Where has the time gone? October has been a whirlwind for us here at Couch Bandits, and we’ve loved every second. From our horror game streams to our listicles of the best spooky entertainment, we’ve enjoyed celebrating the spirit of the month, and we’re sad it’s coming to an end. But here we are, on Halloween, and we need something to bring us full circle.
For those of you too old to trick-or-treat, I’ve assembled a shortlist of my favorite horror films to watch on Halloween night. Whether you’re hosting a costume party or curling up on the couch with a bag of candy, these films are the perfect finishing touch to tie your Halloween evening together.
These are listed in random order, and of course, there are way more I wish I could include. But these are just my personal favorites to watch when the holiday rolls around, and I’d love to hear about your favorites to watch on Halloween in the comments below.
Let’s dive right in!
1. Halloween (1978)
“I watched him for fifteen years, sitting in a room, staring at a wall; not seeing the wall, looking past the wall; looking at this night, inhumanly patient, waiting for some secret, silent alarm to trigger him off. Death has come to your little town, Sheriff. Now, you can either ignore it, or you can help me stop it.” – Dr. Sam Loomis
Need I say more? This is the official film of the holiday. It encapsulates everything about the Halloween spirit. John Carpenter’s classic places us in the middle of a typical comfy, cozy American suburbia setting and unleashes a psychopath upon the unsuspecting neighborhood.
Carpenter’s concise and tight directing, combined with Dean Cundey’s immensely atmospheric cinematography creates the ultimate ticking time bomb of horror and suspense. During daylight, Haddonfield is depicted to us through sleepy, lethargic camera work. We pan through the leaf-covered streets and pass by houses decorated with jack-o-lanterns and other wholesome Halloween décor. By night, Haddonfield is drenched in brooding darkness and the creeping paranoia that Michael Myers could be lurking anywhere. This contrast provides the viewer with a fresh perspective on seemingly innocent locations.
The film follows Laurie Strode and her peers as they go about their Halloween night. We all know how the story plays out from here. Most of the teens do very teenager-like things and end up paying the price. Nearly every scene is dripping with Halloween-themed imagery and stylization, making it the ultimate film to put on late into your Halloween evening. Carpenter’s iconic score has practically become the soundtrack for the holiday itself and acts as the finishing touch of perfection for this iconic horror masterpiece.
Halloween is maybe the greatest American horror film ever made. It takes what Hitchcock invented with Psycho and what Bob Clark imagined with Black Christmas and expands upon them. I try and watch it at least once a year—usually on Halloween night. Make this one your nightcap before the clock strikes midnight and October is no more.
2. The Haunting (1963)
“Look, I know the supernatural is something that isn’t supposed to happen, but it does happen.” – Dr. John Markway
Robert Wise’s masterpiece The Haunting is the mother of all haunted house films. With the recent success of the story’s reimagining, The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, this seemed like the perfect chance to raise awareness for the 1963 original—which inspired much of what was included in the series.
This is another classic I try to watch every year on Halloween, and I can’t recommend it enough. Another visionary who was astoundingly ahead of his time, Robert Wise utilized psychological scares to do most of the heavy lifting in this seminal horror opus. Wise couldn’t have been more influential, and just by watching The Haunting, you immediately get a sense of where most modern supernatural horror tropes originate. Wise directs the camera in such a way that in every frame there is much more being implied than what is actually happening.
Hill House itself appears alive (an effect Wise created through shooting the house in daylight and inverting the film negative) with its dark, soulless windows and gaping doorways—like eyes and mouths. From this first striking visual, Wise constructs an atmosphere wrought with unseen terror and nightmarish textures. A lot of the scares throughout the film are based on what you’re not seeing. The viewer is left to their own imagination, which more times than not is much scarier than being shown what’s behind the curtain.
The film’s plot centers around a paranormal psychologist who assembles a small investigative team comprised of individuals who have a history of supernatural encounters. These participants are summoned by the doctor to the legendary Hill House to carry out a study on paranormal activity. Hill House is chosen for its gruesome history of death and bloodshed. Rumored to be riddled with spirits, the participants soon realize they’ve bit off more than they can chew. I won’t spoil too much, and if you’ve been watching the Netflix series and are worried the film has already been spoiled for you, do not fret—the show is vastly different in terms of the tale it tells.
I can’t recommend The Haunting enough—it’s filled with disturbing imagery, and I can honestly admit that some of the images in this film have stuck with me for my entire life. As a kid, I lost hours of sleep because of this film, and I’m happy to say it has more than withstood the test of time. Put this one on just as the sun begins to set and prepare those hairs on the back of your neck to be standing for the next couple of hours.
3. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
“A mental mind fuck can be nice.” – Dr. Frank-N-Furter
It’s important to remember to have some fun on Halloween—it isn’t all about the scares and frights. If you’re looking to give your nerves a rest for a bit during your night, put on the comedy-horror musical classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
I’m sure everyone reading this has at least heard of this one. Rocky Horror is known for many reasons—it was first a successful stage show before becoming a smash-hit film, which remains the longest-playing film in theatrical release history. The film has thrived in part thanks to its audience participation and midnight screenings, which warrants an article of its own.
Right now, let’s just focus on why this film is such a great addition to your Halloween night movie marathon lineup. Richard O’Brien’s ode to b-movies and glam rock is so much more than just a campy, goofy musical. The film acts as a lovingly crafted homage to the Golden Age of genre cinema, eliciting imagery from a bygone era of Hollywood, when George Pal was king, and b-movies were released in droves. The film’s visuals are a celebration of classic horror and science-fiction—from the gothic castle-like house to Frank-N-Furter’s dramatic laboratory, every frame of the film is packed with flair that harkens back to the days of the Universal Monsters and early technicolor sci-fi flicks.
Musically, the film was inspired by the glam rock movement of its time. If Bowie, Marc Bolan, and Roxy Music made a horror musical, this is how it would turn out. The soundtrack avoids the grandiose excessiveness that typically comes with musical theater and goes all-in on distorted guitars and rock ‘n’ roll rhythms.
If you’re not typically a fan of musicals, this one is a breath of fresh air. Everything from Riff Raff’s Brian Eno-inspired look to Meatloaf’s rollicking performance of “Hot Patootie (Bless My Soul)” nods to guitar music. It’s one of my all-time favorite film soundtracks and holds up as a great record when isolated from the film. Most of us have at least heard the “Time Warp” before—it’s arguably the official anthem of any good Halloween party (along with Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party” of course).
Beyond its aesthetic, Rocky Horror represents something far more important entirely: being yourself. Underneath the glitz and glamour rests an important message to be learned—there is no such thing as weird. You are totally acceptable as you are and as you choose to be. This was a message Richard O’Brien discovered within the genre films and music scene that inspired Rocky Horror, and this becomes the ultimate “point” of the entire spectacle. O’Brien created the project by unapologetically being himself—if he is the mad scientist, Rocky Horror is his monster. It’s lovingly composed of different elements that combine to become O’Brien’s identity, and through his soaring, expression of freedom, we ourselves are released.
I can’t find all of the words I’d like to use to communicate my point here so I’ll say this: Genre films have always acted as platforms for the “other.” Outcasts, weirdos, whichever label you might choose, horror and science fiction are just two platforms through which people who are different have embraced their differences. The same could be said about the glam rock movement, which truly was all about being who you want to be.
Rocky Horror beautifully shouts this message and does so in an infectiously fun fashion. Throw this one on right after you get off from work, the second you get home. Throw this one on right when you wake up if you’re not working. Throw this one on and dance, laugh, and sing. And most importantly, be yourself. I can’t think of a better way to kick off a great Halloween.
4. Creepshow (1982)
“I can hold my breath a long, long time!” – Richard Vickers
George A. Romero is mostly remembered for Night of the Living Dead (which is also an amazing pick to watch on Halloween), but it’s Creepshow that I find myself returning to every Halloween. There’s something about the vibrant colors and anthology stylization that makes this one essential viewing for a Halloween movie marathon.
Written by Stephen King, Creepshow was developed as a tribute to EC Comics, the iconic brand behind some of the most legendary horror comic books of all time, including Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror. The film is formatted as an anthology film, covering numerous short stories throughout one issue of a vintage horror comic book.
In keeping with the overall concept, Romero matched the film’s aesthetic to the vivid colors and campy details one might expect to find in an old EC comic. The resulting effect is somewhere in between an Italian giallo film and surrealist nightmare. I really can’t think of too many comparable films that play out in the same style and fashion as Creepshow, and that alone makes it worth watching.
The stories themselves are classic cautionary tales, mostly having to do with bad things happening to bad people. Each story is amazingly executed, with some strong performances from some of the greatest actors of all time: Hal Holbrook, E.G. Marshall, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Ted Danson, Leslie Nielson, Ed Harris, and many more. Stephen King even appears in one story, turning in a hilariously goofy performance as Jordy Verrill.
Featuring some amazing special effects by the great Tom Savini, and one of my personal favorite horror scores, Creepshow is both fun and frightening. It lands perfectly in a sweet spot—right between campy fun and genuine terror. This film can fit any mood, at any time of day or night. Put this one on whenever you feel like it for a good jolt of Halloween entertainment.
5. Dracula (1931)
“Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.” – Count Dracula
Tod Browning’s gothic horror masterpiece Dracula was maybe the first horror film I ever watched. For that reason and many more, it remains close to my heart.
There are so many classic Universal Monster films; it’s difficult to just pick one for Halloween. Most of them are relatively short (under 90 minutes), so you could probably marathon on a bunch during your Halloween binge viewing. I can’t recommend these films enough—they not only defined the horror genre in cinema but also injected the stories with social and political commentary.
Though Dracula is my personal favorite, I can’t recommend Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Invisible Man enough. Hell, just watch all of them. The entire 30-film collection recently went on sale on Amazon, so you can buy that to watch all these timeless gems.
Anyway, let’s get back to Dracula. So many versions of this story have been told throughout the course of film history, and yet Bela Lugosi’s take on the character is most commonly remembered. Lugosi’s performance is so transfixing and hypnotic, it’s hard not to be seduced by his cold, sharp gaze and thick accent.
Lugosi took the character and completely made it his own. When anyone tries to imitate Dracula or do an impression of a vampire, it’s almost always Lugosi’s interpretation that gets referenced. It’s without question the performance of his career, and watching him move along the gothic backdrops is always exciting.
The ambience of the film makes it a great watch for Halloween. Browning was always ahead of his time, and with other seminal genre staples, such as Freaks, under his belt, he would come to define the way we perceive horror stories. The production design and camera work of Dracula contribute to the film’s legendary status. The sets are lavish and enormous—when Dracula first descends the massive main staircase of his castle, it really feels legitimate and real. This illusion is carefully kept up for the entire film.
Dracula’s basement lair is another favorite set of mine. Browning uses camera movements sparingly, but when he does, it is with great consideration and execution. At a time when cameras largely stayed stationary, Dracula became an experimental anomaly of American cinema. Many will argue there are superior cinematic versions of the story, but this one will always remain the best in my eyes.
If you own the Blu-ray or have the option of viewing the film with Philip Glass’s beautifully tragic updated score, I can’t recommend it enough—it really completes the perfect classic horror viewing experience. Maybe put this one on first or last. No time of day or night is wrong for this film, and you’ll find yourself smiling at the charm of a true horror masterpiece.
There you have it! There’s a million more films I wish I could include, but maybe I’ll save them for a fresh list next year. I hope you enjoy these recommendations, and I hope you’ll share your personal Halloween favorites in the comments section below.
Have a fun and safe Halloween everyone! Happy Halloween from the Couch Bandits!
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