The Sunderland Echo's Ultimate 31 Movies For Halloween

It’s no trick – every one of them’s a treat.

Thursday, 30th September 2021, 7:00 pm

Halloween is fast approaching, and we’ve come up with a perfectly beastly boxset to see you through to the day itself.

We’ve chosen a film for every single day – or night! - of October – to really get you into the spooky spirit.

Our selection runs the the full ghastly gamut; vampires, ghost, witches, zombies, slashers, space monsters and more. Everything from Freddy Krueger to Fenella Fielding.

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Do you agree with our 31-film selection - or have we missed your favourite out?

And fear not – well not too much anyway - many of our choices are fit for the whole family. This isn’t simply a rundown of bloodthirsty horror flicks. No Cannibal Holocausts here. Evoking the playful spirit of Halloween takes a little something extra. Many of these are scary movies, some are indeed for adults only – but all have flashes of the colour and wildness that goes hand in hand in with the season of costume parties and dishing out sweets.

Grab your popcorn and let’s begin …

1: Halloween (1978)

Available on Netflix from October 1

Well, we were hardly going to miss it out, so let’s start here. In 1963 a little boy in suburban America dons a clown outfit and brutally murders his sister. Fifteen years later he escapes a mental institution and returns to his home town, accompanied by a musical score that is somehow both absolutely chilling and a complete banger.

Many regard it as the film that triggered the slasher-movie craze of the 1980s – so anyone coming to it fresh might regard it as rather tame, even quaint. It’s a film made quickly on a modest budget, and that does show. It has a small cast and not much in the way of special effects – Michael Myers carries a knife, but there’s very little blood to be seen. In some shots, fistfuls of crinkled brown leaves are clearly being thrown from just off camera to disguise the fact that it was filmed in May. But this leanness, especially in the casting, contributes to its distinctly eerie tone. Apart from a dad who happens to be the town’s police chief, the parents of the main characters are all but absent. And for all the talk of trick or treating and a big high school dance the next day, the street on which the bulk of the film’s action takes place feels entirely deserted. Laurie Strode and her friends are at the mercy of a maniac, and even with neighbouring house on all sides, help feels like it’s a world away.

2: Beetlejuice (1988)

Rent on Amazon Prime

Ever had neighbours you just can’t stand? Well, this takes that nightmare one step further: after you die, a dreadful family moves into your house – even though you're still ‘living’ there, as a ghost.

A happily married, wholesome couple die in a tragic accident and soon afterwards are perturbed to discover that their roomy and idyllic rural home has been bought by an obnoxious family who start to – gasp! – renovate.

Struggling to negotiate the waiting-room bureaucracy of the afterlife, the couple go for a quick fix and hire the unpredictable freelancer Betlegeuse, who claims he can ‘exorcise’ the living.

One of the films that established the signature style of director Tim Burton – but made long before that all got a bit tiresome – Beetlejuice is a riot of visual invention and tactile pre-CGI effects, very much a living cartoon. As the sleazy titular character, Michael Keaton makes the most of what’s actually a small amount of screen time. It also stars Catherine O’Hara as the artistic (or so she thinks) mother of the invading Deetz family. Having far more recently had massive success as another eccentric matriarch in TV’s Schitt’s Creek, it’s worth rediscovering her comic skills here – not least during the all singing and dancing ‘possession’ scene.

3: Poltergeist (1982)

Rent on Amazon Prime

After a little girl appears to converse with the static on a television set, it soon becomes apparent that malevolent spirits from the netherworld are targeting the home of a suburban American family. Initially they find it pretty entertaining when the furniture in their house starts moving around of its own accord. By the time they discover the interdimensional portal in a bedroom closet, less so.

With a PG rating, and produced by Steven Spielberg, this is a haunted-house story for all the family – more popcorn blockbuster than fireside spine-tingler.

4: Scream (1997)

Rent on Amazon Prime

What’s your favourite scary movie? Possibly this one.

In outline the plot of Scream doesn’t sound original, even by the standards of nearly a quarter of a century ago – a high school, a masked killer or two, teenage victims. But it’s all about the – pardon the pun – execution.

In the late ’90s the slasher genre exemplified by films like Friday the 13th was looking tired and played out. The secret to reviving it turned out be both straightforward and a stroke of genius: have the characters actually act like they’ve seen horror films, as anyone you know in the real world would. Scream marked the turning point where horror cinema became self-referential, and spawned a new cycle of glossy, genre-literate teen-friendly hits.

Sequels were inevitable, but this one remains the most effective, thanks in part to the unhinged performances of the killers and the genuine sense of visceral, bloody danger at the movie’s climax – and of course Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott, an increasingly empowered ‘final girl’ who stands alongside Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode and Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley.

5: Hocus Pocus (1993)

Available on Disney+

Indisputably the most beloved family Halloween movie for ’90s kids, this tale of three Salem witches returning from the grave certainly lives up to the observation by Bette Midler’s lead sorceress that “Hallow’s Eve has become a night of frolic!” - and the fish-out-of-water villainesses certainly prove that it’s the bad guys who have all the fun, as a lasting legacy of #squadgoals memes demonstrate. But there are are just enough genuinely sinister moments to keep younger children on their toes - including a book of spells with a creep staring eye, and the creepy hankering of the youngest of the coven to ‘play with’ their intended victims.

6: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Rent on Amazon Prime

The film that introduced Freddy Krueger – just Fred here – to the world, this is a film that still packs a punch all these years on. A group of – naturally – high school kids find that their dreams are somehow all being haunted by the same menacing blade-fingered figure; a figure who wastes no time in brutally, albeit invisibly, entering the waking world to slaughter a girl right in front of her boyfriend, who naturally is thought responsible when found with what’s left of her corpse in a blood-drenched bedroom.

Given Krueger’s genuinely revolting backstory – the film is not shy about evoking the grubby horrors of the real world – it’s strange to remember that the character became a larger-than-life, even beloved, cultural icon in the 1980s. But while the threat he presents may have dissipated over the course of numerous sequels, here it’s all too tangible.

7: The Lost Boys (1987)

Rent on Amazon Prime

The film that put an entire generation off noodles sees a single mother move with her two sons to a small Californian town. Michael, the eldest, soon falls in with a bad crowd – of vampires. Meanwhile his brother befriends some comic-book geeks who reckon they have the ways of these neon-drenched nosferatu sussed.

It’s a flashy, colourful ride of a movie, crammed with big-haired bloodsuckers for the age of Bon Jovi – a triumph of style over substance in many ways, but like many of the big, glossy films of its era, it has a nostalgic quality that its fans are drawn back to over and over again.

8: The Woman in Black (2012)

Available on Netflix

Susan Hill’s devastating ghost story had been brought to the screen before, in a television adaptation that many will say is the superior version. But this big-screen take on the story retains the icy creepiness of the novel.

A young lawyer is sent to a remote coastal spot to sort through the papers of a deceased client. Her sinister property stands on a site whose road is only accessible at certain times of day, due to the tides – so there’s no easy escape once things start going bump in the night.

The titular Woman in Black is a truly malignant force whose appetite for vengeance can seemingly never be sated – even if, arguably, the altered ending softens the brutal final blow of the book.

9: Hotel Transylvania (2012)

Available on Netflix

A cuddly Count Dracula - very much in the Bela Lugosi caricature vein of the Count from Sesame Street - opens up his castle as a place for his fellow monsters to get away from it all - a sort of Scarebnb (sorry). But when a pesky young human stumbles upon the resort, Dracula has to disguise him as one of their own - and then the lad promptly falls in love with the Count’s daughter.

There’ll be few surprises in store for adults in the way this CG comedy play out, but it’s great fun for kids, with the Lord of the undead indignantly claiming “I invented fun!” and bristling at the way everyone impersonates him by saying “bleuh bleuh bleuh!” - and if nothing else it’s a good primer for tots on the classic Universal-style lineup of monsters.

10: The Shining (1980)

Rent on Amazon Prime

Given how much of the last couple of years many of us have spent trapped at home during lockdowns, a winter spent with your family in a vast empty hotel in the mountains might sound like a cushy number. Alas, there are drawbacks - some of them even more troubling than a lack of wi-fi.

Would-be writer Jack Torrance moves with his wife and son to the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies, nominally to be the off-season caretaker while he works on his book (you'll notice it's his wife Wendy who appears to do all the caretaking when they get there). He offhandedly ignores some warnings given in the job interview about a previous janitor in the place having gone crazy and murdered his family - before promptly getting his feet under the table, going crazy, and attempting to murder his family.

There are almost too many famous scenes and images in the film to recount, but it’s a masterpiece that can be seen again and again without ever losing its rewatch value. A recent sequel, Doctor Sleep (2019) is a quality effort that’s worth a watch, but unconvincing as an extension of late director Stanley Kubrick’s vision.

11: Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

Rent on Amazon Prime

From the sublime to the ridiculous … famously, this tale of aliens resurrecting three corpses from one cemetery in order to scare the entire planet Earth into submission has been dubbed the worst film of all time. But the truth is, it’s far too entertaining for that. Frankly it’s a more enjoyable Bela-Lugosi-in-a-Dracula-cape film than the actual Dracula he starred in in 1931. Made at the height of flying saucer mania, and atom bomb anxiety, its roster of animated corpses are an unlikely-looking crew: Lugosi flouncing around in that aforementioned cape in footage shot before the faded star’s death and sprinkled throughout the film; the late star’s posthumous stand-in hiding his face – but not his distinctly different age and build - behind a cloak; gnat-waisted real-life television host Vampira, whose character must have had markedly odd dress sense in life is she was buried looking like this; and hulking wrestler Tor Johnson, whose intial struggle to get up from his burial plot is disguised not at all by the editing. A colourised version is available too – can Citizen Kane make that boast?

12: The Witches (1990)

Rent on YouTube

After his parents die in a car crash, a young boy is raised by his grandmother, who imparts to him the secret knowledge of the witches who live among us – and their particular hatred of children. Then, after his grandmother is advised by a doctor to get some sea air for her health, they go away to a luxury hotel where they promptly run into an entire conference of witches – wickedly masquerading as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Possibly the Roald Dahl adaptation that most accurately captures the uniquely dark and playful tone of his books, this features a tremendous comic performance from Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch – with a latex-and-makeup job to rival the grisliest of adult horror fims when she takes off her human mask.

The prologue sequence, featuring a little girl who becomes trapped in a painting, is also truly sinister.

13: Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966)

Rent on Amazon Prime

We can’t miss out Christopher Lee’s iconic take on Count Dracula – alternating between grandly aristocratic and savagely bestial – and, while this isn’t his most substantial film in terms of screen time (or indeed dialogue), it’s one of the most creepy and suspenseful of the Hammer horrors.Four Victorian travellers exploring the remote Carpathian mountains decide to ignore the local priest’s warnings to stay away from a particular castle not marked on any map. You won’t be surprised to learn that not all of them make it to the end of the film.

Escorted to the forbidding castle by a coach with no driver and met by a crepuscular butler who somehow already has a hot meal ready for them, it’s slightly comical to see all but one of the group of travellers blithely disregard the accumulating red flags as the night wears on. The exception is the brittle and uptight Helen, played by Barbara Shelley. Unfortunately, having her wits about her ultimately fails to save her from the Count’s attentions – and Shelley is soon having fun acting far from uptight as she joins the ranks of the lusty undead.

14: Return to Oz (1985)

Available on Disney+

Undergoing shock treatment for her persisent ‘dreams’ about her adventures in the wonderful land of Oz, Dorothy Gale finds herself transported back there during a storm.

Often thought of as a sequel to the 1939 MGM classic The Wizard of Oz, it’s technically a loose adaptation of L Frank Baum’s The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz, made by another studio– but that distinction is way down in the small print, as it’s a film that trades throughout on our memories of the Technicolor classic. Surprisingly, it does this not by straighfowardly reviving the all-singing and dancing Vaudevillian antics and lush colours of the original – but by coming in like a wrecking ball and shattering them. Dorothy arrives to find the formerly marvellous land of Oz broken and decaying, and the jolly residents of the Emerald City turned to stone. Musical numbers are notable by their absence in a film far more attuned to the dark end of the fairytale spectrum. Forgoing bright green skin and a broomstick, this film’s wicked witch, Mombi, has a detachable head, with a series of stolen ones kept in cabinets for her to swap like accessories whenever she feels the urge. She has henchmen with squeaky metal wheels in the place of hands and feet. The film’s even badder guy, the Nome King, inhabits rock and has transformed Dorothy’s old Yellow Brick Road companions into ornaments. And if all of that doesn’t feel Halloweeny enough for you, one of Dorothy’s new friends has a carved pumpkin for a head.

15: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Rent on YouTube

Arguably the best of the classic Universal Horror series, this appeared four years after the original appearance of Boris Karloff as the still-iconic monster, and director James Whale was give the freedom to make a much wilder and more outlandish spectacle.

Following the ‘destruction’ of the monster in the first film (hint: he’s absolutely fine here), Henry Frankenstein is cajoled by his sinister mentor Dr Pretorius into knocking together a female mate for the creature.

Despite herself boasting a crazy tall-haired look that graces T-shirts to this day, the Bride only features briefly towards the climax of the film, and never reappeared in any sequels – not even those ones with Abbott and Costello.

Nevertheless, the film is an eccentric treat, and full of camp, black humour that has dated incredibly well considering it’s close to 90 years old.

16: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Rent on Amazon Prime

Werewolves have never been quite as prolific a screen monster as, say, vampires and zombies. Perhaps it’s because this comedy horror would be so hard to top.

Two young Americans backpacking across the UK fall prey to a vicious animal while walking the Yorkshire moors. One is savaged to death while the other is left injured. It soon becomes clear, however, that the survivor, David, is suffering some pretty serious after effects – culminating a still stunning bodily transformation that takes place not in moonlight and shadows, but in a well-lit London flat.

For an ultimately pretty bleak shaggy-dog story, it’s a very vibrant film that’s a lot of fun.

17: Carry on Screaming! (1967)

Rent on Amazon Prime

When a series of young women go missing in the woods around the Bide-A-Wee Rest Home, the undead Dr Watt and his vampish sister Valeria (Kenneth Williams and Fenella Fielding respectively) are revealed as the culprits. In a plot evidently influenced by 1933’s Mystery of the Wax Musem and its 1953 remake House of Wax, the diabolical pair are ‘vitrifying’ their victims into shop mannequins.

The cheeky British comedy series’ one and only spoof of the horror genre is arguably the best of the Carry On films. There’s a clear Addams Family influence too, with Fielding playing a Morticia-like gothic siren, and Bernard Bresslaw’s Sockett very similar to monosyallabic manservant Lurch. Steptoe and Son’s Harry H Corbett, meanwhile, takes on a role so obviously originally scripted for Sid James that the character is still called ‘Sid’. Curiously, the film is probably better for the absence of James, with Corbett’s altogether different stye of performance shaking up the formula.

18: Evil Dead 2 (1987)

Rent on Amazon Prime

It’s a sequel, but newcomers will get up to speed very quickly, as the first ten minutes or so form a kind of recap/remake of the first movie – a ‘requel’, as some have called it.

This is perfect viewing for those who like their horrors gross but hilarious – and, whisper it, despite the 18 certificate, the best time to see this feast of gory slapstick is probably when you’re about 12.

It’s a little less homemade-looking than its predecessor, but the effects are still gruesomely tactile. And cult star Bruce Campbell doesn’t exactly reign in his performance the second time around – there’s not a lot of room for subtlety when you’re trying to hack off your own possessed body parts.

19: The Shape of Water (2018)

Rent on Amazon Prime

At a secret research facility in a highly stylised version of 1960s USA, a mysterious amphibian creature captured in South America is befriended by a mute cleaner.

Obviously taking 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon as its imaginative jumping-off point, this gothic fairytale and political parable takes its story in a direction that couldn’t even have been imagined at the time of that movie, with the downtrodden worker and the captive creature becoming romantically involved.

A lush, poetic film that can’t be done justice by a mere plot summary, it won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

20: Fright Night (1985)

Rent on Amazon Prime

Teenager Charlie Brewster is convinced that his sophisticated new neighbour is a vampire – but of course no one believes him, least of all his mother. Eventually he enlists the very reluctant help of a horror TV show host to deal with the menace.

It’s a horror comedy that’s arguably on the lighter side compared to some – albeit never becoming an outright spoof. Roddy McDowall is particularly entertaining as the vampire hunter who’d rather just have a quiet life.

21: Alien (1979)

Rent on Amazon Prime

The crew of a commercial spaceship are diverted to an unknown planet to investigate a mystery signal. Exploring the desolate interior of a vast alien craft, a member of the crew is attacked by a face-hugging critter. Taken back, against quarantine rules, to the ship, he appears to recover and the vessel departs, none of its crew realising there is now a extra passenger incubating inside him.

Shortly after Star Wars breathed new life into space fantasy by making its droids grubby and its spaceships authentically lived in, Alien took the same approach to the creature feature.

Another slow burner by today’s standards, the film keeps glimpses of its alien predator to a minimum as the crew are picked off one by one. And while the hatching of the alien at the ship’s dinner table is the most remembered scene, a particularly grisly look at the inner workings of a humanoid robot is another icky highlight.

22: Suspiria (1977)

Available on Amazon Prime

This bizarre but hypnotic tale of a witches’ coven pulling the strings of an exclusive ballet school has the vivid, queasy feel of a nightmare. It doesn’t have much of a plot, but is crammed with one extraordinary set piece after another, and saturated with colour. In fact, it was the last film, to date, to be made with the then already very old-fashioned three-strip Technicolor process. As well as its visual extremes, it boasts a memorable score from prog rock band Goblin.

23: Addams Family Values (1993)

Rent on Amazon Prime

The wickedly subversive humour of the Charles Addams cartoons has never been brought to screen as effectively as in this film - the rare sequel that’s a vast improvement on the original.

The ooky spooky clan have a new baby and hire a gold-digging nanny who is in fact a serial killer more interested in marrying Uncle Fester for his money and then offing him. Even when they find out, the kind-hearted ghouls still wish her well to a certain extent.

It’s a tour de force of blackly comic performances - in fact, between matriarch Anjelica Huston, hatchet-faced daughter Christina Ricci, black widow Joan Cusack, and depraved grandmama Carol Kane, it’s hard to pick who’s the show stealer.

24: The Fog (1980)

Rent on Amazon Prime

As a coastal community celebrates its centenary, the crimes of its founders come back to haunt the current residents – it seems revenge really is a dish best served cold.

Working as something of a companion piece to his earier classic, Halloween, this John Carpenter chiller-thriller has a similarly effective synthy score, and a couple of the same cast members – namely Jamie Lee Curtis and Nancy Loomis. The ghost-story atmosphere is neatly established by a prologue campfire sequence, and the threat to the ensemble cast rolls in as inevitably and unstoppably as the fog itself.

25: Batman Forever (1995)

Rent on Amazon Prime

A superhero film may not seem the obvious choice for Halloween, and yet this ultra-colourful caper could not look more like a costume party if it tried. Gotham City itself also appears rife with Halloweeny flourishes, including, with gargoyles and statues everywhere you look – some as big as buildings. And then there’s Arkham Asylum, seeming permanently in the grip of a high-drama thunderstorm.

The first couple of ‘90s Batman flicks just about kept a tenuous grip on being set in a real-seeming world. This third entry in the series dives with abandon into sheer fantasy, as the Riddler invents a machine that sucks out people’s brainwaves and sends them swirling through Gotham’s skies in the form of a luminous green vapour. He’s teamed up with split-personality villain Two-Face, who, to be honest, seems there just to make up the numbers. At one point the pair (or should we call them a trio) gain access to Wayne Manor by posing terribly unconvincingly as a couple of trick or treaters.

26: The Craft (1996)

Rent on Amazon Prime

Four misfit teenage girls come together to combine and amplify their talent for witchcraft and reap the spoils, and the results are spectacular – but of course, things swiftly get out of control.

You can feel the influence of the grunge era on this supernatural thriller, even if it appeared in cinemas a couple of years after that had all petered out. Fairuza Balk has a career highlight role as the cynical and increasingly vicious Nancy, the de facto ringleader of the coven, and Neve Campbell is great as an initially incredibly sympathetic character who, drunk on the effects of her power, gradually becomes more and more of a – well, a witch.

If you’re particualrly averse to creep crawlies, you may want to cover your eyes towards the climax.

27: Coco (2017)

Available on Disney+

Discouraged from his love of music by his family, a young boy stumbles into the Land of the Dead and meets his late grandfather, also a professional singer.

This computer-animated Disney spectacular is actually about the Mexican Day of the Dead - but both in calendar date (November 1 and 2) and in spirit, the festival is only a hop, skip and a jump from our own All Hallows’ Eve - and perhaps more so Samhain, the pagan festival that preceded it, on which night the barriers between the living and the dead were believed to be at their thinnest.

Visually and emotionally, the movie is far from a mere three-dimensional cartoon; it’s a sumptuous and stunning treat, and in no way a chore to watch for viewers of any age.

28: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Rent on Amazon Prime

An evil toymaker’s popular range of Silver Shamrock Halloween masks harbour a deadly secret.

The only entry in the Halloween series not to feature looming killer Michael Myers, this supernatural horror thriller was made with the intention of turning Halloween into an anthology series of unrelated stories – which in fairness, would have been fantastic and could have run to this day. But it was met with bafflement by audiences who apparently weren’t briefed on this plan, so the idea never got off the ground, and Myers was back for Halloween IV, then many sequels and reboots beyond.

However, this entry in the series has enjoyed some favourable reassessement in recent years. With a plot involving the evil powers of fragments of Stonehenge and a villain with android henchmen, it’s quite the mixed bag. But the moment the secret of the Halloween masks is revealed is one you’ll never forget – however much you may wish to ...

29: Paranormal Activity (2007)

Available on Amazon Prime

A young American, early 21st-century couple begin to suspect their home is haunted, and attempt to document it on video.

Compared to some of the other haunted-house films that have made our list – Poltergeist, The Woman in Black, The Shining – this is very much back to basics, and all the more more unsettling for it. Most versions of the poster for this movie depicted a grainy CCTV-like image of a normal-looking bedroom at night, the door ominously open, and the couple in bed, reacting to something unseen. That’s the primal fear that the film taps into – that something is lurking in the shadows, that there’s something baleful behind that random bump in the night. It’s one of those films that you shouldn’t watch alone, because you’ll soon start wondering if you really are.

30: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Available on Amazon Prime

The Metrocentre was never like this … well, maybe on the odd Boxing Day.

Amid the countrywide onslaught of risen, staggering cadavers that we saw begin in Night of the Living Dead, a group of survivors take refuge in a shopping centre, where consumerism (albeit mainly the consuming of brains) runs rampant.

It’s a sequel, but in truth not one where you really need to have seen the original movie – ‘zombie apocalypse’ has long since entered the language to the point where no background feels necessary.

The film is full of sardonic political commentary on the inability of people to pull together in a crisis – a lot of which might hit particuarly hard in 2021.

31: Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Available on Disney+

Some might argue this is more of a Christmas film, but it was always intended to straddle the two seasons (in its native US it’s a perfect fit for for the interim holiday of Thanksgiving) - and let’s be honest, the build-up to Christmas is always well underway throughout October anyway. If you can make it to the beginning of November without hearing a note of All I Want For Christmas is You in a shop, you’ve achieved a minor miracle.

Here, the grotesque residents of Halloweentown are persuaded by pumpkin king Jack Skellington to kidnap ‘Sandy Claws’ - as they believe him to be called - and take over Christmas. The handcrafted stop-motion animation is a riot of character design, and it’s filled with memorable songs in composer Danny Elfman’s unique style.