (you’ll see what we mean). Oh, and let’s not overlook the incredible, unforgettable soundtrack by Mike Oldfield, which includes his legendary Tubular Bells.
Friday the 13th (original)
What it’s about: A group of camp counselors try to reopen a summer camp called Crystal Lake, which has a grim past. Why is that a problem? Because they are stalked by a mysterious killer!
Why it’s great: This is yet another grainy, low-budget slasher film that dials up the tension and creates an incredible sense of dread. You just KNOW that something awful is going to happen, but you don’t know when — and as much as you brace yourself for the shock, you’re going to scream and cover your eyes. There are 12 movies in the Friday the 13th franchise, and unsurprisingly the first one released in 1980 was ranked #1 by critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
What it’s about: There are 13 (a very apt number, wouldn’t you agree?) films in the Halloween franchise. The essential story focuses on Michael Myers, who was committed to an asylum as a child for the murder of his sister. Fifteen years later, he escapes to stalk and kill the people of the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois.
Why it’s great: The first Halloween movie was made on a very low budget, which contrary to being an obstacle was actually an advantage — because it forced John Carpenter to focus on story, pacing, and acting instead of special effects. The original version was ranked as the best in the franchise by Variety.
The Haunting of Hill House
What it’s about: So, we have a confession: The Haunting of Hill House is neither a movie nor a franchise. Rather, it is a Netflix mini-series. But it’s so good (and so chilling) that we just had to include it on the list. Flashing between past and present, the series focuses on a fractured family confronting haunting memories of their old home and the terrifying events that drove them from it.
Why it’s great: Horror series are now a thing on Netflix, and we’re not upset about it. It’s a new way to consume horror, just as legitimate as a standalone film. Here is what one very impressed viewer had to say over at IMDB:
I'm quite a horror junkie, and it's so rare to find such an engaging horror series. Fantastic atmosphere, the creepy bits weren't overdone so none of it seemed hokey, acting was spot on, and in the end I didn't feel cheated by the plot line (no holes or strings left dangling, I really hate when that happens). Usually I can tear apart horror movies because of inconsistencies or impractical things but I saw none when I binge watched this show. Just fantastic all around, and I really enjoyed the way it was told, the past and present and how it flowed so well. I recommend this 100%.
What it’s about: A grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences.
Why it’s great: Usually, the words “unsettling” and “satisfying” do not go together — but Hereditary is an exception. It is truly unnerving and will haunt you for days. And you don’t have to take our word for it: this flick has a 90% “fresh” rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
What it’s about: A veteran and a rookie detective team up to hunt down a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as his motives.
Why it’s great: In a word: yikes! In a few more words: Se7en is a crime and mystery thriller. But if you’re thinking it’s along the same lines as, say, Silence of the Lambs — think again! There is a lot of gore in this movie, so if that sort of thing really freaks you out, then maybe you don’t want to include this in your movie marathon.
What it’s about: A year after the murder of her mother, a teenage girl is terrorized by a new killer, who targets the girl and her friends by using horror films as part of a deadly game.
Why it’s great: Scream is legitimately terrifying in some ways, which is why it has a place on our list. But it is also surprisingly funny in how it mocks many clichés in the horror movie genre. In fact, the clichés themselves are part of the story. Don’t be surprised if you end up watching this over and over again, it’s just so scary and clever at the same time.
What it’s about: A family of three moves into an isolated hotel for the winter, where a sinister presence influences the father into violence, and his psychic son sees horrific visions of the past and future.
Why it’s great: I’m personally a big fan of Stephen King, as are many of my colleagues. But bias aside, The Shining is a classic! And if you are completely terrified after watching this, you can normalize by watching the hilarious Simpson’s parody.
What it’s about: What, did you think we would stop at recommending just one mini-series? Midnight Mass is another fantastic Netflix production. It is about an isolated island community that experiences miraculous events — and frightening omens — after the arrival of a charismatic, mysterious young priest.
Why it’s great: What’s nice about a mini-series vs. a standalone movie is that many genres can be stewed together over a longer period, without rushing or overwhelming the story. Midnight Mass brings together horror, mystery, drama, and the supernatural in an elegant and chilling way.
What’s Your View?
Have you seen some — or maybe all — of the movies we recommend? If so, tell us what you think. Do you agree or disagree with our selections? Please also share some must-see horror movies that didn’t make our list. What should the movie geeks around here (and there are A LOT of them) be watching this Halloween?