Nope. Not gonna limit this to a top five. What is this obsession with rounded-off lists? If you follow the Darkness Dwells podcast—and if you’re here, I sure hope you do—you know my lists are filled with honorable mentions, anyway. So let’s get it on!
Autumn's unique spookiness has come. Skies go gray. Darkness comes early. Trees shed their leaves, which in turn scrape along the sidewalk like witches’ nails at your door. "Recently Added" scary films fill up our streaming services. It’s a horror lover’s Christmas. This year, I’m not only watching horror movies, but feasting my nerve endings on movies about our greatest holiday. Here are my personal top six movies about Halloween.
6. Season of the Witch
No, not the Nicholas Cage tripe. I’m talking Halloween III, the sequel that (in)famously departed entirely from the budding franchise. There’s a lot of hate for this movie because of the lack of Michael Myers, but if you scrub the weird Halloween III nonsense from the back of your mind, Season of the Witch can really satisfy. The movie has a cool David Cronenberg feel. It’s one of the few movies that happily kills a kid during its runtime, with the threat—nay, knowledge—that many more little body bags will be filling up soon. Happy, Halloween… Halloween… Halloween. Happy, happy Halloween… Silver Shamrock!
5. Tales of Halloween Another Halloween descends upon Anytown, USA, and the freaks, ghouls, and demons roam the streets. With ten segments, this anthology film plays more like a miniature ABCs of Death than tighter collections than, say, Trick ’r Treat. As such, I found that a few of the stories were clunkers. Of course, that’s the beauty of having so many—what I don’t like, another viewer will love. Don’t get me wrong, characters show up in different segments, and references are made to other goings-on we’ve seen, so there is a unifying thread. Just about all of these tales are horror/comedy, for all their blood and viciousness, which maybe you’ll like more than I did. Overall, this is a great way to spend an hour and a half, and another costumed youngling gets added to the growing body count of this list. Also that little “twick-o-tweat” alien is adorable.
4. Satan’s Little Helper An extremely low budget and inexperienced cast (except for the big name star on this project, Amanda Plummer) don’t hamper the effectiveness of this creepy Halloween nightmare one bit. In fact, writer/director Jeff Lieberman uses these production limitations to his advantage and creates an experience that feels like it’s happening to people we know. It’s like combat journalism right there at the front. Gritty. Now, Satan’s Little Helper is decidedly a horror/comedy, but it falls on the dark side of humor. Like, pitch black. This is what stranger danger is all about, folks! Blasphemous glee abounds even before Jesus shows up at the door with bloody palms.
3. Hellions If you haven’t heard of this one, you’re not alone. Not many people do, unless you regularly take Netflix’s pulse, so to speak. Hellions is a freaky little movie, but it packs a big wallop. What strikes me most about this one is how well it constructs the dramatic skeleton on which all the flesh and blood of the horror hangs. Truly impressive. Great writing and performances create a young woman in trouble. The dialog between her and her doctor in the beginning is commendable. Usually with these cheap, small horror and thriller movies, real-life situations come off stilted. This scene works, as does the later conversation between her and her mother. Again, it’s an exchange that rings true. It also gives great glimpses at the family dynamic, shades in our heroine, and adds an elegant backstory to the mother. All of this results in a verisimilitude which bolsters our suspension of disbelief through the coming nightmare. Hellions explodes like a piñata filled with Halloween candy! Creepy kids, spooky dolls, blood, surrealism, and home invasion horror meld together in a whacked out tapestry of horror.
2. Trick ’r Treat This movie burst onto the scene in 2007 and became the new Halloween classic. In Crypt Keeper comic-book anthology style, the movie shows the weird and scary happenings in Warren Valley, Ohio on a particular Halloween night. With characters from different segments bumping into each other or passing through the frame, Trick ’r Treat has a terrific connected feel, where I felt Tales of Halloween fell a little short. Each segment engages the audience with suspense and scares and a good amount of violence and dread. Yet a sense of ghoulish fun runs through the whole movie as well. Great surprises—and even more paedocide. For as darkly gleeful as Trick ’r Treat is, it pulls no punches.
1. Halloween John Carpenter’s classic slasher flick about the night HE came home stands immutable in the top slot. I know it’s about as surprising as Thriller taking the number one best video in every MTV countdown, but this horror classic deserves all the praise. Halloween ushered in the golden age of American slasher flicks, became the first slasher franchise, and introduced a musical score that is synonymous with horror and All Hallows’ Eve. Carpenter created this horror masterpiece with suggestions of gore, but kept the blood as cleverly absent as the missing slicing and dicing of Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Using that inside-out Shatner mask truly did give all of us 70s and 80s kids a blank screen on which to project all our fears. Michael Myers reigns supreme as the Emperor of Halloween.
There you have it—my personal Halloween favorites. What would you add? Anything else you think should conquer the top spot? Let me know! I’m off to watch House of 1,000 Corpses (for the umpteenth time) and She Who Must Burn. And to eat all the Halloween candy myself. Stay dark, my friends, and enjoy your tricks and treats!